Yesterday Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, who now heads his Civilitas Foundation based in Yerevan, delivered a speech in the Yerevan Hotel about his take on the protocols calling for Turkish-Armenian diplomatic relations. The text is both passionate and straightforward as he explains without mincing words what the consequences will be for Armenia should the protocols be signed under the current circumstances. I have conveyed some of these thoughts in previous posts on this blog and in private, but I haven’t touched upon some key issues that he raised, namely the lack of a normal, functioning democratic system in Armenia. Below are some highlights of his speech.
We are facing a critical historic and political decision as a country and as a people and Civilitas believes in the importance of public debate. But in the case of these protocols, the debate is going off in the wrong direction. Not only are we presented with a fait accompli, but they’re also telling us nothing is changeable, and those documents have no preconditions.
Reading these protocols one unwillingly comes to the following conclusion: That these documents were prepared, somewhere, with Turkey’s participation, and imposed on the Armenian side, or the Armenian side really did negotiate this document having fully convinced itself that Armenia’s future development and survival is indeed completely linked to the opening of this border.
Those are the only two possible explanations. Otherwise, it’s not possible to understand the logic of these documents that unequivocally give Turkey what it has wanted for 18 years. Let’s not fool ourselves, let’s not mislead our people, let’s not trample on our own dignity, and let’s call things by their name.
For a moment, let’s assume that the border will indeed open. We will, as a nation, have to recognize that the border is being opened in exchange for important concessions of history and national honor, and of our sense of who we are and how we view our role and place in this region. We will have conceded our equal place in our future relations with Turkey.
At the base of this document is a defeatist attitude. It reminds me of the mood in 1997, when we were being told Armenia has no hope of further development, that it can’t be a stable, fully independent state if the Nagorno Karabakh conflict is not quickly resolved. The next 10 years came to disprove this. Despite the many problems and faults of that period, with the border still closed, there was in fact serious economic improvement. Our economy saw double-digit growth thanks to old and new economic reforms and their continuation. The country became more stable, with a new sense of unity, however fragile and incomplete, and with broader Diaspora inclusion.
We must have trust in our own resources, in our people, in our country, in our future. If we successfully completed first generation economic reforms, we must move on to the second, third, fourth, fifth generations. These hold huge potential for our prosperity. We have an ever greater potential source: our unity and common sense of purpose.
Despite all this, there is also a new area where no one — not past administrations and not this one either – has seriously and honestly ventured. Very little has been done in the thorny but vital area of political reform. Unfortunately, our state is not a democratic state yet. But our whole future and security depend on that one word. We have not invested in fortifying and consolidating our democratic institutions, and now instead of going forward, we are going backwards. Our people, any people, are creative when they are free; but we have not created the conditions, the equal playing field, an assured rule of law society that protects the freedoms that enable prosperity. The closed border has not kept them out. Our succeeding governments have not nourished the seeds that are here on our land.
Signing these documents will not solve our problems. On the contrary, they will bring on entirely new setbacks and problems that can only be tackled by a unified, free, hopeful society.
For 15 years, Turkey has maintained the blockade, hoping for our economic and political capitulation. It didn’t happen and will not happen. Today, it is they who desperately need to come out of that political corner in which they placed themselves, it is they who need that border open, and they seem to have found a way to do it, at our expense.
Today, they need to open the border. It is they who are under great European pressure within their accession time frames. Today, they need to open the border because they are the ones who have economic issues at their eastern border that they need resolved. Today, they need to open the border because they are the ones in fear of the genocide recognition process that has been moving quickly and has culminated in great US pressure. Finally, they need the border open in order to reinforce their leadership role in this region.
I cannot find any fault in what he underscored as I have been thinking along the same lines since the diplomatic “framework” was revealed last April. But I don’t know how many people are actually paying attention to this argument against the protocols. There are opinions circulating that Armenia has no choice but to open to border for Armenia’s continuing economic growth and stability, which is certainly hard to believe—one stroll across Yerevan’s several districts will tell you something different. Another argument is that President Serge Sarkisian is essentially being blackmailed to approve the protocols by foreign governments who want to see the border opened for their own geostrategic and economic interests in the region, otherwise information that can be held against him (and ruin him) will come to light. In other words, he may be saving his own skin rather than protecting his country’s statehood.
I am realizing that this pertinent make-or-break issue facing the Armenian nation is not about economics, it’s about trust. And Turkey is showing no signs whatsoever that it can be trusted at all, especially with overtures made by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan that the Nagorno-Karabagh issue must be resolved before the protocols can be ratified, not to mention the insistence that Armenia recognize the current border established under the Treaty of Kars. It is Turkey that should have extended a hand to open the border, which it closed in 1993, not Armenia. Yet the Armenian authorities are doing everything possible to show their willingness to forge diplomatic ties, despite loud protests from its own people, without properly analyzing what the future could hold in store. This narrow minded short-sightedness is a clear indicator of complete irresponsibility from the Armenian side which can lead to irreversible consequences should the protocols be formalized. And time is running out to stop this precarious process.