The past three weeks have witnessed increased attention, condemnations, and justifications to the protocols as announced by the Armenian and Turkish governments on Aug. 31. Not surprisingly, what received the most attention was the section of the protocols that called for the establishment of “a sub-commission on the historical dimension to implement a dialogue with the aim to restore mutual confidence between the two nations, including an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations…” Yet another clause that received attention states: “… recognition of the existing border between the two countries as defined by the relevant treaties of international law.” Both of the above points received the most attention and criticism from those opposing the protocols on the Armenian side—and for a good reason, as both these points are the ones that carry the most nationalist sentiments.
The aim of this opinion piece is neither to justify nor to condemn the protocols. Rather, it is to raise some questions and offer some alternative reading of the protocols by focusing on such issues as: Who is opposing the protocols? Is such opposition viable? And is it possible to link the opposition in the Armenian Diaspora with the one in Armenia?
Perhaps the first obvious question would be: Are these protocols a fait accompli and if so, can parties criticizing them introduce any changes? If history is any indicator, policymaking in Armenia is far from being a democratic process. It is, and has always been, a monopoly in the hands of a few in Armenia. During the last 18 years, most if not all of the decisions made by successive Armenian governments have rarely swayed, no matter how “disastrous” or “naive” these policies were, and no matter how much opposition came from the diaspora. The fact that all three previous Armenian administrations lacked legitimacy because of fraudulent elections had led them to operate from a position of insecurity and lack of compromise, as they continued to view any dialogue with the opposition within Armenia as a manifestation of weakness.
The above observations lead to the next question: Is there any mass opposition against the protocols in Armenia? Again, a quick glance over the past decade or so rarely shows the presence and operation of a viable opposition movement against the dominant system. Political control in Armenia is based on hegemony, and no matter how much discontent exits regarding any given policy, the authorities have rarely reconsidered their policies. In today’s political atmosphere in Armenia, especially after almost a decade of no coherent and distinct opposition, the task of the government is much easier as there are no official leverages (parliamentary groups, civil society activists, etc.) that any group opposing the government can utilize.
Related to the issue of the existence of an opposition, a relevant question remains over the number of people opposing the protocols. While it is clear that there are a number of Armenians opposing this specific issue, it is far from being sizeable. This is true not only in Armenia but also in the diaspora, where opponents to the protocols are small in number. This does not mean that the majority of Armenians support the government or its decisions; rather, it is a manifestation of widespread political apathy and a disconnect of the masses from politics and political discourse. At the end of the day, the playing field in Armenia(n) politics remains polarized between two relatively smaller groups, the decision makers and their opponents.
Finally, an interesting point recently brought up by a political analyst is the necessary distinction that should be made between the normalization of relations and reconciliation. While the former is a Turkey-Armenia issue, the latter is a Turkish-Armenian one. If Armenia decides to normalize its relations with Turkey then it is a simple state-to-state issue, one that the nation does not and should not have any say in. However, if the issue at hand is about reconciliation, then it becomes a topic that requires the ownership of all Armenians. The problem with the interpretation of these protocols is that it is both about normalization and reconciliation—hence merging the two sometimes non-overlapping ideas of the nation’s interest and the state’s interest.
One thing that strikes an observer of this process is the complete inability of the Armenain government to articulate its position on the protocols—a fact that many people would promptly attribute to the notion that Armenia is under pressure and hence its government has no option but to sign the protocols.
President Sarkisian’s recent announcement that he intends to visit diasporan communities and centers for consultative purposes is clearly an attempt to articulate his position regarding the protocols. The hope is that this time around, he will be better prepared than the consultative meetings he had in Armenia with the local political parties.