The Armenian Weekly March 2014 Magazine:
Armenia’s Foreign Policy in Focus
Armenia has, since the rebirth of her independent state in 1991, pursued a forward-leaning policy to strengthen ties with the United States and NATO. Unfortunately, Armenia’s outreach and initiatives to bolster support and investment from the United States have largely not been reciprocated by the Obama Administration.
Strengthening ties with NATO
Armenia has been a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program since 1994 and currently has troops stationed as part of NATO forces in Afghanistan and Kosovo. Armenia also supported U.S.-led efforts in the Iraq war.
In June 2011, as countries were pulling out of Afghanistan, Armenia actually tripled its troop deployment there. Armenia has 4 times more troops in Afghanistan per capita than Turkey and 10 times more per capita than either Canada or France. In February of this year, Armenia pledged to keep its military contingent in Afghanistan even after NATO’s mission is concluded in order to support the U.S.-led alliance to train and assist the Afghan army. Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian stated that Armenia is committed to “continuous contribution to coalition efforts to establish lasting security in Afghanistan.”
Despite regional pressures related to Armenia’s relationship with NATO, Armenia’s First Deputy Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan, during a visit from U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Evelyn Farkas in December 2013, explained that “joining one or another economic bloc does not inhibit Armenia. On the contrary, our defense cooperation with the United States will develop and deepen further.” Farkas in turn thanked Armenia for being a “net exporter of security” and noted that “Armenia is a significant partner to the United States in many ways.”
It is important to note that after the 2008 Georgian-Russian war, Armenia was the first country to host NATO exercises in the Caucasus. Armenia announced then that it was going to increase its ties with NATO, and it has done so ever since.
Remaining an actor in the protocols farce
Perhaps the U.S.’s most significant initiative in the region has been its effort to end Turkey’s blockade of Armenia through the protocols. The protocols provided President Barack Obama the cover he needed to dodge his pledge to end U.S. complicity in Armenian Genocide denial. It was the excuse he used in his first April 24th statement to not recognize the genocide, even though he assured Armenian Americans that his “view of that history has not changed.”
Although there was strong opposition to the protocols within both Armenia and the diaspora, Armenian President Serge Sarkisian has continued to support this U.S.-led initiative, even though Turkey made it clear, within a day of its signing, that it had no intention of abiding by the agreement.
Now, more than four years later, Armenia still has not withdrawn its signature from the protocols—this, despite the fact that they are being used by Ankara to undermine legitimate Armenian claims, and have helped forces who wish to turn the Armenian Genocide from a crime to be internationally condemned into a simple bilateral disagreement between Turkey and Armenia.
The protocols have helped shield Turkey from outside pressure concerning the Armenian Genocide. As a result, Turkey has taken an even more aggressive posture against Armenia, including more vocally supporting Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian policies, threatening to deport Armenians in Turkey, accusing Armenia of committing atrocities—allegedly the “greatest tragedy of the 20th century”—in the Karabagh War, and demolishing a statue to Armenian-Turkish friendship, all of which have happened since the protocols were signed.
Despite Turkey making a mockery of the process and the U.S.’s unwillingness to pressure Turkey beyond the occasional empty rhetoric that the “ball is in Turkey’s court,” Armenia continues to keep its signature on the protocols. Armenia has made it clear that it has done so out of deference to foreign powers, such as the United States.
What has been the US response?
Armenia is small in size, but big in terms of America’s strategic interests in the world. It sits in the middle of Washington’s top foreign policy priorities—Iran, Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Syria—where it can play an important role. Although the second largest U.S. embassy in the world sits not in Baghdad or Berlin, but in Yerevan, the United States does not have much to show for its efforts to promote trade or investment or reciprocate Armenia’s efforts to strengthen the partnership.
Its signature diplomatic initiative in Armenia was the protocols, which garnered the intense attention of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama before Armenia and Turkey agreed to sign the accord. Since Turkey quickly made it clear that it was not going to abide by that agreement, the United States’ willingness to pour political capital into realizing the agreement dramatically decreased.
The U.S. has not made Turkey pay a price for its failure to ratify the protocols and end its blockade. Instead, it has rewarded Turkey by publicly saying it could have a role to play in the Karabakh peace process, whereas previous administrations made it clear that Turkey would only have a negative impact on the peace process. For instance, in November 2013 at a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Secretary of State John Kerry discussed consultations with Turkey over Nagorno-Karabagh without even mentioning the protocols or Turkey’s need to end its blockade of Armenia. Davutoglu felt comfortable claiming, “Today I am happy to see that John and me and Turkey and the United States look to [Nagorno-Karabagh] from the same perspective.”
Not only did President Obama fail to honor his pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide, but his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, questioned the veracity of the Armenian Genocide—a move no other former Secretary of State in recent memory has made. In addition, Obama’s Solicitor General filed a brief in opposition to a California statute that allowed for Armenian Genocide-era property claims to be brought in U.S. courts. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case and the California law was struck down, denying justice to Armenian Americans.
Even on issues that would not risk the unreasonable wrath of Turkey, and even though numerous Members of Congress and U.S. corporations (such as Microsoft, NASDAQ, and Fed Ex) have urged the administration to immediately negotiate a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with Armenia, the Obama Administration hasn’t pursued U.S. interests in promoting trade with Armenia.
After a near continuous four years of Armenia extending its hand towards NATO and continuing to support the failed U.S.-backed protocols with Turkey, Armenian Americans cannot point to any meaningful benefit to U.S.-Armenia relations or trade. In fact, as the examples above illustrate, there were actually steps that undermined a strengthening of the partnership. What did, it seems, finally get the attention of the Obama Administration was not Armenia’s continued support for the protocols and other U.S. policies, but rather Armenia’s decision to move toward Russia’s Custom’s Union. Soon after the United States announced an over $250 million investment by the U.S. firm ContourGlobal in hydroelectric power plants in Armenia.
The announcement of a major U.S. investment in Armenia is a welcome first step in promoting greater U.S.-Armenia ties. Despite the many regional challenges, most notably the hostile neighbors it faces in both Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenia is determined to strengthen its ties with the United States and Europe. The United States should do more to strengthen this partnership. Doing so will provide the United States with greater options to pursue its interests and promote stability in a geostrategic region. Moreover, the Obama Administration should stop compromising our values as a country to placate the most radical elements in Turkey, especially when it concerns confronting Turkey’s state-sponsored denial of the Armenian Genocide, which is at the root of instability between Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. As Americans, we are, in our relations with Armenia and all nations, at our best when we align our policies with our values.