BY SETO BOYADJIAN, ESQ.
As Members of Congress and Armenian Americans were celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Artsakh’s freedom and democracy movement on Capitol Hill last week, Representatives Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Steve Cohen (D-TN), the co-chairs of Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus, launched a preemptive campaign against Congressional efforts at extending recognition to the independent Republic of Artsakh.
In a “Dear Colleague” letter, the co-chairs cautioned the Members of Congress against such recognition. They said, “[W]e write to inform you of our concerns about an effort to involve the US Congress in recognizing the province of Nagorno-Karabakh as a free and independent country.” They argued that “This is contrary to longstanding US policy in the South Caucuses and would destabilize an area of the world that desperately needs to resolve its issues peacefully.”
In their letter on behalf of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus, Shuster and Cohen pleaded with their Congressional colleagues the following points against recognition of independent Artsakh:
1. That the co-chairs “have no reason to believe that an effort to create statehood for Nagorno-Karabakh will do anything to relieve the ethnic and religious tension in the region.”
2. That the existing conflict should be resolved “peacefully and diplomatically, not by haste or by force.”
3. That, to that end, the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has been working toward finding a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict.
4. That just two months ago the President of Armenia himself has “advised against Armenian recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh, warning that such recognition would end the Minsk talks and force his nation to prepare for military conflict.”
It is expected of the Azerbaijani lobby to counter Armenian support for Artsakh with a campaign based on falsehood, false pretenses, shallow hyping of Azerbaijan’s importance, and distorted facts. This type of campaign has always been short-lived and very soon falls flat on its face.
The anti-Artsakh campaign becomes worrisome and attains an air of credibility when Azeris find the necessary support for their arguments from Armenian sources. The higher the source, the more reliable becomes the Azeri position. A flagrant example of this situation is carried in the “Dear Colleague” letter where it refers to President Serzh Sarkisian’s opposition to Armenia’s recognition of independent Artsakh that he publicly stated two months ago during the presidential campaigns.
Sarkisian’s opposition to the recognition of Artsakh may be a tactical move, but formulating his position in an awkward manner is helping Azeri arguments and damaging the cause of Artsakh.
Unfortunately, Sarkisian has become gaffe-prone when dealing publically with issues pertaining the Armenian Genocide, Artsakh and the Armenian Cause.
Just last Tuesday, on March 19, responding to a reporter’s question on Armenia’s possible recognition of the Republic of Artsakh, Sarkisian yet again committed the same gaffe on this matter. He said that such recognition “would not bring any benefit for Armenians neither in Armenia nor in Karabakh.”
What’s more ironic, he went on to echo one of the points of the “Dear Colleague” letter by stating that recognition would halt the peace process led by the OSCE Minsk Group. He said, “This step could hit the co-chair countries in the Minsk group like a slap in the face. If a war breaks out, we cannot fight against the whole world. Such a decision would ruin our weight in the international area. Our citizens would not probably benefit from it.”
This was manna from heaven for the Azeris. They immediately began exploiting it, as they had done with prior gaffes of Sarkisian. Thousands of Azeri tweets went out claiming, “Armenia admits recognition of Karabakh would violate the Minsk protocol and do no good for Armenians.” This gaffe will now reinforce the position of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus in its quest to undermine Armenian American efforts in support of Artsakh’s self-determination and independence.
Sarkisian’s diplomatic faux-pas and political gaffes damaging essential Armenian issues are not new. They began at the onset of his first presidency in Moscow when he announced his “football” diplomacy with Turkey, and went on to repeat them over and over again: On the eve of April 24, he gave an interview in New York Times downplaying the acknowledgment of Armenian Genocide; instead of detecting the inherent dangers of the Protocols with Turkey, he cherished them as a source of salvation to Armenia; in an attempt to please President Obama, he equated “Medz Yeghern” to Genocide. His last attempt at gaffes was his repeated negation of Artsakh’s independence.
One of the fundamental qualities expected of Armenia’s President is to minimize public gaffes that jeopardize national interests. An equally fundamental quality is to avoid awkward enunciations that may be exploited against the national cause.
So far Serzh Sarkisian has been missing on both counts.
Seto Boyadjian is an attorney and serves on the national board of ANCA.