Monthly Archives: April 2010

Should Armenia Have Withdrawn Its Signature?

Should Armenia Have Withdrawn Its SignatureA week after President Serge Sarkisian announced that the National Assembly would put the ratification process of the Turkish-Armenian protocols on the backburner, harsh criticism is coming to light from the opposition and even former government heads.

The comments I’ve read that are perhaps most troubling come from former Minister of Foreign Affairs Vartan Oskanian, who seems convinced that Armenia is now doomed in its new position, claiming that Turkey has more ammunition to meddle in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.

In a statement that appears on the Civilitas Foundation web site he expresses the following:

I am astonished by two things, however. First, the government is openly acknowledging that for one whole year they watched as Turkey placed preconditions before them, Turkey exploited the process for its own benefit, and they not only tolerated this, but continuously insisted that this is not happening and that this whole process is a big success and an unprecedented diplomatic victory.

Second, if there were half a dozen possible exit strategies from this situation – from doing nothing to revoking Armenia’s signature – the government has chosen the option least beneficial to us… The Armenian side did that which is most desirable for Turkey: neither ratified the protocols nor revoked them thus giving Turkey the opportunity to continue to remain actively engaged in the Karabakh process.

Criticism by former heads of government is a normal thing, but Oskanian seems a bit too emotional in his text and offers no new approaches for how to move forward. He advocates that the government acknowledge its mistakes (he instead craftily used the phrase “avoid accepting the truthfulness of the criticism”) first, in language akin to a naughty child being scolded by his mother.

The Armenian National Congress last week said:

“By suspending the ratification process and at the same time expressing readiness to continue it, the regime is, in effect, acknowledging that it has found itself in deadlock … and is trying to save face before the domestic public and the international community with deficient, unprincipled and inconsistent actions.”

The last part is a bit perplexing to me. Just how was suspending the ratification process “deficient, unprincipled and inconsistent?” Would that action have been described that way had Levon Ter-Petrosian been in Sarkisian’s position and done the same? Who can say whether the situation would have been any different?

I think that it was a wise decision for Yerevan to at least suspend the ratification process. But I disagree with the former Foreign Minister—the worst thing the government could have actually done was to relent to Turkey’s preconditions and open the border on Ankara’s own terms. It would have been better perhaps as the opposition points out for Armenia to withdraw its signature in light of the circumstances, but you can take that sentiment a step further and say that Armenia should never have signed the protocols to begin with, and none of the opposition forces should have ever allowed that to happen when they had plenty of time to stop it. Instead, they remained divided and disorganized.

By suspending the ratification process Yerevan casts Ankara in shadow of doubt, making the Turkish side look totally uninterested in opening the border at all—this is fairly obvious by now to the international community, and for me at least it was a long time ago.
Also regarding speculation being expressed in the media, I don’t see how the OSCE would allow a Turkish diplomat to become a member of the Minsk Group given that the reconciliation process is frozen, and how Armenia would ever go along with Ankara becoming a player in the peace negotiations to begin with. Then again, I am not a political analyst nor am I a politician looking for a future role to play in government.

Oskanian, the Congress and other opposition parties can say what they want, but rather than simply cast blame, let them propose new initiatives in the National Assembly for the governing authorities to consider moving forward. You see both sides criticize each other separately in press conferences and written statements, but very rarely do you see them engage each other in the public eye through debate and an exchange of ideas.

The Sarkisian administration and the opposition need to see eye to eye on the future steps towards reconciliation, because the longer they ignore one another, the ever more confused and disillusioned the public will be. Without some practical consensus on the Turkish-Armenian state of affairs the Armenian position will never appear to be very strong. The Armenian government needs to weigh the position of its foes on this issue before it makes any more decisions.

Photo credit: Andrew C.

Obama and the ‘G-word’

Obama Meets Erdogan Late Saturday night it was revealed that President Barack Obama failed to use the word “genocide” when addressing Armenian-Americans in his annual presidential address on April 24, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. Last year Armenians across the US and around the world were immensely disappointed. This year they are outright outraged, and they have every reason to be.

The text of the address was essentially a copy and paste job from last year’s letter, in which vague terminology and even factually incorrect information was written, along with a transliterated Armenian phrase to illustrate the Armenian Genocide. I read today that the Turks were nevertheless upset by the letter, even though there was really no reason to be since no blame was directly pointed at the Turks, past or present. The letter was written in a way to appease both Armenians and Turks, but indeed it proved to be a complete failure.

Particular disturbing was the following sentence for its irony and deception: “Together, the Turkish and Armenian people will be stronger as they acknowledge their common history and recognize their common humanity.” The “common history” and “common humanity” shared between the Armenians and Turks has always been one of oppression, hatred and brutality. There is no need to present research and cite sources here for anyone to understand that beyond common knowledge. Armenians were always considered second class citizens in the Ottoman Empire and in many ways even in modern Turkey. Today freedom of speech and education for Armenians are suppressed, and they are even being killed for speaking out in public about the genocide (Hrant Dink). Armenian businessmen, community leaders and intellectuals were always scorned in the old days, and when the overwhelming majority of them mysteriously disappeared virtually overnight on April 24, 1915, that marked the beginning of the end of “common humanity.”

There is also this bizarre statement, which appeared just before the one I pointed to above: “I salute the Turks who saved Armenians in 1915 and am encouraged by the dialogue among Turks and Armenians, and within Turkey itself, regarding this painful history.” Indeed, there were Turkish families who hid Armenians from Turkish gendarmes when the death marches, pillaging and raping raged. Yet they were few and far between, and they did virtually nothing (unless I don’t have my facts straight) to demonstrate opposition to government policy. Perhaps President Obama wasn’t briefed of the status of the “dialogue” last week, but something tells me there was no way of him being unaware of the current situation.

This year it became more obvious than ever that guns and money mean infinitely more than morality and honesty. For decades US presidents have refrained from using the “G-word” and although the pass-up was always disappointing to say the least, it was part of State Department policy. US military and strategic ties with Turkey have always been sacred. And now—with two wars waging in Western Asia and a key American air base in Incirlik—the US needs Turkey’s cooperation more than ever.

But this time there was a pertinent, timely issue that had never presented itself before—reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia, two centuries-old foes whose mutual animosities have prevented diplomatic relations from being rekindled since 1993 when Turkey closed the line of demarcation to show solidarity with its Turkic brother nation, Azerbaijan, during the Karakakh war. The US was a main player in brokering the two infamous Turkish-Armenian protocols. Both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama worked tirelessly to ensure that they were signed, and even harder to see that they be ratified by both Turkey and Armenia without preconditions. Alas, Turkey could not resist and resumed its insistence that Armenia forget about international recognition of the Armenian Genocide, weaken ties with the Armenian Diaspora, and, even more ridiculous, sign a peace deal pronto with Azerbaijan. Then the president had a tête-à-tête with Prime Minister Erdogan two weeks ago during the nuclear security summit in Washington, D.C. Only days after, Erdogan was reported to have renewed his drive for attaching preconditions before the protocols could be ratified. And then Armenia indefinitely put the protocols on the back burner.

So you have a US presidential administration that has been essentially belittled and undermined by Turkey before the entire world for the sake of guns and money. The US congress was pressing for President Obama to do the right thing this year, and I am sure other world nations were also waiting in anticipation, given the way the recent events have panned out. The entire time during the reconciliation process US State Department officials have been praising Armenia’s cooperation and they even lauded President Serge Sarkisian’s decision to remove the protocols from the National Assembly’s agenda rather than Armenia’s signiture. Concurrently, Turkey the naughty bully had been thumbing its nose at Washington, and Erdogan ultimately got his way.

Given the events of the last 10 days or so, this was certainly the year for the US president to do the right thing, especially after having been defied and essentially mocked by his “friend and ally” before the entire world. There was really no excuse this time, despite the waging wars and the dependence on Turkey. Erdogan and his Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu managed very nicely to look both President Obama and Secretary Clinton like naïve chumps. But it seems they are content with that. In the meantime, the Armenians continue hungrily waiting for justice, with hopes ever fading.

Photo credit: EPA

Armenia Suspends Protocol Ratification Process

FlagsWell, President Serge Sarkisian did it–he suspended the Turkish-Armenian protocol ratification process indefinitely. He pointed out the fact during his televised speech last night that Ankara is simply not ready to devote to ratifying the protocols and forming constructive relations with Armenia.

It makes no sense for Yerevan to continue talking about ratification any longer. However, he was smart to announce that Armenia remains committed to “normalization” and will not withdraw its signature from the protocols, much to the chagrin of some of the opposition parties (one of which several weeks ago conceded that it would indeed go along with the ratification of the protocols assuming Turkey ratified them first–I won’t name which party because it should be obvious).

And what is strange is that the US and France praised him for it. Philip Gordon,  US Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, today said “We applaud President Sargsyan’s decision to continue to work towards a vision of peace, stability, and reconciliation.”

This obviously means that the US and France–and probably Russia, no word yet about what Moscow thinks–are also not happy with how Turkey has been behaving since the protocols were signed last October, by insisting that ratifying the protocols/opening the border be contingent upon a Nagorno-Karabakh peace settlement in Azerbaijan’s favor. They are also undoubtedly fed up with Turkey causing a scandal every time an international lawmaking body decides to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

The Obama administration has spent a lot of time on the protocols and making sure they not only get signed but are ratified without preconditions from either side. President Obama met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for nearly an hour during the arms conference last week and also spoke with President Sarkisian separately, discussing rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia during some of that time. I am sure Erdogan mentioned that he didn’t want President Obama to use the “G-word” on April 24, but no one can say whether the president outright promised he wouldn’t.

Anyway, the point is that Turkey has placed both President Obana and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a “jack-ass’s place” as the Armenian saying goes. They undoubtedly are not pleased with Ankara’s adamant stance about having a Karabagh peace deal signed first and willingness to compromise, and despite Secretary Clinton’s previous comments that the most recent Armenian Genocide resolution will not make it to the House floor, President Obama may be peeved enough to use the “G-word” as I and millions of other Armenians round the world are hoping for in his April 24 address. The Turks are not going to close the Incirlik air base because they simply can’t defy the US, and fears that Turkey will pull out of contracts to buy new F-35 fighter planes from the US are also unfounded since too much has been invested in the development program by Turkey. The Turks are not about to renege, and they need to buy their Patriot missiles and helicopters from somewhere. In 2009 Turkey bought $7 billion worth of military equipment from the US, and they will likely spend that much this year.

Quite honestly, I will be surprised if President Obama doesn’t use the “G-word” on the 24th. In previous years it was understandable–wars were being raged with Turkey’s support, the Turkish lobby has always been strong, Turkey has always been a valuable NATO ally, and so forth. Now, in light of recent events there doesn’t appear to be any excuse. This year, Turkey had the golden chance to reconcile with Armenia, fully supported by US, Europe and even countries in Asia like Japan, and Ankara blew it. Not one country can say that Armenia is at fault. And Turkey finally has to understand that it must face up to its own history, not to mention play ball with Armenia.

By late tomorrow evening Yerevan time the current official US position on the Genocide issue will be clear. Let’s hope it is pro-Armenian for a change.

The Politics of the ‘G-word’

In a recent opinion piece written by Thomas de Waal for Foreign Policy, he writes that “In recent years, the issue of whether the U.S. president will use the “G word” — genocide — in his annual April 24 statement has degraded what should be the commemoration of a historical tragedy into grubby political bargaining.”

What does that mean exactly?

It has been the decades-long expectation for Armenian-Americans that the President of the United States use the word “genocide” when describing the events of 1915 against the Armenian population in Turkey in his annual April 24 commemoration address. The influential impact of the word “genocide” is not contained to President Obama. Also, it’s not only about commemorating a tragic event. It’s about changing the geopolitical dynamics in the region. Turkey would no longer be the “bad ass” on the street, bullying its smaller and in many ways weaker neighbors because it would lose the clout it enjoys. Turkey loves being the neighborhood bully, it always has, and its favorable geographic location has historically legitimized its aggressive strong-hand policies, since so many nations who turn a blind eye are dependent on utilizing Turkey’s location to their advantages–geostrategically and economically.

A now largely symbolic closure of the Armenian-Turkish border in no way hampers business being conducted between Turkish and Armenian businessman–on the contrary, Turkish goods completely flood the marketplace and have been predominant for years. There isn’t a sector of Armenian business where Turkish products cannot be found in ample, not to mention cheap supply. And that supply is not going to end when the US president says “genocide.” Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan will huff and puff for a week and calm down because he will have no other choice but to. Turkey needs its western neighbors just as much as they need it. And Turks enjoy making money off Armenian consumers.

Then, debate about not only atrocities committed against the Armenians but against Assyrians, Greeks and others will also rise to the surface. The Turkish government will need to address them all in kind and atone for its sins, just like the schoolyard bully after being called into the principal’s office for beating one too many kids. Turkey needs to understand that it cannot be the bully forever, that it needs to be humbled. The US president’s use of “genocide” in his annual address will start that transformation. There is no need to fear that the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement process will be jeopardized–Turkey has already seen to it, being the regional antagonist that it is. President Obama’s use of the “G-word” will only jump-start that process and ensure that it doesn’t stall again. And it has to happen now.

I often hear or read about people’s experiences when visiting Eastern Turkey, or more accurately although perhaps not “politically correct,” Western Armenia. Some tell me that they want to go, just to visit although they have no roots there, or to find the villages where their grandparents were born. I’ve recently learned that the obscure village where the Russian clan once thrived, called Sursury situated on the fringes of Kharpert (now Elazig) still exists. My grandfather, Hagop Russian, was born in that village. When I visited the Kharpert Museum of New Kharpert which is just beyond (or now barely within) Yerevan’s city limits, five years ago with my parents, we were surprised to learn that an Armenian monastery had once existed there.

I want to find it, just as I want to explore the village’s streets and perhaps, based on the few clues at my disposal, find the house where my grandfather was born, or else the location of it. I want to run a handful of soil of that land between my fingers, and plant a tree in honor of the fallen Russians. But I won’t, so long as the Turkish government fails to recognize the Armenian Genocide and stop its antagonistic, narrow-sighted state policy that is based on deceit, denial and the spilled blood of innocents once and for all. I will continue to distrust any Turkish citizen, no matter how sincere his overture of accepting the legitimacy of  the Armenian Genocide. I want to hear the Turkish government tell the world, and to acknowledge the Armenian historical presence on those lands. Until that happens, I don’t care if the border opens or not, and I won’t step foot into a land where my ancestors were unwanted and annihilated.

The Armenian Genocide is a historical issue as much as it is a political one. These days the recognition of its occurrence is certainly an issue left chiefly to politicians to resolve. If Western powers–especially the US–expect the region to transform and for Turkey as de Waal hopes as well as many others to become a “neutral player” in the region–whatever that is supposed to mean–and for peace (not to mention lucrative commerce) to prevail, the Genocide must be officially recognized by the Turkish government, there’s simply no other way for reconciliation to happen between Turkey and Armenia.

Good neighborly relations are based on trust, and Turkey has presented absolutely no indicators that it can be sincerely trusted by Armenia or any Armenians in its Diaspora before or since the protocols were signed. And as we all know, without trust, there is no peace.

Sarkisian, Erdogan Don’t See Eye to Eye

Seems there’s nothing positive that can be said about the Sarkisian-Erdogan meeting in Washington, DC that took place on April 12 on the sidelines of the nuclear security summit hosted by President Obama.

Both leaders have been tight-lipped about their meeting and their own separate sit-downs with President Obama, and there really isn’t a lot of information available regarding what was said. RFE/RL however wrote this:

According to the Turkish daily “Sabah,” Erdogan told Sarkisian that the existing “political atmosphere” does not bode well for their ratification by Turkey’s Grand National Assembly. He blamed it on recent decisions by U.S. and Swedish lawmakers to recognize the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

“If the protocols are brought to the agenda of the parliament while U.S. and Swedish parliaments are taking decisions on the issue, they will be rejected,” he reportedly said. “Sabah” also quoted Erdogan as also linking protocol ratification with decisive progress in international efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict.

Sarkisian, Erdogan Don't See Eye to EyeI think it became clear last autumn when Turkish leaders started insisting that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict be settled first before the protocols be ratified that Ankara was backtracking from its commitments for establishing formal diplomatic relations. Perhaps they thought that Yerevan was so desperate it would cut a quick and dirty deal with Azerbaijan just to get the Turkish-Armenian border opened, or else they wanted to show just who’s the boss to foreign powers with interests in the region. Lately, the Turks have been indicating that they want direct involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and have some role in the Minsk Group. But I don’t understand why Turkey would think that Armenia would unquestionably go along with its preconditions.

Meanwhile, Yerevan is playing hardball, insisting that there is no way worldwide Armenian Genocide recognition efforts can be suppressed. The Armenian leadership is still adamant that no preconditions can be attached to ratifying the protocols, namely regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution. It’s also absurd that Turkey actually thinks Armenia would sever ties with the Armenian Diaspora, its main support base, just because it wants that to happen. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured Sarkisian in their meeting on April 13 that the US was still pressing for normalization of relations without preconditions.

Quite honestly, I believe this whole charade between Turkey and Armenia that’s been playing out for well over a year now has been a grand chess match. And eventually, it was going to end in a stalemate. I don’t think Sarkisian really had any intentions to open the border at all costs and by whatever means necessary, as he led many to believe last year. He was simply trying to prove to the world that he was indeed a legitimately elected, relevant president and was willing to appease his neighbors, but not to the point of selling out his nation’s geopolitical and strategic interests. Many in the diaspora and Armenia who were taken aback by the protocols last August, myself included, started to panic. Maybe that’s what Sarkisian wanted–the protests in the diaspora served an effective way to ruffle Turkey’s feathers and see how it would react. And as we remember, it went on the offensive.

Now it’s a question of who is going to look more noble in the eyes of the world when this impasse is declared deadlocked–Erdogan or Sarkisian. President Obama’s address to Armenian-Americans on April 24 will be telling.