Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chess Victory, Karabakh Speculation, and an Armenian in Istanbul

There's been sufficiently interesting enough news on the Armenian front that I think it is time once again for a blog entry. I don't just do these for any old reason after all! First I am glad to announce that it looks like Armenia has won for the second time in a row the Chess Olympiad. They led for most of the tournament except for one day when Israel took the lead; Armenia was just recently tied with Ukraine for first but it seems that it has taken the lead and is securely in first place for the gold medal. Too bad Armenia never won any of those at the recent Olympics! It is great to know despite being such a small country up against world powers it can still manage to win, pretty incredible when you consider the task at hand.
Meanwhile, in the realm of Armenian foreign policy things continue to bump along mainly behind the scenes since the September football diplomacy visit. The main feeling of the opposition is that the President and his crew are preparing to "sell-out" Karabakh in exchange for economic gain and legitimacy in the eyes of the west. There have been various voices in Armenian society declaring that not an inch of land should be surrendered to the Azeris, even though the whole purpose of the buffer zone was as a bargaining chip in negotiations. More recently, head of the Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan Hayk Demoyan put forward that resolution of the Karabakh conflict should be built on equal concessions- meaning trading some of the occupied territories like Aghdam for the de jure Azeri but formerly Armenian-populated territory of Shahumyan north of Karabakh. There's a lot of talk about the Madrid Principles which are now being seen as the road map to a peace settlement, however it seems that many tweaks and alterations are being considered and negotiated for a final settlement. We continue to get schizophrenic as always news out of the lead western negotiators- some express optimism and I even heard the phrase that settlement is possible by the end of this year, but at the same time seem to make it clear that no real progress is possible in the coming months. I don't think I can call the negotiation process anything more than an extremely complicated morass.
There are numerous modalities to fixing the Karabakh problem- none of them easy and makes the current status quo look almost attractive for all involved. Logistically at this point the thought of returning Azeris to live amongst Armenians in Karabakh after two decades of bad blood- especially considering the way the word Armenian is anathema in Azerbaijan where hatred of Armenians is more or less a state-sponsored business- is a nightmare. Neither side, especially Azerbaijan have not prepared their people for peace and the prospects are beyond dim for a long-term future together. Yet they are neighbors and this stalemate can't continue. Azerbaijan appears dead set on Karabakh as being anything but completely part of Azerbaijan, a pretty tall request considering Karabakh has had no tie with the nation for two decades. Azerbaijan has forced Karabakh to become dependent elsewhere and it makes no sense to suddenly force Karabakh back into a country which has disdain for its people. Also ridiculously Azerbaijan continues to refer to Karabakh Armenians as occupiers despite them having always been the majority population in that land. I understand this term being applied to the territory around Karabakh but not to Karabakh itself. It makes one wonder what a "non-occupied" Karabakh would look like in Azerbaijan's opinion. Having followed the peace process for a decade has left me with nothing but a headache. I don't know how, if, or when things will change but I have absolutely no expectations thanks to what has become like "the boy who cried wolf". The current issues under negotiation seem to be the status of Lachin and if a referrendum will be allowed in Karabakh to determine its status in the future. Of course things like this can be promised, but without a set date for a vote there are no guarantees it could ever happen. The negotiators are walking a fine line and they have to be careful not to give up too much because it could result in all being lost. At the same time things can't continue like this forever and Armenians will have to remember what the buffer zones were originally intended for and have a society-wide discussion on what is to be done. One has to hope that the President don't have to force an agreement down the throats of his own people, as he seemed to do with his election. Oh and did I mention that there are rumors that Kocharian could return to the scene as the ANTI-Sargsyan, teaming up with the hard-line Dashnaks for a "no surrender" movement on the Karabakh front? Whether Sargsyan is in on this ploy is unknown, but it could be used as a way whether Sargsyan is a willing accomplice or not to return Kocharian to the political stage by forcing a governmental compromise in order for Serzh to keep his job. There's really no reason to even speculate about what's going on behind the scenes within the Armenian government because the truth is I just don't know and literally anything is possible.
In other news Foreign Minister Nalbandian is in Istanbul for a meeting with officials there towards the normalizing of relations between Turkey and Armenia. One development I've heard coming out of there is that it seems Turkey has finally uncoupled relations with Armenia with the Karabakh conflict, a vital step forward if true. Turkey had formerly said it would not begin relations with Armenia until Karabakh was settled, something we've always concluded is a morass, meaning that Gordian knot would have to be untied before the border opened with Turkey. With the developments in the region though we know all parties involved wants Turkey and Armenia to begin relations as soon as possible so with this new pragmatic view and the knowledge that Karabakh isn't being solved anytime soon that uncoupling is necessary for any movement. Turkey has been trying to placate Azerbaijan while warming to Armenia. A big story which came out of the Armenian-Turkish negotiations recently was the announcement that Armenia had agreed to a historical commissions to settle the genocide issue, a favored idea of the Turkish leadership but abhorred by the Armenian diaspora. The Armenian government refuted this notion and President Sargsyan said that such a commission would not be needed. While I am happy to see rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey I am worried about what Turkey might be trying to pull here. It is no secret that they have long dreamed of creating a rift between the diaspora and Armenia, namely on the genocide issue which the diaspora spearheads, and it is (true?) (false?) declarations like these which gives the impression Armenia is undermining the diaspora on the genocide front. I don't know who leaked or fabricated what but it is a tricky situation to be sure. Perhaps to combat these ideas, Nalbandian said in Turkey that Armenia will never urge the diaspora to stop efforts towards recognizing the genocide. I think that, without undermining them, Armenia can take a backseat when it comes to the genocide while letting the diaspora handle it. I doubt this will satisfy Turkey though who obviously have been telling the Armenian leadership behind the scenes to make the diaspora stop- clearly forgetting that the movement long predates independent Armenia itself. The diaspora was born without an independent Armenia and cannot be controlled by it, no matter how much Turkey with its misinterpretations and incorrect notions about the diaspora wishes it. Regardless, times are still interesting when it comes to Armenia's foreign relations and I suspect there will be more intriguing developments to write about sooner than later.

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