Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Moscow Declaration, and a few other issues....

‘Much ado about nothing’ – that is how one could safely describe the declaration, signed in Moscow by presidents Sargsyan and Aliyev after talks hosted by Dimitri Medvedev. Reading the declaration itself, it is quite unclear why it provoked the reaction it has provoked in Yerevan, especially among the more radical elements of the opposition.

Some of the criticisms of the document have centred on the fact that it refers to ‘solutions based on principles of international law’, and that is somehow seen as detrimental to the Armenian position. But, really, international law can be interpreted in many different ways, and, moreover, includes the principle of national self-determination – as Serj Sargsyan rightly pointed out on his return to Yerevan. In fact, it there was an element of absurdity in the ways in which both presidents signed this declaration in Moscow, only to hold on to their well-known positions on returning to their respective capitals. The Azeri foreign ministry promptly rejected claims by Yerevan that the document had obliged it to forego any military solution to the conflict. Before long, we were at square one again. Nothing had changed, really.

It would perhaps be better to see this document as a face-saving exercise by the Kremlin. Rightly or wrongly, Medvedev may have thought a breakthrough possible during the meeting in Moscow – after this summer’s war, Russia’s image in the Southern Caucasus had to be skewed to that of a peacemaker again. When a breakthrough didn’t come, the Russians settled for an empty document to have at least something to show for their efforts. Diplomacy can sometimes be as simple as that.

The Minsk Group co-chairmen- whose work seems to have been remarkably unaffected by this summer’s dramatic events - tell the world both sides are close to an agreement. But they have been telling that same story for the past 5 years now. What they haven’t been able to do so far is answer the question as to how one squares a circle by reconciling Armenia’s absolute commitment to Karabakh’s independence to Azerbaijan’s equally uncompromising dedication to its territorial integrity. Both sides haven’t changed their rhetoric in that regard, and as long as that doesn’t change, I believe it’s safe to describe any optimism as completely unwarranted.

The only possible indication of chances for a future breakthrough came from the increasing focus by several of Armenia’s political groups on the prospect of a return of occupied territories around Nagorno Karabakh to Azerbaijan. The ARF, for instance, stated that it would not be able to remain within the coalition if any of the lands conquered by Armenian forces in 1992-1994 were to be returned as part of a future agreement. Several opposition groups also added their voices to the rejection of such an eventuality.

But what alternative do these political groups propose? “Payqar payqar minchev verj” – “Struggle till the end”? Will Armenians always be condemned to following those abusing their kneejerk reactions through these primitive nationalistic slogans, used and abused by an incoherent plethora of political groups and factions?

For too long, Armenia has been under the influence of those who see ‘national security’ in an underdeveloped, uni-dimensional way. When thinking about security, don’t only think about your actions – try to consider the reactions of those around you. Try to see the bigger picture. Holding on to most of the occupied territories might end up costing Armenia much more than any peace their return would engender.

On an entirely different subject – still related to security, broadly defined – Amnesty International published an entirely credible report ( on the abuse of women in the Republic of Armenia, where no less than 25% of women are the victims of physical domestic violence.

There are two ways in which this report can be read by Armenian society – either as a wake-up call, pointing to the need to address discrimination and gendered prejudice, or as an insult, an attack against the machismo and ‘cult-of-virginity’ prevalent in Armenian society, masquerading under the unassailable label of ‘national tradition’.

I would just like to point out that if everyone had stuck to their ‘national traditions’ from the very beginning, we’d all still be swinging from the trees today.

Some among us obviously still are.