By Edmond Y. Azadian
Turkey and Azerbaijan have cornered Armenia in its international relations. They have blockaded the country and have been trying to stifle it by isolating it in regional development projects, including pipelines. Georgia, which nominally is an ally and a fellow Christian country, is in full cooperation with these two enemy countries; railway systems, oil and gas pipelines are being developed in the region, bypassing Armenia.
The West has its own perspectives on these subjects; take for example, in the US. For many years, both during the Bush and Obama administrations, Article 907 of the Freedom Support Act, punishing Azerbaijan for its hostile actions against Armenia, has been suspended by the president’s office, not because Azerbaijan has been behaving any better, but because it is viewed within the context of Russian containment. Thus, Armenia’s isolation becomes part of the collateral damage even when it is not intended, because it is a strategic ally of Russia and a friend of Iran.
Conversely, Iran and Russia do not view Armenia as a victim of the West’s policies against them. Although they keep their friendly relations, they do not and possibly cannot compensate Armenia for the punitive measures it suffers as fallout from the two countries’ complicated ties with the West.
In short, Armenia is being marginalized in its international relations, which has a direct bearing on its economy and the well being of the ordinary citizens there.
Yerevan, certainly, cannot cope single-handedly with this large geo-strategic game.
Although Armenia has persisted against all odds and the blockade did not yet achieve fully what was intended by Ankara and Baku, it has taken a significant toll by choking its economic development and forcing a mass exodus of its population. As a result of this blockade, it may one day soon face a country without any people.
To counter its strategic isolation, Armenia has been engaged in its public relations plans by claiming its place in the arena of international relations and promoting issues of major national interest.
Along with the successful activities of the Genocide centennial, world media attention was focused on Armenia when the Kardashian sisters visited there, George Clooney went there to hand out the Aurora Prize in April, and now, the recent visit by Pope Francis.
Both the centennial commemoration and the Pope’s visit were organized and choreographed on a superb level which created maximal emotional and symbolic impacts.
Besides, the Pope’s visit did not remain within the parameters of a public relations stunt but instead it was amplified to become a historic and political watershed because of the Pontiff advocating courageously the issue of the Armenian Genocide.
His Holiness’ pronouncement of the Armenian tragedy as the first genocide of the 20th century last year invariably impacted German political thinking which was debating the issue in the parliament for an entire year.
After Pope Francis’ pronouncement, politicians who were shunning the use of the term Genocide in the official chambers of power realized they could call a spade a spade.
Despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threats, neither the German government nor the Pope backed down. The Pope courageously stood by his position, reiterating once again his statement and enshrining it also in the document signed by the heads of the two churches at the conclusion of the pontifical visit last weekend.
Pope Francis’ visit could have had a broader impact on an international level had the news media not played down the visit.
When the Pope visits any corner of the world, no matter how remote or how close, the cameras of major media outlets are there to capture his every move. But his visit to Armenia did not enjoy that level of coverage in the first place because of the political impact the visit could generate, with the genocide issue on the radar. George Orwell is dead; his Big Brother is alive and well, but not in the now defunct Soviet Union, but here in the West, at the headquarters of major news outlets.
The most that the major news networks did was to focus on the controversies that were generated by the Pontiff’s remarks.
The Pope once again placed the burning issue of the Armenian Genocide on the world forum, he launched a peace initiative by promising on his homeward trip that he would tell in Azerbaijan whatever he witnessed in Armenia. His release of the dove at the Shrine of Khor Virab, next to Catholicos Karekin II near the Turkish border, toward Mount Ararat, was more than a historic gesture. He has been credited with the rapprochement between two bitter enemies, namely the US and Cuba, which brought down the last vestige of the Cold War.
The major networks ignored completely the momentous events of the Pope’s visit, only to capitalize on the reactions of official Turkey.
The Associated Press, Reuters and other news outlets highlighted Turkey’s reaction, which came through the Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli, who characterized the Pope’s statement as “greatly unfortunate” and went on, adding that “the goal is to squeeze Turkey in the corner. … It is possible to see all the reflections and traces of Crusader mentality in the actions of the Papacy and the Pope.”
However, the Vatican did not mince words when responding to the Turkish accusation. According to the Vatican Radio, the focus of Pope Francis’ is to reach the “spirit of dialogue.” On behalf of the Vatican, Father Federico Lombardi said, “The Pope is on no crusade. He is not trying to organize wars or build walls, he wants to build bridges. … He has no words against the Turkish people.”
Erdogan’s bullying had intimidated many world leaders — including political leaders in the US — to avoid using the world genocide. Pope Francis’ courage broke the ice. Many leaders are finding that it is something doable. Even outgoing British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had been, ironically, crusading for Turkey’s admission to the European Union, finally realized that under Erdogan, Turkey, was veering toward despotism. Incidentally, Brexit was caused, among several other factors, because of the influx of Turks into Europe through dropping the visa requirement and also eventual membership of Turkey in the EU, which scared the British voters.
The Pope is back in the Vatican. His white dove is still flying, hopefully, to come back with an olive branch.
What remains behind is Armenian ingenuity to use occasions from the sublime to the most mundane — Pope Francis and the Kardashians — to place Armenia back in the international political limelight.