BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
In assessing Armenia’s foreign policy accomplishment of last year, Foreign Minister Eduard Nalabandian in January lauded Armenia’s relations with the US as being the best in the 20-year history of the newly independent republic. His conclusion was based on the number of phone calls and meetings the Sarkisian administration had with high-ranking US officials, including a meeting with Obama and the 2010 visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
However, the outcome of those high-level discussions does not reflect the posturing of either official Yerevan or the Obama Administration vis-à-vis U.S.-Armenia relations. The Sarkisian Administration has not forcefully engaged in all matters Armenian and has missed significant opportunities to push back on US policy.
We have written ad nauseam about President Obama’s and Secretary Clinton’s broken promises regarding the Armenian Genocide and what the Armenian-American community has had to contend with during the Administration. That said, when Secretary Clinton opted to downgrade—or downplay—the Armenian Genocide by calling it a matter of historical debate, didn’t Nalbandian have a responsibility to call her out? The international recognition of the Genocide is part of Armenia’s Constitution, which he is sworn to uphold.
The most recent breach of fundamental diplomacy by the State Department was the categorization of Nagorno-Karabakh as a region controlled by “ethnic Armenian separatists” in Azerbaijan in its annual human rights report. This element is key to the peace process as the OSCE Minsk Group, of which the US is a co-chair, is tasked to determine the final status of Karabakh. The State Department classification runs counter to the letter and spirit of the ongoing peace talks, because it signals that the US has already made up its mind, rendering the talks futile, at best.
Nalbandian was in Chicago to attend the NATO Summit, which was boycotted by Sarkisian due to the language adopted by the gathering regarding the issue of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity within the context of the Karabakh peace process. That would have been an appropriate forum for Nalbandian to vociferously demand from the international community—especially the US—to not toy with Armenia’s national security interests and object to random announcements that could have dire repercussions on the final Karabakh peace plan.
The Obama Administration’s financing of the AzerSpace satellite deal with Baku, and green-lighting a sale of advanced helicopter-based sensing equipment to Azerbaijan only provides Armenia’s adversaries in Baku with more ammunition to advance its military rhetoric and stockpile more hardware that could potentially be used against Armenia.
Once again, Nalbandian and the Sarkisian administration did not protest, or if they did, they did not publicize their opposition to this notion of a love affair with the US and the current administration.
Here in the US, the Turkish and Azeri diplomatic corps has been intricately engaged in driving US policy in favor of their denialist agenda and advancing the unacceptable gag-rule they have successfully enforced on the US. Armenia’s inaction and absence, especially during the Genocide resolution processes and efforts to downplay the Sumgait, Kirovabad, Baku and Shahumian pogroms of Armenians, was inexcusable.
If Nalbandian and Sarkisian have chosen to distance themselves from these realities, then they must not also interfere with the efforts of the Armenian-American community that is working hard to advance the national aspirations of all Armenians.
Recently, during a meeting in Yerevan, Nalbandian thanked Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois for supporting Armenian Genocide recognition efforts, despite the fact that he has, in recent years, refused to support the Armenian Genocide Resolution or to call for the recognition of this crime by the Obama Administration.
These missteps by the Sarkisian Administration, especially Nalbandian, are costing Armenia and Armenians significantly. When Clinton arrives in Armenia to praise the “unprecedented friendship” the two countries enjoy, while advancing an agenda that is fraught with concessions for Armenia, the Sarkisian administration should forcefully push back to preserve Armenia’s national security interests and its dignity in the international community.
A phone call or a photo op is neither a sign nor a substitute for a strong friendship!