Friday, March 5, 2010

Diasporan public diplomacy gone wrong. Wake up, Armenia!

Yes, they made a full circle and we are seeing the whole Armenian Genocide Resolution circus played out all over again. No, I'm not happy with what happened yesterday. I'm very concerned, and I don't think it's going to have ANY positive outcome for Armenia. On the contrary, it might, and I'm afraid, it will only make things worse.

First of all, a clarification: both my parents are diasporan repatriates, grandchildren of Genocide survivors from Nevshehir and Kars. I was brought up with all the horrid stories, and attended a diasporan high-school (Melkonian Educ. Institute in Cyprus) that was initially established as a shelter for surviving Armenian orphans. I know the history. I grew up with it. I lived its consequences.

Do I support the Armenian Genocide bill? I don't know. Rather, I'm being realistic about it. And, the truth is, there isn't much of a light at the end of the tunnel to look forward to. We live in a realist world, and unless we follow its rules, we won't get too far. At least, Armenia won't. And that's my problem.

American-Armenians are all upbeat about it. They learned well how to play this game called "American politics" and they want to stay politically relevant, especially this year, when the mid-term elections might turn out to be unusually interesting. The Genocide bill theater has been played out by the Congress before, just as the empty promises by Presidents - during their campaigns - to recognize the Genocide. Somehow, the politicization of the issue works out really well for American politicians, the Armenian-American lobby, and might even prove to be a great campaign issue for the Turkish nationalists in their parliamentary elections next year. But where's Armenia in this equation?

Here's the situation at the moment:

- The Foreign Affairs committee passed the bill, but already there are statements saying that the Obama administration has reached an agreement with congressional leaders not to schedule a full House vote on the matter. Voilà: déjà vu; back to 2007. The stakes are just too high for the US right now: Turkey is a key military and strategic partner in the region and, at a time of heightened tensions throughout the entire greater Middle East, its position as a major mediator is just too much for the US to jeopardize. What is more, the move had concerned the defense community as well, who quickly moved in to criticize it. The Armenian-American lobby canNOT be of any match.

- The Turkish ambassador has already been recalled from Washington, and almost all Turkish officials have come forth to criticize the move and point out that not only will it negatively affect Turkish-American relations, but also the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process that had made some progress last year.

- Azerbaijan was quick to condemn the resolution too, and some officials even threatened to recall the Azeri ambassador... all in the name of the great brotherly love.

- Armenia? Well, certainly there has been coverage and many different views were expressed by "experts" and "non-experts." But the President seems to be silent so far. The Foreign Ministry has issued a one-paragraph statement, saying that it "highly appreciates" the step and conveniently avoiding getting into any greater detail.

And for a good reason. The problem is that despite the prominence of the Genocide issue, it is not the priority issue for the Armenian state and its foreign policy. For Armenia, still under economic blockade by both of its larger neighbors, the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh problem may prove to be a matter of existence in the near future, especially with the rising prominence of Azerbaijan, its role in the region's energy geopolitics, as well as its rapid rearmament. What is more, just by the way, Armenia's primary issue with Turkey is over Nagorno Karabakh (and not over the Genocide), since that is the reason Ankara has cut all diplomatic and economic ties with Armenia and that is the reason behind the delay of the ratification of the Turkish-Armenian protocols by the Turkish Parliament. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is for their ratification, and certainly the hope is that such a move will be followed by the Armenian Parliament as well.

There is evidently a disconnect between the Diaspora, which, quite understandably, clings to the Genocide problem as a basis for its identity, and the Armenian state, which is striving to survive, attain stability, and establish itself as a significant player on the international arena. The Armenian-American community might as well see the passage of the resolution by the Foreign Affairs committee as a symbolic show of recognition, or some sort of a success - even though they knew from the start that success would be very limited - while the House members that voted "for" and have substantial numbers of Armenians in their districts, have earned themselves significant support. The bill won't go any further, the Turkish-American relations - after a long diplomatic dance - will come back to stability again, the Armenian-Turkish reconciliation process will slow down at best (if not die altogether), while the nationalist feelings inside Turkey will only grow stronger, perhaps even putting the lives of Armenians in Turkey in danger.

What did Armenia get out of this? I'm afraid years of diplomatic efforts to improve ties with Turkey have just been flushed down the drain. The anti-Armenian rhetoric inside the US has gained quite some air-time with all the arguments for the support of Turkey, while Armenia's major foreign policy issue has ended up in an even more fragile state.

(Image courtesy of Azad-Hye)

Perhaps it's high time the Armenian government stops relying on the Armenian-American lobby to do both advocacy and public diplomacy in the US on its behalf? After all, many Americans don't even know about the Nagorno Karabakh issue, although they are well familiar with the details of the Genocide. Yes, it is very commendable. But, it is also detrimental for Armenia, since the foreign policy of one of the most influential countries in the world toward it is being dominated by an issue the significance of which many, on both sides, don't even understand anymore. (How many times have I heard Americans asking, "Why, after almost a century, do we still keep emphasizing the matter so much?" While Armenia is preoccupied with its own troubles in the region...) What is more worrisome, however, is the fact that the Azeri lobby has started making its own moves in the right direction (right for itself, that is), starting a campaign of "education" of the American public and policy-makers on their side of the Karabakh issue. If Armenia doesn't move in to balance these efforts, the effects might be far more damaging...

Again, I am not saying that the Genocide should be neglected or forgotten. What I'm saying is that the focus should switch, since with the resolution of the Karabakh problem might just open a leeway for more constructive and reconciliatory dialogue on the Genocide as well. If the Diaspora lets Armenia be, that is...



  1. Very good, candid post. As an American Jew who supports Israel but from a supremely moderate persuasion, I acutely feel your pain.

  2. Wonderful realistic approach... Armenian lobbyists instead of spending so much money on this issue they really could have thought about current day Armenian problems. Independence of Armenia in the aftermath of USSR falling apart is served as a gift to us but which is at steak -as many other realists say too. Armenian Genocide is a fact that nobody can deny. Even the majority of the congressmen who voted against recognized it as such in their speeches. It is something sacred for all of Armenians who receive this memory through their genes. But in order to preserve what we have today we really need to wake up...!

  3. very few people (and states) deny that Genocide has happened. however, they all say that it's an overly-politicized issue. and i think THAT is the problem. unless it's made into something less controversial and unless there is something for Armenia to offer in return (be it geostrategic importance, strong economic potential, etc..), we're going to see this whole circus played out time and again.. while instead, as you already said, these efforts could've been directed at Armenia's acquisition of this power/potential. too many divisions: within, between, and outside. unless we come to a common agreement, nothing will work..
    and Paul, i'm sure you also know how painful it is to see the REACTION to such a stance. this is only discouraging... :(

  4. If you think official recognition by the U.S. is not important or doesn't have tangible consequences, think again:

    This is not a Diaspora vs Armenia issue, this is an American issue. Americans of all origins who believe in justice want their government to acknowledge a historical fact. Everything else is a sideshow.

    As far as diplomacy between Armenia and Turkey, the protocols were dead on delivery once Erdogan tied opening the border to Karabagh.

  5. Oh, don't tell me that suing the European insurance companies is the actual reason behind the fight for recognition. PLEASE!

    This is a VERY American issue - I agree. and it's SO politicized that at times the actual end goal of the recognition seems obscured. It's obvious that given the current circumstances the administration will not dare to jeopardize the relationship with Turkey, and the whole "sideshow" (as you put it yourself) only harms Armenians wherever they may be (in the US, in Armenia, or in Turkey) since we are, once again, looked down upon.

    As for the protocols deal, i never said the Resolution was THE reason they don't stand a chance; but it certainly threw Turkey back into the arms of stronger nationalism. Just see what's happening there now.

    This is NOT a right approach to the problem..

  6. Well I am a Turk.In summer I was bacpacking in Europe..I met a canadian guy in Rome..he is the only one who have visited Turkey..I asked him his impressions about Turkey..he said Turkey is good but it is politically complex..His that view take my attention.I said what is that..he said "armenian genocide"..Ohh..He stated that everything in Yugoslavia was good and then Turks come and make eveything upside down in Bosnia..They build mosques and schools..I was terribly in shock how come he gotsuch views with a short visit!!!
    I had to fix these all wrong images.First I stated this how come Turkey build mosques and schools to Bosnia..Turkey can not build enough schools in Turkey how can he build in Bosnia?I say him that what he means may be Saudi Arabia that can fund such thing..I stated him in Bosnia 3000 mosques and monuments are destroyed but it is not Turkeys fault..
    Anyway we pass to "armenian genocide"..I started with first world war.He stated it is not happened in world war one..I say no it is ..The war started in 1914..ı said Turks had to deport armenians.He said it is not deportation..then I passed to Karabag and recenty how Armenians deported 1 million Azeris.He accepted it as excuse..Whatever I do he is not willing to be convinced..At last I draw Turkish map to a paper.I draw who invaded where in Turkey in world war one..By the time I draw France and armenia that invaded the Turkey..he was in shock and asked me "what france,what is france doing over there"..By that last argument he was convinced and he told me this..
    In canada Greeks and armenians are working against Turks..he learned all the above accusations from that of his armenian greek friends and he said the Turks in canada are silent!!!
    He produced the argumantation on behalf of Turks..turks are silent because they are new comer whereas armenians are for generations over there..So after some generations Turks also fight back against armanian propoganda that blackmails Turks..Up to that time armenians are free to brainwash the foreign people..But this doesnt mean that to blackmail Armenian is so dificult!

  7. կեցցես, ահագին բան ես հասկանում:

  8. To my Turkish reader:

    Thanks for the comment. Of course, I could start arguing the dates, the numbers, the events with you... but it's all useless, since I can tell you will never accept it. I am not saying that my side of the information is free from bias or emotions, but then you should be willing to accept that about your own viewpoint as well. THIS is the problem. It is almost impossible to imagine a world free from nationalism, but it is NOT leading us anywhere close to stability or a constructive discussion, so we're in a deadlock again.

    Now, about NK: I have had many discussions on the Karabakh deportations with other Turks and Azeris, and after the conversations (IF the others were willing to engage in a constructive talk and listen to me, that is) we both would agree that the information we have, on either side, is very ONE-sided and incomplete... and manipulated for certain purposes. People DID have to leave. But that was true of Armenians as well as of Azeris. How many hundreds of thousand of Armenians were driven out of Baku, Sumgait, other regions of Azerbaijan? Why don't you talk about THAT? Just because many of these people left Armenia altogether, or were integrated into the society, getting rid of their official "refugee" status, does NOT mean there were any less Armenian refugees, right?

    I had the opportunity to visit Turkey, I have met and talked to many Turks and Azeris (well, at least more than an average Armenian), and most of the times, I was pleasantly surprised to see my previously-held "umbrella" stereotypes shattered. However, I canNOT accept arguments such as yours, that still cling to the wrong reasoning behind this problem. We need a change in the mentality and thinking ON ALL SIDES, and that can only benefit us all. The Armenian Diaspora is at fault to be pressing the wrong buttons regarding the issue, while the Turkish-Azeri side is wrong to be holding on to BLIND nationalism. After all, opening our eyes and trying to understand what went wrong and where can we find the common ground (which exists, IT IS out there, we just don't want to see it) might let us ALL put the artificially created passions, myths, and emotions aside, and adopt a more constructive approach to the resolution of the problems that we ALL face.

    But I'm afraid with you, personally, such a conversation would be impossible. Sorry.

  9. Well first of all,it is a loose loose game and the rule of this game is both will loose till it results in one side to die.
    The armenian blackmail campaign which is absolutely based on nationalistic biases steotypes that targets to draw a Totally wrong Turkey image will come for sure to a dead end.
    For two reasons;
    1)Turkey is in progress.Therefore we can have ability to express the other side of the madeleon that armenians intentionally hide to foreigners(we havent start yet but we will start for sure).I do think that the westerners who are raised with armenians one sided propoganda will feel cheated when they understand the whole picture.(see in am story that canadian guy wanted to help us)
    2)Armenians are radicalizing themselves day by day and infact genocide is a taboo for themselves that they dont want to discuss.But in the world everything is up to discussion.And these radical viewing will make armenians loose ground.
    And as last I do think that Turkish people are far less nationalist than Armenians, so in here more blind shall be the one who is more nationalist...
    Anyhow due to am reasoning I agree that we cant have a such conversation but I must congatulate you that you come up with another perspective that I see very rare almst none among armenian people.Your comments give us a hope in a nation that doent give any room to anything not nationalistic...

  10. How do you expect Turkey and Armenia to make peace when the former is pressuring Armenia to withdraw from Karabakh? This took place BEFORE the Armenian Genocide Resolution and thus Armenian authorities realized that the protocols issue is intractable with or without GENOCIDE recognition.

    Also, as a purported descendant of Armenian Genocide survivors, what do you suggest the Armenian Diaspora do for restitution of the genocide? Shall they simply forget anything ever happened? Your argument is quite naive.

    It has been pressure from the Armenian Diaspora regarding the Armenian Genocide issue worldwide that has allowed some Turkish journalists and scholars to come out and simply have a conversation about the Genocide. A shelving of recognition will only help continue state sponsored brainwashing in Turkey in regards to the Genocide.

    126 Holocaust and Genocide scholars have urged the Turkish government to recognized the Armenian Genocide yet the government continues to state that it is a hoax.

    Then they wish to institute a forum for "discussion" of "history". How can you reconcile these facts? How about when I add to it the fact that people are PROSECUTED in Turkey for simply speaking about the killing of Armenians.

    Finally, the Armenian government has come out in FULL support of the Genocide resolution in the US Congress; they have stated that it will HELP Armenian-Turkish reconciliation.

    PS: Comments by neonazi-like Turks-- e.g. the one above mine-- show that they will NEVER accept the Armenian Genocide with such a conciliatory approach as yours, I'm sorry to say.

  11. Well to tell truth we Turks are also wounded in WW1.Specifically me,all generations after my grandfather and grandmothers are lost.So they raised themselves..So it is not only you who suffered.The difference is that we pay what we suffered and we dont want Armenians or any other nation to pay due to our suffering on behalf of us..
    Nevertheless,I dont have any problem of your blackmail campaign against Turkey.Even you can claim that Turks have one additional eye on the back of their head and you may even get significant support...But at the end of the day;you will win nothing.Furthermore when we start to fight back.we would wish Germans archieve to be opened Russian arcieves to be opened English arcieve to be opened Frenc as well..we will see what Armenians speak and agree with them..
    Anyhow,I do have no suspicion that your blakmail campaign will die eventually but before that I must remind you another fact.
    According to UN resolutions Armenia is an invader in Karabag.So the withdraw of the troops is a must.Second the 38 active criminals in Hocali massacre must face a crime against humanity punishments...
    Last you know Varujan Gabrisyan..He is the terrorist who bombed THY buro in Paris.He killed 8 people(2 turks) and 60 wounded (30 turks)...The french justice gave him only 16 years punushment in 1985.Now he is living happily in his residence in yerevan..I dont give any further comment comment.Just;Shame on you france shame on you armenia...

  12. Oh well, to my Turkish reader:
    Read my above comments regarding Karabakh. Wonder how many Azeris will have to stand trial for crimes against humanity, then? As I already said, I don't think you and me can discuss any of this in any civilized way just because of your own rhetoric and approach. So I'll abstain from any further comments.

    If you just read over your own comments (oh, and don't get me started on some of the other rhetoric I had to live through over the years), it's more than just obvious that the much-needed conciliatory approach is not only absent among the Turks, but also among Armenians. Again, THAT IS THE PROBLEM.
    Since you seem to have missed that I specifically pointed out that the Genocide NEEDS to be recognized, I'll repeat that again: I am NOT saying it should be forgotten, and I never said the Armenian govt wouldn't support its recognition. Don't spin my argument, please.
    What I wanted to bring up in the post was the actual VIABILITY of it REALLY happening now and the opportunity cost for Armenia, as well as for the Diaspora worldwide. Just be rational about it, for a moment: gains (for ALL Armenians, that is) from this Resolution at this moment in time? NEGATIVE (not even zero) since not only didn't it go ANY FURTHER, but it gave way to a lot of senseless rhetoric (and mind you, not just on the part of the Turks, but also from many American and non-American officials who dismissed Armenia as simply not important enough to jeopardize the relations with Turkey). There will be no general vote in the House and the administration itself reiterated countless times how devoted they are to Turkey. The Turks have gone berserk over the news, which has exponentially increased their nationalism, together with the tensions in the region and internationally...
    The Genocide should be recognized, but the cause should NOT be pushed for in this way. And first and foremost, the Diaspora (especially in the countries where the issue has been so politicized that it's being exploited by certain Diasporan groups within the respective countries for their own interests) should be clear as to what are the objectives behind the recognition.. Is it a real, long-term cause to benefit the Armenian NATION, or an immediate political, selfish gain?
    Turkey is indeed changing, and such moves by the Diaspora are only hindering the process and making it even slower, while being potentially very destructive for whatever common ground there was established between Armenia and Turkey, or even Turkey and the West. It's a matter of long-term vision and strategy...

    And no, I would disagree with you on that there are no Turks with a conciliatory approach out there. As you pointed out yourself, they are coming out of the dark and speaking up, while such occasional waves of nationalism only stifle their voices...

    But then, according to you I'm just a "purported Armenian", so how would I ever know, right...??

  13. Well Lena,the country being under invasion is Azerbaijan and 1 million people that are deported are Azeri people.Now if we can achieve hocali as a genocide it is a quick win for a short period of time...
    Actually you have enough supporters;Robert Fisk,Stephen Kinzer; And Orhan Pamuk and many countries(in France if you say there is no genocide there is legal punishmenst-what kind of free speech it is)...Orhan Pamuk has the nobel but when will Robert Fisk will have I dont know...
    In short in your blackmail campaign you are intellectually politically well equiped whereas we are new in this..We have long way to go!
    But we wont die but our some of the energy will go to a (to us) meaningless battle.

  14. I would agree with you on the France law, actually, and I have written about it before. It's counter-intuitive, but also shows the extent to which they find it as being an important and non-acceptable issue. Wouldn't really say it benefits the Armenians much, though...

    As for what you call a "blackmail campaign", it's obvious that you have a very narrow and biased understanding of it. Yet - to put it again - although I see its goal as noble and of great importance, I find its strategy and tactics fairly faulty and misguided.

    In any case, you should be proud to have someone like Pamuk at all. Even if you, personally, might find him or his writing disagreeable..

  15. Well Lena,I can see that your only difference from your other comrades is that you agree with them but you only dont agree with their methods...But in a community where everything is a taboo your stance is a progress...
    About Pamuk nothing to be proud of..Infact we left him...He is alone with you and the ones who give him nobel because of his support to your blackmail a result of the dirty bazarliks in western world...
    Second lena if really there was an #armenian genocide# the western world will not loose such a great chance therefore you dont need a blackmail campaign.They will anounce it long ago...
    Anyhow I hope free speech evolves in your community and there exists the objective people who can see that it is not a genocide..Afterwards we may discuss but now your biased views that is based on your uprising prevents us anything constructive..

  16. again: it's not an issue of "fact" or "truth" - because that has long been accepted and recognized (even in the US, 44 State governments have officially recognized it as Genocide, what else do you want?) - but of POLITICS. And given the current situation, the issue is being exploited - by all sides involved - to the detriment of Armenia, as well as Turkey.

    at this note, we'll end this pro-longed and non-constructive "discussion".

  17. Would suggest taking a look at another piece I posted today on the same issue: What would you say, Jack?