Armenia May No Longer Follow U.S. Lead on Some Issues After Aid Cut-off

For more than a year, Armenia’s leaders have been operating under the false impression that accommodating Washington on some issues would provide economic and political benefits, shield them from accusations of democratic shortcomings, and convince the West not to support their domestic opponents.

Based on such wishful thinking, the Armenian government made repeated efforts to please the United States. For example, last year, when Marie Yovanovitch was nominated by President Bush to become the next ambassador to Armenia, State Department officials asked Armenia to use its contacts in Washington in order to facilitate her confirmation by the U.S. Senate. They feared that she would suffer the same fate as her predecessor, Richard Hoagland, whose nomination had been blocked by the Senate at the urging of the Armenian American community. The Armenian government obliged, probably hoping that the new ambassador and the United States would reciprocate by showing goodwill towards Yerevan on certain critical issues.

Another issue on which Armenia went to great lengths to accommodate Washington was engaging in negotiations with its historic arch-enemy Turkey in order to open the border and establish diplomatic relations. While Yerevan believed that doing so was also in its own best interest, U.S. officials were the driving force behind these negotiations, particularly after it became apparent that the Turkish government had no interest in carrying out honest discussions with Armenia and no intention of opening the border. Both Turkey and the United States benefited greatly from the false impression created by these negotiations. Turkey managed to undermine President Obama’s campaign pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide on April 24. In return, Washington was able to secure Turkey’s commitment to support U.S. policies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Armenia, on the other hand, received no tangible benefits. In fact, its repeated optimistic pronouncements regarding the progress of the negotiations helped both Turkey and the United States to look good in the eyes of the world. Apart from not gaining anything, the Armenian government jeopardized the support of its powerful diaspora and large segments of its own population. Furthermore, the ARF—one of the four parties constituting the Armenian government—left the ruling coalition following a joint public announcement by Armenia and Turkey on the eve of April 24. Obama cited the supposed progress made in Armenian-Turkish negotiations in his April 24 statement in order to avoid making an explicit reference to the Armenian Genocide.

It is now clear to the Armenian government that Washington had no intention of accommodating Armenia either on economic and political matters or on its democratic shortcomings. The amount of foreign aid recently proposed by the Obama Administration for Armenia is 38 percent less than last year’s. Another U.S. aid program, provided by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), was reduced by almost one third—$67 million—citing the country’s failure to comply with its eligibility criteria. The MCC bases its aid decision on 16 different indicators that recipient countries are committed to uphold.

It is distressing that such standards have to be imposed on Armenia by a foreign country. Raising the living standards of the population is in the Armenian people’s own interest. It is the obligation of the Armenian government to make such improvements, without waiting to do so, under the threat of losing foreign aid.

The most immediate impact of the cancellation of the MCC’s rural road program will be felt by Armenia’s destitute farmers who need an improved infrastructure to grow, transport, and sell their produce.

It is not known what direction Armenia ‘s leaders will follow as a result of the above setbacks. Will they strive to improve their compliance with the MCC criteria or will they completely give up on that program?

This latest development may have far-reaching and unintended consequences beyond Armenia’s farmers. Armenia’s leaders may conclude that catering to the U.S. is going to neither provide a cover for the regime’s shortcomings in the area of democratic governance nor result in any tangible benefits to the country in terms of opening the border with Turkey.

The negotiations with Turkey, already stalled due to unacceptable preconditions advanced by Ankara, may now be completely disrupted.

The Armenian government may formally abandon its nominal policy of complementarity between east and west, and rely more heavily than ever before on Russia and Iran.

Finally, it is unfortunate that the MCC decision comes on the eve of Yovanovitch’s first trip to Armenian communities in the United States, later this month. During her visit, she is likely to encounter public resentment that the U.S. government is practicing a double-standard by lowering proposed foreign aid levels to Armenia and increasing those of Azerbaijan, which enjoys huge oil revenues and is in no need of U.S. handouts. There is also a double-standard vis-à-vis Georgia, as the latter remains the recipient of MCC aid despite its lack of compliance with several MCC criteria.

Yovanovitch may also face criticism from large segments of the Armenian American community, given Obama’s failure to keep his campaign promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide. This is not the ambassador’s fault. However, given the fact that she represents the United States, she will automatically become the target of all criticism directed at the Obama Administration.

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh $917 million of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. If it’s in the best interests of the US for Armenia to lean closer to the West, their doing a horrible job encouraging this behavior as the carrot count clearly indicates. Armenia’s neighbors seem to offer more benefits with fewer headaches. From Armenia’s end, the strategy of accommodation and blind compliance will yield “no tangible benefits.” Clearly Armenia’s strategy of reciprocal altruism with the US is not paying off. It’s time to settle the score with the cheater.

  2. On the substantive issues of democratic governance and the rule of law Armenia has failed.  As for negotiations with “Turkey–well that is in Armenia’s best interests if it wants to encourage a more viable economy.

    As an American I have to ask why spend our taxpayer dollars to enable and abet this rule by the few over the many. As someone of Armenian background I hope Armenia gets its act together and begins to develop a real democracy. As of this moment, the massive riots against a rogue regime in Tehran has recented in less deaths over their “election” than Armenia with it small population.

  3. My wife and I are “missionaries” if you will, to Armenia.  We are US citizens.  We will be heading to Sevan and Ijevan during the next 3 weeks to assist in the construction of a church in Ijevan and to hold a Bible School in Sevan.

    Every society imposes “questionable” actions against citizens of the “state” at one time or another.  I don’t support the actions that have been taken against certain opposition protestors during last years’ election as a basis of withholding aid to Armenia…..and, we’ve had our own “Kent State” and “Ruby Ridge” incendents in the US.  Please, do not think that I don’t detest inhumane treatment.

    Armenia is the only “Christian” country in the region.  Why the US would abandon Armenia is beyond me, cept for the case that perhpas Obama is a Muslem after all.

    Armenia is a lovely country with lovely people!  I am ashamed of what my government is doing to Armenia…..and embarrassed that we are supporting governments that actually hate us, and hate Armenia.

  4. What are you suggesting Gary? Should Armenia bow down to turkey and apologize for demanding justice for their 1.5 million dead ancestors? Or should Armenia give up the lands that belongs to us when 30,000 brave men lost their lives protecting it?  never!!!!  Now regarding your “tax dollars” that you are so worried about why dont you call your friend in the government and ask them how much of your “tax dollars” are being spent and why? Or ask them Mr governmet why are we giving out billions of “tax money” to the greedy banks that reward million of “tax dollars” to theirs greedy executives that put us in this financial  mess? but no! all that is ok.  All of that is fine. As long as they dont send your ” tax money” to fix rural roads in Armenia so the farmers can distribute their products and make a living. But I guess thats not the right way to use your “tax money” !

  5. The West doesn’t care about Armenia, never did and never will. Most important people in the US are on the Muslim payroll in one way or another. Armenia can only survive by being in strong alliance with Russia and thereby the SCO, the rising power in the East.

  6. I agree that the west does not care about Armenia. The U.S., France,Italy, & Great Britain betrayed Armenia after the lst World War when Armenia was guaranteed to be a free Independent Republic by the Sevres Treaty & signed by Turkey, Armenia & l6 other nations but she got betrayed by the Allies. And I agree that Armenia is in alliance with Russia since the Turks are using America to push Armenia to return Artsakh to the Azeris which will never happen. If the Azeris attack Artsakh the Armenians will not only gain more territory but will destroy the Baku Oil Fields which the Americans & British financed. If America doesent wake up then the Moslems & Jews will take over this world. Five Jewish Organizations are under the payroll of the Turks to deny the Armenian Genocide and I say shame on those Jews for doing so when they went thru a Genocide in WWII. The Jews now control the State Dept. and nobody says a word. What a disatrous world we live in.

  7. By A Reader on June 17th, 2009 at 12:40 am
    What are you suggesting Gary? Should Armenia bow down to turkey and apologize for demanding justice for their 1.5 million dead ancestors? Or should Armenia give up the lands that belongs to us when 30,000 brave men lost their lives protecting it?

    No–Let me try again.

    Armenia has failed to develop into a reasonable approximation of a country that will pass for a democracy.

    It has had time to meet its commitments to the EU and others inconcluding my own country (USA) and hasn’t.

    The question becomes why should the EU or USA continue supporting Armenia when Armenia won’t do for itself and seems to prefer being a client of Russia and the diaspora. Personally, I hope that aid continues but if aid is lessened Armenia should take a hard look at itself and ask how it contributed to the loss of confidence by the west. 

    Azeri nationalist and Turkish nationalist want the blockade to continue because it keeps Armenia weak. Also, there are some Armenians who want the blockade to continue rather than have anything to do with Turkey before there is justice for the genocide. I understand the emotion.  We need to be more cooly calculating and less hysterical.

    I am of the view that Armenia needs to have a long term strategy that may involve some distasteful steps in the short term. There will be no  equity or justice until Armenia is a strong state that has a place at the table of nations who really drive events across the globe. This will not happen while Armenia remains blockaded–Turks know it.

    If Armenia’s leadership can get the blockade lifted and  retain NKR that serves our long term interest of strengthening the Armenian State. There can never by adequate recompense for the genocide. We need to focus on building the Armenia of 2050 because that will be the best way to deal with 1915. I think Armenia’s leadership is doing the right thing for the people of Armenia. Some in the diaspora might not like Armenians and Turks talking but those folks seem to be living in California or Massachusetts.  Bravado is more easily asserted while safely removed from the conflict zone. Those living in a blockaded state surrounded by Turks to the east, west and in the south (millions of  azeris in the northwest of Iran) seem far more open to dialogue.  

    As for the use of the word Genocide by President Obama or anyone else. It doesn’t matter. If Turkey says yes we did it–does anyone really believe they will then cede back to us western armenia or give us a black sea port or billions of dollars. If you are waiting for that to happen before opening a dialogue  with Turkey then Armenia will slowing become even more isolated and irrelevant on the world stage.  That is a formula that ensures Turkey triumphs.  I am confident we will prevail in the long term . The best justice maybe the only justice for our lost families and relatives will be an  economically strong, politically democratic Armenia living under  the rule of law. An open border is necessary but not sufficient for Armenia to prevail–but it is one very important step.

  8. Gary- I agree with your statement: “Armenia has failed to develop into a reasonable approximation of a country that will pass for a democracy.”
    -only problem is… neither has many other countries including Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, or currently Iran for that matter (include a few more if you please). Though, I do understand what you mean by that.
    “There can never by adequate recompense for the genocide….if Turkey says yes we did it–does anyone really believe they will then cede back to us western armenia or give us a black sea port or billions of dollars.”
    Well for many Armenians, there is. Many nationalists believe recognition is the reconcilation needed to ‘fix’ the relationship and long-term stability for the region. I mean after-all, if people can come to terms with the past, it might have a more enlightening future. But under some laws, reconcilation may require $$$, land, etc.- that seems to be more terrifying for a state.
    “The best justice maybe the only justice for our lost families and relatives will be an  economically strong, politically democratic Armenia living under  the rule of law. An open border is necessary but not sufficient for Armenia to prevail–but it is one very important step.”
    -Well said, a healthy and economic Armenia is the real solution the country needs.

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