What happens if Syrian Armenians are settled in Nagorno-Karabakh?

The growing violence in Syria is strongly affecting the ethnic and religious elements in the country. This tension and upheaval raise concerns and worries among the Armenians in the country as well; for this reason, a portion of the Armenian population is seeking refuge in Armenia.

The Armenian Ministry for the Diaspora has announced that there has been a visible increase in the number of Syrian Armenians filing an application for Armenian citizenship in 2012 and that so far, 4,000 applications for citizenship have been received. The current state of affairs in the city of Aleppo, historically a center of Armenian immigration, is one of the major concerns held by the Armenian authorities right now. It should also be noted that some Armenian groups have acted in favor of Bashar al-Assad’s regime so far. This is a huge handicap because the initial signs of the problems that will be exacerbated in the post-Assad era have become visible in the ongoing clashes where the Armenian people are subjected to violence by the opposition groups.

Currently, the Armenian government is taking proper measures to facilitate the visa process for Syrian and Lebanese Armenians, to create proper infrastructure of education for the Armenians coming from foreign countries, to appoint teachers who would give lectures on Western Armenian to the newcomers and to ensure that flights become less expensive. Armenian authorities also note that the state is ready to deal with the problems of Syrian Armenians, including the acquisition of citizenship status and their settlement in the country.

Sergey Minasyan from the Caucasian Institute in Yerevan notes that the post-Assad Syria will not serve Armenian interests, also adding that Syrian Armenians could be settled in Nagorno-Karabakh. Arguing that this would contribute to the economic development of the region, Minasyan wanted to stress other points. There are reasons for ignoring the problems that previously settled Armenians in the region encountered, including social adaptation and unemployment this time.

First, it is extremely important to promote the flow of capital held by Armenians through recognition of the Syrian Armenians as proper citizens. In addition, there will emerge chances for the diaspora to extend help to these people; therefore, this will promote and improve the image of the diaspora. Funds have already been created for this purpose. For this reason, settlement of Syrian Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh is a reasonable option for Yerevan.

Second, the new political concept developed to improve ties between Armenia and the diaspora seeks to develop the relations and to preserve unity between Armenia, the diaspora and Nagorno-Karabakh despite all disagreements. To this end, the settlement of the Syrian Armenians in the region seems to be a great opportunity for Yerevan to achieve this goal. This has already been set at the Panarmenian Congress, convened to secure unity and integrity. Bold steps have been taken in recent years to integrate Nagorno-Karabakh with the world and to promote development in the region. Bako Shakyan, the leader of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh administration, has met with representatives of the Iranian Armenian Society in the US, the Argentinean Armenian society members, the representatives of Dashnak Party on the American continent and some Armenian businessmen in Europe on political and economic matters concerning the region. The talks were fruitful; extensive investments have been made in Nagorno-Karabakh in such fields as mining and energy. Slovakia and the Czech Republic started construction of a huge hydroelectric plant in Nagorno-Karabakh. The opposition parties in Armenia including the Dashnak Party, as well as ruling parties, are eager to ensure that Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as an independent state and that Azerbaijan is presented as an aggressor. To this end, the Armenian authorities used as propaganda the blacklisting by Azerbaijan of  deputies and academics from various countries visiting Nagorno-Karabakh.

Third, there is eagerness to change the demographic outlook of Nagorno-Karabakh. In other words, by this change, Armenia seeks to acquire a stronger position in the probable future peace talks. From another perspective, however, this will be an attempt that will keep the issue unresolved. Even though some actors do not recognize the existence of two separate Armenian states and advocate the annexation of Nagorno-Karabakh by Armenia — and there are some disagreements between the politicians in Yerevan and in Karabakh — this matter needs to be considered in the long run. If it becomes successful in this, Yerevan will have secured strong solidarity between Armenians, and in that case, it can gain a stronger position in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Some experts hold that even though it seems unlikely, Armenia’s interest in this issue alone should be considered important.

A new political move: Comparing Nagorno-Karabakh with Cyprus

The Armenian authorities who are leading the way in the Karabakh issue note that they take Turkey as an example, arguing that economic development is much more important than military power. Armenia, which frequently stresses that it has liberated the Nagorno-Karabakh territories, also argues that Turkey needs to worry about the Cyprus issue rather than the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Shavars Kocharyan, the deputy foreign minister of Armenia, who reacted to Turkey’s criticism of the recently held elections in Karabakh also called on Turkey to stop teaching a lesson to Armenia. In fact, this approach is not new and will not be the last time because all Armenian politicians and experts use the Cyprus card against Turkey when it comes to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. This is similar to the situation where Turkey was silenced due to its approaches vis-à-vis the regional conflicts. In international venues where Turkey was accused of committing genocide against Armenians, Turkey attempted to raise the issue of massacres in the Balkans. However, in each attempt, the Turkish authorities had to stop because of strong accusations. Our politicians and experts who experienced this frequently are displeased with this situation. Therefore, Turkey, instead of reiterating its conventional statements by which it declared it did not recognize the elections that it did not officially recognize, should be able to take alternate political, economic and cultural moves. This is possible through closer attention to regional developments and reshaping foreign policy. Otherwise, a Turkey that becomes hand-tied vis-à-vis diverse issues will have to deal with the risk of inability to promote its just causes in the eyes of the international community.

Mehmet Fatih ÖZTARSU

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