The adage is that “actions speak louder than words.” The principles and concepts guiding the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s (ARF) recently announced roadmap to regime change in Armenia are consistent with the historic mission of the ARF.
Unfortunately, however, it took the protocols—an 11th hour development in the process of normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey—for the ARF to respond not only to these documents, but to conditions that have been festering for close to 20 years in the homeland (Armenia, Artsakh (Karabagh), and Javakhk):
First, the abysmal socio-economic conditions in Armenia that have plagued its workers and their families. Second, the conditions afflicting the Javakheti Armenians, which have steadily deteriorated during this time frame. Only recently the Javakheti Armenian activist Vahagn Chakhalyan was the victim of flagrant police and judicial misconduct for having spoken out against the restrictive policies of the government. He was convicted of acquiring and possessing weapons, “hooliganism,” and violating public order (an event that occurred two years prior to the instant charge). He is presently serving a 10-year term in a prison where the most hardened criminals in the Georgian penal system are sent (see “Javakhk Activist Vahagn Chakhalyan: Justice Denied by Georgia,” the Armenian Weekly, Sept. 18, 2009). And finally, the failure of Armenia to have the Nagorno Karabagh Republic become a party to the negotiations that will determine its future. This has been Karabagh’s goal since 1994, when a ceasefire ended hostilities and the republic gained de facto independence.
After that somewhat critical assessment, let it be understood that the ARF is the one entity that has the experience and the determination to guide Armenia out of the quagmire into which the Sarkisian government has led the country. For 120 years, the Dashnaktsutiun has been the principal Armenian adversary of the Ottoman Turkish government and all subsequent Turkish governments in representing the injustices perpetrated against the Armenian nation. Its founding in Tiflis (Tbilisi) in 1890 was to advance social democratic principles by whatever means necessary to improve the political and economic wellbeing of the Armenians in the Anatolian provinces of Ottoman Turkey (the historic western provinces of Armenia). In terms of its mission, history, organization, and public support, the ARF is prepared to undertake this vital effort at regime change in Armenia.
However, the means for affecting this change represents a difficult challenge. The present situation demands that the ARF interpret its roadmap to regime change as being not only multi-faceted in its mission, but multi-operational in its implementation. Effective regime change requires (1) preventing parliamentary ratification of the protocols or significant modification of the negotiation results; (2) strengthening Stepanakert’s claim to Karabagh and the liberated territories, and forcefully aiding in its determination to secure de jure independence; (3) aiding the Javakheti Armenians to secure improved economic and political conditions, and the right to their language and cultural institutions; (4) implementing socio-economic initiatives to improve the quality of life for workers and their families in Armenia; and (5) preparing for the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.
Given the evolving nature of this crisis, the Dashnaktsutiun does not have the luxury of time to respond in a step-by-step progression to achieve these objectives. They must be prepared to launch an offensive that has multiple objectives requiring simultaneous (and possibly divergent) courses of action. This is a gargantuan task that requires the harnessing of human resources and the raising of funds far beyond anything the ARF has previously attempted.
The beginning salvos have already been fired. The demonstrations in Armenia must increase in size and frequency if they are to have any effect influencing the Sarkisian government as well as sending a message to Ankara.
Demonstrations throughout the Armenian Diaspora should complement these efforts as a means to provide moral support for their compatriots in the homeland and to send a message of disapproval to the Minsk Group countries. Maintaining this level of participation requires that the ARF articulate reasons why this ongoing process of normalization is a threat to the political viability of Armenia as well as to the future wellbeing of the Armenian citizen.
The ARF must organize conferences where articulate speakers will present the Dashnaktsutiun’s position with respect to its roadmap objectives to sympathetic journalists, legislators, leaders of advocacy groups, and influential business executives.
The tri-chairs of the Minsk Group—Russia, France, and the United States—know full well the price they are requiring Armenia to pay. However, this should not dissuade the ARF from openly questioning why Armenia’s national interests should be sacrificed for Turkey’s benefit. Once the Minsk Group has forced Armenia to accede to Turkey’s interests, it will turn its attention—as it has already begun to do—to resolving the Karabagh issue with no consideration of the price the Karabaghtsis will be required to pay.
To assist the ARF in providing position papers to support the objectives of regime change envisioned in the roadmap, “think tanks” must be organized and staffed by competent professionals. There is no shortage of Armenian men and women with expertise in any field that the ARF may require as it formulates and implements this comprehensive program for regime change. Position papers must be distributed to media outlets, sympathetic foreign governments and legislators, and especially to members of the U.S. Congressional Armenian Caucus. These “papers” must explain the adverse impact this pressured rapprochement will have on the political vitality of Armenia and on the legitimate issues that successive Turkish governments have refused to acknowledge. Garnering effective support for its roadmap to regime change is predicated upon showing the legitimacy of the Armenian Cause (Hai Tahd); the degraded position of the Armenian worker and his family; and an understanding of the background with respect to the Karabaghtsis’ determination to be independent and the legal and human rights principles that support their actions. The position papers must explain how and why the Javakheti Armenians are continually being denied their basic economic and political rights as citizens of Georgia, and of the government’s attempts to deny them their use of the Armenian language and cultural institutions. The adverse environment created by the Georgian government is aimed at acculturating the Armenian minority or, failing that, encouraging them to leave their historic lands.
It cannot be assumed that those who may be in a position to aid the ARF—journalists, political leaders, major donors, and the rank and file Armenian public—understand the history of events and the rationale that motivates the Dashnaktsutiun in its determination to effect regime change. In support of this objective, a steady stream of journalists, foreign legislators, advocacy leaders, and businessmen must be invited to Karabagh to hear and see for themselves the story of the Karabaghtsis. The resettlement program to increase the population of Artsakh by some 100,000 people (about 30-35,000 families) has lagged, and the population of Artsakh has not increased appreciably since 1994. This was a major initiative of the Stepanakert government that would have served to strengthen its hold on the liberated territories (see “The Political-Strategic Resettlement of Karabakh’s Security Zone,” the Armenian Weekly, June 30-July 7, 2007).
Javakhk presents a different set of problems. Who but a handful of Armenians know precisely what our brothers and sisters in this historic Armenian region within Georgia are forced to endure? As with Artsakh, a steady stream of official visitors should be invited to see the conditions for themselves and to hear the concerns of the people. Should the Georgian government refuse entry to these foreign journalists a
nd legislators, all the better to show the attitude of a government that contravenes the positive changes in its treatment of minorities—which it has agreed to introduce as a member of the European Union’s “European Neighborhood Policy.” Whether these visitors are allowed entry or are refused, Tbilisi cannot escape the onus for the adverse condition of the Javakheti Armenians.
Implementing the roadmap to regime change demands a highly coordinated offensive that cannot be accomplished without massive support within and beyond Armenia. It requires a well conceived and executed information generating and distributing system that effectively supports the roadmap’s objectives. There are formidable obstacles that the ARF must overcome in carrying out its proposed changes. The party not only faces an entrenched power structure and a political philosophy that makes legitimate opposition difficult, but it must contend with the Minsk Group chaired by France, Russia, and the United States, which has been responsible for pressuring Armenia to capitulate to Turkish interests in order to facilitate their respective national interests. Not to be underestimated are the visceral attacks that may be made by pro-Sarkisian and anti-Dashnaktsutiun elements that seek to join the ARF to many of the problems they now claim they are prepared to solve.
Armenia is not without some leverage in responding to these pressures. Iran has much to lose if this rapprochement as presently formatted is carried to its expected conclusion. Iran has a sizeable Turkic population adjacent to Azerbaijan whose allegiance to Teheran has always been problematic. A Turkish victory could have a significant impact on the internal political stability and spatial integrity of Iran, where slightly less than 50 percent of the population are ethnic Persians. Russia’s role in the present situation is perplexing. It is reminiscent of the Bolshevik’s inability to accurately gauge Ataturk’s philosophical predilections when it gave Armenia’s historic lands to Turkey (Treaty of Kars) in 1921 as part of its failed attempt to encourage their Turkic neighbor (Azerbaijan as well) to become ideological soul mates. Moscow misread the situation then and it appears that it may be misreading the situation now. What Russia expects to gain by betraying Armenia, its only reliable ally in the south Caucasus, is difficult to fathom. There is room in the south Caucasus for only one major power: Turkey (a United States surrogate at least for the time being) or Russia. The unlikely key that may determine what will happen with respect to the ongoing process of rapprochement may very well depend on Artsakh’s response. The determination of its people to defend their independence is the one element that has not been fully taken into consideration simply because it is believed that the republic will not or could not respond to an Azeri attack. Only time will tell.
Part II of this commentary will appear next week.