The “roadmap to normalization” is a roadmap to oblivion for Armenia. Secrecy in the ongoing negotiations may be necessary, but given the advantage that Turkey enjoys and the strident comments made by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Abdullah Gul, and the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Babacan, the only conclusion that can be reached is that the negotiations are not beneficial for Armenia.
Turkey still persists in demanding preconditions which, if accepted, would be a tacit admission by Yerevan that genocide recognition and Nagorno-Karabagh’s continued independence will not stand in the way of normalizing relations. For sure, Turkey will not budge on the genocide issue and will not forsake its ally Azerbaijan. Both Ankara and Washington know that Russia is standing in the wings ready to do whatever it can to bring Azerbaijan within its orbit. The Nabucco gas pipeline project has evidently been approved by all participating nations. Eventually, gas supplies from Central Asia will be pumped beneath the Caspian Sea to be sent through this pipeline to the European Union. Armenia will have no part to play in this new economic endeavor. Having a fairly accurate sense as to what normalization may cost Armenia, what are the benefits that Yerevan believes it may obtain?
The opening of the border will result in a significant increase in traffic. Unfortunately, it will primarily be a one-way flow of goods from Turkey to Armenia. How Armenia, with its US $18 billion Gross Domestic Product (GDP), expects to compete with Turkey’s US $800 billion GDP is difficult to imagine. Eventually, Armenia will not only become part of the Turkish domestic market, but it will be dependent upon Turkey for much of its manufactured goods. A related development could well be a rise in unemployment and a decrease in productivity since Turkey is better positioned to expand its production facilities and attract the necessary labor. In addition, a real possibility exists for Armenian entrepreneurs to migrate to Turkey, where economic opportunity should be greater than in Armenia. Given the volume and variety of goods stamped “made in Turkey” that will flood the Armenian market, there will be an imbalance of payment situation—with Turkey becoming the creditor nation. There are few goods or commodities
produced in Armenia that are not produced in greater quantities in Turkey, which limits any significant flow of traffic from Armenia to Turkey. Is this what Yerevan believes will be a benefit derived from normalization? Within a relatively short time, the Armenian dram would most likely lose its value as the currency of choice, being replaced by the Turkish lira.
Any potential the Armenian economy currently has would be limited since its development will be determined by Turkish entrepreneurs who will be influenced by Ankara’s political objectives vis-à-vis Yerevan. Normalization will not remove the existing impediments hampering the Armenian economy. Of greater importance, potential initiatives that are vital if Armenia’s economy is to develop will be hampered by its economic domination by Turkey.
Politically, Armenia will retain its independent status. However, its initiatives in the international arena will be influenced by Ankara. To borrow a term from the distant past, the president of Armenia will be no better than a satrap. With respect to Nagorno-Karabagh (historic Artsakh), its future will be bleak. As a precondition, Armenia is being asked to sacrifice the de facto independence of its brothers and sisters. This would be a travesty should Yerevan agree. The 7,000 azatamartiks (freedom-fighters) are no less martyrs than the 1,500,000 innocent Armenian men, women, and children who were slaughtered during the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Turkish government and the Ataturk Turkish government. Can there be any justification for Yerevan abandoning Karabagh? For abandoning the martyrs of the genocide?
In 15 years, the Karabaghtsis have overcome obstacles that many thought were insurmountable. They have developed a democratic government while Azerbaijan maintains a Soviet-style autocratic government. In 1923, Armenia had no say when the Bolsheviks forced the separation of historic Armenian Artsakh and Nakhichevan to Azerbaijan. To allow Artsakh to revert to Azeri control again is unconscionable. This may well be the moment when it is absolutely necessary for Armenia to decide whether it will become a compliant neighbor or accept the challenge, daunting as it may be, to protect its future and the independence of Artsakh as well. One may say this is easier said than done. Agreed. However, normalization will reduce Armenia to a vassal state. How will this differ from the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia?
No one should fail to see the duplicitous nature of United States foreign policy with respect to Armenia. The present Democrat administration supports Turkey’s entry into the European Union. It suggests that Turkey should have a role in bringing the Karabagh conflict to an end. It supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. And just recently, aid to Armenia in the budget year for 2010 was reduced while aid to Azerbaijan was increased. As it is said, when you know that the cards are stacked against you, only the fool continues to play.
Leaders of our advocacy organizations have misread the political landscape once again. The emotional issue of genocide recognition is not the battle that should be fought at this time. While the Armenian Caucus is working diligently to line up additional support for the genocide resolution, the “war” for Armenia’s future and that of Karabagh is being lost in the international arena. It is conceivable in the Machiavellian world of international politics for the genocide resolution to be passed by the United States Congress and reluctantly signed by President Obama, accompanied by an innocuous statement that Turkey would condemn with the proper amount of public indignation. Washington and Ankara could well have discussed this possibility notwithstanding the usual pressure from the pro-Turkish lobbying organizations. The price Turkey would extract from the Obama Administration would be its support in the ongoing negotiations with Armenia and the return of Karabagh to Azerbaijan. This would be Turkey’s reward while the geostrategic interests of the United States would be served.
With limited political capital, the Armenian advocacy organization in the United States must speak with a unified voice and pick the single battle it will fight. Genocide recognition is not the battle that should be fought at this time. The efforts of the Congressional Armenian Caucus must be utilized in more effective ways to bring immediate economic and military benefits to Armenia and to Karabagh.
How the negotiations leading to normalization will eventually play out can only be inferred from the public statements by Turkish leaders and the foreign policy of the United States. Once Armenia has accepted the conditions necessary for normalization, or whatever euphemistic term that may be substituted, Yerevan will have no valid reason to believe that Ankara will be motivated or even have the need to consider the legitimate issues that have separated the two countries. And what of those countries that have recognized the Armenian Genocide? Will they support Armenia, once normalization has been achieved, as it seeks to have Turkey consider the legitimate claims requiring restitution, reparation, rectification, and yes, recognition. Definitely not. Normalization is the end of Hai Tahd and it is the end for the justice that generations of Armenians have worked to achieve. Let’s not say this is a pessimistic view because it doesn’t comport with what we want to believe. It is an objective assessment of the situation based on the available evidence. Let us all hope that Yerevan will realize that normalization is not a panacea for the Armenian nation. If anything, it is detrimental to Armenia’s national interests and its future security.