Past the Tipping Point: An Interview with Ara Papian

WATERTOWN, Mass. (A.W.)—In April, I conducted an interview with Ara Papian, former Ambassador of Armenia to Canada (2000-06) and president of the Modus Vivendi Center, at the Armenian Weekly offices in Watertown. A former diplomat, Papian’s perspective is that of a strategist with a long-term vision. During the interview, we discussed the current geopolitical situation in the Caucasus, including Armenia’s decision to join the Russian-led Customs Union, military ties with Russia, U.S.-Armenia relations, the Syrian crisis, the Iranian nuclear negotiations, and relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Ara Papian at the Armenian Weekly offices in Watertown (Photo by Nanore Barsoumian)
Ara Papian at the Armenian Weekly offices in Watertown (Photo by Nanore Barsoumian)

For Papian, Armenia has recently aligned itself dangerously close to Russia, subject to the whims of its politicians. He believes that Armenia’s independence is contingent on forging strong relations with many key world players. “I see our independence as interdependence on many powers,” he told me. “What I mean is, if we become dependent only on one power—like Russia or the U.S.—we will really become dependent on them. If we depend on many players—China, Russia, the West, and so on—we will be more or less independent.”

In regards to Russia’s military presence in Armenia, Papian argues that the settlement is in Russia’s favor, and closer economic ties with the European Union (EU) would not jeopardize that arrangement. “It’s not like if we were to sign an agreement with the EU the next day the Russians would withdraw their forces from Armenia,” he said. “They will never do that, even if we were to ask them to, because Russian presence in Armenia is not for Armenia, it’s for Russia. They are defending their southern border, not Armenia.”

Papian also warns that the close ties with Russia could backfire, as the Russians would need to pull Azerbaijan into their orbit—and Karabagh could serve as a bargaining chip. “Azerbaijan does not need any money. They have money, which means the only thing Russia can offer Azerbaijan is Karabagh. Then, we’ll come back to the situation we had in the late 80s, early 90s, when we were fighting both the Russians and Azeris,” he said, adding, “We have to show the Russians that we are allies, but that we are equal. We are not just a mean for them to solve their problems with their neighbors.”

Discussing Turkey, Papian stresses that U.S. policy towards Erdogan’s Turkey is “a policy of containment,” because evidence suggests that a stronger Turkey is less manageable. “I think it’s in the interests of the U.S. to have a stronger Armenia, because a stronger Armenia is less dependent on Russia.”

As for the approaching Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, Papian hopes to draft a legal framework on which to base Armenian demands. He argues that compensation must be given to Armenians on three levels: moral, in the form of a state issued apology; economic, to the families of those who lost their properties; and in the form of an acknowledgment that territories belonging to the Republic of Armenia (based on President Woodrow Wilson’s map) is currently occupied by Turkey.

In addition, Papian proposes that a territory be outlined in the Van area that will be under international control and part of the European Union—without the displacement of its current population—where Armenians are extended special privileges (for example, Armenia retains a right to invest while Armenian companies pay taxes in Armenia). Papian argues that such an arrangement would be in the interest of Turkey, as it is likely to lose parts of those territories to Kurdish aspirations for autonomy.

The full interview with Papian follows.

***

Armenian-Russian relations

 Nanore Barsoumian—Please discuss the historical context of Russian-Armenian relations as a backdrop to the Sarkisian Administration’s decision to join the Russian-led Customs Union (CU).

Ara Papian—Usually, it’s said that politics is defined by geography and history. We know our geography, our neighbors, and our relations with our neighbors. But relations largely depend on history, which can be politicized—depending on the times, the regime, the interpretation of history, and sometimes ideology. Armenian-Russian relations, as all relations between nations, have had their ups and downs. Unfortunately, our relations with Russia are not currently on the ups, because I don’t think the Customs Union is in favor of Armenia. Our taxes are much lower and our economic freedom in Armenia is much greater than in Russia, which means that if we join the Customs Union, prices—especially the price of consumer goods—will increase. We know that at least a third of the Armenian population is poor. They will become even poorer, and emigration, which is one of the main problems for Armenia now, will increase.

 

N.B.—The decision to join the CU came as a surprise to many. It was a 180-degree turn from the EU. Why did the Sarkisian Administration make the move? What does Armenia stand to gain, and what does it stand to lose?

A.P.—This was a surprise decision for everyone. Many members of the ruling party are now saying it was predictable that we were heading to the CU. But that is simply a lie. A couple of hours before [President Serge] Sarkisian announced that Armenia would join the CU [on Sept. 3, 2013], one of the leaders of the Republican Party, Galust Sahakyan, said that we were going the European direction. I think that something happened in Moscow. There was intensive pressure, perhaps even blackmail against Armenia.

Unfortunately, over these past 20 years, we have become totally dependent on Russia in our security issues, economy, and practically everything. These have given Russia very strong leverage over us, and they are misusing it. The decision [was to the benefit] of Russia—perhaps not from an economic point of view because Armenia has a small market, but as a political tool, mainly to show other countries, namely Ukraine, that some countries are succumbing to the Customs Union. However, after the events in Ukraine, it seems that Putin’s move had no real results.

 

N.B.—Do you think Armenia had a choice?

A.P.—Armenia must create choices. If we take the Sept. 3 announcement, at that time we had few choices. The problem is that we had to create choices beforehand. Years ago, I had several conversations with the political leadership—including then-President [Robert] Kocharian and Prime Minister at the time [Serge] Sarkisian—about finding alternative energy supply sources for Armenia. Back then, Armenia had options, but it soon became clear that we were going towards total dependence on Russia. Unfortunately, we did not do anything back then.

When people say that the Customs Union will open the Russian market to us, they are lying, because the Russian market is already open to us. We already have dozens of agreements, treaties, and free trade agreements with Russia. This will not add anything to our bilateral relations. Similarly, [trade] with other countries, for instance with Kazakhstan and Belarus, is done through bilateral relations. Creating this Union will further complicate matters.

Russia is not our first [trading] partner. Our first trading partner is the European Union. About 35 percent of Armenian trade is with Europe. We also have large trade deals with China and the United Arab Emirates. This means that the prices of all these goods that we are importing from these countries will increase. Furthermore, it will deprive us of any alternatives in the future.

 It’s not like if we were to sign an agreement with the EU the next day the Russians would withdraw their forces from Armenia. They will never do that, even if we were to ask them to, because Russian presence in Armenia is not for Armenia, it’s for Russia. They are defending their southern border, not Armenia.

N.B.—Some people highlight the military security offered by Russia. There are Russian bases in Armenia, and the Turkish border is manned by Russian troops. Many would argue that Armenia’s survival is significantly dependent on Russia. What is the alternative, speaking militarily, especially in case of renewed conflict with Azerbaijan?

A.P.—As Americans say, let’s not mix apples with oranges. Security issues with Russia are based on our participation in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), on bilateral defense treaties, on Russia having bases and forces in Armenia, and so on. It has nothing to do with the Customs Union. It’s not like if we were to sign an agreement with the EU the next day the Russians would withdraw their forces from Armenia. They will never do that, even if we were to ask them to, because Russian presence in Armenia is not for Armenia, it’s for Russia. They are defending their southern border, not Armenia. Meanwhile, yes, they are defending Armenia, but it’s in their favor. If one day they decide it’s not in their favor, they will withdraw their forces, as they did in 1917, as they did during the Karabagh War, and so on.

If Russians will link our membership in the Customs Union with their commitments to defend Armenia, it means that we do not have sincere relations with them, because that is not how one treats an ally—by blackmailing them…

What is the alternative? The presence of other countries.

 

N.B.—What do you mean by presence? Military bases?

A.P.—Yes, military bases. The Americans were negotiating with Armenia in the 1990’s to rent or lease a small airport in Armenia near Ardzni. We did not succeed in this. If we look at Kyrgyzstan, it has had both Russian and U.S. military bases for years. And both Russians and Americans are paying them rent. On the other hand, Russians do not pay the Armenian government a dime for the Russian base in Armenia. Furthermore, we cover a portion of their expenses, which is unacceptable. It’s unimaginable that Americans, for example, maintain a military base in Japan or Europe and the expense is covered by the local governments.

We have to create alternatives. Otherwise, Russia will continue blackmailing Armenia over relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan, and we have been witnessing that in the last four to five years in particular. Russians sold over $4 billion worth of weapons to Azerbaijan. Four billion dollars! That is a huge amount of weapons!

 We have to show the Russians that we are allies, but that we are equal. We are not just a mean for them to solve their problems with their neighbors.

N.B.—That happened leading up to the Customs Union decision…

A.P.—It was before the decision, and even after Sarkisian’s announcement that we are ready to join the Customs Union. People were saying that once we join the CU, Russians would treat us better. We cannot see the evidence of that—things have continued the same way. I’m afraid that relations might even get worse, because now they totally control Armenia. Now, they want to have influence over Azerbaijan, and influence comes with a price. Azerbaijan does not need any money. They have money, which means the only thing Russia can offer Azerbaijan is Karabagh. Then, we’ll come back to the situation we had in the late 80s, early 90s, when we were fighting both the Russians and Azeris.

Today, many have forgotten that our main war from 1989-91 was against the Russians, not against Azerbaijan. And our two defeats in Karabagh— in Shahumian and Mardakert—were both fighting the Russians, not Azeris. How did we lose Shahumian? We lost because Russian forces—the special airborne division—were fighting Armenians. This is why I always look at today’s events through the lens of history. Because when you do not learn from history, you repeat it.

We have to show the Russians that we are allies, but that we are equal. We are not just a mean for them to solve their problems with their neighbors. They did that in the 1920’s. They tried to solve their problems with Turkey by giving them and Azerbaijan our lands. They would do that again.

 

U.S.-Armenia relations, Turkey, and the Syrian crisis 

The policy of the U.S. towards Turkey is a policy of containment for now. They understand and they see the evidence that when Turkey becomes stronger, it becomes less and less manageable. That means that Armenian issues—the genocide and the Karabagh issue—serve as leverage against Turkey.

N.B.— There is the perception that the U.S. will not compromise its interests with Turkey, and that these are more closely aligned than Russian interests with Turkey.

A.P.—Relations between Turkey and the U.S. are not so simple. The policy of the U.S. towards Turkey is a policy of containment for now. They understand and they see the evidence that when Turkey becomes stronger, it becomes less and less manageable. That means that Armenian issues—the genocide and the Karabagh issue—serve as leverage against Turkey. If Turkey increases in strength—with its neo-Ottoman ambitions—it will become a regional power. Regional powers are less manageable. I think it’s in the interests of the U.S. to have a stronger Armenia, because a stronger Armenia is less dependent on Russia. Generally, U.S. interests are to have Russia’s neighbors be less dependent on it.

After Ukraine, there will be big changes in U.S. policy. They understood that if you want to have a friendlier Russia, Russia must be weaker. Otherwise, it becomes more aggressive. The U.S. is seeing the unification of old Soviet republics in one union by another name. What is the Eurasian Union? It’s the same Soviet Union, but worse. In the old Soviet Union all 15 republics were legally equal. In this new union, there will be some gradations.

If we become a CU member, we will become dependent on Russia as much as during Soviet times. However, during Soviet times, Russia had some obligations towards Armenia and Armenians. It could not have allowed for different wages, say, for engineers in Moscow and yerevan. For now, Russia has no obligations; they only have rights in Armenia. They need their [military] base and they need anti-Turkish feelings in Armenia, because anti-Turkish feelings bring Armenia closer to Russia. This is why the Kessab events were misrepresented in the Russian mass media. Armenians have been looking at Russia with a more critical eye. That is why they brought up the issue of the genocide, reminding Armenians that they were slaughtered by Turks and that Kessab might be a warning.

 

N.B.—So you’re seeing this as a propaganda war.

A.P.—Yes, it is a dirty war because your interpretation can be different, but what was done in Russian mass media, on the level even of the Foreign Affairs Ministry—the Deputy Minister spoke—it was a total lie that 80 Armenians were slaughtered there, and so on. It is really unfortunate Armenians had to become refugees again. We know that some 20 people were missing, but 80 people were not slaughtered.

There is another detail there, as to why Kessab became a target for Turks or Turkish-supported rebels. Two years ago Russia opened their radar station near Kessab, and with this, the town became a target for rebels. The main target was not the Armenian village, the main target was the Russian military unit there.

This is in response to Russia for Crimea, because one of the reasons why Russia took Crimea was the military seaport there—Sevastopol. But Sevastopol without Tarsus, the port on the Mediterranean Sea, is nothing. They would need to refuel. Tarsus was refueling Russian military ships, which means that Russia took Crimea; now the West will do everything to topple Assad not because the people who will gain power are better than Assad (they know that they’re worse) but because Russia will remain without military refueling in the Mediterranean, which means all these gains of Russia in Ukraine will be worth nothing.

The problem with Syria and Armenians in Syria is that we are again becoming part of a big game… To punish Russia, [the West] will punish Russia’s allies and supporters: Syria, Armenia, and others. This is one of the dangers of becoming too close to Russia. We have become much too close with Russia. Look at the votes in the UN—11 countries supported Russia, countries like Zimbabwe, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and Belarus. It’s a really strong message to others. Russia can overcome all these problems much easier than Armenia.

 Russia can afford to go against the West. Armenia cannot. The path to survival is to keep a balance between West and East.

N.B.—You mean they can deal better with isolation…

A.P.—They can deal and survive. In the next 15 years, Russia is likely to lose lots of territories—like parts of Siberia. Even with losing some territories, Russia will be the largest country in Europe. But we do not have anything to lose. We have already lost everything. This is the problem. Russia can afford to go against the West. Armenia cannot. The path to survival is to keep a balance between West and East. When I was an active diplomat, what we were doing was just this—closer military relations with Russia, but closer economic and cultural relations with the West, to counter-balance one another. Now, we lost that balance.

 

N.B.—You said that it’s in the interest of the U.S. to have a strong Armenia. What has the U.S. been doing towards that goal?

A.P.—The U.S. is the country with largest donations and grants to Armenia—over $2 billion. It’s much more than what comes from Russia and others. Even private donations—through All Armenia Fund and others—are tax-deductible, supported with U.S. taxpayers’ money. It shows a positive attitude on the part of the U.S. government. The problem with Armenia is that the U.S. cannot help Armenia if Armenia does not want to be helped. It’s impossible. [The U.S.] was suggesting a lot of things for Armenia, without results.

 Russia will become weaker—if not within two years, than in five—and a weaker Russia means a stronger Turkey in the Caucasus, and in the Black Sea. This is time for Armenia to at least predict that and try to find the counterbalance of Turkish influence. I see that [effort] in the West; I see that in Iran. These signs of improved Iranian-Western relations give us some hope.

N.B.—You mean economic reforms…

A.P.— Economic reforms, as well as many other investment policies. The West was trying to support Armenia, but Armenia’s not Ukraine. It’s not as important for the West for it to go against Russia. Putin is trying to create this “Soviet Union Lights.” [The West] understands that Russia will lose Ukraine, and Russia without Ukraine can never be a light version of the “Soviet Union”—like the light version of regular cigarettes. It might be possible without the Baltics, or some other countries, but not without Ukraine. The fight over Ukraine is the biggest geopolitical fight of today. Unfortunately for Russia, it made a big mistake—confronting the West and trying to become the second power center of the world. Russia does not have the capability to do that. It’s unfortunate for Armenia because Russia will become weaker—if not within two years, than in five—and a weaker Russia means a stronger Turkey in the Caucasus, and in the Black Sea. This is time for Armenia to at least predict that and try to find the counterbalance of Turkish influence. I see that [effort] in the West; I see that in Iran. These signs of improved Iranian-Western relations give us some hope.

 

Iranian nuclear negotiations and Armenia 

I see our independence as interdependence on many powers. What I mean is if we become dependent only on one power—like Russia or the U.S.—we will really become dependent on them. If we depend on many players—China, Russia, the West , and so on—we will be more or less independent.

N.B.—That leads us to another question. What are the implications of the Iranian nuclear negotiations for Armenia?

A.P.—Improvement in Iranian-Western relations will be good for Armenia. First, Iran will be a substitute for Turkey. Actually, Turkey gained much after the Iranian revolution. The Shah was the closest ally of the U.S. Once the West lost Iran, they had to find another country, and the only country was Turkey. Turkey gained membership to NATO; bilateral relations with the U.S. also improved; and lots of investment went there instead of Iran. From a security point of view, improvement in relations with Iran will also be good as Iran will become a stronger player in the region.

Actually, before the 18th century, the main players for several hundred years were Turks and Iranians, and they were always counterbalancing each other. It seems we are going back to that period. The Russian border is in the North Caucasus now, and they have problems there. They are losing their influence over neighboring countries. It’s normal. Each empire has its period, and it seems that the time for the Russian Empire is already over. They now have to be a normal regional power—nothing more. For Armenians, it’s geopolitics. We have to see what’s coming. We’d like to be totally independent, but that’s impossible for Armenians. I see our independence as interdependence on many powers. What I mean is if we become dependent only on one power—like Russia or the U.S.—we will really become dependent on them. If we depend on many players—China, Russia, the West , and so on—we will be more or less independent.

 

The Crimean referendum and Karabagh 

N.B.—I want to go back to the Crimean referendum. Armenia was quick to support it, there was a celebration held in Karabagh, and President Sarkisian viewed this as “yet another realization of peoples’ right to self-determination.” How do you assess this reaction and what might be the implications for Karabagh?

A.P.—To assess any referendum, we have to take into consideration at least two main factors: legal and political. Russian Special Forces were already in Crimea before the referendum took place. They were the ones who decided the date of the referendum, even moved it up to an earlier date—March 16. From a legal point of view, this is not an expression of free will. In Karabagh, the situation was different. There were no armed men from Armenia, I’m not even speaking about the armed forces from Karabagh. What took place there in February 1988, during Soviet times, was a peaceful self-determination. People expressed their will, including the Azeris living in Karabagh, and because of that Azerbaijan launched a war against the Armenians there, which escalated into a bigger war. In Crimea, there was no free will. From a political point of view, if we Armenians recognize the Crimean referendum, and we justify it by saying that it was a case of self-determination and Armenia has always supported self-determination—no, we did not recognize the independence of Kosovo, Abkhazia, Ossetia, and so on. This is the first case that Armenia has supported a peoples’ self-determination. We have to assess the negative and positive implications of this. We should have at least tried to abstain during the voting. With this vote, we became part of a very small club of countries, and now there are tensions with the West. How will this work out, I don’t know. Politics are largely based on the personal feelings of politicians. If they view us as part of some evil group of people, they will treat us the same way they treated the “evil” nations—like [Belarus’s Alexander] Lukashenko…

Armenia needs the West for investments. Without the West, there will not be any investments—technological or otherwise—in Armenia. Russia is not capable of doing it. We know that. Seven or eight years ago, we gave Russia the best factories in Armenia: Mars, Mergelyan, and so on. There were lots of promises—they were going to revive and reopen them. During these 8-10 years nothing has been done. It’s not like they don’t want to do anything, just that they are incapable of it. They do not have the funds or the technology for it. Russia itself has so many closed factories, they lack the funds even for those. The state budget of Russia is half of the budget of the Pentagon—can you compare?

 

N.B.—But the West is not really willing to invest in Armenia…

A.P.—Yes. But for that you have to create the right conditions. There are people who are illegally deprived of their businesses, who face legal obstacles, like higher Customs duties and taxes. Money likes going places where conditions allow it to multiply. If we create the conditions, money will come. Otherwise, nobody will invest—not even Armenians.

 

Armenia-Turkey relations, the Genocide Centennial, and a vision for the future

Genocide is a crime; and we cannot punish the criminals because they are all dead. We have to at least get some compensation. This must be done on three levels: moral, which means acknowledgement and apology on the state level; economic compensation to the families and people who lost properties; and on the level of territory, acknowledgement that part of the territory of the Republic of Armenia—I must underline that not Armenian territories, but territories of Wilsonian Armenia—is occupied by Turkey.

N.B.—Could you talk about Turkey-Armenia relations as we approach the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide?

A.P.—Unfortunately, there haven’t been success stories here either. I was trying to at least prepare for the Centennial by creating a legal package on which we can base our demands. For me the genocide is not a simple matter of recognition. Genocide is a crime; and we cannot punish the criminals because they are all dead. We have to at least get some compensation. This must be done on three levels: moral, which means acknowledgement and apology on the state level; economic compensation to the families and people who lost properties; and on the level of territory, acknowledgement that part of the territory of the Republic of Armenia—I must underline that not Armenian territories, but territories of Wilsonian Armenia—is occupied by Turkey. There must at least be acknowledgement of that fact and then negotiations on how we can find a solution that can satisfy Armenians, Turks, and also Kurds.

My suggestion was to create a territory that will be a part of the European Union, which would mean free movement of capital and people. It would also mean that Armenia can invest in Van, perhaps build a hotel there, but pay taxes in Armenia as an Armenian company. The plan would see the borders opened. In history, we do have cases of so-called “condominiums” where two or three countries govern one territory. I do understand that there are around 7 million people living in Wilsonian Armenia—and we cannot force them out. My idea is to have special privileges based on international law there, which means that this territory can become for Armenia a way to prosperity. The territory would be demilitarized and under international control, which would pose less of a military danger towards Armenia. War in Karabagh will also be less of a possibility, because Azerbaijan will always look towards its big brother Turkey, and I doubt they will risk waging a war against Armenia. We would still keep some forces on our Western border.

Unfortunately, we haven’t done any of this. The Centennial is important but it doesn’t seem to be principally different [than previous years]—exhibitions, publishing or republishing books, lectures, even concerts, and so on. What’s different? We’ve been doing these for 40-50 years. For me 100 years is a symbolic date. At least we have to present our vision—how we envision a solution to the problem. And then let’s negotiate. This must be done by the Armenian state.

 

N.B.—What would Turkey gain from this? What would prompt them to make such concessions?

A.P.—Look at the demographics. Turks can see that sooner or later they will lose these territories because the growth rate for Kurds in Turkey is much higher than that of Turks. This is the most important factor—they have to make a strategic choice. What is in their favor: to have a big Kurdistan, with mainly people who will always fight on their border, or to have a territory over which they will have control, supported by Armenians, Europeans, and Americans—which means they will share rights and duties over that territory? The choice is between total loss of a territory and keeping something. Which of these is to their benefit?

 In politics, sometimes it may seem that you are gaining a lot, but in the long term, you will find that you are losing.

N.B.— Could it be that doing one won’t prevent the other from happening? In other words, what would prevent Kurds from wanting their autonomy?

A.P.—I’m sure you have been reading a lot of information about Hamshen Armenians and Islamized Armenians in Turkey. There is a revival of Armenian feelings in Western Armenia. What’s going on? These are efforts by Turks and the Turkish government. It is not as simple as one day [the Hamshen and Islamized Armenians] said, ‘OK, we are Armenians,’ and that groups from Armenia just happened to visit, dance, and sing there. [The Turkish government] could completely close off the area within 24 hours. But creating an Armenian presence there is a counterbalance against Kurdish presence. Not in the short term, but in the long term—in 25-50 years—it will be in their favor to have my solution towards that territory. Many Turks—high officials—told me during private conversations that it was their strategic mistake to kill the Armenians. They were not speaking from a moral point of view, but from a strategic one. They said that tactically they gained, because they cleaned Turkey from Armenians. But strategically, they lost, because Armenians were counterbalancing the Kurds in those territories—around 40 percent were Armenians, 40 Kurds, and 20 Turks. Neither the Armenians nor the Kurds could gain independence. By killing the Armenians, they opened the door for Kurdish independence. They are realizing that now after 100 years.

In politics, sometimes it may seem that you are gaining a lot, but in the long term, you will find that you are losing. The same happened between Russia and Ukraine. In the short term they gained Crimea, but in the long term they lost Ukraine, the largest European country. Politics is actually based on keeping balances. If we show that Armenian presence in the Middle East and a bigger Armenia is in favor of many nations, they will support us. For now, however, that will not be the case, because now they will think that if Armenia were to become bigger, Russian influence will become stronger in the Middle East. That was the case in 1945-46 when the Russians were trying to take Turkey and the West was against it—not because they were against Armenians—but because they saw that if Russia occupied or liberated Western Armenia, it would not be Armenia, but Russia. The same is happening now. Many see Armenian aspirations in Karabagh, Nakhichevan, and so on, as a product of Russian politics.

avatar

Nanore Barsoumian

Nanore Barsoumian was the editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2014 to 2016. She served as assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2010 to 2014. Her writings focus on human rights, politics, poverty, and environmental and gender issues. She has reported from Armenia, Nagorno-Karabagh, Javakhk, and Turkey. She earned her B.A. degree in political science and English from the University of Massachusetts (Boston), where she is currently continuing her graduate studies. Email Nanore Barsoumian at writenanore@gmail.com, or follow her on Twitter (@NanoreB).

20 Comments

  1. it is more important for Armenia to find it’s inner strength to build itself from within on all fronts – in all ways to achieve it’s greatest potential as a nation as a people and as individuals to excel in the world today and in the future –

    this does not mean being at war with anyone or looking to take sides or to balance powers or to get closer to one power over another – but to find it’s very own unique and massive power utilizing its own potential in the world today –

  2. For a seasoned diplomat, this is so full of such flight of fantasies, avoidance of basic truths and realities and as such explains so much of why Armenia is in dire straits it is today.

    Naked truth is, Armenia is one of the only remaining Russian outposts jutting into NATO. Russians have been using Armenians as a blunt tool, just like they have done a century ago, and still on the losing end.

    Fact is, there never was and never is a military danger from its border with Turkey. So no need for Russian bases and soldiers on that border. This is not a basis for good relations obviously.

    This esteemed diplomat has mentioned every fantastical possibility except the obvious one. Find a way to overcome historic grievances and establish productive and constructive relations with Turkey or Azerbeycan on the basis of equality and justice. One will guarantee the other. You will still have the problem of asking politely for the Russian bear to leave you alone.

  3. In my view-very briefly-Republic of Armenia has to be ¨Finlandized¨.
    She cannot easily opt for the other better one .i.e,. to be like a Switzerland in the tumultuous area she is in.
    As to Artsakh Nagornyi Karabagh,she can always opt to be like APRINCIPALITY,SUCH AS ANDORRA. For all to know, latter also was a bone of contention between France and spain for centuries, then both countries came to a compromise to declare it as such and a FREE TRADE ZONE.Mostly it is spanish8rather Catalan) ,much less French,very similar to the demography of NK.Governed by (as a formality)by pres. of France and Archbishop of Seo D´Úrgell,next SPANISH(CATALAN) PROVINCE TO IT.mOST OF ALL THIS WOULD PROBABLY EASE THE TENTION NO NOT BETWEEN RA/ARTSAKH AND Azerbeijan, but also very much please the big brother of latter great Turkey.
    Which implies the satsifaction of this latter, that Armenians there could not achieve total independenc e,which however, like Andorra Outwardly is so,whereas if you travel over to Andorra you will immediately note that greaat Majority population(like Artsakh ) is indigenous Catalan…(so called Spanish, thus also pleasing The Spanish Kingdom).People of to understand that great Turkey just simply thinks and imagines itself the total Power of the area and …it will suit us just fine to let her think so……
    We shall have a couple of Azeri MPs in Parliament of NK(formality rather) while business will thrive there, importing and exporting to nearby countries as well as far away japan,China etc.
    For nowadays Business and Economic issues are MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN FEELING AS AN EMPIRE, GREAT bRITAIN NAME , (NOW SHRUNK IN TO u.k,TOMORROW PERHAPS JUST PLAIN ENGLAND,AS SCOTALND IS TO OPT FOR INDEPENDENCE IN THE FALL(AUTUMN).
    We have to look at things -in my modest view-as above, not one sidedly and imperiously….
    Hasgcoghin parev

  4. Mr. Papian’s interview with Nanore Barsoumian was candid, and his vision on the future of Armenia is commendable. However, looking at the reality of Armenia, in areas of security, economic growth and political freedom, I view Armenia’s faith somewhat differently than Mr. Papaian. For one, as a country, since independence, we have performed miserably. We have had governments in place that are fully occupied in self serving prophesies of enriching themselves by robbing the country blind, while most Armenians live in abject poverty and continuously migrate out of the county as hopelessness has become a common reality. Corruption, nepotism, lack of free and independent media, lack of the rule of law, highly controlled business environment by the oligarchy has made Armenia poor, helpless, weak, and undesirable for most to enjoy the fundamental rights to live as a decent human being. As a poor, weak, and hopeless country, it is very doubtful that we can survive as a free and functional nation. It is no longer a matter of choice or balancing between the West and Russia, but it is a matter of lacking the luxury to chose. Therefore, my guess is: Armenia is clinging to Russia as a last resort for survival. Starting from our membership in the commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and now the Customs Union (CU) it all points to the direction of further coexisting decisions to be made for future survival of our nation. As a last resort, as the Russian Empire expands, I would not be surprised if we soon see an Armenian Federation with Russia. Welcome back Soviet Union in a different form!

    • I fully agree with your analysis. If we can get a handle on the corruption then there will be many Armenian and other companies in the West that would invest in Armenia, fewer people would migrate, there would be a better response to donating to charitable organis ations etc. putting Armenia on a sound basis. As things stand now whatever our foreign policy may be is of little significance.

  5. ….. “I think it’s in the interests of the U.S. to have a stronger Armenia, because a stronger Armenia is less dependent on Russia.”…. if true, than they should make Armenia finacially strong and militiraly safe so they can distance themselves from Russia. TALK IS CHEAP

    • He addressed that in the above article:
      N.B.—But the West is not really willing to invest in Armenia…

      A.P.—Yes. But for that you have to create the right conditions. There are people who are illegally deprived of their businesses, who face legal obstacles, like higher Customs duties and taxes. Money likes going places where conditions allow it to multiply. If we create the conditions, money will come. Otherwise, nobody will invest—not even Armenians.

  6. WOW! I was so happy to read all of Ara Papian’s great wisdom about Armenia’s past, present and bright future (if we want it)! I am serious when I say ARA PAPIAN FOR PRESIDENT OF ARMENIA!

  7. Good dream mr papian.the Kurds seem to play their game in a country called turkey if not removing the people from some 8 provinces and forcing them to unite with the Kurds in Iraq might be a permanent solution so I am afraid you will be empty handed again

  8. Up above I have totally diverted from the topic in discussion.For this ,in my opinion( I mean this part of the AW,is just that) to express views etc.For I usually get to the point.No need to go into very expanded details (and repeat issues we all know from history etc.)
    We ,Armenians ,i.e. not odars here on line ,first of all ought to re*-organize(especially in Diaspora) to have a Supreme Structure and A Supreme council.for this way ea on his /her own and juxtaposing very mixed and different viewpoints ,not in harmony and Convergence,we cannot obtain any objective whatsoever.
    One plans to go FWD and prepare Dossier for (lawsuit)all by himself, another is talking of Elections a la worldwide, i.e. 20,000 Armenians worldwide to have right to one vote..etc.,
    One vote for what to elect yet another person who may be without any merits??? or one who is filthy rich and by using his funds is elected (the norm actually in practice worldwide) or a electing a candidate from this that political party and voila !!!
    Armenians have yet another Body,so to say.Or if you wish name if Pan Armenian world Congress…etc.,
    This is ridiculours!!! we must FORM RANK AND FILE BEFORE ANYTHING AND PROCEED THROUGH P R O F E S S I O N A L S…and these latter lected for their m e r i t s ,not as above described.My modest viewpoint is to have all over the world Professional Colleagues Association, such as those 5 we already have(only in L.A.,Paris) then through these work out to have truly merited delegates elected to each Armenian community Central Council.then Converge all these Councils by having a Supreme Council, with 5 Departments.
    1.Legal-political in Strasbourg8next to RA delegate)not sitting with him her but in town.
    2-Executive in NY , as above,
    3. Economic in Geneva(future national Investment Trust Foundation) with 15 offices ea representing one profession.
    4.The Social Services adn(future Repatriation organizing) in Moscow,near abroad.
    5.The only one we have thank God,the spiritual in st. Etchmiadzin ,but in conjunction with Great House of Cilicia8as long as we have Hay Tahd with great Turkey.
    This my friends is a clos description how we come to be a SOLID Entity outside the RA-Artsakh.(what the western Armenian counci,,,(previously they began calling themselves Parliament,to which i immediately protested.We do have Parliament in Yerevan,we are no Kurds to have one exiled Parliament in Brussels. Latter the Western Armenian Cohjncil recently without the accord of 6/7 millions Armenians in Diaspora, has single handedly began Dialogue with great Turkey and is failing…and how…
    you see we need to be ORGANIZED…also above(no names given9 one is to prepare package for legal action against great Turkey.Mon dieux!! my god.don´t we ahve a 500 strong BAR ASsociation in L.a. and other int`l attorneys all over.WHY NBOT HAVE THESE COME TOGETHER AND PREPARE A C L A S S A C T I O N LAWSUIT,Well prepared and through a Group ,rather than individual lawyers.
    Why does the Armenian mind aim at individualism no harmoniojus TEAM-WORK…..go find that out!!!!

  9. Sooner or Later Kurds and Turks would create a federation in which Iraqi Kurdistan joins Turkey..Everyone knows it..Last year kurdish leader Ocalan announced that they are ready to disarm and will ask what the state intends to do, The road map include a proposal about that Turkey establish a strategic alliance with the Kurds, not only in Mosul and Kirkuk but also in Syria, meaning the Kurds remaining within the borders of Misak-i Milli…Misaki milli doesn’t seem strange anymore..

  10. Very interesting Article. I do believe the main point of the article. Armenia must develope good strong relationships with the US, China and Europe. We must be very careful as not to put all our eggs in the Russian basket.

    • You’re late. We already did. The article looks like shutting the stable door when the horse is stolen. In order to develop “good strong” relationships with the US, China and Europe, Armenia must have established herself as an effectively-functioning, better-governed state. For a host reasons–both external and internal–she couldn’t. Russia wouldn’t tolerate Armenia’s playing on two fronts with the EU while being a CU member-state. This is clear from what happenned to Ukraine. We must HAVE been careful as not to put all our eggs in the Russian basket, but the train has gone already.

  11. Mr. Papian is much better off when he handles the Armenian Cause but seems to be far less efficient when he deals with Armenia’s security issues.

    “Russian presence in Armenia is not for Armenia, it’s for Russia. They are defending their southern border, not Armenia.”

    This is only half true. Armenia, too, is defending her southern border by means of Russian presence. Can Armenia defend her borders without Russian presence? Good luck…

    “We have to show the Russians that we are allies, but that we are equal. We are not just a mean for them to solve their problems with their neighbors.”

    We tried for the past two decades, but we failed because the truth is that we are allies but we are NOT equal. Whether one likes it or not, the patron-client relationship among nation-states has been a sad norm in international relations since times immemorial. Does anyone seriously think that if Russia is replaced by the U.S., America will treat Armenia as equal? Ridiculous…

    “The path to survival is to keep a balance between West and East.”

    Armenia tried that already, as Mr. Papian certainly knows working under the “great complementarist” Vartan Oskanian. Oskanian’s complementarity utopia miserably failed, because Russia gradually acquired strength in the region, America never actually stepped in, and Armenia failed to mobilize inner strength to build the country from within in order to be able to keep the foreign policy balance from without.

    “Russia will become weaker—if not within two years, than in five—and a weaker Russia means a stronger Turkey in the Caucasus, and in the Black Sea. This is time for Armenia to at least predict that and try to find the counterbalance of Turkish influence. I see that [effort] in the West; I see that in Iran. These signs of improved Iranian-Western relations give us some hope.”

    While improved Iranian-Western relations are certainly beneficial for Armenia, this has never come to fruition and is more of a pipe dream as of now than the prediction that Russia would become weaker soon. In fact, we’re seeing quite the opposite.

    What I’d wish to see in the interview is Mr. Papian’s assessment of the possibility of Armenia’s becoming part of a new globalist project called “Eurasian Union”. If Armenia joins, and there are all indications of it, than all these phrases about security, balance, equal partnership, etc. are just cheap talk.

  12. Thank you Ara Papian for a very accurate and great analysis of the situation. I wish this is translated into Armenian and printed in Armenia’s e-press where there is almost no in-depth analysis of Armenia’s adhererence to the CU. But then again, it is better for any government to have ignorant masses.

  13. take a reality check(whoever that is) is correct all the way ,even through the post ..except he does not dwell much UPON OUR OWN NATURAL AND NATIONAL RESOURCES.nO ,i DO NOT MEAN MINES ETC.,
    But we have over a 100,000 strong Armenian professionals in 15 fields of professions.These are OUR H U M A N RESOURCES!!!not the Babik Mamik in the vilalges,. or some chain cigarette smoking person in down town Yerevan(imagining they are politicized)
    If we can organize these nice people and also by and by think of our ECONOMIC POWER.Yes just that an NATIONAL INVESTMENT TRUST FUND, nucleus of which by our MAGNATES(the beehive ,if you wish) then we can come up to a billions of dolalrs worth NATIONAL INVESTMENT TRUST FOUNDATION9 IN…you guessesd it Geneva cH,not Moscow not NY etc.,A neutral place tax free and easy to move in and move out-
    Also we need meanwhile to hav e our youth going to Armenia endowed with dual citizenship or at least a Special stay(Haduk getsutioune) passport.this will animate encourage them go over and besides language,culture and history undergo MILITARY CADET TRAINING!!!!
    dO NBOT HAV E TIME TO WRITE FURTHER ,SORRY.AM TO ATTEND YET ANOTHER meeting in yerevan ,In one of the ¨´clubs¨,no not night clubs spotys bu literrary political etc.,
    Best to all and
    parev hasgcoghin

  14. Papian must know full well that Armenia’s incorporation with Russia as a federative republic or a member-state of a Russia-dominated union (whether we like it or not) is a matter of nearest future, yet he brings up old as Adam, anachronistic and unfulfilled clichés, such as “equality”, “balance”, “interdependence on many powers” and other gibberish. Why is Papian doing this? To attempt, rhetorically, to save the face of the nation? Meaning, Armenia didn’t want but was forced into the union with Russia? Has it occurred to him that his interview might be taken as insult to intelligence by some intellectuals? Or this is something he could care less given the agenda he might have?

  15. I always enjoy reading Ara Papian’s ideas, and in this interview he courageously shows us how real Armenian patriotism works, with its inherent definition: Armenian interests. Not Russian interests. Not American interests. Not NATO interests. Armenian interests. Yes I know, Armenia being the little fish is in no position to play with the sharks, but being the little fish, it is important to analyze the sharks by means of sober analysis to avert future disaster. And to me this is what Ara was arriving at.

    I am perhaps not 100% in agreement with what Ara said about Russia since I like to be optimistic about Russian-Armenian relations, the future of Russia, etc, but I do believe he is right that Russia is in Armenia more for its own sake than for Armenia, despite that the Armenian president lately claimed that “Russia and Armenia have been friends for 250 years”, no doubt a claim based more on fiction than truth. In my view a more correct statement would be, “let us Armenians and Russians not let evil forces hinder our friendship as happened previously and look to the future for better understanding and cooperation based on our shared values”.

    Now for the passage:
    “Today, many have forgotten that our main war from 1989-91 was against the Russians, not against Azerbaijan. And our two defeats in Karabagh— in Shahumian and Mardakert—were both fighting the Russians, not Azeris. How did we lose Shahumian? We lost because Russian forces—the special airborne division—were fighting Armenians. This is why I always look at today’s events through the lens of history. Because when you do not learn from history, you repeat it.”

    This is a brilliant observation and accurate. I have also heard from Artsakhtsis, Armenian forces which wanted to finish off Azerbaijan’s military threat by heading to Baku were stopped not by Azeris, but by the Russian army.

    (As a side point, isn’t it quite funny when the average clueless Azeri-Turk claims that “Russia saved Armenia” and without Russia Azerbaijan will finish off Armenia? Well Azeri-Turks are experts at interpreting history in reverse, so it is no surprise.)

    Was it in “Armenia’s interest” in having an insane, extremist, war-mongering, pan-Turanist neighbor? Nope. We know that it was in Turkey’s interest of course. Well then why was it in Russia’s interest as well?

    To be fair, NATO threatened Russia that if the attack on Azerbaijan did not stop they would get involved. However, we must remember this point: Russia did not back Armenia in that scenario; when it comes to Russia’s security and interests, what NATO says is irrelevant [Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea]. But when it was about Armenia’s security and interests – well, that was negotiable, not to mention that the cited Russian arms supplies to Azerbaijan for lucrative profits today probably also factor into the picture. Still, I am willing to give Russia the benefit of the doubt since after the collapse of the Soviet Union it was not in great shape, not to mention that NATO set Russia up, which is evident today.

    But I cannot help but be irritated by how Armenia gets treated, after all, why would both NATO and Russia want Armenia to be in control over her real lands and have power over energy routes? God forbid, Armenia might start making her own decisions and PROSPER, a concept that, it seems, terrifies both Russia and the west.

    For both Russia and the west, Azerbaijan is a cash cow, this much we know. But if they wanted to, they could also have all agreed not to arm an insane, extremist, constantly barking-for-war country, and just use her as a gas station. But who cares about Armenians and Armenia, anyway?

    It is true that without Russia, Armenia would be swallowed whole. But let us not get drunk on this concept either. Both Russia and the west created the conditions where Armenia’s existence would be totally dependent on one of them – in our case Russia. This is like the doctor who breaks your arm then treats you for a broken arm. If anyone is impressed, then be my guest, I for one am not. In the historical perspective, every country involved is guilty of desecrating Armenia, and that includes the US, Russia, and European countries, especially France, Germany and the UK, none are exempt.

  16. And I used to think Mr Papian was a serious thinker! Such broad generalisations… such misrepresentations… . Such distorted and utopian conclusions… . What a great disappointment! “take a reality check // May 19, 2014 at 4:35 pm” has pointed out SOME of the faults in Mr Papian’s approach. I wonder why Mr Papian has learnt nothing from the 2008 Sahakashvili experience? And to suggest that Russia is getting weaker in the region – or indeed that if it were that in any way would help Armenia! What is this: “They did that in the 1920’s. They tried to solve their problems with Turkey…”? What problems with Turkey?! The Entente Cordial was trying to destroy Bolshevik Russia and we were fooled to support them wholeheartedly for their empty promises instead of playing both sides – like you’re so inconsistently advocating in your interview and as Ataturk actually practiced. Hence he/Turkey-Turkbaijan gained AT OUR FOOLISH EXPENSE! Please let’s not make the same mistake again now!

  17. This is a great interview. Some may call it utopian but Mr. Papian at least has a vision for a long term resolution for the consequences of the Genocide. This is in stark contrast to the mainstream position where there is a great deal of focus on what we want from Turkey (apology, return of lands, compensation, etc.) but nobody seems to envision how in practical terms we would get these things. If you think about it, the vision Mr. Papian has proposed is quite practical and plausible. Most importantly, it fits into the realpolitic paradigm of international relations.

    As far as the complementarism is concerned, I think it worked quite well for a while. What people fail to understand is in order for a policy, any policy to work Armenia must be strong enough to be able to conduct such policy. The reason complementarism stopped working for us is not because it was not good. It ended because Armenia failed to grow economically and militarily primarily because of lack of good leadership. Over the last 5-10 years Armenia gradually lost whatever regional significance it had prior to that which was achieved due to winning a small for the world but still a significant war. At the and Armenia became so week that between the West and Russia whoever could grab her easier did grab. And it happened to be Russia.

    The corrupt and undemocratic regime that’s governing Armenia has lead the country to a very dangerous state where we may easily lose our statehood. The current state of the affairs with Armenia and the rest of the world do not allow Armenia to be considered a respectable albeit small international partner. Therefore, even the most brilliant strategy for foreign policy is nothing more than words. This government is incapable of leading us out of the hole that it has lead is unto. Only a regime change can break the downwards trend we are in. With a lawful and democratic leadership, we could grow economically and militarily. In that case we could have more say of who we would like to join – EU or CU. And in that case even joining CU and the Eurasian Union could possibly be beneficial. Until that happens we are looking to lose.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*