Vol. 5, No. 2 (January 15, 2012)

Armenian Diaspora increasingly hurting Armenia

Paul Goble
Publications Advisor
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

Azerbaijanis have always paid a great deal of attention to the Armenian diaspora, viewing it as an influential force that Yerevan can and does deploy against Baku.  However, two recent commentaries suggest not only that there is now “a split” between the diaspora and Armenia, but that the diaspora’s obsession with the past, the basis for its own definition and survival, may in fact be depriving Armenia itself of a better future.  As a result, an increasing number of Azerbaijanis no longer see the “Armenian lobby” as an irresistible force, but rather as one factor among many in the international arena and, moreover, as one that may be self-defeating and even countered by the growing activism of Azerbaijanis living abroad.

In an essay published on January 11, Nurani points out that “the Armenian community is not simply distinguished by a phenomenal politicization,” but “in the ‘motherland-diaspora’ relationship in the Armenian milieu, the ‘center of gravity’” now resides with the diaspora, rather than the motherland, with activists of the former telling the latter “what to do and how to live.” [1] 

According to the Baku commentator, diaspora activists don’t bother to conceal that “they don’t like the current foreign policy of Armenia, they don’t like its basic political orientation, and they don’t like its friends.”  Consequently, they argue, “Yerevan must change its policy” to one the diaspora approves of.  Even more, the Azerbaijani writer says, leaders of the diaspora are “not prepared to listen to a long line of arguments that the best potential friend for Armenia is the country whose passport the author of this advice carries in his pocket.”

But in addition, Nurani notes, the diaspora weakens both itself and Armenia because “all the enormous lobbying potential of [its] politicized hierarchs is directed unfortunately at the past,” at securing official declarations about events of almost a century ago, rather than thinking about what those declarations cost and the ways, in which they will be ignored in the very nearest future.

Despite what the Armenian diaspora leaders and their political friends may think, “the events of 1915 and their description should better be left to historians or at least those who are objective, dispassionate and neutral,” rather than handing them over “to parliaments, the members of whom could not find Turkey and Armenia on a map quickly,” let alone decide what happened in Van, Bitlis, Erzurum, and Istanbul a century ago or “who was guilty” of what took place.

Moreover, Nurani writes, European political leaders are not making “promises” to form “’Western Armenia’ on Turkish lands.” Instead, what is heard are “the promises of Armenian politicians to remind the Europeans about their promises” in the past,” reminders that are not likely to lead European governments to take any steps, but that will serve as “the main ‘cementing force’ of the Armenian diaspora and the Armenian lobby,” which may in the end be why those of its members are so interested in promoting self-defeating actions as they do now in the French Senate.

But the question needs to be asked, Nurani suggests, “just how much the lobbying campaigns if they are successful as in present-day France correspond to the interests of Armenia as a state,” not in the sense of “moral satisfaction, but in terms of its genuine national interests as a state and society?  Unfortunately, many Armenian leaders celebrated what is taking place in Paris as “a national triumph,” ignoring the reality that such actions by the “Armenian lobby” inevitably lead Yerevan to turn “its back to its own future and even to its present,” something that is likely to become an ever bitter result of “’political geometry.’”

The impact of the Armenian diaspora’s obsession with the past, Nurani says, is already obvious: “Today, after the passage of two decades of new independence,” Armenians and the Armenian diaspora should have had enough time to “realize in Armenia something tangible and lasting, to fulfill finally the hysterical declarations that ‘Azerbaijan has oil, but we have the diaspora.’”  Tragically, that has not happened.  And indeed, it is time to recognize that Yerevan “has not been able to build productive relations with its own foreign compatriots,” a reality that even Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan on occasion has acknowledged and one that stands in sharp contrast with the success of Azerbaijan in organizing its diaspora as an article in the next issue of Azerbaijan in the World will demonstrate.

As a result, the Azerbaijani commentator says, “today by spreading pseudo-patriotic hysteria, the leaders of the diaspora are again pushing Armenia toward a continuation of its former policies, to taking a hard line in the negotiations, and to the renewal of the war,” one that if it comes, members of the diaspora will not be participating in even if it is their logic that provokes it.

Mammadov, M., another Azerbaijani commentator, expands on these points regarding what is taking place in Paris in an article entitled “The diaspora has left Armenia without a future.” In it, he argues that both the Armenian diaspora and the Armenian government has forgotten a “simple truth” that Europeans have learned at a great price over the last centuries: “it is impossible to build a common future with one’s neighbors” if one first insists that they accept as uniquely true one’s own version of history. [2] 

Immediately after the New Year’s holiday, Mammadov notes, French President Nicolas Sarkozy “approved the decision of the French National Assembly concerning the criminalization of the denial of ‘the Armenian genocide’ and sent it to the Senate for confirmation.”  The Armenian diaspora “celebrated” this believing that they had achieved a great deal, but what they have in fact achieved, even assuming the French Senate concurs, is likely to be less than they hope and just the opposite of what they assume.

Sarkozy is clearly looking for votes from ethnic Armenians who are French citizens, but “even leading members of the French government” do not share his point of view.  French Foreign Minister Alain Joupe, for example, has said that the proposed law “is not useful and counterproductive” and will have “serious consequences for bilateral relations with Turkey.”  Moreover, even if it is passed, “who will be the winner? No one except Nicolas Sarkozy and Serzh Sargsyan.  The first will receive votes of citizens of France of Armenian ethnicity, and the second, in the course of the upcoming electoral campaign will be able to manipulate the national feelings” of Armenians in Armenia.

“Put in simplest terms,” Mammadov says, “the presidents of both France and Armenia are attempting to use Armenian nationalism for their personal interests even as they harm the national-state interests” of their respective countries.”  Thus, the commentator says, this provides yet another confirmation of the truth of Mikhail Zadornov’s observation that “nationalism is a business based on the betrayal of one’s own people.”

What are the real interests of France and Armenia?  French Foreign Minister Joupe’s comments provide insight, Mammadov continues.  The chief French diplomat “is speaking out against the adoption of the law about the criminalization of the denial of ‘the Armenian genocide’ not because he sympathizes with the Turks or even does not recognize the tragic events of 1915 as ‘genocide.’ [Instead], he openly declares that the adoption of this law contradicts the national-state interests of France.”  According to the Azerbaijani writer, “a few Armenians think the same way” and “prefer not to lay the accent on attention to tragic events a century old.”  

Even more, should the Armenian lobby win such “a victory” in Paris, it will—beyond any doubt—prove short-lived.  The first person convicted under the law will appeal to the European Court for Human Rights, “and almost with 100 percent certainty, one can predict that the European Court will set aside the verdict of French justice as crudely violating the right of citizens to free expression.”  Thus, “sooner or later France will have to repeal this law.”

At the same time, such a law will lead to the deterioration of French relations with Turkey “in all spheres” and “the effectiveness of the foreign policy of the European Union in general and France in particular in the Middle East and the South Caucasus will be sharply reduced.”  

But “Armenia will find itself in a much worse situation.”  First of all, Mammadov says, the adoption of such a French law will make the process of normalizing relations between Yerevan and Ankara far more difficult and will lead to an increase in “the economic isolation of Armenia,” especially if the Turkish government decides to choke off the large and growing unofficial trade between the two countries.  “Turkey’s regional allies also will have to consider the position and interests of official Ankara.”  Azerbaijan will certainly do so, but so too will Georgia and some other countries.  As a result, “the isolation of Armenia will increase to the point of leading the country into a dead end.”

Second, Mammadov argues, the adoption of such a French law “will have a negative impact on the position of Armenia in peace talks about the resolution of the Karabakh conflict.”  France’s tilt toward Armenia “is not a secret for anyone,” but now “Azerbaijan will have the complete right to demand the expulsion of France as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group” or even the discussion of the issue in other international forums such as the UN Security Council, a step Armenia may find it harder to block.  Alternatively, perhaps, Paris may have to bend over backwards in the Minsk Group to prove its objectivity and neutrality.

Thus, Armenia is likely to suffer regardless of how things develop.  The diaspora in pursuit of its own interests about the past through the French parliament “is depriving Armenia and the Armenian people of a future.  Why?!  Everything here is simple.  The extreme nationalist approach to the past allows this diaspora with the smallest of ‘expenditures’ to preserve its national self-identity,” but such an approach does nothing good for Armenia, something Armenians and their neighbors are likely to recognize sooner or later.


[1] See http://news.day.az/politics/308810.html (accessed 14 January 2012).

[2] See http://news.day.az/politics/308110.html (accessed 14 January 2012).