BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
“In Armenia they constantly fight for peace;. they don’t hand over land on which the blood of our boys has not dried.”
This was the response by Armenia’s Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to the outgoing United States Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills who in a farewell interview published by EVN Report on Tuesday discussed among other things the Karabakh conflict saying that any resolution would require return of some of what he called “occupied territories,” using the same language as Azerbaijan does in referring to Artsakh.
Mills is completing a three-and-a-half-year tour in Armenia.
“The harsh reality is that any settlement is going to require the return of some portion of the occupied territories,” Mills to EVN Report’s Maria Titizian, adding that maintaining the current status quo was not a favorable option for Armenia. He went on to make an odd assessment by blaming the rampant corruption in Armenia by mainly the former ruling elite on the closed borders resulting from Karabakh conflict, saying: “corruption didn’t grow because there are evil people here,” he said. “The ground was pretty fertile for it because you have closed borders and a very small economy, so it’s very easy to control markets.”
“I was surprised when I first got here and found out that most Armenians I met were adamantly opposed to the return of the occupied territories as part of a negotiation settlement,” saying that he believed that the so-called “occupied territories” were part of some kind of “land for peace” deal, emphasizing that return of lands has long been a party of the Madrid Principles that are currently serving as a basis for the negotiation process. It is interesting that Mills only mentioned the “return of territories” provision of the principles and not the ones that actually are designed to ensure security and stability in the region.
His tone deaf statements on Artsakh have caused an uproar from Yerevan to Stepanakert to Washington, Brussels and Los Angeles. Ambassador Mills’ statement became fodder for criticism by not only government officials in Armenia and Artsakh, but also advocates for justice for Artsakh and its right to self-determination.
Artsakh’s presidential spokesperson David Babayan was puzzled by Mills’ statements saying that the people of Artsakh want peace in return for peace, calling Mills’ assessment of “land for peace” ludicrous at best.
Babayan argued that Artsakh would never loosen—or compromise—its security and warned that Mills’ statements are essentially drawing the Armenians to become victims of yet another Genocide.
“There are no ‘occupied territories’ in Artsakh,” declared Babayan.
“Ambassador Mills rounds out his time in Armenia with reckless remarks about Artsakh. Sadly, his was a tenure marked by moving goalposts and missed opportunities. Too many lectures, too little action,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America in a Twitter post on Tuesday.
Mills’ statements on Artsakh were not the only eyebrow raising points in his interview.
“Ultimately, what we want for Armenia is that it follow its own foreign policy based on a very basic principle; Armenia is a sovereign nation, it should make its own decisions based on its own interests and the interests of the Armenian people,” Mills told EVN Report.
Yet it seems his wish for Armenia to have a sovereign foreign policy hinges on whether Armenia advances the United States’ agenda and priorities in the region, because at one point Mills admonishes Armenia for not having done enough to push back Iran, Armenia’s neighbor to the south and a country with which Armenia enjoys economic and friendly relations.
He said if Armenia wants to be taken seriously as a member of the international community it has to speak out when Iran “engages in destructive behavior that violates international law or the norms of behavior.”
“We will be looking to Armenia to join others to speak out,” said Mills directly countering his earlier statement about the U.S. wanting Armenia to “follow its own foreign policy.”
Interestingly Mills makes what I would like to call demands on Armenia after commending Yerevan for partnering with the U.S. on other international initiatives, such as Genocide prevention.
“We’ve worked with Armenia on genocide prevention and Geneva, these are important global issues and we’re happy and pleased that Armenia is playing a role,” said Mills before outlining his—and the United States’—vision of what Armenia should do to have a seat at the table. That’s rich coming from a country that while applauding Armenia on its efforts to prevent genocide, has done everything to not only deny the Armenian Genocide but to work alongside Turkey to promote its own denialist policies, which have paved the way for Ankara to utilize the same tactics on its own people in Turkey.
Ambassador Mills’ incongruent , and often patronizing if not destructive statements, completely diminish and undermine his vocal support for the Velvet Revolution, or the “April/May events” as he calls it, and seem to indicate that the U.S. is encouraged by the people’s movement in Armenia only if it suits its needs.
No thank you Mr. Ambassador and good riddance. We can hope that Lynne Tracy, President Trump’s nominee to replace Mills, will have a different approach on Armenian issues, but I am not holding my breath.