Diaspora: A Function of Armenia’s Foreign Policy

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When the Soviet Union collapsed, Armenia was not ready to formulate a coherent foreign policy as it lacked trained diplomats. But soon the ranks of the Foreign Affairs Ministry were filled with diplomats from the old Soviet schools and diaspora elements.

The foreign policy of any given country is developed by competent diplomats but foreign policy challenges play a major role in defining that policy.

The diasporan leadership and press sometimes have unrealistic expectations of Armenia’s diplomacy. More powerful factors may come to hurt Armenia’s foreign policy; like the Islamic Conference members that sometimes gang up on Armenia in the United Nations to pass resolutions favoring Azerbaijan. That setback is decried as a defeat for Armenia’s foreign policy, whereas the reason is a simple mathematical equation created by the large Islamic bloc votes. On the other hand, when Armenia’s diplomacy scores some gains in Latin America, such as Chile and Bolivia, that success is often ignored.

Any country’s foreign policy is not the only result of the resources it commends, such as oil and natural resources, strategic location and the value of that location for the major powers and military might. In the case of Armenia, there is the diaspora factor. The major powers which are endowed with military might sometimes are able to resolve diplomatic problems by the sheer threat of that might, without firing a single shot.

The diasporan potential may play the role of an extension of Armenia’s foreign policy when that diaspora is sufficiently empowered and politicized. Countries like Israel and India have powerful diasporas that take it upon themselves to resolve some diplomatic problems on behalf of their respective countries.

Armenians cannot conduct political advocacy or lobbying in all the countries of the world. Their opportunities are limited to the United States, Europe and Russia. As South American countries recover from military dictatorships, they provide the opportunity to minorities to play bigger political roles in those countries.

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The leading Armenian advocacy group in the United States is the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), under the leadership of Aram Hamparian and Ken Khachikian. The ANCA derives its strength from its regional branches as well as its headquarters.

Since 1970, the Armenian Assembly of America has also emerged as a strong advocacy group. At this time, its leadership is comprised of lawyers, namely Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian, with Bryan Ardouny serving as executive director. Seldom do these groups seem to cooperate; instead most of the time they seem to be competitors, trying to score points against each other.

With the influx of immigrants from Armenia to the US, a potential for political action has been created, especially in Southern California. It is a potential which is being used by individual politicians with local agendas. This potential still remains mostly untapped. It represents a challenge for the traditional political parties and advocacy groups to energize and politicize that massive immigrant population.

It is ironic that thus far, it has been easier to mobilize that force against Armenia rather than for it. The drop in the amounts raised during various telethons benefitting the country is a testament to that adverse fact.

Unfortunately, the church in Armenia and in the Diaspora cannot be counted on as a political actor, like it is in Russia and Georgia.

The Armenian presence in Europe and especially in France is more visible politically. The fact that almost all presidents in France — from François Mitterand to Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande — have appealed to the Armenian community for votes is a testimony to that power.

Topics: diaspora

One of the more active groups in Europe is the European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy, headed by Hilda Chobanian. Effective advocacy is carried out by this group in Brussels and in other European centers.

Armenian political groups almost always operate independently of other similar groups if not in direct competition with each other. In France, that trend has been tamed and opposing Armenian groups work under the umbrella of the Coordination Committee of Organizations in France (CCAF), headed by Ara Toranian and Mourad Papazian.

More recently, the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) launched an advocacy program for human rights in Europe headed by Nadia Gortzounian and Nicolas Davidian. Other individuals and groups have also been in the lobbying business elsewhere in Europe — in Switzerland, Germany, Greece and the Scandinavian countries. The coordination of the activities of these groups with Armenia’s foreign policy establishment is questionable. Most of the times, Armenia’s embassies in those countries fail to perform coordinating roles.

Turkey and Azerbaijan

Turkey and Azerbaijan have laid a blockade around Armenia and they represent an existential threat to the latter. Armenia has no other choice but to use frontal diplomacy with these two countries. Azerbaijan runs media programs in Armenia to present its case to a hostile audience there and yet Armenia fails to launch similar actions.

Azerbaijan is a multi-ethnic society comprising Lezgis, Talish, Kurds and other minorities which have been oppressed and many of their leaders languish in jail. There is no policy in place in Armenia to speak in defense of those persecuted minorities which could become political assets eventually.

Turkey’s case is different. Onetime enemies of the Armenians, the Kurds have become allies through necessity. Sooner or later, a Kurdistan will emerge within Turkey’s current borders either as an independent country or an autonomous region. Kurdish claims cover part of historic Armenia. Armenians may not be entitled to share a piece of those Kurdish lands but accommodations may be made with them to preserve Armenian cultural and architectural heritage in an eventually liberated Kurdistan, if proper and prudent relations are established with them. Unlike Armenians, the Kurds still occupy their lands and thus they have 90 percent of the argument on their side.

Armenians can also create a factor on the land by awakening the dormant and hidden Armenians in the eastern parts of modern Turkey. Broadcasts beaming to that population may awaken their sublimated identities which have been oppressed by the Turkish government and society in general. Programs in Armenian, Turkish, Kurdish and Hamshen Armenian presenting their history and heritage will do the job and Armenians may also develop a contingent on their ancestral lands and use it as a political factor.

Georgian Challenge

Armenia has very special and sensitive relations with Georgia, the only other Christian nation in the region. But the Georgians always side with Armenia’s enemies, Turkey and Azerbaijan, knowing full well that their exercises are directed against Armenia. Even the deliberate choking point at Upper Lars customs gate, the only passage from Armenia to Russia, is a compliment and complement to the blocking countries’ policy.

Javakhk Armenians are persecuted and pushed to leave their historic homeland and Armenian churches are confiscated. Additionally, Georgia participates in all oil and gas lines and rail networks that deliberately isolate Armenia. Yet, Armenia’s government has a cautious policy toward its troubling neighbor. It is formatted as follows: “Armenia does not have any problems with Georgia that cannot be resolved.” Yet they are not resolved.

If the Armenian government ships textbooks to Javakhk schools, that will reflect in the balance sheet of Georgia-Armenian official relations.

Therefore, the challenge is for the Diaspora Armenians to do the following:

  1. To send representatives to stir awareness of national identity, like those sent by some Western countries to promote color revolutions.
  2. To support Javakhk’s ailing economy to staunch the outflow of the population.
  3. To develop public awareness through media and demonstrations in the West about the usurpation of churches and persecution of the Armenians.

These are some actions that Diaspora Armenians can take which official diplomacy in Yerevan is incapable of doing.

The Diaspora can become an effective extension of Armenia’s foreign policy, if it is mobilized and politicized enough, with a clear political agenda of its own.

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