“We are still interested in external things…the Armenophile expressions of a famous European, a pro-Armenian resolution of a pacific congress, a sensitive speech of a parliamentarian…which have no real significance for the self-defense or salvation of peoples. Thus, during the decades, no one felt that he was becoming a collaborator in the Armenian tragedy, diverting the people’s attention from the only weapon of their salvation – self-defense.” – Garegin Nzhdeh, Selected Works of Garegin Nzhdeh
Eurocentrism and the Armenian National Psyche
It is important to understand what Eurocentrism is, how it can affect one’s perception of the world and how that affects the Armenian nation’s approach to addressing its goals – both the diaspora and the government.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, being Eurocentric means to have “…a tendency to interpret the world in terms of European or Anglo-American values and experiences.” The interpretation of “European or Anglo-American values and experiences” is subjective, depending on how you perceive the legacy and contemporary functioning of Europe and America. With that said, it could be argued that Armenians should adopt a certain level of politically motivated Eurocentrism considering that Europe and the United States are the dominating forces in global politics. Some Armenians consider themselves as “white,” or of “European stock,” thus reconciling their idea of Euro-American democracy with the Armenian struggle for indigenous rights, or distancing themselves from the indigenous character of the Armenian identity. The Soviet Union also operated on a policy of abolishing so-called “centuries-old cultural backwardness” of ethnic groups and replacing indigenous practices with a Soviet culture that focused on technological and industrial advancement. The Soviet Union’s negative perception of indigenous expressions and practices also influenced the way Armenia perceives itself today—geared to seek attention from and imitate the developed Western world. As a result of this way of thinking and various anthropological myths, this is where I believe Euro-aspiring identities and Euro-American-Armenian identity frameworks become tricky, contradictory and can even be counterproductive to the Armenian national cause.
America’s economic success and its government establishment was built on the forced enslavement and economic exploitation of the African population for roughly 250 years, while simultaneously committing genocide against the Native American population in the name of manifest destiny. Even today, both groups continue to experience modified forms of the same systemic oppression. From a contemporary foreign policy perspective, the United States and Europe (Europe being more or less beholden to US foreign policy) remain inactive in confronting human rights tragedies as long as their satellite allies, such as Turkey and Israel, continue to operate within the framework of US foreign policy. So, if we are co-opting Eurocentrism (which also extends to the Armenian American identity framework) as part of our Armenian identities, then we need to reflect on the legacies of America, Europe and the neo-colonial consequences of these legacies, which have oriented Western foreign policy against the efforts of the Armenian cause.
Genocide and the Western Savior
The Armenian Genocide prompted a Eurocentric reorientation of the Armenian nation, attempting to disassociate itself from the sea of Islam in which Armenian Christianity found itself. Evident today, the Armenian peoples’ reference to the phrase, “Armenia is the first Christian nation,” is expected to invoke a reaction of sympathy and support, typically expected from Western governments (“Christian compatriots”) and Christian rights groups. Due to diasporan lobbying efforts, 18 European countries have recognized the Armenian Genocide. Promoting Armenian Genocide awareness can create a generation of leaders that will fight for its justice and future prevention. Although awareness and recognition will continue to grow, it is a pursuit that the diaspora has contributed a great amount of time, money and energy to achieve; yet Armenia received zero military support during the recent Artsakh War from any country that has recognized the Armenian Genocide. We can agree that the Armenian people are victims of historical and modern injustice, but how we choose to carry ourselves is our choice. As such, it is time to stop shouting into the ears of Western governments to remind them of former president Woodrow Wilson’s idea of an Armenian state. Who is Woodrow Wilson to take it upon himself to draw the borders of the Armenian homeland? No foreign power should have the right to dictate the homeland of the Armenian nation for their own regional ambitions. Regardless, Wilson’s mandate for Armenia was never realized. More recently, we witnessed the French Senate’s recognition of Artsakh’s independence on November 25, after Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed an agreement to end the war with Azerbaijan on November 9. The French recognition of Artsakh occurred only because they knew Artsakh was barely functioning as an entity. French politicians wanted to maintain favorable ties with their Armenian constituents, believing that the diaspora would react positively without questioning the timing of recognition. Thus, weaponizing victimization will not garner the necessary aid and support from external forces during our times of need.
The fruits of foreign appeasement typically yield pro-Armenian resolutions and humanitarian aid usually after the atrocities have occurred, i.e., the Armenian Genocide and the most recent Artsakh war. Lobbying efforts can also leverage instances of political confrontation between the United States and Turkey, but that is only because the United States wants to reel Turkey firmly back into its NATO grasp. The point is not to conclude that anti-Turkish policy is somehow born from pro-Armenian sentiment or to assert democracy. If Armenians put all their expectations and hopes for the Armenian cause on the Western racehorse, that is a notion that has disastrous consequences for Armenia’s security. Genocide recognition does not translate to security, and Eurocentrism is not a form of ideological currency that will buy Armenia the support it needs.
Armenian Foreign Policy and the Geopolitical Reality
For Armenia, maintaining friendly political ties and a strategic trade relationship with Europe is necessary, but anything more than pragmatic behavior towards Europe creates unnecessary energy expenditure. Armenia’s diplomatic focus should be oriented towards further developing their economic and defense partnership with India, leveraging India’s conflict with Pakistan over the Kashmir region (a state that does not recognize Armenia’s sovereignty and supports Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict). India and Armenia’s growing information technology (IT) sectors also pose a valuable opportunity for mutual enhancement. In addition, Armenia should be more proactive (with healthy skepticism) in securing Chinese investment, considering China’s past and current investment interests in Armenia’s infrastructure. With Armenia currently being situated on a fault line between the West (North Atlantic Treaty Organization – NATO) and Russia, China will have to be engaged more strategically in ways that will not threaten the current regional power dynamics. Nonetheless, China and India’s rapidly growing market economies are turning them into global economic contenders—a reality that Armenia should appeal to.
Furthermore, Armenia should leverage the synchronized foreign policies of Iran and Russia by significantly building its Russian-endorsed Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) trade relationship with Iran. Armenia is the only EEU member state to border Iran and can serve as a junction to the Russian-dominated trade bloc. Armenia should also be looking to further develop its defense ties with Iran by taking advantage of Iran’s recent frustrations with Turkey and Azerbaijan’s pan-Turkic rhetoric—citing President Erdogan’s poetic call for Azerbaijani unification with their “compatriots” in northwestern Iran (implying annexation and the violation of Iran’s territorial integrity). Relationships with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (both of which are irritated by Turkish foreign policy) also have the potential to grow into more fruitful economic partnerships if engaged strategically. In November, Saudi Arabia imposed a ban on the import of various Turkish goods.
If strategically played, there are multiple Eastern-oriented foreign policy avenues that Armenia has available—taking advantage of Turkey’s growing regional-political isolation as a way to level the playing field against the US-Israel-Turkey military triumvirate that brought Artsakh to its knees. Pashinyan’s mistake of immediately attending a NATO summit in Brussels in July 2018, and a month later, having Armenia participate in NATO military exercises in Georgia, proved unrealistic in its attempt to augment Armenia’s security relations, especially knowing that NATO is the sworn rival of Armenia’s inarguable ally, Russia. Regardless, we saw how NATO was a force complicit in the region’s destabilization—a trojan horse of American and European capitalist interests operating on the basis of promoting “democratic values.” It is more beneficial for NATO to appease Azerbaijan in its grab for Artsakh because it decreases the security and economic risk of the established Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and future oil pipelines (such as the Trans Caspian Gas Pipeline) in the region that serve as an energy source for western markets – expanding the American-European Union (NATO) energy partnership by decreasing their reliance on Middle Eastern oil. With the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh “solved,” it is easier for NATO to secure American-EU domination of energy and resource opportunities in the region for western corporations, i.e. the Anglo-Asian Mining Company – further excluding Russia and Iran from a piece of the energy and resource pie.
Turkey is proving to be somewhat of a NATO wild card in its recent purchase of a Russian S-400 defense system, warranting the recent US sanctions. But Turkey’s pursuit of a more independent foreign policy could land them back firmly into NATO’s grasp due to their suffering economy if the sanctions prove too much for them. NATO will continue to coerce Turkey to firmly secure American-EU energy ambitions on Russia’s doorstep at the expense of indigenous Armenians. While Turkey is still learning how to strategically juggle its relationships with NATO and Russia, Armenia will need to align itself as closely as possible with the Russia-Iran axis; because if Turkey attempts to augment its Russian defense systems in the context of a tight knit Russia-Armenia-Iran axis, then Turkey and Azerbaijan’s attempt to undermine Armenia in any way will be futile if the axis is strong. Turkey’s ownership of a Russian defense system means that Russia knows the system’s vulnerabilities, making it in Armenia’s interest to pledge its loyalty to the axis. If Armenia wants to isolate Turkey and Azerbaijan, then trying to appease the West will only backfire, leaving Armenia isolated instead. It was that sort of self-created diplomatic isolation that locked Armenia into the perfect storm for Azerbaijan to declare war. Armenia’s security will depend on if its infatuation with the West (US, EU, NATO) can be scaled back so it can practically address its geopolitical reality.
Thus, it is always important for us to reflect and broaden our framework of logic when it comes to Armenia’s place in global politics, because we cannot afford to misappropriate our time and energy on ideas that have consistently proven to yield unfavorable results.
Salvation from Within
So, what does “building ourselves from within” mean? This is a critical question that we should be asking ourselves. Current conversations (and arguments) on social media are dictated by which political party is best suited to lead, who are the traitors, who are the heroes and so on. This is about thinking of the bigger picture. Our culture and politics have undergone drastic assimilation under the name of Eurocentrism in ways that have actually affected the security of Armenia. If we, as Armenians, are to build a prosperous nation, it will not be through imperialist means but through rendering our abilities to the homeland, investment in citizenry, education reform, interethnic solidarity, projects for a military-industrial complex, a more critical understanding of international affairs and establishing a strong group of dignified and pragmatic diplomats to address the difficult geopolitical reality in which Armenia exists.
To move forward as a nation, we must heal first. We must not keep our wounds open just so we can show the world the injustices that we’ve suffered. It is not worth the infection. Let the wound scar and serve as a reminder that we are the guarantors of our future. Only through healing will we live on and prosper.
“As a first step, we should recognize that the Armenian people’s fight for national self-determination is first and foremost the duty and task of the Armenian people themselves. We do not believe in benevolent friends, the inevitable triumph of justice, or covertly and cleverly manipulating the superpowers. If we are to achieve national self-determination, then we ourselves, the Armenian people, will have to fight for it. We believe in the power of organized masses and in the capacity of our people to determine their own future. We believe in revolution.” – Monte Melkonian, The Right to Struggle: Selected Writings of Monte Melkonian on the Armenian National Question