A Time for Positive Policies and Actions

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The Armenian Diaspora is a force born out of tragedy. It has followed its own path, and perhaps incidentally, it has become a political force to be reckoned with. Diasporan Armenians sometimes fail to recognize the clout they wield to impact policies concerning Armenia. But the enemies of the latter, the Turkish and Azerbaijani governments, realize its potential and they arm themselves to thwart anticipated negative consequences for themselves.

In a recent statement, Ibrahim Kalin, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesperson as well as foreign policy advisor, commented on the need for Armenia and Azerbaijan to sign a peace treaty — a peace treaty which is full of potential dangers for Armenia. While making this comment, he stated that the government of Armenia has sent some positive signals. But, he added, diasporan Armenians should also fall in line and understand the benefits of such a treaty for the entire region. “We know for a fact that Armenians have large communities in the US and France,” he said.

This was an inadvertent admission recognizing the power that those communities can exercise. The Turkish authorities have always complained about the political activities of the diasporan Armenians fighting for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. That has proven to be an impediment for Turkey’s foreign policy in its drive to join the European Union, and will continue as such as long as Turkey aims for membership on the United Nations Security Council.

Currently, Armenia and Turkey have been conducting negotiations to lift the blockade against the former and to establish diplomatic relations, supposedly without preconditions. However, during the course of those negotiations Ankara has begun to insert a precondition — progress with the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace deal. In addition, there are unspoken preconditions, particularly Turkey’s expectations that Armenia drop its demand for Genocide recognition.

The administration of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has understood that expectation and is already signaling to Ankara that the Genocide issue has been outsourced to the diasporan Armenians. That position will not save Pashinyan government’s neck, since Turkey wants to silence the diaspora.

Turkey and Azerbaijan have allocated a substantial amount of resources to quietly combat diasporan Armenian activism.

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All of this indicates that the diaspora has a role to play. It should realize the value of that power and put it into good use.

There have always existed opportunities for diasporan Armenians to act. Ironically, the diaspora has acted, sometimes, against its own interests. For example, some segments of the community, who have political affiliates in Armenia, have exported local conflicts and polarization to the diaspora, protesting against Armenian officials’ foreign visits to the extent of stoning the prime minister’s motorcade in foreign capitals, while giving a free pass to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu, whose overseas visits have remained unchallenged.

Yet during this period, the tides have been turning in Armenia’s favor so that it would behoove us to be alert to new opportunities.

During the 44-Day War in 2020, the international community’s inordinate passivity and silence were not only because of President Donald Trump’s nonchalant foreign policy but also because Azerbaijan had lobbied intensely, pushing its foreign policy position that it was not acting in a bellicose manner but rather fighting to recover its historic territory “usurped” by Armenia.

The combined resources of the diaspora and Armenia could never match that of Azerbaijan. In 2018, 13 members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) were expelled from the organization for accepting gifts and bribes from Azerbaijan. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project found that between 2012 and 2014, Azerbaijan had laundered $2.9 billion to pay off European Union (EU) politicians. Of course, we all know that Aliyev investing $3 billion in Hungary convinced Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban to release Azerbaijani officer Ramil Safarov who had murdered Lt. Gurgen Margaryan of Armenia with an ax in 2004, during NATO training program in Hungary.

All these represent only the tip of the iceberg of Azerbaijan’s illicit activities, to buy acceptance in political circles.

There is some good news. The recent aggressions against Armenia and territorial occupations are no longer viewed in the same tolerant manner and Azerbaijan is gradually being branded as the pariah that it is, in place of the false tolerant, European democratic image it is trying to project.

Therefore, it is time for Armenian activists to strike back, particularly with the political forces which we can galvanize in the diaspora. The opportunities are there waiting to be used.

The first scenario is developing in Spain, where the lower house of the parliament voted down an agreement with Azerbaijan this week. Indeed, an agreement had been signed in 2021 between Spain and Azerbaijan to exchange confidential information. But the lower house voted against that agreement with a vote of 174 to 132, in protest of Azerbaijan’s aggression against Armenia. Jon Iñárritu, a member of parliament, dismissed that agreement as an “absurdity,” when aggressor Azerbaijan has carried out an attack on Armenia in September, occupying several square kilometers of territory of Armenia. Marta Rosique, another member of the parliament, blamed the Spanish government for its silence in the face of Azerbaijan’s atrocities in Armenia and Karabakh, questioning, in addition, why Spain has not yet recognized the Armenian Genocide.

The French Senate has expressed a more assertive posture. Indeed, a draft motion was filed in the French Senate, calling to impose sanctions against Azerbaijan, asking Baku to immediately withdraw from Armenia, and also calling for the enforcement of the November 9, 2020 ceasefire agreement to establish a “lasting peace” between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The United Kingdom has been the most recalcitrant party when it comes to the issue of the Genocide, except for periodic speeches of Baroness Carolyn Cox in the House of Lords, which are mostly about Karabakh, only tangentially referring to the Genocide. But recently, a Genocide Determination Bill was sponsored by Lord David Alton. A Second Reading was given in the House of Lords and it was referred to a committee for further consideration. Lord Ara Darzi, the only member of the House of Lords of Armenian extraction, delivered a moving speech in support of the bill.

These and other actions which are taking place in European and global political circles, deserve our attention and support. Rather than harassing Armenian government officials during their visits, diasporan Armenians have to rally around these developments. The Armenian presence has been sparse in Spain. Only recently have some 30,000 Armenians, mostly from Armenia, settled there. If the leaders in the community there can politicize the masses, they can officially express their gratitude to the Spanish government and hold rallies in support of those legislators who have been spearheading the vote in Armenia’s favor.

The French-Armenian community is more active politically. Its members will certainly make their voices heard at the higher echelons of the government.

The challenge remains to organize a diaspora-wide movement and head towards all Spanish and French embassies with rallies to express our appreciation.

In the meantime, we have to be watchful for other opportunities, educate our various communities and motivate them politically.

Armenians are used to supporting Armenia financially to soothe their consciences. But most of the time, political activism can bear much better results. In the current state of globalization, motivating the masses is relatively easy, but only if we can generate a political leadership whose members can guide movements and send messages to the halls of power around the world.

Despite its limited activism, the diaspora has demonstrated that it has caught the attention of Turkish and Azerbaijani authorities. That justifies further action and greater coordinated efforts to promote historic and current Armenian issues.

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