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13.1.10

Of Protocols and Lack of Protocol

The process that ended on October 10, 2009 with the signature of the Armenia-Turkey protocols triggered an avalanche of opinions, both in Armenia and the Diaspora, perhaps unseen since the time of the Gharabagh Movement (1988-1991). First of all, let's be honest and state that nobody has the crystal ball, not even those who are sure of having it. Therefore, whatever may happen from now on is open-ended.

We do not manage information from high places to be able to talk of political continuity since Levon Ter Petrosian to Serge Sargsian (via Robert Kocharian). However, needless to say, the subject of Armenia-Turkey relations is 20 years and not 20 months old. The challenges put forth by the protocols are as old as the modern Diaspora; actually, we had twenty years to confront them, and by "we," one understands the Diaspora. If we have slept in "cloud nine" all that time, the party to blame are not the Minsk Group, Switzerland or the European Union, the United States or Russia, but... ourselves.
One would like to believe in the highly improbable scenario that there is an unheard convergence between the leadership of Armenia and the Diaspora, and that everything (including the October demonstrations against the Armenian president in Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Beirut, insults and aggravation counted) was a big ploy to make Turkey fall in the trap. Otherwise, one cannot know what is in the mind of President Sargsian and his inner circle to understand the logics and the grounds for pursuing these protocols. Some use of common sense allow us to say that the protocols are a piece of legal mess, more suitable to make lawyers very happy with an unending court fight. Since the clauses under fire (acknowledgement of borders, intergovernmental committee to study historical problems, and so on and so forth) have been defined in a fully abstract and uncertain manner, without a clear-cut formulation, they can be interpreted in any number of ways, as shown by the wide difference in the public statements of Turkish and Armenian high-ranking officials. This seems to announce that the following step, if the protocols are approved by the Parliaments of both countries, will be to discuss what they are meant to say.

That's why they are potentially dangerous for the Armenian position, even if it is argued that there is no explicit mention of a committee about the Armenian Genocide, preconditions to the solution of the Gharabagh conflict, or recognition of the current borders. However, one has to recall that legal norms admit literal, as well as exegetical readings.
There is no negotiation where you get all you want, especially when you are in a position of disadvantage or weakness, but in this case an explanation is still owed about what we will obtain and in exchange of what. Political advantages? Economic ones? Right now, the only gain seems to have been the opening of a rift between Turkish and Azerbaijani positions. But, to what avail? And for how long?

Part of the problem is the result of the lack of legitimacy of the president of Armenia, Serge Sargsian, as a consequence of the fraud in the presidential elections of February 19, 2008 and the bloody repression of March 1, 2008. That lack of legitimacy makes him a target of international pressure, deprived of the potential support of a majority, had he been elected democratically.
At that time, almost nobody showered the president-elected with a bucket of criticisms and/or insults for what it amounted to a flagrant violation of human rights of living people. "Hypocrisy" is the lightest word that can be applied to those who speak aloud after being silent for more than a year and a half, while they were rightfully denouncing the violation of human rights... of those dead 94 years ago. 

Betrayal of the cause of the Genocide? What about the betrayal of the cause of the citizens of Armenia?
We fully agree that it is inappropriate the use of the word "traitor" to label whoever thinks or acts differently from the way one expects. We include in this statement the three presidents of Armenia since 1991, as well as other personalities, unless there is genuine proof of treason and not hysterical twist and shout.  

"Traitors" were also called, at the time and for many years, those who signed the treaties of Batum on June 4, 1918 (the first treaty signed between Armenia and Turkey in history) and of Alexandropol on December 2, 1920 on behalf of the Republic of Armenia. (It is more than necessary to know history, even if "boring," to understand who we are and why we are here, and to avoid recycling mistakes or nonsense. Whoever does not admit this, unfortunately, is unqualified to give a reasonable opinion).
It would be a different thing to say that the government of Armenia, in the person of the president, betrayed the Diaspora by not making it a partner in the negotiations with Turkey. However, to what extent the Diaspora and Armenia are equal partners? The president of Armenia has declared that "I went to a tour of the Diaspora communities to inform them of my plan and not to ask for their opinion." The Diaspora, and we exclude the migration of the last 20 years from this, is the diaspora of the Republic of Armenia? President Sargsian has announced that "if the price we will have to pay to sign the protocols is to alienate an obstinate Diaspora, then I am willing to pay that price." Who is supposed to win with the alienation of the Diaspora? Not the Armenian people, that's for sure.
There is a rift between Armenia and the Diaspora, but it is also a fact that it is up to us to not allow that rift to be widened or deepened, but to reduce it. It actually has existed for a long time (though our slogan-lovers do not accept it) and needs an intellectual effort and a dialogue to build bridges and pull down walls. At this point, the greatest treason one can think of is to build walls to separate Armenia and the Diaspora, instead of bridges to unite them. To identify government and country would be a really indecent proposal. We are not in Soviet times, when one could alienate himself from the country in a fully wrong way with the argument of the foreign regime, even if true.

We got deaf by hearing for ten years how Armenia's foreign policy had become "national" since 1998. After finding how misled we were, now we shout until our faces get blue, while a few ones try to think, beyond partisan calls, what we have to cope with.
There is no reason to not understand the emotionalism of the reactions. They show that we are not dying and we are not indifferent. However, no side can own any right to be the "godfather" of those reactions. One has not to define sympathies in this subject for the sake of partisanship or closeness, but for what intellect and awareness dictate.
Much hopelessness and much lack of rationality is seen in what is written and said, which is partly justified by impotence and betrayed feelings, but is partly a consequence of the lack of knowledge of past and present, as well as the inability to admit an alternative view. We object to
 those critics who furiously go against everybody, from the Armenian government to the Armenian political parties in the Diaspora (nobody is beyond blame, definitely), instead of putting that energy to better use through a consistent and valid argument. It is not the dueling fans who will been the soccer game, since we are dealing with "soccer diplomacy;" we need a strategy to win in an 11-to-11 game.
Lack of rationality is perfectly acceptable in some circumstances, and in others, it is the same that has turned into a victory what was already seen as a defeat (in Armenian history and others). However, we do not have the barbarians at the gates, despite what is said and written in some quarters, and Armenia is not Constantinople in 1453. Aren't we the ones who were able to defeat the Turks in Sardarabad and the Azerbaijanis in Gharabagh? Aren't we the ones who insist in chanting «միայն զէնքով կայ հայոց փրկութիւն»? Aren't we the ones who boast of having had a cultural Golden Age while Alaric was sacking Rome and Attila was pounding Europe? Therefore, aren't we enough level-headed and smart to think and find how to keep in peace what was won in war? Perhaps it is really time to stop gazing at our navel and raising the head to see where we are standing and what our priorities are. 
A note on the side: how long can we continue to raise the dead as the flag of our survival? The struggle for justice, the acknowledgement of the Genocide, and the return of territories may be short, middle or long-term aims, but it is becoming increasingly frustrating that as individuals, as a people, or as a nation we have to focus our identity on being “a pain in the ass of the Turks,” as the late Jivan Tabibian remarked exactly 25 years ago (see the proceedings of "What Is to Be Asked," the 1984 colloquium of the Zoryan Institute, edited by Khachig Tololyan). There must be another way to live and grow as Armenians rather than the cult of death.
This is a subject, like many others, which could give way to a really decent and civilized conversation.
Vartan Matiossian

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