Should Armenia Have Withdrawn Its Signature?

Should Armenia Have Withdrawn Its SignatureA week after President Serge Sarkisian announced that the National Assembly would put the ratification process of the Turkish-Armenian protocols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.