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      Armenia under diplomatic siege

Armenia under diplomatic siege   1/02/2005

Armenia under diplomatic siege

Critical or desperate situations are not new for Armenia, and today we are in one of those situations. To sound more patriotic we may claim that against all odds Armenia will survive and Armenians are destined to live to the end of history and contribute to the world civilizations. But history has prevalence over patriotic rhetoric; the historic truth is that after the fall of the Cilician Kingdom in 1375 AD, Armenia was not able to survive as a sovereign nation and fell under Seljuk and Ottoman rules for six centuries.

Also, the first Republic in early 20th Century did not survive for more than two years, and it was soon absorbed into the Soviet Empire until its second independence in 1991. In both instances the genesis of an Armenian Republic was more of a geo-strategic fallout from the regional new political formations, rather than any specific design by any Armenian entity. Of course in both cases Armenians hung on the opportunity and they revived their sovereignty, albeit in a decimated portion of their historic territory.

Today, the world is being reshaped, especially in the Caucasus region, and the fallout may spell danger to the very existence of the fledgling Armenian Republic.

Any prudent policy may not save the country from extinction, if the powers-to-be so decide, but an imprudent act may exacerbate the situation and contribute to the demise of a sovereign state.

Armenia's foreign policy is not defined by anyone's whims; it is derived from its urgent needs. In order survive: Armenia needs Iran as its trading partner, and Russia, both for trade and for defense against real Turkish danger. Unfortunately, those ties are at best tenuous for strategic reasons, over which Armenia has no control.

Armenia has been vying for the lifting of the Turkish blockade and resumption of diplomatic relations with that country, which has become an international player with Armenia on the bottom of its priority list. Georgia's "friendship" is at best treacherous, given the actual facts on the ground. On top of all these complexities the U.S. has grand designs over the region, strengthening Armenia's enemies, not necessarily out of any specific animosity against Armenia. The U.S. Ambassador to Baku is vocally advocating the lifting of Section 907 of the U.S. Freedom Support Act, which will further embolden bellicose parties in Baku.

The diplomatic world is crumbling over Armenia, and yet some armchair politicians – in Armenia and the Diaspora – are engaged in their petty game, oblivious of the rising tide. No one can say that Armenia is curbing the freedom of the press after reading the nihilistic and insane statements in that press. Unfortunately, that irresponsible diatribe is making its way into the Diaspora press as well.

The diplomatic salvo began with the Azeri initiative to place the Karabagh issue on the UN General Assembly agenda as a case of ethnic cleansing. Armenian diplomacy, aided by OSCE group, was successful in deflecting the assault, only temporarily. Then came the statement by retiring U.S. Assistant Secretary Elizabeth Jones, accusing the Karabagh leaders as "criminal elements"; along with all the secessionist movements in the former Soviet territory. That was certainly not a slip of the tongue, as Ms. Jones clarified to Foreign Minister Oskanian, in view of overall U.S. policy in the region.

Then came the next tide of the diplomatic pressure, when Parliamentary Assembly of the European Council (PACE), headed by David Atkinson (UK) and Mats Einarsson (Sweden) formulated and passed a very unfavorable resolution, which states that "considerable parts of territory of Azerbaijan are still occupied by Armenian forces" and that "separatist forces are still in control of Nagorno-Karabagh". The only saving grace in the resolution is that it recommends that the Baku government negotiate directly with the Nagorno-Karabagh leadership.

There were also references to so-called "ethnic cleansing" by Armenians against Azeris, just reversing the roles.

Deputy Speaker of Armenia's Parliament, Vahan Hovanissian, deplored the Atkinson resolution characterizing that "it smells petroleum", while Armenia's representative at PACE, Tigran Torossian, lamented Russian inaction in view of this dangerous turn of events, saying that Russia is Armenia's ally, but also has interests in Azerbaijan. That was a most revealing position on Moscow's part, and it raises a very serious question: whether Russia will be willing to defend Armenia militarily if a conflict arises, when it is reluctant to defend diplomatically.

Some setbacks have also been recorded on the European front when the EU decided to place the Armenian Genocide issue on the back burner. An earlier resolution adopted in 1987 no longer is in force, and European leaders are not embarrassed to state that genocide recognition is no longer a pre-condition for Turkey's admission into the EU. That shift of position has helped transfer the diplomatic initiative to Ankara, whose unrepentant leaders have been pressuring Yerevan to declare its position on 1921 Kars Agreement, which had sealed Armenia's border with Turkey. Aggressive Turkish policy is being pushed one step further by asking Armenia to drop all claims on its historic territories and to table the genocide issue from its foreign policy agenda.

To aggravate the situation further the U.S. has turned the heat up on Iran. Condoleezza Rice, the face of U.S. war machine, declared during her confirmation hearing, that Washington couldn't allow an Iranian regime that threatens Israel to survive. Of course no one dared to ask if Iran threatened the U.S. in any way.

It seems that Iran's conciliatory gestures in supporting the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq has not been sufficient to assuage or convince any leader in Washington. Any overt or covert attack in Iran will only strengthen Azerbaijan, which has become a staging base for such an attack. Iran's dismemberment or containment will embolden the ruthless rulers in Baku and seriously damage Armenia's economic sustenance.

Armenia's leadership may not be the best, and many groups have grievances, especially since the last elections. But thus far it has been able to navigate safely through perilous waters. Besides, none of the critics have demonstrated the proven ability to conduct a better diplomacy, nor have they come up with an alternative. Should a calamity take place and the present administration is toppled or replaced, it is doubtful that the new leaders will be less corrupt and smarter statesmen.

Einstein's theory of relativity not only applies to science, but also to diplomacy. Armenia has inherited and has been experiencing all the problems of the fallen Soviet Empire, and yet it is faring much better economically and diplomatically than most of the other republics. One has to keep in mind the perspective relativity in assessing the situation in Armenia. Nothing happens in a political vacuum. Everything is relative and calls for the overthrow of the current regime must be accompanied with far better recommendations and demonstrable viability.

As Armenia is under intense diplomatic siege, even from the viewpoint of the fierce critics, the current administration seems to be the "necessary evil". A stable Armenia can fare much safer under current conditions than one going through political experiments.

Mirror Spectator Editorial


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