Yerevan—We are at the brink of a pair of wars, civil and regional, and it is better to speak now.
Armenia, that ancient civilization deprived by the tragedies of yore of its capacity for contemporary statecraft, needs immediately to put its house in democratic order. Finally responsible for its own record, it also has legitimate expectations of the international partnership.
In this global and so contracted century of ours, where resources and rights often compete for precedence, domestic demeanor and foreign affairs form part of one and the same policy agenda. Nuclear or not, all pieces count.
Armenia has finally to empower its citizenry, ensure due process and accountable government, and hold true elections. The corruption of state and its ill-disguised feudalesque vertical of post-Soviet power must give way to basic liberties and equal opportunities for all. Political prisoners should be released forthwith and those responsible for the deaths of ten citizens on March 1, 2008 brought to account. Justice must begin from within, or else civil strife is sure to ensue.
Modern independent statehood is an immeasurable gift that must not be squandered or ceded to anybody, friend or foe. Armenia’s security and armed forces are functions of its sovereignty, and no one, neither the Collective Security Treaty Organization nor NATO, should be called upon to guard its borders and its interests. Sound mutual relations with Russia, the United States, Europe and China are pivotally important, but Armenia must from now on be in sovereign command of its own frontiers and strategic assets. This choice should be universally respected.
The resetting of regional imperatives requires correlation with Armenia’s vital concerns.
Armenia and its people the world over shall never forget the great Genocide and the dispossession of their homeland. They cannot be expected, through protocols or other avenues of persuasion, to ratify their loss or to legitimize the fruits of genocide. These include an illegal de facto boundary negotiated by the Bolsheviks and Turkish Nationalists, the destruction of a thousand years worth of cultural heritage and architectural treasures, the mass expropriation of homes, schools, academies and other properties, and an abiding official escape from responsibility into the annals of schizophrenic denialism.
There is a growing current in Turkish society which seeks to look their history in the eye and thus to recast the exclusivist foundations of their state. They should be embraced and supported in their long-overdue self-discovery, just as the Turkish family who in 1915 saved my grandmother’s life by risking their own should find their due in the textbooks of tomorrow.
As with the Holocaust and the liberating leadership of postwar Germany, acknowledgment must beget atonement which, if anchored in truth, will lead to redemption, restitution, a right of return to a national home, and ultimate reconciliation between the Armenian and Turkish nations.
Armenia expects the world community to uphold and attach the rule of law, both internally and internationally, without seeking refuge in intellectually and legally false distinctions such as sui generis. Mountainous Karabagh’s case for post-Stalinist decolonization and independence is juridically at least as strong as, if not more than, Kosovo’s, Abkhazia’s, Eritrea’s or East Timor’s. It must formally be recognized—and within its existing constitutional borders—by Armenia and the very same countries that have extended recognition to the aforementioned.
Supported by Turkey, Azerbaijan today is trying to breathe bellicose fire into its failed war of aggression, 1988-1994, against Mountainous Karabagh by which it lost any claim it rhetorically might ever have had. Contrary to Baku’s familiar projection of blame upon others, it alone holds in occupation the ancestral Armenian heartlands of Gardmank, Shahumian, Getashen, Artsvashen, and Nakhichevan. Let the refugees of all nationalities, including the local Azeris and the nearly one million Armenians displaced from these territories as well as from Azerbaijan proper, return to their places of origin. That is comme il faut, but there can be no further territorial adjustment without resolving the occupation above.
Georgia would do itself and its firm future relationship with Armenia a favor by defending in full the linguistic, cultural, civil, political and religious rights of its large Armenian community. The historically Armenian region of Javakhk must be given special consideration in terms of its identity, representative self-government, and connection with the Armenian republic. This is fundamental to both Armenia’s and Georgia’s national security, as is the requirement to release all ethnic Armenian prisoners from the injustice of their politically-driven incarceration.
Iran, too, shall change—at its pace and in its way. A long-standing bilateral rapport with Armenia as its basis, the Islamic Republic ought to work to improve its domestic performance and, among other things, to recognize the Holocaust. So too should Israel, as bearer of the Shoah, no longer rest complicit in the denial of the Armenian Genocide. Washington, Moscow and the capitals of Europe have a lot of critical rethinking to do in this connection.
The time, perhaps, has come for all past paradigms to shift their script. Whether classically geopolitical or energy-sourced, the curtain must soon fall on the east-west and north-south axes of yesterday’s cliché.
For the sake of little old Armenia and the grand New World.
Raffi Hovannisian, the Republic’s first foreign minister, is founding director of the Armenian Center for National and International Studies