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The Dangers of Privatizing Armenian Foreign Policy Armenian News Network / Groong August 31, 2001 By Khatchik Derghoukassian and Richard Giragosian Much has been written in recent weeks concerning the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (hereafter, the TARC) and its rather sudden appearance as an influential actor in Armenian foreign policy, namely by virtue of its efforts to forge a "dialogue" with Turkish representatives. Although there has been a flurry of commentary and analyses regarding the TARC, - overwhelmingly critical, - there are several important points that recent debate has not adequately covered. It is our intention, therefore, to frame the issue within a broader context, with an intention to formulate a balanced analysis, remaining as objective as we can. A Dangerous Precedent The formation and operational mechanisms of this new Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) poses a disturbing question to the formulation and direction of Armenian foreign policy. The composition of the TARC, in essence a small, closed body of self-chosen individuals in pursuit of their own agenda of "dialogue and reconciliation," establishes a dangerous precedent for Armenia's elected leaders. Specifically, this case suggests a "privatization of foreign policy" that holds profound implications for Armenia's overall national security and strategic relations. Such a privatization of foreign policy, although offering a short-term temptation of testing policies with little or no political and diplomatic accountability, threatens to derail the cautious pursuit of national security through prudent and transparent foreign policy. Reliance on a privatized foreign policy also fosters a serious weakening of much needed political legitimacy and diplomatic credibility, attributes not overly abundant in the region's fragile nations, nor firmly wedded to Armenia's maturing government. The False Premise of Reconciliation A second fundamental issue raised by the TARC is its premise of reconciliation. Through the objective lens of international relations, however, this is a false premise. The mechanism of reconciliation rests on the need to reunify a nation and restore stability in the wake of a fractured society, most often in a post-conflict stage following civil war. Reconciliation implies a return to normal political interaction among different elements of a nation and society. Examples of reconciliation are most evident in South Africa, after the demise of the South African apartheid regime, in Germany, as society reunited after overcoming the artificial East-West divide, and in Central America, with the post-civil war demobilization efforts in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala. But the Armenian-Turkish case does not fit neatly into the model of reconciliation. In fact, the premise of the TARC's mission jeopardizes the proper pursuit of Armenian-Turkish relations by replacing bilateral diplomacy with private initiative. Such a private effort, manifested by the TARC, offers Turkey (and Washington for that matter) an effective avenue to bypass the obligations and rules of dealing with Armenia imposed by the accepted norms of international relations and diplomacy. Thus, Turkish policy makers are now offered an alternative means to deal with Armenian leaders. This alternative further undercuts Armenia's diplomatic options in attempting to secure and end to Turkey's role in the joint Azerbaijani-Turkish blockade of Armenia and overcomes crucial obstacles to a more assertive Turkish engagement in the region and in the Nagorno Karabagh peace process in particular. By presenting Turkey with an opportunity to claim its participation in the TARC as a façade of cooperation or even friendly relations with Armenia, the Armenian government is faced with a daunting new challenge to any success in pressuring Turkey to end its blockade or to refrain from disrupting the delicate balance in the Nagorno Karabagh peace process. The implications are even more profound as the TARC allows Turkey to contend impartiality in the international mediation effort seeking to resolve the Karabagh conflict and strengthens the Turkish bid to be involved in any future military peacekeeping effort in the region. Its record of outright advocacy of Azerbaijan's position on the Karabagh issue, both in terms of military and diplomatic support, may very well be obscured by Turkey's contention that the TARC represents Turkish benevolence and good will in the region. This façade can also be utilized by Turkey's main apologist, the United States, in restoring Turkish prestige and power as Washington's proxy in the region, ranging from possible success in achieving Turkey's strategic aims of building the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline to restoring Turkish dominance over the complicated geopolitical landscape of the Transcaucasus. Overcoming Concerns of Human Rights and International Law The empowerment of Turkish strategy by the TARC also offers yet another vehicle to overcome the obstacles of concerns of human rights and international law that have traditionally bound Turkish ambitions in the region. The timing of the TARC as a new method to improve the perception and obscure the reality of Turkish policies could not have been worse. Beset by a number of serious setbacks, Turkey can now use the TARC to regain several key lost geopolitical assets. First, the severity of the Turkish economic crisis over the past several months has made Turkey the most dependent on Western assistance since the establishment of modern Turkey in 1923. Forced to rely on nearly $16 billion in aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the only alternative to ultimate economic and political collapse, Turkey has had to reluctantly accept a set of preconditions of fundamental reform. The crisis has also stalled Turkey's course toward eventual membership in the European Union (EU) by renewing questions over Turkey's capability to meet the standards and prerequisites of the EU. This is particularly frustrating to the Turkish political and economic elite who have set their sights on Turkey's eventual position as an EU member firmly entrenched economically and institutionally in Europe. Although formally a candidate for EU membership since 1999, the Turkish elite has long been obsessed with a perceived reluctance, both real and imaginary, of acceptance by Europe once and for all. The economic dependence and obligations of political reform led to the temporary sidelining of Turkey as the region's main U.S. broker. This loss of any ability to project power in the region has also revealed the cracks in the foundation of Turkey's myth as a reliable Western ally and vital member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) along the geopoliticaly important southern tier. Thus, the establishment of the TARC can overcome the temporary sidelining of Turkish power in the region by presenting the illusion that the TARC initiative is an important contribution to regional stability and conflict resolution. A second inopportune factor stems from the gains established in the past few years placing new emphasis on the importance of human rights and international law. Long vulnerable to its record on human rights and for its blatant violations of international law, Turkey has traditionally relied on its geopolitical importance to the West to overcome these vulnerabilities. Specifically, its persecution of its Kurdish minority and its discriminatory policies, imposing severe limitations on the rights of its Kurdish citizens, including curtailing Kurdish political rights and representation, and even the use and instruction of the Kurdish language, have compounded Turkey's dismal overall pattern of human rights violations and abuses. In terms of international law, the Turkish record is equally disturbing. A military occupation of the northern half of the Republic of Cyprus after a full-scale invasion of that country in 1974 continues to hamper the West's full embrace of its Turkish ally. But by using the TARC as an illusion of good will and willingness to address the Armenian question, Turkey can now refute the factual record establishing Turkish guilt in denying the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and of conveniently revising its history. But the failure of the TARC to include any specific reference to the key issue of the Armenian Genocide, Turkey has been given an opportunity to enter into "dialogue" and "negotiations" with Armenians that have no ground rules, no accountability, and no need for concessions. Even Turkish strategists themselves could not have thought such an ideal formula for impunity even remotely possible. The escape from the constraints of human rights concerns and international law considerations offered by the TARC further overcomes the implications of a broader, global trend recognizing the universality of human rights and international law. This trend is evident in three key developments. First, the establishment of the international war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia in 1993 and Rwanda in 1994 marked an important watershed in the development of an effective mechanism for international law and justice. These war crimes tribunals have also encouraged the ongoing negotiations by the United Nations Security Council for the creation of additional mixed national-international tribunals for Cambodia and Sierra Leone. Secondly, the 1998 international meetings and negotiations in Rome to adopt a treaty for the formation of an International Criminal Court (ICC) established a further step in the path toward the enforcement of international law with a potentially global jurisdiction for crimes against humanity, genocide and related war crimes. A third sign of this trend has been reflected by the growing practice of national courts operating under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction to indict and prosecute dictators and despots for atrocities and crimes committed abroad. These three developments all point to the trend of a new viability of international law enforcement and a general recognition of the supremacy of human rights in international relations. The timing of the formation of the TARC, therefore, could not have been worse for proponents of justice and accountability for genocide. To provide Turkey a shield from pressure based on the false premise that Turkey is engaged in a dialogue and reconciliation process with the Armenians also threatens to significantly overturn the hard fought securing of national recognition of the Armenian Genocide by a number of national governments. Upon analysis of these factors, it seems all the more disturbing that the Armenian foreign ministry has followed such a tepid policy in response to the TARC's infringement of its mission and jurisdiction. By allowing such a privatization of foreign policy by a few questionable and self-appointed individuals, the Armenian government faces a tremendous challenge to its implementation of international relations and diplomacy. Therefore, it is our strident hope that the Armenian government will adopt concrete and forceful steps to regain its foreign policy imperatives in order to salvage Armenia's national interest before further damage is done. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Khatchik Der Ghougassian is a Ph.D. student of International Relations in the School of International Studies, at the University of Miami. He has written as a political analyst in the Armenian and Argentinean press. Richard Giragosian was a professional staff member with the Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Congress specializing in international relations and economics in the former Soviet Union and China. He is the author of the monthly newsletter, "TransCaucasus: A Chronology."