Opinion: Let’s Review Our Declarations…


By Hagop Vartivarian

“If it should be in the interest of the Armenian people to shake the hand of the Turk one day, you must forget that that hand has been dipped in the blood of your father. Politics is not poetry. There aren’t any permanent friends and permanent enemies when it comes to peoples. There are permanent interests and damages. As long as you cannot restrain your feelings, you can’t become the leader of your people. You remain a poet-agitator. What is worse, you aren’t the one who is pushing the crowd; rather, it is the crowd that is pulling you behind it.”
—Ruben (Pasha) Ter Minassian

The above quote pertaining to Armeno-Turkish interrelations reflects the judgment of one of the well-known figures of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), particularly during his youth. This is the sober judgment of an Armenian activist, who had walked alongside Antranig, the incomparable Megerdich Avedisian and the great Mourad of Sebastia during the days when the Armenian people was subjected to genocide by the Ottoman Turks, Young Turks and Kemalist Turks.

This is not the first time that the Armenian people have been forced to establish relations with the Turks. Generally familiar are the treaties of Batumi and Kars, and especially the shameful Treaty of Alexandropol, which were signed by the Dashnak authorities of the first Republic of Armenia and the Turkish government representatives in the early 1920s, with the former relinquishing territorial claims.

It should also not be forgotten that the Dashnaks, having embraced the Young Turks in 1908, not only extended a helping hand to them, but also collaborated with them.

Today, Armenia is facing a new political order in the otherwise explosive region of the Caucasus.  On the east, there is the Karabagh independence movement against Azerbaijan; on the west, the blockade by Turkey. On the north, there is the prospect of Georgia’s uncertain political future, coupled with the demands of the Javakhk Armenians for their rights; on the south, the rather hard-line position of the West with regard to Iran. These realities force the Armenian authorities to adopt a prudent stance, politically and militarily.

Worthy of consideration also is the major world economic crisis and the gradually-increasing competitive struggle between the two superpowers Russia and the United States, which had created relatively warm relations following the cold war, from which the Armenian people undoubtedly derived benefit.

With the creation of unusual economic and political conditions, it would be difficult for Armenia to continue its existence in a normal manner without being jolted. As it is, more than one third of our people have left the homeland. The financial assistance coming from the diaspora (traditional or the former Soviet republics) has greatly slowed down. The flow of money from Armenian organizations has also begun to diminish, again as a consequence of the world economic crisis. The allocations and various kinds of help from the United States and other friendly countries earmarked for Armenia are a fraction of what they were previously.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan is rapidly increasing its military capacity through revenues generated from the sale of its oil. In recent weeks, the United States renewed the otherwise super-strong Turkish army in the Middle East with modern military equipment worth approximately eight billion dollars.

The Armenians living in the homeland experienced agonizing days this time last year, when South Ossetia was fighting for its independence prior to its seizure. With the closure of the northern border, Armenia had to depend upon Iran, which couldn’t provide the Armenian people with the most fundamental daily foodstuffs, inasmuch as the nearest harbor was miles away.

The initiative to cultivate new relations between Armenia and Turkey, with the prospect of creating a good neighborly situation, was surely made as a compulsory addition to this mosaic. The very next day after the declaration, not only the United States and the rest of the West but also Russia and even Syria hailed such an initiative.

The development of such a relationship is not something, which has come about only now. Such initiatives existed during the administrations of the first president, Levon Ter-Petrosian, and the second president, Robert Kocharian. Attributing such an initiative to the current president Serge Sargisian and qualifying it as an act of betrayal toward Armenia and the Armenian people is not only inappropriate but also far from being honest. Again, it wouldn’t be correct to also put the major share of responsibility for this on the shoulders of Edward Nalbandian, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is a respected diplomat having earned his present position through years of experience, because both the president of the republic and the foreign minister are supremely aware of their responsibility, especially during these difficult days, and are working together to secure national rights from Turkey in order to defend our borders and maintain our republic’s sovereignty.

With years of accumulated experience and, especially, being quite familiar with the feelings and just demands of our people both in the diaspora and the homeland, they shall cultivate Armeno-Turkish relations with utmost wisdom.
We don’t at all have the right to judge and evaluate the patriotism of our respected president and foreign minister. We don’t have the right to put the patriotism of any national public servant on the balance scales and weigh it, least of all that of Mr. Serge Sargisian, who was the capable defense minister of the Republic of Armenia for many years. He has fought in the trenches during war, experienced life on the front and demonstrated the everyday patriotism of the Armenian soldier. He has secured not only the borders of our homeland but also the security zones of Artsakh and vicinity.

Uproar over Armeno-Turkish relations and negotiations has been made in the diaspora largely by the ARF. This is so, despite the fact that the ARF of Armenia was a party to President Serge Sargisian’s government during and after his election campaign. When the ARF wholeheartedly fought against Levon Ter-Petrosian’s opposition movement in the past presidential elections, its intention was to secure a few ministerial posts in the administration.

With the prospect of reinsuring its reputation, which it had slowly begun to lose, the ARF adopted this orientation. It did so to become the standard bearer of the Armenian Case, having already lost all hope of coming to power in the homeland and having given way to other political assemblies in the diaspora. Yes, the ARF came forth, considering this new development the best opportunity to achieve its goal. As it makes a new attempt at cheap demagoguery by rekindling the natural hidden feelings of the Armenian people, it once again is presenting itself as the competent party to the rights of the Armenian people and the enemy of the Turk. In the 21st century too, Ruben Pasha would have said, “Simply poetic politics!”

On the contrary, the current leaders of such an organization enriched with years of experience should have adopted a different policy. These days, a greater level of seriousness was to be expected from an organization having experienced the extremes of Armenian life, having participated in the revolutionary movement, having gained a fair amount of political maturity during the years of the first Republic of Armenia, and having often been involved in the international political sphere.

The street was not to be the venue of such a reaction to this new development in Armeno-Turkish relations. Solutions to the present situation will not be found in the streets of Yerevan, New York or Toronto, with a few hundred rank-and-file members hoisting protest banners. On the contrary, one would think that new sober-minded political figures, who have now joined the ARF bureau, should have sat down on a higher level with Armenian government leaders. Certainly every reasonable individual knows that there are other diplomatic ways to reach the president and discuss Armeno-Turkish relations.

Fortunately, the ARF’s effort to also hitch our other traditional political parties to its wagon failed, except for Toronto, where only a handful of misguided Ramgavars participated in the rally organized by it. It should be said that the silent majority of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party’s (Ramgavar) membership stays true to its orientation, maintaining its loyalty to and trust in Armenia’s authorities on a permanent basis. This has always been our traditional direction. Furthermore, if certain Ramgavar circles are not expressing their protest against the ARF in public, they are simply following internal party discipline and stating their anger only in narrow circles. The same is the case with the Hunchaks too, who, despite the declaration of their supreme body, have not totally severed their ties with the Armenian authorities, whether in Armenia or the diaspora.

However, apart from our three traditional political parties, it must be noted that today the Armenian Church carries an important weight and represents public opinion, at least in the diaspora. As it is, its Diocesan Primates don’t share the ARF’s opposition to the Protocols. The same goes for the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Armenian Assembly and other new political groups, which support Armenia’s president and government insofar as Armeno-Turkish relations are concerned, albeit with cautious optimism.

Thus, it is not realistic to say that the Armenian Diaspora is totally opposed to the restart of Armeno-Turkish relations. There is no such thing. Today’s new generation is reading world public opinion with regard to Armeno-Turkish dialogue, evaluating it and giving their opinion, one way or the other. We are dealing with a new generation that has emerged from Armenian ghettoes, is familiar with the world and possesses powerful reason and logic. Moreover, every leader in charge of this or that organization must be aware of this.

In light of all this, it is expected, particularly at this historic time, that the leaders of our traditional political parties will rally around the Armenian government, flank our president and, with their political experience, engage in harmonious work with President Sargisian. The new situation is of concern to every Armenian, whether diasporan or native, whether in position of power, aspiring to power, or in the opposition. All programs presented to us should be confronted with our collective forces.

To the credit of Armenia’s president, he will very shortly visit the important centers of the diaspora and give extensive explanations to those with positions of responsibility in our community, as well as the general public. He is aware that it is the right of the Western Armenian segment of our people, which is scattered all over the world, to know the motive for negotiations by the current Armenian authorities and, particularly, if there are pre-conditions connected with the Armenian Genocide and/or other issues. In the final analysis, it is the president of the homeland of all Armenians who is coming to visit our communities and, as such, he deserves a respectful reception.

As a nation, we should equally share the responsibility for each success or failure, because we are living through difficult days in an unnatural environment.

Also, our political parties should have the prudence to review their hastily released declarations, and soon they should present themselves to the Armenian people as more prudent, sober-minded and far-sighted traditional organizations.
“If it should be in the interest of the Armenian people to shake the hand of the Turk one day, you must forget that that hand has been dipped in the blood of your father.”

(Translated by Aris G. Sevag)