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ARMENIAN FOREIGN POLICY: BETWEEN STATE AND NATION Armenian News Network / Groong August 12, 2003 By Asbed Kotchikian The definition of foreign policy is a very broad one. It may be implemented on groups, organizations (political or otherwise), nations, and in the most common and traditional sense, states. In our modern world, the need to conduct foreign policy has become one of the most pressing issues for any government. Foreign policy is the method by which the international community recognizes a country. It is also the major venue through which countries engage in self-promotion, pursuing political, economic or other agendas. The formulation and conduct of foreign policy is very much a reflection as well as a component of the realities and the needs of the country, which is conducting said policies. As such, geography, economy, culture and of course history play determining roles in shaping a country's foreign policy priorities and orientation. Armenia's foreign policy is influenced by the factors mentioned above. However, there is also another dimension of conducting a successful foreign policy in Armenia, a very unique phenomenon, and that is the Diaspora factor. WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE DIASPORA IN CONDUCTING ARMENIA'S FOREIGN POLICY? Without a doubt, the ability of Armenia to conduct an influential (but not necessarily successful) foreign policy is very much dependent on the dispersed Armenian communities all over the world. Compared to most of the former Soviet republics, Armenia has the most exposure in foreign media stemming from the relentless efforts of the Diasporan Armenians. Since the first days of independence, the majority of the Diasporans have supported the foreign policy efforts of the new republic (The fact that the first and current foreign affairs ministers are Diaspora Armenians could be considered the epitome of this support). As a result, Armenia was able to receive economic and humanitarian aid from foreign groups and institutions, as well as combat the efforts of big business and oil companies in the lobbying war against Azerbaijan. It is a fact that small and new states face various challenges in conducting their foreign policies. One such obstacle is the financial limitations encountered when trying to establish foreign embassies and consulates. Also, financial constraints hamper small states from investing considerable amounts of money in various diplomatic activities (a good survey of this issue is a study commissioned by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research titled `Small States and Territories: Status and Problems'.) Armenia has benefited from the various Armenian communities all over the world as those communities provide physical space for the embassies, and in some cases even incur the monetary costs of various embassy activities. While it is not important for small states to have an embassy in every single country in the world, having representatives in as many of them as possible helps boost the image of the country vis-à-vis its rivals and neighbors. For those countries that do not have the capabilities necessary to conduct individual diplomatic relations with various countries, international organizations, such as the UN or the OSCE provide forums for interaction with other countries without the burden of supporting individual embassies. In this sense the role of Armenian communities to help set up and to support embassies in their home countries has been a major factor in the conducting of a balanced foreign policy not only with major actors in the international community (USA, UK, France, Russia, etc.) but also with mid-range or regional powers (Argentina, Canada, Syria, Iran, Egypt, etc), which provided Armenia with economic and trade benefits. Consequently, the role of the Diaspora in assisting the mechanism and procedures of Armenia's foreign policy is very important, and is an issue acknowledged by both Armenia and the Armenian communities around the world. Without a doubt, the support of the Diaspora has facilitated a great deal of Armenia's diplomatic ventures around the world, but it has also alleviated the financial burden accompanying such undertakings. WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE DIASPORA IN SHAPING ARMENIA'S FOREIGN POLICY? The formulation and shaping of foreign policy is the essence of any state's orientation and relations vis-à-vis its neighbors, regional powers, international super-powers and international organizations. The development of a foreign policy strategy or orientation in any country is based on various factors in that country. The formulation of foreign policy itself is dependent on different variables some of which include the geographic location and geography of the country, the state of the economy, security issues and the overall well-being of the state itself. All these factors are sometimes referred to as Realpolitik, corresponding to the conduct of politics in a realist way without being influenced by emotion, ideology, religion or historical experience. In the case of Armenia the shaping of foreign policy based on Realpolitik is difficult but not impossible. The difficulty arises from the fact that the Diaspora factor and their demands play an important role in Armenia's foreign policy, or at least in the foreign policy of the current Armenian administration. Moreover the factors shaping the Diaspora's understanding and conducting of foreign policy are more subjective rather than objective. What is meant by subjective is the burden of history that Diasporan Armenians carry with them. A good example of the burden of history is the issue of the Genocide and Turkish-Armenian relations. For the Diaspora, or at least a large section of the Diaspora, as well as a number of Armenians from Armenia, Turkey remains the default enemy, which not only refuses to accept its responsibility for the Genocide and the subsequent dispersion of Armenians all over the world, but also engages in an active policy of denial, a policy which certainly strengthens the position of Diasporan Armenians who see Turkey as that default enemy. Fueling these feelings is Turkey's continuous blockade of Armenia and its insistence on putting forward preconditions to normalize ties with Armenia. Consequently, any agreement that the Armenian government makes with Turkey is viewed with skepticism by the Diaspora, which considers the recognition of the genocide by Turkey to be a starting point of bilateral state-to-state relations. For their part, foreign policy makers and formulators in Armenia view Turkey as a regional power and a neighbor with which Armenia must establish diplomatic relations and engage in political and economic activities with. In this formula, the issue of history's burden is not forgotten, but is put on the backburner, or at least used as a card to exert pressure on Turkey. However the main dilemma facing Armenia's foreign policy makers is how to balance Realpolitik with the wishes and demands of the Diaspora, which contributes tremendously to the various economic and social development plans and projects in the republic. The method of handling this dilemma varied between the administrations of Levon Ter-Petrossian and Robert Kocharian. In the first years of independence, the Armenian government wanted to clarify to the Armenians that it was not a pan-Armenian government but it was the government of the Republic of Armenia and had to think about its citizens and the realities of the country rather then the wishes and demands of the Diaspora. However, this policy did not mean that Armenia did not need the Diaspora or that it is not interested in cooperating with it on various levels. Moreover the appointment of a Diasporan as the first foreign minister of the new republic, Raffi Hovannisian, as well as the appointments of other Diasporans as various advisors, showed a clear desire to include the Diaspora in the various processes of government in the Third Republic. However, just as there was fallout between the Diasporan foreign minister and the President, the relations between Diaspora and Armenia faced similar pressures. The main point of contestation was Armenia's relations with Turkey, and as mentioned above, that proved to be the dividing line between the Armenian state and the Diaspora. Some sections of the Diaspora, carrying the burden of history, refused to support any pre-recognition relations and opposed Ter-Petrossian's normalization attempts with Turkey, which eventually created a rift between those and other sections in the Diaspora, and more importantly, between Armenia and the `opposition' in the Diaspora. What ensued was a classic battle of foreign policy orientations akin to similar battles in any other country, the difference being that one of the opposition groups had a different approach and understanding of foreign policy, one which is based on history rather than Realpolitik. It should come as no surprise that that opposition group was Diaspora-based and not republic-based. Eventually with the change of government in Armenia, the new administration followed a more cautious policy with all the Diasporan groups and a period of détente followed. It should be noted that a careful examination of the foreign polices of both administrations does not reveal a fundamental shift in agenda, and that the current administration still pursues normalization of relations with Turkey. However, the difference lies in the fact that the Kocharian government was able to utilize anti-Turkish nationalist rhetoric to appease and soothe the various opposition groups. A very rough survey of Armeno-Turkish relations over the past two or three years reveals increased activities between the two states to break the existing deadlock between them and, more importantly, the creation of a Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) to include the Armenian Diaspora (or at least segments of it) in the state-to-state dialogue. It is worthwhile to mention that the composition of TARC completely ignored a large part of the Armenian Diaspora, and also ignored nationalist anti-Turkish sentiment in Armenia. Moreover the Turkish members in TARC were either hard-line generals or career diplomats, a fact that made the Armenians view the Commission with utmost suspicion. The assumption that the governments of Armenia and Turkey had nothing to do with the founding and activities of TARC comes across as very naïve. The statements issued by Armenia's foreign ministry at the time stated that the Armenian government was aware of such activities, but did not participate in, nor prevent them. This statement, along with other strategies, was able to shift the criticism that TARC received from several Diasporan institutions away from the government and on the individual members of the commission itself. This is a perfect example of how the current Armenian administration handles the issue of Armenian-Turkish relations and avoids coming under fire by the Diaspora. This is especially true considering that those segments opposed to any such activity, over the past years have become closely identified with President Kocharian's administration; too much to be able to attribute the TARC activities as attempts by the government itself. Had the TARC activities been more closely associated with the government, the opposition would have been to the administration rather than the idea. The Diaspora should not have any direct role in shaping or formulating any of Armenia's foreign policies. This does not mean that it should not have its say in it. On the contrary any advice or professional support foreign policy makers in Armenia receive from the Diaspora positions them make better-informed choices. Moreover, dictating the foreign policy of a country is the prerogative of its citizens and residents and as such if any Diasporan wants to become part of that process than they should be part of the country itself. What the Diaspora needs to understand is that at the end of the day it is the realities facing Armenia that shape its foreign policy and that process should not be held hostage by Diasporans or by the burden of history. -- Asbed Kotchikian is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Boston University and an instructor at Wheaton College. He spent two years (2000-02) in Armenia and Georgia conducting research and teaching at the local universities. Comments to the author may be be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.