BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
The controversy over the State Department’s recent mischaracterization of Nagorno Karabakh as a region of Azerbaijan has spilled over into social media, with the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan and the Armenian National Committee of America sparring on-line over the proper place of democracy and freedom in U.S. foreign policy.
The on-line exchange on this longstanding difference began on May 25, with Asbarez’s posting of an article, widely circulated on Facebook and Twitter, about the ANCA criticism of the State Department’s recently release human rights report.
On Saturday, May 26, the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan responded to public criticism of its the 2011 Human Rights Report, from the ANCA and others, by posting a note on its Facebook page.
The Embassy’s post was first reported in the media by News.am, in Armenia.
The text of the U.S. Embassy posting read as follows: “The language describing Nagorno-Karabakh in the 2011 Human Rights Report for Armenia follows our guidelines for the reports of all countries. It in no way prejudges the outcome of the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group. We continue to uphold the principles of the Helsinki Final Act – in particular those relating to the non-use of force or the threat of force, territorial integrity, and equal rights and self-determination of peoples – as fundamental elements of any resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
The following day, May 27, the ANCA’s Aram Hamparian posted the following comment:
“Dear friends at the U.S. Embassy: Thank you for the opportunity, as an American citizen, to share these views on your Facebook page. I would welcome your comments, as well as those of our many Facebook friends. Best regards, Aram Suren Hamparian.”
The State Department was wrong to use a human rights report—one that should properly focus on the very real human rights issues at play in the Caucasus, all around the world, and even here at home—as a platform to seek to make a political point, at the expense of democratic self-determination, in support of Azerbaijan’s false claim of sovereignty over Nagorno Karabakh.
The text in question, included in both the Armenia and Azerbaijan sections of the Department’s 2011 human rights report, asserts that: “Ethnic Armenian separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the country and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories.” There is no valid reason for language dealing with sovereignty issues in a human rights report (this matter can and is dealt with in other publications and statements), except to appease Azerbaijan. To test this proposition, ask yourself: Would this language have been included if Azerbaijan had not pressed for it?
The ANCA has commented publicly on this matter, stating: “With a short sentence, remarkably long on errors of both fact and bias, the State Department risks rolling back the cause of democracy and self-determination a half a century or more. By this standard, few if any of the more than 80 states that have joined the U.N. over the past fifty years would have been allowed entry into the community of free nations.”
This approach is particularly destructive, since it so very transparently—despite all protestations to the contrary—seeks to pre-judge the final status of Nagorno Karabakh in accord with Baku’s undemocratic demands. Denials of the damage that this policy inflicts are about as credible as the claims, also from the State Department, that Kosovo’s independence, and U.S. support for same, should not be a precedent for Nagorno Karabakh, or any other peoples for that matter. Double standards are noticed, and they eat away at the very foundations of our diplomatic credibility. Pretending they don’t is a luxury our nation cannot afford. To test this proposition, ask yourself: Would the U.S. be defending the untenable and undemocratic positions of Azerbaijan’s Aliyev neo-monarachy so vigorously were it not for its control of Caspian energy riches?
According to the double standard applied by our State Department, the Obama Administration, in the name of “territorial integrity,” would have opposed the unraveling of the Soviet Union and even, it seems, the independence of the American colonies.
Imagine, if only for a moment, how ridiculous would it be for the U.S. State Department to have commented on the American Revolution according to same logic it is using today to seek to force Nagorno Karabakh’s return to Azerbaijani (mis)rule: With a few word-swaps, we would have: “Ethnic American separatists, with France’s support, continued to control most of the thirteen colonies of the British Empire.”
It’s sad to see the diplomatic representatives of America – a nation born in a struggle for freedom and that led the campaign to secure the world’s freedom from the Soviet threat and to help deliver freedom for all the peoples of this anti-democratic empire – reduced to defending the very Stalin-imposed artificial borders we once so vigorously condemned.
We can, and must, do better.
This may be among the first social media deliberations between state and citizens over U.S. policy on Armenian issues, but it surely won’t be the last.
As with all other aspects of America’s great experiment in democratic self-government, the more sunshine the better. Only those with something to hide – or a policy they cannot defend – prefer to do their work in the shadows. Vigorous and open discourse on Armenian issues is a healthy thing, one that all stakeholders should welcome with open arms.
Let the debates begin!