BY MICHAEL MENSOIAN
Déjà vu. Again we anxiously wait to see if the resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide will be favorably voted out of the House Foreign Relations Committee. If Turkey with its coterie of paid lobbyists, academic surrogates, and other associated anti-genocide proponents fails to defeat congressional passage of the resolution, another moral victory may be added to the two dozen or so moral victories in hand from foreign governments that have recognized the genocide.
Several years ago it was opined that Turkey was sufficiently emboldened to launch a diplomatic offensive that was geared to placing Yerevan in a compromising position based on its obsessive desire to normalize relations and have an open border (see “Normalization Can Never Be Worth Turkey’s Asking Price,” the Armenian Weekly, Dec. 6, 2008). Secret negotiations between Ankara and Yerevan during 2008 culminated in President Serge Sarkisian’s “surprise” invitation to Turkish President Abdullah Gul to attend the soccer match in Yerevan. Thus began the “soccer diplomacy” charade leading to the signing of the protocols and Sarkisian’s invitation to witness the second meeting of their nation’s soccer teams in Bursa, Turkey.
At the same time in the United States, the Armenian electorate was euphoric when candidate Obama recognized the Armenian Genocide as a historic fact. Why those who supported his candidacy should have been dismayed when this charming eloquent politician qualified his explanation is difficult to understand. As president, he adroitly side-stepped his acceptance of the Armenian Genocide by essentially saying that it was his personal belief and not the basis for United States foreign policy (see “President Obama’s Message to Turkey: Let’s Agree to Disagree on the Armenian Genocide,” the Armenian Weekly, April 18, 2009).
Rapprochement is the Turkish Trojan Horse of their diplomatic offensive whose acceptance will marginalize Armenia as an effective political entity. Its concomitant objective is to eliminate the political, economic, and psychological “millstone” that Hai Tahd represents and by association the influence of the Dashnaktsutiun that has been Hai Tahd’s historic proponent. Recently Sarkisian not only challenged recalcitrant Turkey to ratify the protocols, but has spoken forcefully with respect to Karabagh’s right to independence. Hopefully this is not more “planned spontaneity.” Time will tell. However, the ARF remains the principal Armenian organization opposed to the ratification of these documents. Individuals and organizations that have accepted the view “Let’s see what happens” or “It’s in the best interests of Armenia” represents a grasping for straws which places faith in a process that has yet to show how the Armenian nation will benefit. It is this group that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton encourages to continue their support of Yerevan.
Normalization with an open border provides absolutely no benefit for Armenia. No explanation has yet been offered by proponents to contradict this assessment. Any benefit that might be conjured would come at an exorbitant cost (see “Sarkisian’s Faustian Bargain,” Armenian Weekly, Oct. 24, 2009). While the United States continues to press Yerevan, the Minsk Group (United States, France, and Russia), representing the interests of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), continues to seek a settlement of the Karabagh conflict that will deny de jure independence to the Karabaghtsis (see “The Key to Armenia’s Future Political and Economic Future,” the Armenian Weekly, January 2010 magazine). Political stability and economic development in the south Caucasus is a laudable goal, but should it come at the expense of Armenia’s interests and those Armenians who live in the historic Armenian regions of Artsakh, Javakhk, and eastern Anatolia?
Since independence in 1991, a maelstrom of events has battered Armenia and the Armenians of Artsakh and Javakhk. The protocols and rapprochement are the most recent issues to confront the Armenian nation. The ARF has recognized the inherent dangers to Armenia posed by these protocols. The Jan. 12, 2010 ruling by Armenia’s Constitutional Court tangentially confirmed the ARF’s concerns, but does not prevent the protocols from being presented to parliament for ratification. Ankara views the decision as hindering their insidious plot to use the protocols’ suggested historic commission to redefine the Armenian “Genocide.” The Turkish end-game has always been to marginalize Armenia, eliminate the moral issue of genocide that besets the nation, and in the process nullify Hai Tahd and the influence of the Dashnaktsutiun. According to their reasoning, whatever else remains will easily fall into place.
Unfortunately, neither preventing the ratification of the protocols nor genocide recognition by the United States Congress will provide the proverbial “silver bullet” that will smite Turkey and allow final victory to be declared. (To what political end has genocide recognition by France and Russia served?) A universe of legitimate issues exist—many are long-standing—that must be vigorously confronted and resolved before Armenia’s future is secure. The singular problem for the ARF is to determine the how and when and where it may efficiently and effectively respond to these challenges. This is no easy matter.
This universe of issues encompasses the harsh unjustified political, economic, and cultural policies that the Georgian government imposes upon the Javakheti Armenians. Yerevan is not aggressively confronting Tbilisi on these policies and actions that contravene the required economic, political, and core democratic value changes in its treatment of minorities agreed to by Georgia in 2006 as a member of the European Union’s “European Neighborhood Policy” (ENP). And this by a government that the United States steadfastly maintains is the beacon of democracy in the south Caucasus. If these discriminatory policies by Tbilisi are not challenged (hopefully by the ARF) within the next several generations Armenian Javakhk will be irretrievably lost.
Linked to this “harassment” is the perversion of justice perpetrated on the Javakheti Armenian activist Vahagnn Chakhalyan (sentenced in 2009 to 10 years in prison) that has been visited upon two other activists: Gurgen Shirinyan, who was given a 3-year sentence in October 2009 in addition to a 17-year sentence originally handed down in 2008, both trials in absentia; and the ongoing trial of Aram Batoyan, again in absentia, who is being tried on charges that date back to 2005 (see “Javakheti Activist Vahagn Chakhalyan: Justice Denied by Georgia,” the Armenian Weekly, Sept. 19, 2009). This police and judicial misconduct has been documented by Yerkir Union and acknowledged by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
Then there is Karabagh. Since the 1994 ceasefire, the imperative to resettle strategic areas of Karabagh has languished. What happened to the government’s program to increase the population by some 100,000 people? During the 14 years of de facto independence, the population has basically remained unchanged (see “The Political-Strategic Resettlement of Karabagh’s Security Zone,” the Armenian Weekly, June 30-July 7, 2007). On another front, what is being done to lay the requisite foundation to support Karabagh’s right to be recognized as an independent political entity? It will take more than public declarations that the Karabaghtsis have this inalienable right. It would be a logical initiative for the ARF to convene a conference of recognized scholars who would discuss the legal and human rights basis for the former Soviet autonomous region of Karabagh to be independent. Coincidentally, what is being done to influence sympathetic journalists, political leaders (especially members of the U.S. Congressional Armen
ian Caucus), business leaders, leaders of advocacy groups, and the public at large (including Armenians) by visits and reports to support Karabagh’s right to recognition? Azerbaijan and its enabler Turkey are being allowed to describe the conflict in terms of terrorist activity and the claim for independence as an Armenian irredentist ploy.
And now Turkey. There are so many issues that have been left to languish. Where to begin? The destruction and seizure of religious and educational property and its restitution or indemnification have not been forcefully and continuously challenged in appropriate venues. Neither has government policy allowing for the physical decay of cultural artifacts or for their planned destruction. What of the Armenian farmlands, businesses, and homes that were involuntarily abandoned when the Ottoman Turkish government carried out its genocidal plan to empty historic western Armenia (eastern Turkey) of its inhabitants resulting in the systematic murder of some 1.5 million innocent Armenian men, women, and children? At best only sporadic, uncoordinated, and ineffectively implemented actions have been made to challenge these issues to which Turkey is vulnerable.
And finally, what of the tens of thousands of children and young women who were “taken” by tribal villagers (under varying circumstances) and required to live within an alien cultural environment. During the ensuing 90 years, these “lost” Armenians of the genocide became the progenitors of successive generations who presently populate the Turkish western provinces of historic Armenia. Has thought been given to what should or could be done with respect to these “forgotten” Armenians still connected by blood to the martys of the genocide?
It is obvious that this universe of issues contains more than the protocols and genocide recognition. In accepting the challenge, the ARF faces a Herculean task that far transcends anything the Dashnaktsutiun may have attempted in the past. In charting its course of action, the ARF must continue its active engagement of the Armenian Diaspora for the moral and financial support required to achieve its mission. And it must harness the expertise of those dedicated Armenian men and women who can assist in formulating and implementing the initiatives necessary to achieve its objectives. Now is the most critical period in the modern history of the Armenian nation. If the Dashnaktsutiun fails to vigorously and effectively confront these challenges, who will?