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April 27, 2010


Richard Giragosian
ACNIS Director

As yet another April 24th commemoration of the Armenian genocide has passed, yet another American president has failed to accurately or honestly invoke the genocide definition for what he has termed the “Meds Yeghern.”  Although the dubious distortion of the historical record was not a surprise, it does represent a disappointment.

The disappointment with President Barack Obama’s words is not only an insult to the collective memory of Armenians, but is also an insult to the integrity of American history.  There should be no place for such convenient half-truths or political pandering when it comes to genocide.  Armenians and Americans alike both deserve better, especially from this American president.

Interestingly, as much as Armenians were again disappointed by the American president’s statement, Turkish officials were also upset.  Specifically, Turkish officials were not satisfied by Obama’s failure to correctly refer to the genocide.  Turkish anger was triggered by the president’s other words, where he referred to the genocide as “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century” and as “the inhumanity of 1915.”

There was also a degree of apprehension in Turkey as well, as Obama reiterated that he has “consistently stated” his view of what occurred in 1915, warning that his “view of that history has not changed,” fueling fears in Turkey that although he refused to use the genocide term, it did not necessarily mean that he would not feel free to do so at some later point.

Yet in many ways, perhaps one of the most revealing lessons from Armenia’s difficult diplomacy with Turkey has been that Turkey really only respects strength.  This was especially true during the October 2009 signing ceremony of the now infamous “protocols” between Armenia and Turkey.  Even during the ceremony itself, Turkey delayed the signing for several hours, testing Armenia’s will, fortitude and resolve.

And as Turkey has now demonstrated increasing insincerity and unreliability regarding its commitments to Armenia, the Armenian government has finally suspended the process of ratifying the protocols.  Specifically, the Armenian president was compelled to take action to address Turkey’s unacceptable “language of preconditions.”  Armenia’s move was a correct one and represents a prudent response to the Armenian president’s regretful admission that “for a whole year, Turkey has done everything to protract time and fail the process.”

In the words of Armenia’s first foreign minister, Raffi Hovannisian, the Armenian decision to suspend the normalization process was “a good tactic in these conditions,” but he did note that “a good strategist should not let such things happen” in the first place.

Hovannisian further stressed that the protocols are inherently flawed by the existence of several disturbing preconditions, reflecting a Turkish attempt to “reject genocide recognition,” impose the “de jure recognition of an illegal de facto border,” and the unacceptable and artificial linkage of the issue of Armenian-Turkish normalization with the Mountainous Karabagh issue.

In this context, the effort “was an experiment, and that experiment has failed,” Hovannisian noted.  He also warned that Armenia remains in a critical “emergency situation” that can only be surmounted “either by means of new elections or by essentially new changes, which presume the presence of political will that is not visible till now either among the authorities nor in some parts of the opposition.” Clearly, the absence of internal strength can never translate into any formidable foreign policy.

Thus, in the aftermath of recent events, it has now become clear that although Turkey may try to run from the issue, it certainly can not hide from the most basic expectations of a modern nation—extending diplomatic relations with Armenia, opening the border that Turkey itself closed unilaterally, and coming to terms with its legacy of genocide.  At the same time, the international community would do well to remember that all expectations and burdens remain squarely on Turkey.  Armenia has done all it can and more.  Perhaps at this point, it is time for Armenia to modify its policy, to one demanding and imposing its own preconditions on Turkey.  Maybe only then will Turkey come to respect a strong Armenian stance.

The Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) is a leading independent strategic research center located in Yerevan, Armenia.  As an independent, objective institution committed to conducting professional policy research and analysis, ACNIS strives to raise the level of public debate and seeks to broaden public engagement in the public policy process, as well as fostering greater and more inclusive public knowledge. Founded in 1994, ACNIS is the institutional initiative of Raffi K. Hovannisian, Armenia’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Over the past fifteen years, ACNIS has acquired a prominent reputation as a primary source of professional independent research and analysis covering a wide range of national and international policy issues.

For further information on the Center call (37410) 52-87-80 or 27-48-18; fax (37410) 52-48-46; email root@acnis.am or info@acnis.am; or visit www.acnis.am.

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Armenian version