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...