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By Raffi K. Hovannisian

We the people of Armenia, from our newly-sovereign old country to the subcultures of our community life abroad, need quickly to put our house in order.

The new year—as it happens, a post-election period in the Armenian  republic—offers us a fresh opportunity to reflect on our past, record the lessons inherited from it, and reassess our priorities for the future. For a compact, ancient civilization scattered about the world by recurring tragedies, this undertaking entails strength of spirit, integrity of conscience, and the imperative of taking charge of our own affairs.

Belief in good government is precisely what Yerevan's contemporary leaders have failed to inspire within the rank-and-file citizen, who has witnessed her own disenfranchisement, alienation, and relinquishment of responsibility for the state of the state. Shameful elections, corruption to the top, unequal application of laws, and different standards for the governors and for the governed, taken together, have triggered a system-wide loss of faith. People are voting either with apathetic resignation or with their feet. 

The attendant mass emigration is an alarming phenomenon of strategic proportions for the Republic of Armenia, its constituents and policymakers. Destination New York and Los Angeles, Moscow and Paris, much more than a manifestation of natural post-Soviet brain drain, is an indictment of the myopia, arrogance, and parochial self-satisfaction of the Armenian political elite. Democracy and civil society, human rights and due process, separation of powers and public empowerment all were fine slogans for the presidential and parliamentary campaigns just past; but Armenia’s capacity to nurture true freedom will turn on its resolve to translate these easily-dispensed concepts into policy commitments, institutional benchmarks, and national foundations.

Looking within is the most integral prerequisite for Armenia’s transition from its time-tested schedule of survival to an agenda of meaningful growth. The nation, having suffered conquest, genocide, and partition over the years, has been given a special second chance to forge a strong, democratic state out of the legacy of history’s pain. Amid a variety of positive development indicators, external realities such as military conflict, blockades, and closed borders have combined with serious shortcomings in leadership to create a crisis of public trust and civic confidence. The political, socioeconomic, and psychological conditions prompting the recent exodus have resulted in a mixed record of independent Armenia’s first decade.

The Young Turk leaders of the Ottoman Empire, for example, were responsible for the great Armenian dispossession of 1915, which included all the components of the crime of genocide, the destruction of the historic Armenian homelands, and the murderous finality for millions of human lives. Modern-day Azerbaijan was responsible for unleashing, and later losing, a war of aggression against the Armenian land of Mountainous Karabagh. The perpetrators and their heirs unfortunately have evaded acceptance of responsibility, yet eventually might mature toward facing their history and themselves. But there still remains the question: Who is to answer for the departure over the last ten years of more than one million Armenian citizens from their very own Republic of Armenia? Their interests in the matter aside, certainly not Turkey or Azerbaijan, neither Russia nor the United States.

The problem and its solution lie within. Yes, we are to blame. And contrary to both election fiascos and the prevalent tenor of world reports and briefings, Armenia and its people can and will establish the rule of law, empower the body politic, and demand accountable government. We will find the courage and fortitude to call a spade by its name, and we will turn the tide on emigration. For this, our country must be able at once to defend our rights in respect of ill-willing neighbors and their transgressions and to exercise critical introspection in order to confront and then meet our many contemporary challenges, domestic and international.

A considered foreign policy for the Armenian nation-state, requiring as it does the assumption of the hard lessons that history has dealt, recognizes its sovereignty as a supreme value to be treasured at all cost; defines maintenance of a peaceful geopolitical environment as its vital national interest; and accepts steady pursuit of dignified bilateral ties with all, near and far, as the most effective modality for achieving national security. To these ends, it behooves Armenia to cultivate a straightforward, sovereign partnership with Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States; to reconcile words and deeds in its attempt to integrate into European institutions; to explore new connections in the Middle Eastern and Asian dimensions; and to continue to bridge common domains with neighborly Iran and transatlantic America. The world after September 11 avails Armenia of the ways and means to check and balance these policy directions.

Evenly important, Armenia and its two most adversarial neighbors, Turkey and Azerbaijan, will ultimately and amicably have to resolve their differences, taking full stock of past lessons, current realities, and future horizons. It might take a new generation of leaders, but sooner or later they will need to launch a multi-partite normalization process to address all unrequited matters including the Genocide, Mountainous Karabagh and its quest for liberty, and the parties’ possible participation in one and the same security architecture. 

From Armenia’s vantage point, attainment of such a new-era security arrangement would comprise (1) real, not window-dressing, regulation of relations based on resolution of all outstanding questions among the parties and (2) Armenia’s entry into the European Union simultaneous with the Republic of Turkey. The two countries must become EU partners together and ab initio—neither should be the odd man out—both as cause for and as consequence of a qualitatively new rapport anchored in joint interests of cooperation and security.

This strategic choice indeed will beg the guidance of extraordinary vision and statesmanship, but the aim of regional harmony and world peace is on the line and necessarily takes precedence over a potential return to the cold-war dangers of the epoch just passed.

More than any single issue of foreign or domestic policy, however, Armenia’s agenda for 2004 and beyond will hinge on an overhaul of the provincial mindset now in power and a corresponding reliance on intellect and integrity, accountability and consensus-building, public mandates justly earned, and engagement of this ancient nation’s human resources the modern world over. This is the Armenian people’s fighting chance for viability, prosperity, and a long-awaited redemption.

Now entering its tenth year of service to these ends, the Center wishes you, our supporters in Armenia and the world entire, a good year of beginnings and accomplishments.


 2003, Yerevan

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