Tuesday, June 9, 2009

But What Do We Have to Show for It?

It's time to write again. I know it has been a long while, far longer than I ever expected to go without updates, but that's exactly what happened. In my opinion there wasn't news churning out on the Karabakh/Armenia-related front for most of the winter, at least not like the unprecedented things a blog writer like me on the subject was spoiled with this fall. It seemed like any development during the winter was the same-old abstract rather than concrete in nature type developments. I hate that kind of speculation, which seems to never end with Armenian relations. I've already put up with it for over a decade re: the Karabakh stalemate. I've been old enough to follow this news since the beginning of the Kocharian era, in which an attempt to solve Karabakh helped bring down President LTP. We then had various false alarm potential resolutions, such as the Key West accords where Azerbaijan allegedly agreed to a settlement but then quickly changed its mind before it could be formalized. There have been numerous talks between Azeri and Armenian foreign ministers and presidents since then, each one built up beforehand as possibly "the one" which will finally bring about the long-awaited conclusion to this never ending story, only to have it fizzle out with no concrete results time and time. I personally have become so desensitized to the proclamations of US Minsk Group co-chair Matthew Bryza that I won't listen to anything he says anymore. He's the boy who cried wolf (or peace?) on steroids, having gotten hopes up an almost unfathomable amount of times only to have them amount to nothing. This is what I mean by the speculative nature of watching Armenian foreign developments, sure I could talk about for paragraphs whether Karabakh peace is a year away, or whether war is guaranteed by 2012, or that the status quo will last at least another 20 years. At this point any of those options seem equally possible so I don't have the motivation any more to follow or think about any of these options, in the same way that Bryza has said peace might be at hand so many times that I will refuse to believe or think about any of it.

I shouldn't be too hard on Bryza though. What he is tasked with helping resolve is an almost impossible job, and we have no idea what he knows from inside the talks compared to what is known outside- and furthermore whether all his hopeful talk has a deeper reason behind it than just pathetic optimism. After all, it seems the Azeris are downright angry with him, with their foreign ministry making the very undiplomatic assertion that Bryza lies about progress in the talks to impress his bosses Obama and Clinton. In the past couple days they've also decided to hate the French co-chair and are trying to get him replaced because some French MP visited Karabakh. On top of that talk is being floated as Turkey being let in as a fourth Minsk co-chair, so who knows what is even going on over there. With all the Armenian-Turkish secret talks of the recent past, I know that whatever we see is like the tip of an inceberg- to utilize a delightfully overused cliche. So much more is unknown, such as the parties true motivations, the reasons behind Turkey's sudden decision to insert preconditions to relations with Armenia after pursuing soccer diplomacy which was always understood to be without such preconditions, and so on. With the Russian/European gas wars heating up in the region, it is clear that Turkey wants relations opened with Armenia and that such efforts will likely continue, there has been what amounts to a frantic pressing of the breaks by Turkey after Azerbaijan threatened to charge Turkey a higher price for gas. The only thing which has come out of the secret talks, publically at least, is a last-minute April 22 announcement by Turkey that a roadmap was agreed upon towards relations by it and Armenia. The timing was more than suspicious, as it gave Obama exactly what he needed to refrain from recognizing the Armenian Genocide as he had promised in his campaign, in the name of not messing with this new roadmap. It was obviously orchestrated by America and Turkey for this very reason, leaving Armenia nothing to show for it and President Sargsyan looking as if he was played for a fool by the world. The diaspora is being left more and more isolated while it seems like Turkey and Azerbaijan are ganging up on Armenia when only months ago Azerbaijan was freaking out that it was being abandoned. Yet I am not ready to claim all is how it appears- though I frankly have no idea how it appears. I think all parties realize that the precondition of Armenian forces totally abandoning Karabakh before Turkey will begin relations with Armenia is a total non-starter, and in my opinion actually detrimental to maintaining peace in the region as it would leave a vacuum to be filled by God knows what. Is Turkey playing along with some Azeri game for now but will only go so far? Or are they playing to audiences at home in Turkey- the military and shadowy extra-governmental forces still control for now? See, I could do this forever, but I won't because there's no use and no real conclusions can come from it. Only time can tell, and October will be the determining month- maybe. That is when Sargsyan is scheduled to reciprocate the soccer diplomacy to watch the game in Turkey, and he recently said he'd only go through an open- or about to open- border. While last fall talk was that the border could be open by early '09, it seems even Serzh is now hedging his bets by allowing for the fact that even if the border isn't quite open he'll still probably go. As we've learned though that doesn't mean anything will come from it, depressing.

A parting thought, what should Armenian politicians do now? I agree with an editorial in the recent edition of the Armenian Reporter. They should put an end to this preconditions dance by saying they will not go any further in negotiations until preconditions are dropped again. Why should Erdogan be allowed to trash Armenia whether he goes, mainly Azerbaijan, by making demands of Armenia as part of the peace talks when the whole reason the talks were able to start was because there were no demands. It's patently absurd, unless there is some secret coordination between Armenia and Turkey all along. In fact the Reporter things Armenia should not go any farther talking with Turkey until they open the border, only then can Armenia restart negotiations in good faith. Whatever happens, it seems all sides are in for a bumpy ride and once again the optimism of soccer diplomacy, the optimism after Hrant Dink's death, the optimism after optimism about settling Karabakh, has given away to the uncomfortable reality which is the South Caucausus.