Armenia turns away from politics of genocide, begins to embrace realpolitik

The recent cancellation of a genocide bill that had occupied the French national agenda for around three months sparked not only negative reactions from Armenia but also talk that the outcome was the result of the French state bowing to pressure from Turkey. At the same time, though, Armenia is also asserting that the whole experience has been not a loss but a very good example, and that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is in fact a leader who stands behind his promises.

According to Armenian political authorities and experts, the step taken by France with regards to the 1915 events was very effective in making its mark and also led the larger global public to begin perceiving the “Armenian Genocide” as a great crime against humanity, much the same way the Holocaust is perceived. But while Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian has noted that, for Yerevan, it is enough to simply see the French people staking out their position on the side of human rights, Dashnak Party spokesperson Giro Manoyan has asserted that France wound up bowing to Turkish pressure and said that efforts would be again be exerted towards this end.

And thus not only the events of 1915 but also the Armenian-Azeri clashes on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union have been reintroduced to the agenda, with the aim to elicit reverberations from these events on the international platform. One day after the Khojaly march in İstanbul on Feb. 26, perceived by many as an effort to isolate Armenia within the larger region, there was the “Sumgayıt march” in Yerevan. As part of this there were a series of commemorations for the Armenians killed in clashes that occurred in February 1988 in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgayıt, and the Armenian parliament, signaling that it will not allow this tragic event to be erased from the public conscience anywhere, stood for a moment of silence for the people killed in Sumgayıt. At the same time, an effort has been made to label the events in Sumgayıt as “genocide,” with the message being given that there was a purposeful attempt in Azerbaijan to completely eliminate the Armenians living there. Propaganda countering claims about the Khojaly massacre, as well as the introduction of the 1988 events in Sumgayıt, are important signals regarding new items that are being introduced into Armenia’s political agenda.

Choice of alliance and changing foreign policy

At the same time, though, and in addition to these newest developments, the atmosphere in Yerevan is one of self-criticism increasing simultaneously with assertions that there are risks to paying too much heed to “promises from foreigners.” Analysts, noting the heavy price paid by Armenia for trusting Ottoman leaders in 1908, Soviet leaders in 1920 and local outsiders in 1991, note that in Yerevan’s approaches to historical issues, the Armenian capital should treat it as being completely normal when other states do not keep their promises. The same analysts note that it would be much more helpful if the genocide issue were removed from being a mainstream political matter. Yerevan would at the same time lean towards focusing on regional alliances and Western integration, they say. To wit, some of the fast-paced change and developments in the region may in fact force Armenia to take sides soon. In addition, some of the policies of forming alliances with the West which picked up pace during the leadership of Serzh Sarksyan signal that Armenia will be acting based on a politics of balance.

Armenia, which has already declared that it would remain neutral in any action taken against Iran, is continuing its own search for new political alliances and cooperation, sparked by worries over the closure of its southern border with Iran. Within this framework, its relations with the European Union, which have also sped up recently, are quite vital. In fact, Deputy Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian has already expressed the view that all government departments are ready for new partnerships and alliances with the EU and that he believes if talks regarding to still to-be-developed relationship with the EU are long-lasting, it will be good for Armenia.

The joint military exercises carried out by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in September 2012 and hosted by Armenia is just one of the fast developments in the region, like the military exercises played out in the Southern Caucuses by Russian forces, aiming to show their force in the region in the face of a possible strike against Iran. Some of the more striking aspects of fast-paced Armenian foreign policy these days are the accord Yerevan reached with NATO on certain partnership topics as well as a declaration by the Ministry of Defense that it perceives Armenian-NATO cooperation as vital to the country. One topic that is receiving heavy debate these days is also the strategic cooperation seen between Azerbaijan and Israel, a development causing discomfort in Armenia. In fact, even though such cooperation is not at the top of the agenda right now for Yerevan, it is an important topic that Armenia would like to address in the long term.

In the coming period, the genocide card looks likely to be used constantly against Turkey by countries outside of France, and active propaganda with regards to April 24, the memorial day for the 1915 mass killings of Armenians, looks set to continue. At the same time, developments on the Turkey-Azerbaijan/Azerbaijan-Israel axis will continue to trigger the more and more fast-paced flirtations between Armenia and the EU and NATO. As Armenian experts have already noted, lacking experienced politicians like Edward Shevardnadze and Haydar Aliyev, Yerevan will finally — even though it might be late in doing so — make up for its deficiencies and get around to creating a new foreign policy concept in the South Caucasus region.


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