Finally the ARF Has Resumed Its Traditional Role

For close to a century, Armenians have lived with the psychological and emotional trauma caused by the genocide. In addition, Armenians have suffered the indignity of having their centuries-long occupation of historic Armenia not only challenged, but their physical imprint upon the land destroyed by their oppressors, and their right to justice ignored or questioned.

The genocide took the lives of over 1.5 million innocent Armenian men, women, and children. It caused the forced abandonment of Armenian homes and lands, and the confiscation and destruction of Armenian churches and the sacred lands where their deceased ancestors had rested for centuries. The genocide stole the birthright of thousands of young Armenian women who only survived by being forced to serve alien masters. Today, Yerevan is on a path that seeks the normalization of relations with a government that has maintained a century-long policy of denying, rewriting, and obfuscating these horrific events that have been recorded in the archives of history.

Ankara and Yerevan recently agreed to a “road map” to facilitate negotiations that will lead to a normalization of relations. One wonders how Yerevan can expect to achieve normalcy when it is apparent that the Turkish leadership has no intention of recognizing the Armenian Genocide (see “Why Would Turkey acknowledge the Armenian Genocide,” the Armenian Weekly, Feb. 10, 2006) or of changing its position supporting the territorial integrity of its ally Azerbaijan with respect to the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict. These are rational assumptions since the Karabaghtsis and the Armenian people, both within Armenia and throughout the diaspora can only speculate as to the concessions to be given and the benefits to be received as the result of these negotiations.

To date, the political leaders in Yerevan have either been unwilling or unable to understand the potential dangers that are attached to this process of normalization that far exceed the difficulties the country is currently experiencing. One can only surmise the intense external pressures being placed upon Yerevan to seek normalization as it navigates the Machiavellian world of international politics.

Despite the emphasis on genocide recognition in the United States Congress, as well as President Barack Obama’s well-documented personal views on the Armenian Genocide, his administration has turned its back to the plight of the Armenian nation. Contrary to his stated position of not wanting to do anything that may influence ongoing negotiations between Turkey and Armenia, Obama’s comments during his recent visit to Turkey and the policy of his administration send an entirely different message. His long-awaited message on the 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide was political verbiage at its best. The politically naive leaders of the diaspora in the United States were deceived once again (see “Caveat Emptor When Shopping for Normalization in the Turkish Marketplace,” the Armenian Weekly, March 25, 2009).

This headlong rush toward normalization since the meeting of President Abdullah Gul and President Serge Sarkisian in Yerevan received its first serious setback on April 27 when the ARF withdrew its participation in Yerevan’s coalition government. Although this was not an unexpected development, it should have occurred months earlier. By withdrawing their support of Sarkisian, the ARF announced that it will “…be guided exclusively by…national interests and goals when addressing the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations and the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabagh (Artsakh) conflict.”
By assuming their role as the loyal opposition, the ARF has injected itself into the normalization process, unfettered by the constraints that hobbled it as a coalition partner. Sarkisian must realize the serious consequences should he present any agreement as a fait accompli. This would be a serious setback for the democratization process in Armenia. The normalization of relations with Turkey is a historic moment in contemporary Armenian history. The ARF by reassuming its traditional role takes center stage in this process. It becomes essentially the watchdog, the last line of defense, protecting both the future of the country and of all Armenians. As the only effective counterbalance to the present administration in Yerevan, the ARF has put the administration on notice that it will monitor the government’s actions, propose alternative strategies, and publicly evaluate the national security issues that may be adversely impacted by the direction the negotiations appear to be going.

A baseline for determining the value of normalization is the Turkish leadership’s willingness to engage Armenia in resolving the legitimate issues between the two countries that have existed for nearly a century. One does not expect the slate to be wiped clean by Turkish acquiescence to every issue that Yerevan, prodded by the ARF, might propose. However, it is necessary that Turkey commits itself to a good-faith effort to ameliorate conditions that have festered for nearly a century. Absent that, there is no benefit to be gained by normalizing relations. Presently there is no indication that the leadership or those factions that influence the government, such as the military, are willing to face these issues head-on. There is no need to repeat the issues that must be addressed, but they are summed up in the full meaning of Hai Tahd: recognition, restitution, reparations, and rectification.
The Turkish offer to normalize relations, which Armenia’s political leaders seem so eager to accept, recasts Faust’s bargain with the devil as a victory. Contrary to Armenia’s oft-stated objections, Turkey still speaks of the preconditions necessary for normalized relations. Ankara is engaged in a very astute diplomatic offensive that began with Gul’s visit to Armenia last year (see “Normalization Can Never Be Worth Turkey’s Asking Price,” the Armenian Weekly, Dec. 6, 2008). Turkey has neither the need, and even less the desire, to normalize relations with Armenia if the cost is genocide recognition or Karabagh’s de jure independence. Ankara’s goal is to carry on negotiations under conditions aided and abetted by the United States that require Armenia to consider difficult choices. It is a diplomatic offensive that, just prior to the announced intervention of the ARF, was close to achieving its objective. For the Turkish leaders it was a win-win situation. If their gambit succeeded Armenia would have been checkmated. If Armenia refused to play the game as Ankara defined it, Turkey would have burnished its image as a country “willing to forget the past” and of reaching out to its intransigent neighbor.

The “interested” nations and the “think tanks” that play academic games solving crises eagerly encourage Armenia to come to terms with Turkey. This was the end-goal of Turkey’s present diplomatic offensive—to pressure Armenia to accept compromises that are inimical to its long-term interests. However, Turkey is no longer free to pursue its diplomatic offensive unchallenged. The ARF has the organizational structure, credibility, and experience gained during the past century as Turkey’s principal adversary in the international arena to augment, redirect, and evaluate strategies that will protect the national security and enhance the future of the Armenian nation.

What effect Russia and Iran have on these negotiations is best known to Yerevan. However, there is no question that Russia would do whatever it can to have Azerbaijani energy resources redirected through its extensive pipeline system that supplies Europe. Fortunately, this runs counter to Turkish-United States interests. For the present at least, the United States is a more reliable ally for Turkey than Russia would be. Also, Armenia is the only military foothold that Russia can depend upon in the south Caucasus. For Russia to support Turkey to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion at Armenia’s and Karabagh’s expense could be a dangerous game to play. A resurgent Turkey would confront Russia in the south Caucasus supported by the United States, the European Union, and their military component, NATO. Turkey would have the necessary springboard to extend its influence into central Asia where it would also confront Russia’s head-on.

In 1991, the independence of Armenia was heralded by Armenians with joy and expectation that finally their Armenia was on the threshold of a new and promising era. A few years later, Artsakh (Karabagh) won its independence from Azerbaijan in a devastating war for liberation, and just recently Barak Obama, who had stated in no uncertain terms during his presidential campaign that the Armenian Genocide was a fact of history, was elected president. From these once promising beginnings ,the Armenian people are witness to bilateral negotiations between Ankara and Yerevan that appear to lack any meaningful quid pro quo for Armenia. Although it is important that Armenia and Turkey normalize relations, it cannot come about by the Sarkisian Administration sacrificing the future security or potential of the Armenian nation. It cannot come about by sacrificing Artsakh. And it cannot come about by sacrificing Hai Tahd. That is the heavy burden that the ARF finally assumed on April 27.

Michael Mensoian

Michael Mensoian

Michael Mensoian, J.D./Ph.D, is professor emeritus in Middle East and political geography at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a retired major in the U.S. army. He writes regularly for the Armenian Weekly.


  1. Finally the ARF Has Resumed Its Traditional Role

    No, it has not, assuming you mean a revolutionary role in which it can enact viable, meaningful change. It certainly has not fully become an opposition party. On April 30 the ARF agreed to continue chairing two parliamentary committees just days after they announced pulling out of the coalition—the foreign affairs committee lead by Armen Rustamian and the defense committee lead by Artur Aghabekian. However on May 4, Aghabekian, a former deputy defense minister, decided to resign from his post anyway on the basis of principle. He has yet to be replaced by another ARF member.

    As the only effective counterbalance to the present administration in Yerevan, the ARF has put the administration on notice that it will monitor the government’s actions, propose alternative strategies, and publicly evaluate the national security issues that may be adversely impacted by the direction the negotiations appear to be going.

    No, it is not the “only effective counterbalance to the present administration” because it has not fully pulled out of the ruling coalition. It cannot work as a true opposition force because of this simple reason. It cannot introduce alternative means of legislation and will not be able to have any say in national or foreign policy because the Republican party is the ruling power and has the overwhelming majority of seats in parliament and government. The ARF cannot pass any legislation in parliament unless it gains Republican votes (not to mention votes from the oppositional Heritage party) in its favor. This will not happen because the ruling regime calls all the shots in Armenian politics and national/foreign policies. The government clearly does not care what its coalition partners have to say. This was proved with the signing of the perilous “roadmap” on April 22 by Turkey and Armenia without the prior knowledge and consent of the ARF. The ARF has only gone along with the governmental policies of both the Kocharian and Sarkisian administrations, no matter how misguided or impractical. So nothing will change as long as the ARF remains in “constructive opposition.”

    The ARF has the organizational structure, credibility, and experience gained during the past century as Turkey’s principal adversary in the international arena to augment, redirect, and evaluate strategies that will protect the national security and enhance the future of the Armenian nation.

    No, it does not. The ARF has very low support in Armenia, this is an indisputable fact. If you recall, presidential candidate Vahan Hovhannisian only earned 6 percent of the vote in the 2008 elections despite a proactive campaign, and it didn’t fare particularly well in the 2007 parliamentary elections, either. The ARF cannot “augment, redirect, and evaluate strategies” because it does not have the political influence and the support of the majority of Armenian citizens, who are apathetic to begin with and do not necessarily see differences in how the country would be run or how foreign policies will be enacted should a new government be formed. Many Armenian citizens do not take the ARF seriously as an effective political force that can be in true opposition to the Sarkisian administration and keep its policies in check, especially after its recent decision to retain two parliamentary committee seats. You cannot be a legitimate oppositional force with wide public support unless you fully resign from government-appointed positions. Then you must earn that support from the public.

    Assumptions about the ARF’s credibility and effectiveness in Armenia are not helpful. The issues the ARF faces in Armenia must be understood by supporters and members alike, then they must be addressed expediently. The ARF can have a role in influencing policies and legislation in the Armenian public, but it cannot do it as an irresolute political party that claims to be in opposition with minimal support. Needless to say, the organization has a tremendous amount of work to do if it wishes to get anything accomplished.

  2. Hye  Michael, your article was well put.  Over the years, as the daughter of parents who had survived the Armenian Genocide, I’ve been a supporter of the ARF.  I recall  the dedicated and patriotic first generation of ARF leaders who in the diaspora, through all the years,  maintained their goals for an Armenian nation rid of the Turks, rid of the Communists, never doubting that  they might fly their nation’s flag over a free Armenia. (Our flag was  displayed  in our churches – others had to borrow our flag when Armenia was freed of the USSR).  My father would say, ‘I do not expect to see Armenia free – maybe my grandchildren will.’   And so it has come to pass, his grandchildren and further, third and fourth generations  since the Armenian Genocide, in lands  the world over – Armenians stepped up to become activists for the sibling nation of Armenia. Surrounded by Ottoman mentality – even until today..
    Armenian republic,  in its two-years (1918-1920) was  led by patriots –  men whose efforts foremost was for their fledgling nation to succeed… they fought the impossible battle for Sardarabad, and won  the lands of the Armenian nation today – as was Karabagh.
    Turks, warrior hordes that came down  from the Asian mountains, conquering civilized nations and chose to perpetrate the Genocide of the Armenians – eliminate the Christian Armenians from their lands of nearly 4,000 years.  Coveting,  as well,  all the civilized culture of the Armenians as if it were their own original Turkish culture – even until today.   Turks sign agreements , since WWI, yet Turks will not abide by any agreements – even until today. Turks  are playing games before the world – delay, detract, delete, destroy, whatever, but do not commit.  Issue new projects, at the last possible moments to appear as participants – but, their warrior genes, their  Ottoman thinking exists – even until today, even in so-called ‘democracy’…  Yet, it is still with the Ottoman thinking that Turkey today (thinks) it shall be the arbiter for other nations.  Over the world so many great leaders of  true democracies, who qualify head and shoulders above the Turk, who has the unmitigated gall to ‘offer ‘ to step up and ready perform in this capacity.  Does ‘offering’ to do this qualify a Turkey?    Manooshag

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