Warning to Armenia’s leaders: Don’t fall in the Turkish trap again

Neither Armenia’s previous nor current leaders have had the adequate experience to run a country. This is true in both domestic and foreign policies. In order to rectify this undesirable situation, some have suggested finding the pertinent experts who would advise Armenia’s leaders. Regrettably, all such efforts have failed for the simple reason that before the experts could be helpful, the leaders have to be willing to listen to their advice. My long experience in dealing with Armenia’s leaders has shown that they think they know everything and have no need to learn from anyone. This is one reason why the Republic of Armenia has been mismanaged for 30 years. It is understandable that a leader does not have to be knowledgeable about every issue. That is why he or she has advisors. But when the advisors know even less than their leader, as is the case in Armenia, the situation becomes hopeless.

I have written this lengthy introduction to make the point that in addition to not knowing much and not listening to advice, Armenia’s leaders refuse to learn from their past mistakes which is why they repeat them.

Armenia’s Foreign Minister Ara Aivazyan

One such example is the current discussion in Armenia and Turkey about the possible opening of the Armenian-Turkish border, closed by Turkey since 1993. Last week, Armenia’s Foreign Minister Ara Aivazyan told members of Parliament: “There is no longer a reason [for Turkey] to close the border with Armenia. For years, Turkey blockaded Armenia’s border, demanding a change in the status quo of the Artsakh conflict. The status quo has been changed through the use of force.” The Foreign Minister assured Parliament that currently no activities have been initiated in that regard.

The Armenian Foreign Minister’s statement comes on the heels of recent expressions by the President and Foreign Minister of Turkey of their willingness to open the border with Armenia, should the latter meet certain conditions. In the past, Turkey’s reason for closing the border was Armenia’s refusal to free “Azerbaijan’s occupied territories.” Therefore, one would think that now that Azerbaijan has forcefully occupied most of these territories, the problem is solved and Turkey will open the border. However, let us remember that Turkey had two additional conditions to open Armenia’s border:

1) Armenia must abandon its pursuit of the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide;

2) Armenia must recognize Turkey’s current borders and not make any territorial demands.

We all recall that back in 2009 after Armenia and Turkey signed the Protocols to open their mutual border, Turkey made the additional demands from Armenia. When Armenia refused to accept these new conditions, Turkey decided not to ratify the Armenia-Turkey Protocols, after coming under intense pressure from Azerbaijan.

At the time, there was a major outcry from the Diaspora and many within Armenia that the Protocols were not in Armenia’s interests. Nevertheless, President Serzh Sargsyan persisted in his misguided approach, until Turkey gave up on the Protocols, inadvertently saving Armenia’s interests.

The other major harmful effect of the Protocols was that it undermined the pledge that Pres. Barack Obama had made to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2009.

The Protocols were a clever Turkish ploy to derail the acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide by the President of the United States. The Turkish leaders, with the collaboration of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, repeatedly told Pres. Obama not to issue a statement recognizing the Armenian Genocide at a time when Armenia and Turkey were engaged in serious negotiations on normalizing their relations. They succeeded in convincing Pres. Obama that using the term Armenian Genocide would disrupt these negotiations. As a result, instead of keeping his campaign pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide, Pres. Obama stated on April 24, 2009: “I also strongly support the efforts by Turkey and Armenia to normalize their bilateral relations. Under Swiss auspices, the two governments have agreed on a framework and roadmap for normalization. I commend this progress, and urge them to fulfill its promise.”

It is true that Pres. Obama failed to keep his campaign promise, but Armenia’s leaders are the ones who gave him the perfect excuse to hide behind the charade of the Protocols. Consequently, Armenians lost both the acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide by the President of the United States and the opening of the border.

Regrettably, the same scenario is about to repeat again this year. Pres. Joe Biden made a campaign promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide. It should be much easier for him to take such a step now, since both the House of Representatives (almost unanimously) and the US Senate (unanimously) acknowledged the Armenian Genocide in 2019. While it is uncertain if Pres. Biden will keep his promise, we should not give him the excuse not to do so.

If the past is any indication, this is the exact ploy that Turkey is plotting now. We know that the Biden administration has a much harsher position vis-à-vis Pres. Erdogan and Turkey. There are several disputes between the US and Turkey that will be difficult to overcome. Knowing this well, Pres. Erdogan has started in recent weeks to take steps to reconcile with Israel, Greece and Saudi Arabia in order to ingratiate himself to Pres. Biden. Pres. Erdogan’s suggestion to open the border with Armenia is a part of this overall Turkish strategy.

In the aftermath of the disastrous Artsakh War, Armenia’s leaders cannot afford to make more miscalculations. While most of Artsakh and its surrounding territories are already lost, I hope the Armenian government does not make the mistake of providing an excuse for the Biden administration not to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Even more importantly, Armenia’s leaders should not take the unthinkable step of pledging not to pursue the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide and acknowledge the current borders of Turkey. Such an acceptance would damage Armenia’s interests forever. How could Armenia agree to such Turkish suggestions in the aftermath of the vicious role played by Turkey in the recent Artsakh War, which resulted in the killing and maiming of thousands of Armenian soldiers and the occupation of Armenian territories? The wounds are too fresh to contemplate any attempt to normalize relations with Turkey.

Armenia’s inexperienced leaders can find themselves in an untenable situation if Turkey decides unilaterally to open its border, while Armenia refuses to do so, giving Turkey accolades and making Armenia seem obstructionist in the eyes of the international community. Armenia’s situation will be further complicated should Turkey open its border, whereas the Armenian government just banned the import of Turkish products for six months or longer. Should the border open and Armenia allow the import of Turkish products, the Armenian market would be flooded with cheaper Turkish products, adversely affecting local manufacturers. One possible solution would be for Armenia, instead of outrightly banning Turkish imports, to place such an exorbitant tariff on them, making them practically unsaleable in the country. By avoiding the ban, Armenia would not look bad in the eyes of the world, while generating much needed revenue for the Armenian government, should anyone import Turkish goods.

In the meantime, Armenia should put its own conditions on Turkey before agreeing to open its border, such as Turkish recognition of the Armenian Genocide and compensation for the Armenian losses. Such a move would contradict the positions of both Pres. Serzh Sargsyan and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan who have expressed their readiness to have Armenia ratify the ill-fated Protocols and open the border with Turkey without any preconditions!

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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.

7 Comments

  1. I could hardly disagree with what the author stated in the beginning that Armenian leaders do not like to listen to advice from more experienced specialists. In its all 30 independent years, none of our leaders speak with its opponents on the circle table. Did anyone see one of My Step parliamentarians or the prime minister speak and get advice from previous and more experienced leaders? The current government started the negotiation process from the zero point and failed it , ending up at the same zero point. Why did we lose? There is only one answer: our government and parliamentarians thought that they know everything and will do what they want and what they think is correct. As we can see that this hypothesis brought us to capitulation. This makes more suspicious the recent events. Who can deny that the 5 billion dollars suggestion was made to Pahinyan and who knows, maybe he did not refuse. Regarding opening borders with Turkey, I can hardly imagine the nation which, after de facto several months of the war with another country, opens its borders and thinking about brotherhood. Does this mean that we give up on international recognition of Genocide? Does this mean that we forget about what they have done to us and forget all our soldiers’ memorial who fell in the war? I agree with the author that we should put our conditions in front of Turkey as well, or we will end up in the same position which we have now , after November 9th ceasefire agreement.

  2. “My long experience in dealing with Armenia’s leaders has shown that they think they know everything and have no need to learn from anyone.”

    Exactly this, right here. Actually this is a feature of the “educated” population there in general, a lot of it has to do with Soviet era brainwashing and their “edumacation at Moscow university” or some BS like that. We in the diaspora let it go because we didn’t want any turmoil in the nation and that “they just came out of Soviet poverty and mentality”. However, now we saw what actually that brought us with their supposed “connections with Russia”. We presumed that these clowns in Armenia calling themselves “leaders” actually didn’t want any input from the outside because they are maybe “finding a voice with Russia” and they are doing it for the future and benefit of the nation. Little did we know it was all for the intent of looting the nation for three decades straight.

    I see Armenia’s so-called “leaders” as a bunch of sheep herders from the fields of Artsakh plucked out of their zone of expertise and placed in a NASA complex to oversee the next expedition into space. What did we expect from that – “success”?

  3. It is about time that the Yeravanians of real Armenia take the matter away from the likes of Diasporian Harut Sassounian and go for it for their own country’s interests leaving behind the unrealistic Diasporians. Diasporians should and must learn from Yeravanians like the First President of the First Armenian Republic Hovhannes Katchaznouni of more than a century ago and also from the first president of post-Soviet Armenia (1991), Levon Ter-Petrosian. To reiterate and If nothing else but for the welfare of Armenia, the real Armenians of Armenia or simply, the Yeravanians must take the matter into their own hands, because the Diasporian strategy such as outlined above by Sassounian, simply hasn’t worked. Plagiarizing Shakespeare’s work a bit, ‘The fault, dear diasporians, is not in your stars. But in yourselves…’

    • Thank you for your advice about “safeguarding” Armenia’s interests. I take your advice as a sinister joke coming from a Turk who is hell-bent on destroying Artsakh and Armenia. I don’t know why you wasted your time writing such a silly comment. The only good news is that if Armenia’s leaders won’t listen to the advice of fellow Armenians from the Diaspora, do you seriously think they are going to listen to the self-serving and anti-Armenian advice of a Turk?

    • you mentioned “real Armenia”. Do you mean the whole “real Armenia” with it’s occupied land by Turkey too?
      You have the audacity to call Armenian diaspora as not being real Armenian. As a matter of fact the ” diasporians” as you call them “ARE” the real Armenians who escaped the onslaught of savage Ottoman Turks who were bent on hell to eradicate the whole “real Armenia” and Armenians by any means.
      It is ridiculously and absolutely laughable with your childish way to drive a wedge between Armenian diaspora and Armenia.
      you should know there are no Armenian-s, the is only “Armenian” who all are devotee to Armenia. (occupied Armenia lands included)

  4. April 24 is nearing, and Turkey will start its old political games for some fake peaceful agreements. We need to be smart enough that Turks are the same old enemies since they put their dirty foot on the Armenian Highlands.

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