“Qui donne, ordonne”
Indeed, by the way our world works, be it between countries or people, the French proverb “whoever gives, dictates/orders” has proven to be true numerous times in relations between people throughout history. When the wealthy give to the poor or needy, they expect the needy to do as the wealthy wishes. It might not always be out of malice, but it is a very harmful philosophy, most notably, to individuals, societies and countries who seek financial and political independence. This ‘expectation’ of those who give, from those in need, is only in the interest of the giver and the needy’s voice often goes unheard or is dismissed.
Even a de jure independent country (officially independent/independence recognized by the world) could in fact de facto be dependent (in fact/in reality dependent) on outside forces. Such is the case of the Armenian diaspora on one hand and the Armenian and Artsakh Republics on the other.
This article will stress on the foreign policy dynamics of the Armenia-diaspora relations. I will use the Madrid and Zurich protocols, but also the ‘aftermath’ of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war as examples.
The diaspora — often unintentionally — looks at Armenia in a condescending way. Hayastancis (Armenians of Armenia) must regain their agency, in (1) how they want to live and (2) how their relationship with their neighbors should be. Oftentimes, the demands of the *impoverished* Hayastancis are quite different from those of the *wealthy* Spyurk (Armenian diaspora).
The priorities of the different Armenian groups are, well, quite different. What do the Hayastancis want that the Spyurk does not? — essentially, it is economic prosperity, a.k.a. putting food on ones table, over animosity with powerful neighbors.
CNN’s description of the country being “off the beaten path” to advertise its tourism industry is true. It is not a revelation to claim that Armenia is a poor, impoverished, weak and strategically unimportant country. It has no resources and still suffers from the 1915 refugee crisis, Soviet-era policies, the 1988 Spitak earthquake, emigration, unemployment and the consequences resulting from the various oligarchs and authoritarian leaders who came to power. It has always been dependent on outside forces.
The use of — catchy — yet, cringey hashtags is not new to the political campaigns and advocacy of today. The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), the largest Armenian lobby group in the United States, used the hashtag #RecklessMadrid, in 2016, to advance its position against the Madrid Principles of 2007 (last revised in 2016), which had various provisions, most notably the return to Azerbaijan of the previously Azerbaijani-inhabited 7 provinces surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, in the Artsakh Republic. Defiantly, yet agressively, the ANCA has continously advocated for Armenian interests in Washington, and rightfully so, but did they listen to the wishes of the Hayastancis? Did the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF/Tashnag), a prominent diasporan nationalist Armenian political party, actually care about the Hayastancis who have been suffering because of a decades-long blockade by Azerbaijan and Turkey because of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict?
The only reason these 7 districts of Azerbaijan were occupied by Armenian forces was to create a buffer zone and link Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. Technically, it was never meant to be under Armenian control forever. It was supposed to be used as leverage in any forthcoming peace agreement with Azerbaijan. Whether directly or indirectly, the diaspora in the US most notably, but also in Europe and the ARF in Armenia are responsible for dictating their dissatisfaction and condemnation of the Madrid Principles and eventually its failure. Perhaps the diaspora, the ARF and the oligarchs of Armenia were benefiting from the tiresome status quo.
“Armenia and Turkey normalize ties”
Such was the title (and its variants) of numerous news articles in October of 2009, after Armenia and Turkey met in Zurich, under the auspice of Russia, France, the EU and the US, to sign an accord known as the Zurich Protocols. Among other things, it meant to have the Turkey-Armenia border opened (closed since 1993 because of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict), the establishment of diplomatic relations and the strengthening of economic relations. The protocol had to be ratified in both the Turkish and Armenian Parliaments; something which never took place. A major obstacle was the Armenian diaspora which refused to normalize ties with Turkey without the latter recongizing the Armenian Genocide first. The opening of the borders, also meant recognizing them, which technically also meant the renounciation of Armenian claims on Eastern Turkey (historically Armenian inhabited lands prior to the Armenian Genocide of 1915). Such claims are not actual Armenian foreign policy; they exist only in the diasporan imagination and in the ARF political manifesto.
“Might is Right”
On the 27th of September 2020, Azerbaijan began an offensive against the Artsakh Republic to regain territory it had lost in the 1988-1994 conflict. After a war which lasted more than a month, Azerbaijan claimed it had won the war after the fall of Shusha (Shushi in Armenian) on the 7th-9th of November 2020, a very significant city for both Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Russia was quick to immediately impose a peace agreement (on its own terms) to end the conflict. Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan called it a “humiliating deal for Armenians”. It was indeed humiliating because it was imposed on the Armenians; had they accepted the Madrid Principles, I would argue that it would have been a win-win for both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Ratifying the Zurich Protocols would have also prevented this tragic fate as Turkey-Armenia relations would have ultimately become better in the 10-11 years since the signing of the Protocols.
The Russian brokered deal stopped the bloodshed, gave Azerbaijan the 7 districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh plus Shusha/Shushi, created a corridor between Azerbaijan proper and Naxichevan (an autonomous exclave of Azerbaijan), created a corridor between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and most importantly placed 2,000 Russian ‘peacekeeping’ troops in the region. The aftermath of the deal saw the morale of Armenians around the world go below 0. A few dozen Armenians stormed the Parliament building and other government buildings in Yerevan protesting the end of the war and wanting to “fight Azerbaijan till death”.
As of writing, Armenian PM Pashinyan is under a lot of heat. He did what had to be done and I salute his leadership. The ARF Chapter in Los Angeles was quick to call for a protest against Pashinyan, because of the agreement. Apparently, it is now time to seize the opportunity and gain political ground among nationalist Armenians…
The Spyurk came to be after the Genocide of 1915; it was indeed a curse, since Armenians were dispersed from their ancestral homeland. This curse turned into a blessing, when Armenians of the world sent money and aid to Armenia and were advocating for its betterment around the world. This blessing has been transformed into an unfortunate curse, yet again. Self reflection by the major diaspora organizations, the ARF, ANCA, AAA, AGBU and individual (nationalist) diasporan Armenians is needed. They have to re-examine their well-intentioned — yet, aggressive — positions with regards to Armenia. The diaspora must give Armenia the space it needs to figure things out on its own. It is a young republic, with beautiful and competent people who only lack opportunity. Diaspora dollars are welcome, but without pre- (or post-) conditions.
Photo: “We are Our Mountains” monument in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh