Special for the Armenian Weekly
The stiffest challenge facing us in the post-Centennial era is an international political environment that is less than receptive to our efforts. No one can foretell just how this hostile political landscape will evolve within the next 5, or 10, or more years, but if the European Union (EU) and the United States continue to blindly support Turkey and Azerbaijan, our core objectives will remain difficult to achieve.
Our Centennial observances drew world-wide attention and were successful on several levels: 1) as a public relations effort, 2) in uniting Armenians in a common effort, and 3) in helping in the continued process of freeing us from the psychological chains of victimhood that have overshadowed our success conquering adversity. Unfortunately, these year-long observances became a one and done deal. Well received as they were, there was no substantive support for our Cause, nor was political capital generated that could be banked and spent at some propitious time in the future. Absent political victories, we assign too much importance to expressions of good will, such as genocide recognition by foreign entities; the laying of flowers at Tsitsernakaberd by visiting officials; the admonishing of Turkish leaders by foreign dignitaries that they should acknowledge their country’s past; Pope Francis’s reference to the slaughter of our people as a genocide; and even the various initiatives that flow from the EU and the United States to assist Armenia.
All of this is very important to Armenia, but even more important is the simple fact that these governments, international organizations, and entrepreneurs make a very sharp distinction between recognizing our country as a political entity and supporting its internal socioeconomic and political development, as opposed to supporting our country’s external socioeconomic and political objectives. This is why Turkey feels no pressure to recognize the genocide and Azerbaijan is empowered to maintain its belligerent stance toward Armenia.
While the maelstrom that has engulfed the Middle East has decimated our historic centers in Syria, it has significantly added to Turkey’s political importance. As the principal conduit for refugees entering Europe en masse, Europe is forced to accommodate Turkey if it wishes to stench this flow of humanity that could easily destabilize its socioeconomic and political order if it continues unabated. Ankara benefits by being a key player, militarily and diplomatically, within the region where it advances its own agenda while taking advantage of conflicts that begin, coalesce, separate, and grind on without end. And the EU and the United States have accepted Turkey as a valuable (even if less than trustworthy) ally against Russia and Iran.
Some will quickly point to Turkey’s internal weaknesses and denigrate its strengths. Please! Since I can remember there have been regular reports (especially by Armenians) that Turkey is on the brink of imminent collapse. Well, here we are nearly a century after Lausanne and Turkey, problems and all, is not about to self-destruct for our benefit. Obviously if and when it may occur, tomorrow or 50 years from tomorrow, we must be prepared to respond.
In a similar vein, we continue to hear the same dire assessments about Azerbaijan’s future. Oil prices are plummeting. Their energy reserves are dwindling. Its economy is contracting. President Ilham Aliyev is being forced to resort to draconian measures to remain in control. Increasing the number and intensity of attacks along the Line of Contact (LoC) and on Armenia’s Tavush District border serves to distract his people from the country’s deteriorating economic and sociopolitical conditions. Yet, even as President Aliyev becomes more and more truculent, the European Union and the United States continue to press for a negotiated settlement that denies Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh) its independence. They continue to support Azerbaijan’s specious claim that Armenia invaded its territory and remains an illegal occupier of its land. Ignored is 1) the Artsakh Armenians’ inalienable right of self-determination to free themselves from 70 years of economic, political, and cultural discrimination; 2) the right of Armenia’s military forces to come to the aid of their minority compatriots in Azerbaijan who were caught in the throes of a developing genocide; and 3) Artsakh’s right to participate in the negotiations concerning its future, although its representative was a party to the negotiations that led to the 1994 ceasefire.
For the present we are forced to rely on Russia. We are allies of necessity with a country that owns us lock, stock, and barrel. Favoring Armenia (and Artsakh) in this unequal alliance is Russia’s determination to protect its southern flank, which stretches from the South Caucasus into Central Asia. Moscow’s interest is no less than ours. Should Turkey become preeminent in the South Caucasus, the restive Islamic states on the north slope of the Caucasus might be emboldened to seek independence. Any shift in the balance of power toward Turkey would allow Ankara to place greater economic and political pressure on Georgia. We can only imagine the adverse economic (and political) impact that would have on Armenia. It would accelerate Tbilisi’s determination to further marginalize the Armenians in Javakhk. Turkey would then have an unfettered opportunity to expand its economic and political influence across the Caspian Sea to challenge Russian hegemony in Central Asia as well as Iranian interests in the region and possibly extend its reach into western China, where the restive Muslim Uighurs in Sinkiang (Xinjiang) are being culturally marginalized by Beijing.
Our efforts in the post-Centennial era cannot rely on an old playbook. Turkey and Azerbaijan will continue to use all means at their disposal to further tilt the playing field in their favor to confront and discredit our efforts and objectives. Our core objectives must be limited, effectively articulated and executed, and marketable to our people and to foreign governments. Without significant support from our people and foreign governments, we will be relegated to operating at a distinct disadvantage.
Core Objective Number 1 is the de jure recognition of Artsakh. This involves a public relations effort that produces a steady stream of information to influence foreign governments as well as our people that Artsakh will never relinquish its independence. Our support of Artsakh must be reinforced by accelerated resettlement and economic development programs. Failure to excite our people about Artsakh will, in turn, limit the fund raising needed to support its critical developmental needs. We will be forced to continue working at a snail’s pace that belies the urgency of de jure recognition or the vital political and economic importance of Artsakh to Armenia’s future. The combined resources of a greater Armenia has the potential to effectively support some 7 million or more Armenians. It is unquestionably Armenia’s economic frontier.
While the importance of Artsakh is obvious, consider the ramifications if Artsakh is lost. We must assume such a loss would be the result of Russian chicanery or its inability to protect its (and Armenia’s) interests in the South Caucasus. Armenia would then be the weaker of Azerbaijan and Georgia. A Turkish economy that generates a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of some $900 billion would easily absorb the $10 billion GDP of Armenia.
Without a strong and viable Armenia as our cultural and political anchor, the spirit and the cohesiveness that is the diaspora would slowly dissipate. The corrosive effect of acculturation (which has already claimed some of our people) would inexorably dissolve us into a melange of humanity. Identity still remains important even in this evolving global system. For those Armenians who populate the diaspora, the present is not the same as the immediate years following the genocide. Then, our survivors, traumatized by the horror that was the genocide, depended on one another and various organizations as they sought to remain connected to their past. Their dependency was a therapeutic response to being forcefully removed from family, friends, and the places they knew.
Core Objective Number 2 is responding to the needs of our people in Javakhk, part of historic Armenia. The loss of Artsakh would encourage the xenophobic leaders of Georgia, with Turkish prodding, to begin in earnest to depopulate the Armenian-inhabited region. As it is, the number of Armenians has slowly decreased because of Tbilisi’s discriminatory socioeconomic and political policies. Depopulation would be accompanied by an accelerated destruction of Armenian cultural artifacts within the country. Javakhk would soon become another Nakhitchevan, devoid of Armenians. Our goal is to strengthen the economic status and the political role of our people as citizens of Georgia with the help of international organizations and supportive foreign governments. Javakhk has long since passed the point where a fragmented approach can save our people and their historic land.
Core Objective Number 3 is to relentlessly press Turkey on the reparations issue, whether it is restitution where possible or compensation. Some 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered; tens of thousands of our children and young women were taken to live in servitude; and 300,000 to 400,000 Armenians were fortunate to have escaped the genocide by making the tortuous journey to the South Caucasus. However Erdogan and his predecessors have attempted to explain away this murderous enterprise of their Ottoman-Turkish forebears with euphemistic references as to what happened, they cannot explain away the fact that the property of these Armenian victims was illegally taken. That is an incontrovertible fact. There should be no question that genocide recognition and reparations are divisible. And it should not be difficult to accept which is most important. The terminology attached to Turkish recognition of the near annihilation of the Armenian nation becomes an ancillary issue as Armenian plaintiffs press their claims for reparations in the Turkish courts and international tribunals.
This effort would be greatly facilitated if a Ministry of Reparations was established by the Armenian government with a parallel, civilian-sponsored Reparations Clearing House that could share information with the ministry as well as provide professional assistance (research, choice of venues, advice, etc.) to individuals, organizations, and institutions to pursue their claims. A steady submission of claims would increase the pressure on Turkish leaders while serving as an effective public relations tool that calls attention to the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian government, as the representative of all Armenians who had their property confiscated, would have standing to seek reparations on their behalf.