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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

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

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

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."

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