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Forward To The Past: Russia, Turkey, And Armenia's Faith

Russia, too, must deal with Armenia in good faith.
Russia, too, must deal with Armenia in good faith.
The recent race of strategic realignments reflects a real crisis in the world order and risks triggering a dangerous recurrence of past mistakes. Suffice the testimony of nearly all global and regional actors, which have quickly shifted gears and embarked on a collective reassessment of their respective strategic interests and, to that end, a diversification of policy priorities and political partnerships.

It matters little whether this geopolitical scramble was directly triggered by the Russian-Georgian war and the resulting collapse of standing paradigms for the Caucasus, or whether it crowned latently simmering scenarios in the halls of international power. The fact is that the great game -- for strategic resources, control over communications and routes of transit, and long-term leverage -- is on again with renewed vigor, self-serving partisanship, and duplicitous entanglement.

One of the hallmarks of this unbrave new world is the apparent reciprocal rediscovery of Russia and Turkey. Whatever its motivations and manifestations, Turkey's play behind the back of its trans-Atlantic bulwark and Russia's dealings at the expense of its "strategic ally" Armenia raise the specter of a replay of the events of more than 85 years ago, when Bolshevik Russia and a Kemalist Turkey not content with the legacy of the great Genocide and National Dispossession of 1915 partitioned the Armenian homeland in Molotov-Ribbentrop fashion and to its future detriment.

Time To Face Up

Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh, in Armenian) was one of the territorial victims of this 1921 plot of the pariahs, as it was placed under Soviet Azerbaijani suzerainty together with Nakhichevan. That latter province of the historical Armenian patrimony was subsequently cleansed of its majority Armenian population, and then of its Armenian cultural heritage. As recently as December 2005, Azerbaijan (like Armenia, a member of the Council of Europe) completed the total, Taliban-style annihilation of the medieval Armenian cemetery at Jugha that contained thousands of unique cross-stones.

Nagorno-Karabakh, by contrast, was able to turn the tide on a past of genocide, dispossession, occupation and partition and defend its identity, integrity, and territory against foreign aggression. In 1991 -- long before Kosovo, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia became buzzwords -- it declared its liberty, decolonization, and sovereignty in compliance with the Montevideo standards of conventional international law and with the Soviet legislation in force at that time.

Subsequent international recognition of Kosovo, on the one hand, and the later withholding of such recognition for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, on the other, demonstrate that there exists no real rule of law applied evenly across the board. On the contrary, such decisions are dictated by vital interests that are rationalized by reference to selectively interpreted international legal principles of choice and exclusivist distinctions of fact which, in fact, make no difference.

It's time to face up to the farce -- and that goes for Moscow and Ankara too, judging by recent pronouncements by high-level officials. And if the two countries are driven by the desire for a strategic new compact, then at least their partners on the world stage should reshift gears and calibrate their policy alternatives accordingly. Iran, the United States, and its European allies might find here an objective intersection of their concerns.

What Is Needed

Russia and Turkey must never again find unity of purpose at the expense of Armenia and the Armenian people. The track record of genocide, exile, death camps, and gulags is enough for all eternity.

These two important countries, as partners both real and potential, must respect the Armenian nation's tragic history, its sovereign integrity and modern regional role, and Nagorno-Karabakh's lawfully gained freedom and independence.

Football diplomacy is fine, but Turkey can rise to the desired new level of global leadership and local legitimacy only by dealing with Armenia from a "platform" of good faith and reconciliation through truth; lifting its illegal blockade of the republic and opening the frontier that it unilaterally closed, instead of using it as a bargaining tool; establishing diplomatic relations without preconditions and working through that relationship to build mutual confidence and give resolution to the many watershed issues dividing the two neighbors; accepting and atoning, following the brilliant example of post-World War II Germany, for the first genocide of the 20th century and the national dispossession that attended it; committing to rebuild, restore, and then celebrate the Armenian national heritage, from Mount Ararat and the medieval capital city of Ani to the vast array of churches, monasteries, schools, academies, fortresses, and other cultural treasures of the ancestral Armenian homelands; initiating and bringing to fruition a comprehensive program to guarantee the right of secure voluntary return for the progeny and descendants of the dispossessed to their places and properties of provenance; providing full civil, human, and religious rights to the Armenian community of Turkey, including the total abolition the infamous Article 301, which has served for so long as an instrument of fear, suppression, and even death with regard to those courageous citizens of good conscience who dare to proclaim the historical fact of genocide; and finally, exercising greater circumspection in voicing incongruous and unfounded allegations of "occupation" in the context of Nagorno-Karabakh's David-and-Goliath struggle for life and justice, lest someone remind Ankara about more appropriate and more proximate applications of that term.

As for Russia, true strategic allies consult honestly with each other and coordinate their policies pursuant to their common interests. They do not address one another by negotiating adverse protocols with third parties behind each other's back; they do not posture against each other in public or in private; and they do not try to intimidate, arm-twist, or otherwise pressure each other via the press clubs and newspapers of the world. Russia, too, must deal with Armenia in good faith, recognizing the full depth and breadth of its national sovereignty and the horizontal nature of their post-Soviet rapport, its right to pursue a balanced, robust, and integral foreign policy, as well as the nonnegotiability -- for any reason, including the sourcing and supervision of Azerbaijani oil -- of Nagorno-Karabakh's liberty, security, and self-determination.

The Armenian government, in turn, must of course also shoulder its share of responsibility for creating a region of peace and shared stability, mutual respect and open borders, domestic democracy, and international cooperation. An ancient civilization with a new state, Armenia's national interests can best be served by achieving in short order a republic administered by the rule of law and due process, and an abiding respect for fundamental freedoms, good governance, and fair elections, which, sadly, has not been the case to date.

Armenia urgently needs a new understanding with its neighbors that will preclude once and for all its being cast again in the role of either fool or victim.

Raffi K. Hovannisian served from 1991-92 as foreign minister of the Republic of Armenia. He is the founder of the Armenian Center for National and International Studies and represents the opposition Heritage Party in the Armenian parliament. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL