Thursday, December 3, 2009

Aborting Afghanistan?

Yesterday’s decision by the Obama administration to increase troop strengths by more than 30,000 could not be described as a surge; if anything, combined with the 18-month deadline for ‘Afghanising’ the military campaign, it in effect implies either the abandonment of the country to its fate over the longer term, or a misleading of public opinion over the complexities involved: believing one could create structures – military or political – in a state as weak as Afghanistan within that time-frame goes beyond optimism. At best, it is a tragic miscalculation; at worst, it is a desperate fib held up to appease electorates already disillusioned by eight years of hubris and insincerity. What will be required in the future will be a kind of leadership that the world has been without for many years, one that goes together with an ability to exact sacrifice and provide much-needed sincerity in a brave new world, and one whose lack in 2001-2008 lies at the root of the problems in Afghanistan today.

Few people now remember that in 2001, when the Taleban were overthrown, the Western military presence was minimal by any standard – rather wisely, much of the actual fighting in these months had been carried out by the forces of the Northern Alliance, aided by targeted aerial bombings and a small group of about 1,500 American special forces. But once that objective had been achieved, hubris quickly took over. Afghanistan was to be transformed, not merely into a viable, but also into a democratic state - and an army of civilian personnel was sent in to teach the Afghans how to govern themselves. Meanwhile, in 2002, Kabul’s plight steadily descended downwards on the list of priorities Western leaders – particularly in Washington – had set themselves in the aftermath of 9-11. Not surprisingly for an administration that was apt to proclaim missions accomplished at the end of their beginning, it was time for more pressing matters: Iraq.

I won’t go into the neo-conservative follies that ‘informed’ the Bush administration’s decision to stumble into Mesopotamia with all the fake pomposity that shock and awe could provide. What is important here and now, in the Afghanistan of 2009, is how Bush and Blair’s mendacity destroyed trust in political leadership when it mattered most (in times of war), how their strategic megalomania caused everyone to get the eye off the ball in Kabul – eventually leading to dramatic mission creep, and how their almost childishly ethnocentric assumption that ‘inside every Afghan/Iraqi there is an American waiting to pop out’ led to seriously underestimating the effort involved in building statehood from scratch in a place with a strong, historically grounded sense of cultural-religious specificity.

War takes leadership, the kind of leadership that is capable of exacting sacrifice and patience from one’s population; and in the era of ‘long wars’ that we live in today, that kind of leadership is called for over longer periods of time. This leadership is not based simply on the ability to ‘talk tough’: talking of a ‘war on terror’ and ‘evil’ might have made Bush seem ‘determined’ and ‘statesmanlike’ to some, in the end, as many have pointed out, it completely misrepresented a long-term and quite indeterminate struggle as a military action with definite starting- and end-points, inevitably leading to disillusionment. In addition, leadership is most certainly not found in the by now all-too transparent spin that underlay the doctored dossiers, designed to deceptively sway international and national public opinion. The images of Colin Powell misleading the UNSC, and of Tony Blair hoodwinking the Commons are now engrained in our collective memories, and will make things far more difficult for any future (or, in fact, present) leaders who’ll have to mobilise electorates in matters of national security that do not involve crying wolf – like Afghanistan, for instance.

War also takes strategic forethought – the strategic forethought that underlies the art of matching limited resources and military capabilities to complex problems that resist simple (and cheap) solutions. To in effect open a second front in Iraq while Afghanistan was not entirely pacified was already based on a fair amount of over-optimistic assumption; that it would then limit the human and material resources that could be assigned to the effort in Afghanistan was an almost-inevitable outcome. It is, naturally, quite useless to speculate now on what would have happened if the West had, from the very start, smothered Afghanistan in aid by spending even one quarter or one eighth of the amounts spent on invading Iraq there, rebuilding many more communities, eradicating much more of the drugs trade, providing much more infrastructure and employment for ordinary Afghans – who are now flocking to the relatively well-paid Taleban. Instead, we can now look in incredulous amazement at the way things actually turned out – the failure rebuild and stabilise Afghanistan on tight resources due to other, ‘more pressing’ commitments. In the era of budget airlines, it might have seemed alluring to attempt easy-State-building and easy-War; the end result were quagmire and mission creep – from 1,500 troops in 2001, to 70,000 in 2009, and counting.

Finally, war takes a certain amount of cultural humility – especially when it is combined with state/nation-building in a place as complicated as Afghanistan. The fetishisation of elections, and the employment of Western-centric models of statehood and good governance were bound to fail in a country with an entirely different and historically deeply rooted political culture, one based on tribal and religious loyalties that could not be realistically redirected towards a central government within the spate of a few years. The assumption that Afghans wanted democracy was fundamentally flawed; in a country where the Taleban, of all people, were initially perceived by many as a blessing after decades of chaos and civil war, it would perhaps have been productive to listen to the hopes and fears of ‘the locals’ instead of assuming their natural propensity for liberal government. One possible outcome would have been the realisation that Afghans, above all, wished for security, and that whether that security was provided by a democratic central government, local, traditional tribal or religious structures or, in fact, Beelzebub himself was immaterial, as long as it was provided. Instead, Western ‘experts’ took their Bosnian and Timorese templates to Kabul, and the end result was Karzai’s 2009 electoral farce.

It is clear that the stabilisation of Afghanistan is an objective of enormous strategic importance. It is situated between one aspiring and one actual nuclear power – the Pak in ‘AfPak’ – with whom its fortunes are tightly bound. Those who assume the Taleban could be persuaded not to give shelter to Al Qaeda in return for a withdrawal engage in wishful thinking; if anything, Pakistan’s hapless experience with appeasement in the SWAT valley would suggest a kind of radical revolutionism within that movement that does not bode well for the chances of such a compromise, most certainly in the event of a Taleban victory. Finally, defeat in the country would be of enormous symbolic importance in the struggle against Al Qaeda (& Co.), providing the network’s propagandists with apparent ‘divine sanction’ in the eyes of its sympathisers and potential adherents – in much the same way as the failure to capture Bin Laden has done in previous years. Leaving the country to its fate will have nasty consequences, possibly worldwide, probably regionally and most certainly for the Afghans themselves.

And so, the Obama administration faces a choice – and it is not simply one between staying the course and leaving. It is also one between providing frank and honest assessments on the one hand, and fudging the truth, on the other. While much of the damage has already been done through the previous years of dishonesty, neglect and overconfidence, it is not too late to learn from the past, reintroducing the elements of leadership, foresight and humility that were formerly so absent. If the Obama administration has – unwisely - decided to leave Afghanistan to its fate by 2011, it should say so openly. If it has decided to stay the course, it should be clear and honest about its objectives, without the fear of expressing the harsh truth that Afghanistan is too unpredictable and complex for deadlines. It should acknowledge the long timeframes and enormous means – human and material - required to achieve these complex and unpredictable objectives. And it should accept the need for thinking outside the Western-centric liberal-democratic box in the quest for stability in Afghanistan, going beyond the traditional models of the Westphalian state if need be. But whatever it does, spineless spin should no longer be an option.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fiat Justitia, Pereat Armenia?

In an essay published today in the Armenian Weekly, Prof. Theriault – a member of the faculty at Worcester College - accuses two diaspora Armenian political scientists, Asbed Kotchikian and David Davidian, of taking a ‘neutralist’ position on the protocols issue – and rejects the claimed ‘rationalism’ of their analyses. Much hinges on the meaning of rationality and irrationality within his paper. The author employs a rather broad conception of the term: rationality, he claims, is about “logic’ – it is, more specifically: a form of thought in which reasons are given in support of a claim”. He continues:

…the numerous dissenting Armenian voices rejecting the protocols present rational arguments based on factual evidence for rejection. While one might challenge the logic and dispute the claimed facts, the fact that some rational people disagree with rejection of the protocols does not mean that those who reject them are irrational.

Quite apart from the fact that Davidian does indeed challenge the logic of the opponents of the protocols – which, by Theriault’s own definition, would give him the right to call their arguments irrational – Prof. Theriault goes down the self-righteous track by, in effect, implying – however indirectly – that Davidian and Kotchikian, and all other ‘protocol supporters’ as traitors, because:

For Armenians to acquiesce in this is not merely to betray the memories of those who died and those who survived. It is not merely to accept one of the great grand larcenies of history and the debilitating poverty that has resulted.”

Leaving aside this self-righteous moment, Theriault’s “analysis” contains two fundamental flaws: firstly, a breathtakingly leap-of-faith confidence in the power of justice and legitimacy in international politics, and, secondly, an inability to distinguish between rationality and reasonableness. Let’s look at these flaws in turn.

We need look no further than Plato’s Republic and Gorgias to see advocacy of ethical principle over realpolitik by a thinker universally recognized as one of the most rational in human history. Of course, those who understand how social movements really work, how they succeed, will recognize this all-or-nothing strategy as quite practical…

…he writes, then referring to the accomplishments of Mahatma Ghandi in India, and Martin Luther King in the United States, subsequently making the extraordinary statement that “moral legitimacy is a great force in geopolitics and is the reliable ally of the weak, oppressed, and marginalized.

Prof. Theriault inevitably comes to overestimate the power of justice and legitimacy in international politics, for one simple reason (quite apart from relying on classical authors whose works were indeed ethereally ethical, but ultimately politically impractical) – he fails to make a distinction between the transnational and international realms. The former is the level of interpersonal relations, through state boundaries. The second is the world of Nietzsche’s “cold monsters” – the states. While arguably highly interrelated, these two worlds very arguably function according to different logics.

Simply put – one would have to change the way the international realm ticks for Prof. Theriault’s arguments to have any bearing on what happens between states. While there is a wholesale intellectual attempt with precisely that aim – Critical International Relations and Critical Security Studies – it has minimal effect on policymakers, even where Great Powers are concerned. Prof. Theriault should look at the fate of the United Kingdom’s ‘ethical foreign policy’ during the first years of Labour’s rule – it didn’t take long for its lofty declared ideals to bump into the harsh realities of international politics. Unless Armenia is able to change the rules of the international game – something even Great Powers would struggle to do - it will have to acquiesce in these rules, or risk losing out. The choice is stark, but clear.

It is telling that all examples given by Theriault come from social movements operating at the transnational, or even sub-national realms – the fact that Ghandi faced the rule-of-law British, and that Martin Luther King operated under the protection of the American constitution does not appear to weaken their relevance for the current inter-state processes between Ankara and Yerevan for the author. But these two personalities were leaders of ‘social movements’, within states. In the anarchic world of inter-state relations, there are no supreme courts, no constitutions, no policemen to protect you and provide ‘justice’ – or, more accurately, legality - when things go wrong; you – the state – are pretty much on your own. To paraphrase both Theriault and Stalin, “how many divisions does moral legitimacy have?

Theriault’s second mistake is his conflation of rationality and reasonableness – always dangerous in the social sciences. Rationality is about matching means to ends – it is about optimizing resources given certain aims. Reasonableness refers to the choice of these aims. The greatest problem in the current debates surrounding the protocols is that both means and aims are contested. Quite simply, the proponents and opponents of the protocols have a different idea of the way the Armenian state should prioritise its aims: does historical justice come first, or do bread-and-butter concerns (survival in prosperity) matter more? Once you don’t agree on the aims of statehood, it is not difficult to disagree on the means as well. What might be ‘profitable’ or conform to the requirements of ‘raison d’état’ may very well be despicable from the point of view of ‘justice’. In the end, it is not simply about ‘logic’, but the aims you choose, the hierarchy within these aims and how well means and ends are matched up.

And here, the question becomes how reasonable – or in fact, ethical - it would be to burden the Republic of Armenia with the task of providing ‘justice’ in a world where even Great Powers are, as a rule, unwilling or unable to be guided primarily by ethics. Or how morally justifiable it would be to cling on to an attitude that, in effect, implies – ‘fiat justitia, pereat Armenia’: that there be justice, even if Armenia may perish.

The morality of the protocols’ proponents lies precisely in their rejection of such an attitude. They value statehood, and the fate of Armenia’s present and future citizens, over the requirements of restitution for the past, in the knowledge that a prosperous and self-confident state would be the best – and most rational - retort to the injustices of Genocide. In the end, isn’t that what Kant’s categorical imperative is about: that humans always remain the aim, and never become the means?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Beware the Grand Bargain.

The protocols published by the Armenian, Turkish and Swiss foreign ministries on 31 August have provoked an outcry among both Armenian and Turkish nationalists. Both societies were caught entirely unawares – in fact, in the weeks running up the announcement, commentators on all sides were describing the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process as all but moribund. After the initial shock, some of the criticisms levelled against the protocols were well-founded and –argued; others departed from trains of thought that bordered on the ludicrous and absurd. Among Devlet Bahceli and the sympathisers of the ultra-nationalist MHP, as well as elements of the more mainstream CHP, the narrative was one of ‘betrayal’ to the Turks’ ‘blood-brothers’, the Azeris. Among Armenian nationalists, in Armenia but especially in the Diaspora, accusations flew regarding a supposed betrayal of ‘Armenian historical rights’. On both extremes, the reactions were completely predictable in terms of their enduring, fossilised paranoia.

As things stand, it is clear that both the Turkish and Armenian governments took a substantial risk in trying to push the reconciliation agenda. Both the ethnic Azeri community in Turkey and the Azeri government have grown adept in recent years in exploiting the nationalist reflexes that still exist within Turkish society. And, in agreeing to the recognition of the current Turkish-Armenian border, and the setting up of a sub-commission dealing with the 1915 Genocide, Yerevan must have known it would be taking a calculated risk by endangering its relations with the Diaspora (or substantial parts thereof): while society in Armenia proper has shown an at best mixed reaction to the documents, the Diaspora – still dominated politically by the Dashnaks – has displayed an overwhelmingly negative attitude.

On their own, these risks seem daunting. Turkey’s policy towards the former Soviet Union has, in no small part, been based on its positioning as a crucial energy hub towards the Caucasus and Central Asia – something dependent in no small part on its “One Nation, Two States” alliance with Azerbaijan. And, since at least 1998, Armenia’s state ideology has propounded the idea of ‘One Nation, One Culture’ – defining the Republic of Armenia as the representative of all Armenians, including the Diaspora, on the international stage. The thus mobilised lobbying power of that Diaspora was part and parcel of Armenia’s foreign policy in previous years – and losing at least part of it would, no doubt, leave Armenia substantially weaker.

Focusing on the immediate risks taken by both actors, however, provides us with only part of the picture: these pitfalls are substantial, but so are the potential benefits. On other levels, and in other issue-areas, both Turkey and Armenia believe they stand to gain significantly in the case of a successful rapprochement. The Turkish government’s stance forms part of its broader ‘zero-problems’ domestic and foreign policies, which received added urgency following the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. Its policies towards the Caucasus and Central Asia are clearly threatened by potential instabilities, which would threaten energy routes and endanger its now excellent relations with Russia through the complex network of allegiances and alignments in the troublesome region. Armenia, on the other hand, is growing increasingly concerned at the sight of increasingly disadvantageous economic growth differentials; of the three states, Armenia’s economy has been hit the hardest by the global economic crisis. Yerevan’s more determined push for better relations with Turkey is, to a significant extent, predicated on an understanding that, left isolated, Armenia’s economy will likely continue to underperform its neighbours’ (as it has in recent years, particularly in relation to Azerbaijan), with significant strategic implications in the long term.

Turkey craves for stability in its immediate neighbourhood – apart from wanting to do away with one of the arguments that might stand in the way of its eventual EU membership, as well as seeking to avert a complication of its relationship with the United States through a possible recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Congress. Armenia, similarly, wants to reintegrate its isolated economy into the regional and global networks that provide for growth and prosperity – even if that doesn’t necessarily mean a reconsideration of its strategic relationship with Russia. What’s more, with Russian-Turkish relations ‘better than they have ever been’ (according to Vladimir Putin), a possible normalisation of Armenian relations with Turkey would not necessarily elicit the same kind of concern in Moscow as it might have had five years ago. Contrary to what some commentators have recently stated, an opening of the border between Turkey and Armenia would most probably not imply Armenia’s gravitation towards the West. Russia would be able to live with Turkish-Armenian reconciliation because of its strategically dominant position within the Armenian economy, and, besides, as anyone studying East Asian politics would know, political-military realignments do not necessary follow from the creation of economic linkages.

Moreover, unlike elsewhere, the Great Powers – the United States, Russia and, if one considers it a member of that exclusive club, the EU – now seem to be aligned on the dual issues of Turkish-Armenian and Azeri-Armenian relations. Contrary to expectations, the Minsk Group did not implode following the Russo-Georgian war of 2008; quite on the contrary, the United States and Russia seem to have made co-operation within that group part and parcel of the ‘reset’ in relations touted by Hilary Clinton earlier this year. If – and that is a big ‘if’ - that ‘reset’ does succeed and the Great Powers achieve a more deeply and broadly grounded form of strategic cooperation, this may end up seriously constraining the bargaining power of smaller regional players. It would be very difficult for either Armenia, or Azerbaijan, or (to a far lesser extent) Turkey to resist any imposed or ‘suggested’ solution based on a consensus between the ‘Great Powers’ – a consensus that, while still difficult to achieve, would encompass highly important issues like NATO expansion, missile defence, Iran, and energy routes out of Central Asia. With Karabakh and Armenia-Turkey interwoven with many of these issues, anyone seen as threatening such a hard-won grand bargain would soon find his options exhausted.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It's that rear-view mirror again.....

Both Armenian and Turkish societies were hit by a bombshell this week, when their governments announced the full texts of two protocols on the normalisation of bilateral relations and the establishment of diplomatic links. In a nutshell, these two documents provide for the opening of borders and the exchange of diplomats within two months of them coming into force, after their ratification by the parliaments in Ankara and Yerevan. Among others, they provide for the mutual recognition of borders, the setting up of a series of commissions and sub-commissions tasked with resolving a whole range of issues, including those connected to the 1915 Genocide.

The announcement immediately provoked the ire of nationalist circles in both Armenia and the Diaspora. The ARF instantly accused the Armenian government of selling out ‘Armenian historical rights’, of endangering national security, and of thwarting recognition of the Armenian Genocide: the Armenian president, the party concluded, did not have the right to sign such an accord. Its lobbying arm in Washington, the ANCA, even went to Capitol Hill to denounce the protocols as ‘dangerous’. All of this could easily have been foreseen – the ARF lives and dies by the Armenian Cause, and the protocols infringe on the most fundamental tenets of their ideological utopia.

What is perhaps more disquieting for the ARF’s governing ‘Buro’, however, is the muted, even lame reaction the protocols received in Armenia. A widely advertised demonstration against the recent efforts at Turkish-Armenian rapprochement attracted barely one thousand people. More significantly, Armenia’s largest opposition group, the Armenian National Congress (HAK), reacted quite mutedly – and constructively – to the protocols. In a short statement, it called them a ‘giant leap’ in the normalisation of Turkish-Armenian relations. It expressed concern at the requirement for ratification, and called the historical commission on the Genocide ‘unacceptable’. In short, while it expressed serious - and well-grounded - reservations about the protocols on a tactical level, it implicitly welcomed the general strategy of seeking normalisation with Armenia’s largest immediate neighbour.

The contrast between the HAK and the ARF is quite striking. And it emerges from a fundamentally different approach to Armenian statehood in both organisations: the HAK’s leader, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, clearly saw Armenia as the state of and for its citizens rather than the standard-bearer of pan-Armenian nationalism during his presidency in 1991-1998. The ARF, meanwhile, continues to define the country, first and foremost, as the core of a future ‘Greater Armenia’, an instrument at the service of the at times quixotic aspirations of Armenians as a worldwide ethnos. The fact that normal relations between Ankara and Yerevan are required from the point of view of realpolitik is entirely lost in this line of thinking. But how exactly does putting a country at the service of a nationalist pipedream enhance the safety, wellbeing and prosperity of its citizens?

Accusing the Armenian government of ‘signing away’ Armenian rights by recognising the border between its state and its largest neighbour is completely absurd. It emerges from the dual delusions – held by many in the diaspora – that, firstly, a recognition of a genocide would automatically engender territorial claims by the Republic of Armenia on Turkey, and that, secondly, the treaty of Sevres is still in force, or could be argued to still be in force. Both assumptions are patent nonsense. To begin with, the Republic of Armenia did not exist in 1915-1917, when the Genocide was carried out, so any claims for compensation would have to be legally treated as claims by wronged citizens of the Ottoman Empire. As for the Sevres treaty – it was never ratified by anyone, superseded by Lausanne, cancelled out by recognitions of Turkey’s border by the Soviet Union (which, under the principle of uti possidetis, Armenia would have to honour). It is as dead as dead can be; even those who have made it their (at times lucrative) business to tell receptive diasporans otherwise know that to be the case. If the Armenian government is signing away anything by recognising the border, it is this Armenian version of the Sèvres syndrome.

Many Armenians in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh are tired of being put at the service of ideological utopias, be they communist or nationalist. What they want is what everyone wants – security and prosperity, for themselves and their children. It is the fact that both these public goods are amply provided for in Glendale, Beirut and Paris that allows many in our Diaspora to engage in nationalist machismo, dreamily demanding ‘Armenia from sea to sea’. Snug and secure in our respective host countries, we diasporans can afford to waste our efforts at trying to attain the unattainable; people in Armenia and Artsakh cannot, and will not. They lived 70 years pursuing a worker’s paradise and won’t waste the next generations limiting their options by trying to attain another pipedream, and that is their full right. These are the real reasons behind the tiny ARF demo and the muted HAK statement in Yerevan.

To paraphrase one Yerevan taxi driver, it is time to stop staring at the rear-view mirror and start looking at the road ahead.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Iranian Revolution, Part 2?

There has been much excitement, especially in the Western media, about what has been going on in Iran over the past few weeks. Some commentators – concentrating mostly on the superficial similarities between the demonstrations then and now – have even gone so far as to compare events with the days that shook the world almost exactly 30 years ago, leading to Khomeini’s return to Iran and the establishment of the Islamic Republic. But such comparisons are far from justified: they simplify, and overestimate the differences between Ahmadi-Nejad and his opponents. Both are very much products of the current Iranian establishment – Musavi perhaps even more than the incumbent.

This is not a popular uprising – rather, it is a classical intra-elite affair, where different factions within the Iranian leadership use ‘the masses’ to improve their positions in a struggle for power. Let’s not forget that Musavi was prime minister during the heyday of the Islamic Republic, when Ayatollah Khomeini – the same Khomeini who issued the fatwa against Salman Rushdie – was supreme leader. One of his allies is none other than Mohsen Razai, a former commander of the Pasdaran – the Revolutionary guard – known for its ideological rigidity. Musavi is openly supported by former president Hashemi Rafsanjani – known for both his pragmatist (and self-enriching) tendencies within Iranian society, but still a pillar of Iran’s clerical establishment. A change from Ahmadi-Nejad to Musavi could perhaps modify the style and form of Iranian discourse (no more “wiping Israel of the map”), but it would not even dent the fundamental principle of the Islamic Republic – Velayat-e Faqih, Guardianship of the Jurisprudent, that uneasy combination of electoral democracy and theocracy. It would, moreover, still leave the most fundamental levers of power – control of the military and, especially the Revolutionary guard, and all security forces – safely in the hands of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. At best, one could get a return to the Khatami era, where the freedom of movement of a reformist president was easily frustrated and limited by the ever-dominant conservatives in the Guardianship Council and the Assembly of Experts.

And as for the nuclear issue – while Musavi might perhaps be more susceptible to outside pressure (partly because of his more liberal take on Iran’s ramshackle economy), the conservatives within the security establishment would most likely ensure continuity there as well. As Al-Baradei correctly pointed out this week, Iran has very deep-seated motives to either obtain a nuclear bomb outright, or, at the very least, master the technology required to manufacture one at short notice. First and foremost come state and regime security – the contrast between Iraq and North Korea would indeed lead any government to see nuclearisation as the ultimate guarantee of survival. A quick look at the map also shows how Iran is surrounded by nuclear powers – Russia, Israel, Pakistan – two of whom obtained their nuclear capability outside the NPT. How could Iran realise its long-standing claim to regional power status without a nuclear arsenal?

What many – especially in the West – tend to forget is that the country’s nuclear programme was started in 1958 by the Shah, who thought imperial Iran wouldn’t be quite that imperial without ‘the bomb’. The Islamic Republic decided to restart the programme in the final years of the Iran-Iraq war – partly in response to lessons drawn from that war, partly, also, out of a long-held conviction that Iran – the Mellat-e Bozorg-e (Great Nation) – would have to find its place in the world. Iran’s nuclear propensities survived the Iranian revolution; and just like the Islamic Republic, they’ll most likely survive what comes next.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Obama follow-up

Clinton: If Iran strikes Israel, expect retaliation
By Haaretz Service
Tags: Iran, Israel News, UN

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that Iran must expect full retaliation from a "a battery of nuclear weapons countries" should it ever attack Israel. [...]

As I said in my previous post, extended nuclear deterrence could be Obama's plan B regarding Iran.....

Friday, June 5, 2009

Obama pushing the right buttons - but now what?

As a rhetorical exercise, yesterday’s speech by the President of the United States could not fail to impress. On a discursive level at least, the winds of change emanating from the White House are palpable. Gone are the days when presidential speeches consisted of incoherently mumbled Manichean simplicities – “good versus evil”, “with us or against us”. The insight that the world – and, especially, the Middle East - is much more complicated is a good start; but much more will be needed if this US administration is to repair the years of malign neglect displayed by its predecessor towards the Middle East peace process. To undo the damage done to American soft power in the world at large, and the Islamic world in particular, words will have to be translated into action – and, in view of the inherent complexities and dilemmas contained within the objectives Obama has set himself, this will be a thankless task indeed.

As numerous pundits haven’t failed to point out, the Cairo speech was indeed based on a deep understanding of what irks the Muslim and Arab world today. Gazing back at their long-lost golden age, Islamic – and Arab – societies do have this sense of greatness lost, and a fear of globalisation-as-Westernisation. Those portions of the speech expressing respect for the immense cultural heritage of Islamic civilisation, and the West’s endebtedness towards it, were clearly aimed at tackling the wounded pride so useful to radical Islamists. The shift in rhetoric on Iran was equally dramatic – with a clear acknowledgment of the historical fears that have acted as the primary drivers of Iran’s anti-Western stance, and its decades-old quest for nuclear weapons. And, while acknowledging the "unbreakable" bond between the United States and Israel, president Obama did, in unprecedentedly frank language, criticise the building of settlements, by Zionist extremists, in the Occupied Territories. The sufferings and humiliations of the Palestinians were, again, acknowledged in ways that would have been unthinkable only a year ago, balanced by an admonition to radical groups like Hamas to disavow violence. This president’s commitment to a two-state solution (admittedly one of his predecessor’s rare positive legacies) was equally made crystal-clear. Issues like democratisation and women’s rights also figured prominently, balanced by a commitment to respecting the cultural specificity of Middle Eastern and Islamic societies. All-in-all, the speech combined America’s immense power with something that had been absent in recent years – humility, and the realisation that the US must speak softly in this world precisely because it carries a big stick.

But how is this ambitious programme going to be put into action? Words are not enough, and many gaping questions remain after the speech; the objectives set by this administration are a tangled web of potential contradictions and complex dilemmas that would have to be resolved successfully if good intentions are not to drown in that merciless swamp called the 'Middle East'.

What is this administration going to do about a nuclearised Iran? Acknowledging Tehran’s deeply-held motives for acquiring the bomb is one thing, dissuading them from their path is quite another. Bombing Iran seems to be off the table - at least for now; does this indicate Washington has reconciled itself with the possibility of a nuclear Iran, its declarations to the contrary notwithstanding? It might very well have to, as mastering nuclear technology seems to be one of Tehran's strategic imperatives, surrounded as it is by official and unofficial nuclear powers. If that is the case, what is Obama's plan B? Extended nuclear deterrence - providing a nuclear umbrella to its non-nuclear allies in the region? Certainly, this would be the only way to stop a regional nuclear arms race - but does the United States truly have the stomach to make such a wide-ranging commitment in this regional hornets' nest?

Obama's stated commitment to democracy is equally problematic. There has been much talk recently of the US taking on the role of ‘offshore balancer’ in the Middle East (once it withdraws from Iraq) by increasingly acting through its allies and proxies (as it currently does in much of East Asia) – but that would mean increased strategic reliance on these allies, most of whom are far from democratic; how does that combine with Obama’s stated commitment to democratisation and human rights? How exactly will this administration balance this universalist democratic commitment to cultural specificity? Will the Obama administration recognise democratically elected governments headed or dominated by radical groups like Hezbollah and Hamas – something strongly hinted at in the speech (“Hamas must take responsibility”)? Then there is the ever-present problem of modernisation-as-Westernisation; even if the United States does not impose its values as forcefully as before, it will, by default, remain the dominant cultural force in the processes of globalisation that affect all Middle Eastern societies, continuing to elicit reactions from traditionalists. While America as a Jeffersonian city-on-the-hill, with values you take or leave at your own behest, certainly represents progress over a United States that will ram 'freedom' down your throat, if need be, there are things even the Obama can't control.

Above all, however, there is that hornets' nest called Israel/Palestine. It is clear that Obama intends to take a more balanced approach to what is the region's longest-running conflict. This administration also seems to view the Middle East as an integrated security complex, whose different conflicts are intensely interrelated, necessitating an equally integrated approach. If you want peace in Israel/Palestine, you need to include Syria and Iran, alongside Israel and the Palestinians, in your calculations. This means either driving a wedge between the Damascus and Tehran (thus physically separating the Iranians from the Western Levant), something that has been tried unsuccessfully on many occasions, or coming to some kind of agreement that satisfies the Iranians, the Syrians, the Palestinians, the Israelis, and AIPAC. Already, there are voices in Congress criticising Obama's opposition to settlements; meanwhile, victories by Hezbollah in Lebanon and Ahmedi-Nejad in Iran may very well remind us that in the Middle East, the next crisis is always around the corner. In final analysis, it seems Obama will need all the luck he can get if his good intentions are not to drown in the quicksands of the Arabian desert.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stereotype Wonderland, and the Rubbish-Bin of History

One of the attractions of the Caucasus for anyone trying to make sense of security in the contemporary world is its marvellous complexity. South of the mountain chain, the three major ethnic groups bear cultures that at times display eerie similarities, even if they speak languages that are entirely unrelated. The emergence of Soviet Republics and nation-states has evened out the intricate, intermingled patchwork of ethnic settlement that characterised the Caucasus in the pre-modern period, and narrow nationalism has created and upheld an almost entirely fictional myth of historical-territorial homogeneity, one that does much to drive regional conflict. In Armenia, it is anathema today to admit that at the beginning of the 20th century, the Azeris formed a plurality in the province of Erevan. Conversely, Azeris don’t like to be reminded of the fact that a majority of Nakhichevan’s population was Armenian at the beginning of the Soviet period, not to mention the demographics of Karabakh. Georgian nationalists, finally, bristle at the suggestion that ¾ of Tbilisi’s population was ethnic Armenian at the end of the 18th century, or that the Azeri majority in Kvemo-Kartli might be anything except a result of foreign intrusion.

An idealised image has emerged of homogenous, nation-state like entities that were, supposedly, the forerunners of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The real tragedy is that these ideas have translated into territorial identities that overlap to a great degree: with millennia of history to trudge over, each group takes a historical best-case scenario and translates it into a territorial idea that overlaps with the neighbour’s. To Georgian nationalists, their historical territory is Georgia under David the Builder, or perhaps even Queen Tamar – incorporating large tracts of today’s Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. To Armenian nationalists, the historical ideal is that of pre-Christian, Artaxiad Armenia – reaching from the Southern shores of the Caspian, and deep into Eastern Anatolia. To Azeri nationalists, it seems any region ruled by a Turkic-Muslim khan at some point in the last few centuries qualifies as historical “Azerbaijan”. Especially when it comes to historical borderlands – like Javakheti and South Ossetia – the wonderful thing for nationalist historiographers is that they can never be wrong: pick the right period and you’ll find that this or that territory ‘belongs’ to the ‘right’ ethnic group – your own.

While a just tiny – and slightly deranged - minority in each of these states seriously considers restoring these territories, the way they have been integrated into the local historical narratives nevertheless serves to exacerbate conflict and distrust. In Georgia, the image schoolchildren often receive in their history lessons is that of the gradual decline of Tamar’s unified Georgian kingdom under constant Muslim attack, and large-scale immigration – in places like Ossetia and Javakheti. In Armenia, the main story is one of a thousand-year Turkic encroachment into historical territories following the fall of Ani, culminating in the 1915 Genocide. In Azerbaijan, Armenians are routinely depicted as foreign intruders into the Southern Caucasus, cunningly chipping away at Azeri lands by abusing their presumed hosts’ hospitality. With each nationalist narrative expanding historical territory to the maximum extent possible, the principal (and inevitable) lesson one gains from this is one of territorial loss at the hands of one’s neighbours.

Added to this paranoia-generating view of history, are the many stereotypes that infest all societies in the region. In short, Georgians see Armenians as cunning, uncouth, unreliable (pro-Russian!), materialist crooks, while Armenians hate them right back by describing them as lazy, pompous, unreliable (pro-Turkish!), ostentatious, rash good-for-nothings with a penchant for elaborate banquets and long toasts. To Armenians, Azeris are axe-wielding barbarian baby-killers from Mongolia whose only mission in life is to conquer Armenian lands, while to the Azeris, the Armenians are a bunch of lying psychopaths with an innate, sadistic fondness for terrorism and a masochistic obsession with supposedly invented Genocides. To each of the ethnic groups, the other is, moreover, absolutely uncultured. “They don’t have a culture of their own, they stole it [our music, our food, our poetry, our architecture...] from us” is something you hear everywhere in the Caucasus. Depressingly, what sounds as a grotesque caricature is, actually, far too close to the truth for comfort. These stereotypes appear and reappear in local discourse, over and over again, in different guises, refined and recycled by people of authority – politicians, “social scientists”, “historians”, “artists”. Only in a few (very few) enlightened places does it dawn on people that the similarities in their cultures – rather than being the result of cultural kleptomania on the others’ part – might be the result of centuries of symbiosis.

Where does all this bigotry come from? It is quite clear by now that the story of ‘ancient tribal hatreds’ doesn’t measure up, either in the Balkans or in the former Soviet Union. The nationalisms we see in the Caucasus today are a product of modernity; and part of the problem is that modernity was introduced into the Southern Caucasus, for the most part, by a totalitarian entity called the Soviet Union. As formerly agrarian societies industrialised and urbanised, Georgians, Azeris and Armenians were subjected to the vagaries – and contradictions – inherent in Soviet nationalities policy. And the Soviets, as is commonly known, had a very essentialised view of ethnicity; idiotic concepts like ‘national character’, ‘national psychology’, or even the particularly fascistoid ‘national gene-pool’ ("genofond") are still used in these societies today as reminders of a uni-dimensional, totalitarian mindset. Historiography and ethnography were – like any other ideological endeavour – state monopolies, and historians in various republics thus sought to construct orthodox histories that, on the one hand, conformed to Soviet ideology, and, on the other hand, reinforced their respective Republics’ claim to historical territory and an artificially distilled, processed and essentialised ‘national culture’.

The Soviet Union aimed at producing republican cultures that were ‘national in form, and socialist in content’; instead it produced national cultures that were totalitarian in form, and incompatible in content. As long as universalist Communism was the official state ideology, the long-term goal of constructing a ‘homo sovieticus’ did act as something of an integrating counter-balance to these narrow nationalist narratives. Exit the Soviet Union, and the result was an orgy of nationalist historical revisionism – still within that old Soviet totalitarian mindset, but with an even more exclusivist, chauvinist and parochial outlook. Why is one surprised, then, when Armenian politicians describe Armenians and Azeris as “genetically incompatible”, or when their Azeri counterparts coolly suggest the Armenian minority in Karabakh should just pack up and leave if it doesn’t want to be included in Azerbaijan? Or when regional historians produce histories that systematically maximise their own suffering, while minimising the pain of others? Or, most absurdly, even deny the very existence of the other side?

Ultimately, it is up to the Southern Caucasian societies to decide on whether to continue down that self-destructive path of mutual recrimination, consigning themselves to the status of small, miserable and endlessly bickering tribes. The alternative is to listen to those who advocate an alternative view that rejects a black and white vision of the region in favour of colour and complexity - and, luckily enough, those voices do exist in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. They should be encouraged by a West that has, in the name of 'national sensitivities', so far been much too tolerant of the garbage produced by some local 'historians', commentators and 'political scientists' pandering to the nationalist orthodoxies advocated by their respective regimes. Propaganda masquerading as history, and bigotry packaged as policy, should be confined to the rubbish-bin of history through relentless critique, and, where necessary, ridicule.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Killing the Messenger.....(2)

As I said in the previous post on Harut Sassounian’s article, it would be rash and unfair to reject out of hand the recommendations made by the International Crisis Group in its recent report on the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement. The ICG is among those think-tanks with a proven track record in studying security and conflict in the Caucasus, and what this Brussels-based organisation says should be taken seriously instead of being approached with emotional bluster and an a priori reference to its Turkish connections. This does not imply, however, that the substance of its report is beyond criticism – far from it. For while the overall content of the report presents a positive contribution to the complex puzzle of Turkish-Armenian relations, it nevertheless displays deficiencies that cannot be ignored and must be substantively addressed.

Looking at the recommendations themselves (those to the Turkish and Armenian sides), one is struck by their apparent (? - see below) symmetry – they mirror each other almost perfectly. For every demand to the Turkish side, there is one for the Armenian side. The document proposes a series of practical steps aimed at increasing trust between both sides. It asks both governments to prepare public opinion for a normalisation and to cultivate pro-settlement constituencies in the other’s society. Turkey is asked not to penalise Armenia for third-party statements on the genocide; Armenia is requested to avoid statements and international actions that might inflame Turkish public opinion. While Turkey is urged to decouple the Karabakh issue from the normalisation process, Armenia is asked to work towards a resolution of the conflict, including a withdrawal from the occupied territories. Yerevan is also urged to recognise the Kars treaty, while Ankara is asked to do more to preserve the Armenian heritage on its territory, for instance, by co-operating with its neighbour in the preservation of Ani. Finally, both sides are urged start joint studies of their shared history (particularly around 1915), to open their archives, and modernise their textbooks.

The outrage felt by some Armenians of the more nationalist persuasion is quite understandable, and, in some cases, justifiable. It is understandable, because the ICG touches upon several sacred cows of Armenian nationalism – the inapplicability of the Kars treaty, the inviolability of the narratives surrounding the period between 1914 and 1923, the view of the buffer zone around Karabakh as untouchable ‘liberated’ Armenian territory, among others. However, the ICG is right in challenging and de-reifying such ethno-nationalist discourse from a purely political point of view that aims to practically engender a normalisation of Turkish-Armenian relations, and the howls of outrage expressed by Armenian nationalists of all stripes deserve to be ignored.

The Kars treaty is a valid treaty under international law, and Armenia, as a successor state of the Soviet Union, is legally bound by it; those who continue frantically waiving an earlier treaty that was never ratified by anyone and does not have any force of law are trapped in hopeless self-delusion. While the extermination of the Armenians by the Ottoman state is an undeniable fact, it is used by many of our nationalists to uphold a crudely essentialised stereotype of the evil, barbarian Turk versus the good, civilised Armenian that deserves to be discredited. And while the buffer zone around Mountainous Karabakh should be given up only at a very high price, it remains a legitimate bargaining chip in negotiations with Azerbaijan – in fact, the most important bargaining chip of all, one whose non-negotiability would seriously hamper the negotiations process and the establishment of a lasting, secure and just peace for Karabakh and its population.

However, there are three major shortcomings in its study that deserve criticism, not from a narrowly ethno-nationalist viewpoint, but from a more universalist perspective. Firstly, the ICG fails to forcefully call on Turkey to remove the one major impediment to a fruitful dialogue between the Armenian and Turkish societies and a deepening of the crucial process of self-reflection that would be necessary for a multi-faceted understanding by Turkish society of the Armenian genocide – article 301. Secondly, the study contradicts itself and disturbs its prima-facie even-handedness by calling on Yerevan to deliver something it cannot deliver on its own – progress in the Karabakh talks. And, thirdly, the study makes a mistake often made by think-tanks – including, contrary to its stated aims, the ICG – of completely disregarding the ethical aspects of its recommendations: in fact, in situations where guilt and responsibility are unevenly distributed, aiming for symmetry in one’s counsel may turn out to be fundamentally unjust, as it is in this case.

The ICG is right in calling for a dialogue on the Genocide between the Turkish and Armenian societies. Crucially, it rejects the idea of a bilateral ‘Genocide commission’ as impracticable and inevitably too politicised. The construction of new narratives is dependent, first and foremost, on the free transnational interaction of Turks and Armenians, including historians, political scientists, politicians, ordinary citizens. Contrary to what many would think, this does not automatically denote some kind of conspiracy aiming to scuttle the recognition of the Genocide in third countries. Rather, it denotes a view – expressed by Hrant Dink, among others – that the time has come for Armenians to engage directly with Turkish society. I had the honour of meeting the late Mr. Dink a few years ago, and he made the convincing point that Turkey had changed, that some people were prepared to talk and listen. While the recognition campaigns in third countries did play a role in raising the Armenian question outside and within Turkey, without such direct engagement and a major rethink of how the Genocide issue is handled, the Armenians’ ultimate aim – recognition by Turkish state and society – will remain an unattainable goal.

In that respect, the ICG’s failure to more forcefully call on Turkey to abolish 301, or at least end its applicability to the Armenian Genocide, remains a major, unacceptable omission. How are Turks and Armenians going to freely construct compatible narratives if those Turks who depart from nationalist orthodoxy are put through a criminal process – as were the initiators of the internet-based apology campaign? Ultimately, article 301 is a symptom of a deeper-seated problem – that of a nationalism that is based on the politics of ‘my-country-right-or-wrong’. How could there be true Armenian-Turkish reconciliation of those Turks that reject this approach so central to the historical reconciliations in contemporary Europe are persecuted and stigmatised, like Hrant Dink was in the final years of his life?

The second problematic demand by ICG is for Armenia to ‘produce’ progress in the Karabakh negotiations. Contrary to all demands made on Turkey – whose performance is dependent on Ankara alone - Yerevan is thus asked to deliver something it would not be able to produce on its own – save if it capitulated its positions here and now. The complexities of the Karabakh negotiations process should be well-known to ICG by now, and it does seem contradictory to ask Turkey to decouple the normalisation process from Baku, only to re-couple this issue through ICG’s demands on Armenia. While this may at first seem like a Solomonic solution to an admittedly difficult problem, it does strike one as a return to square one – the issue is still being coupled, not by Turkey, but by ICG. This recommendation should have remained in a separate report on the Karabakh conflict: the problem here is that ICG is, willingly or unwillingly, giving in to Turkish ethno-nationalism, the main (but not only) driver behind Ankara’s near-unconditional relationship with Azerbaijan, and its coupling of the Karabakh issue with its Armenian policies.

The third problem in ICG approach is one that is found within almost all policy-oriented think-tanks: an almost-complete absence of ethical considerations. ICG approaches the issue of Turkish-Armenian rapprochement primarily in practical terms; the central question asked is how one can maximise the chances of such a normalisation taking place by producing a report that is maximally balanced in its demands from both sides. ‘Justice’ does not seem to figure in the think-tank’s vocabulary; and this is not so much a question of malice or bias, rather, it is a result of the generally complete absence of ethical thought among most mainstream think-tanks (ICG’s claims notwithstanding). This, in turn, reflects the precarious position of ‘the ethical’ in the international system, where ‘justice’ is usually not among states’ and policymakers’ primary considerations. Politics is still very much a practical art, and save for a few critical theorists – mostly working in academia – both analysts and policymakers see ethics as an interesting sideshow to the blood, sweat and tears that that art is all too often based on.

So how should Armenians take the ICG’s recommendations? Surely, as the aggrieved party in what was – all of ICG’s cynical quotation marks and qualifications notwithstanding – the 20th century’s first major genocide, they could not accept recommendations that do not differentiate between victim and perpetrator? Such a rejection, however, would be based on an entirely mistaken conception of international politics – which, all lofty intensions and declarations by Western states notwithstanding, is still based on the above-mentioned blood-sweat-tears triad. As Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, Michael Douglas once advised a Wall Street novice to get a dog if he wanted a friend. If Armenia is to survive – no, thrive – in the unstable and dangerous 21st century, it would have to similarly understand that there is just as much justice in international politics (on which think-tank reports are after all based) as there is friendship on Wall Street.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Killing the Messenger.....

The ICG report on Turkish-Armenian relations has elicited considerable comment from the Armenian press - including the diasporan press. Some of the criticisms have been to the point, directly engaging with the solutions offered in the document through rational argumentation and critique. Others, however, have utilised a technique well-known to wishful thinkers throughout history: if you don't like what you hear, kill the messenger. Rather than engaging with the proposals, these commentators have preferred to tarnish the professionalism of the ICG researchers by accusing them of, basically, working for the Turkish government and other vested interests.

One such example is the recent op-ed article by Harut Sassounian, entitled "Think Tank Report on Armenia: You Get What You Pay For". It starts by listing a whole slew of mainstream - and mostly quite respected - institutions, going from one-time hotbeds of neo-conservatism (like the American Enterprise Institute) to fairly moderate outfits like Brookings and the Council on Foreign Relations, that are accused of pro-Turkish bias. It then continues to enumerate the pro-Turkish and Turkish individuals that populate the ICG board and senior advisors, adding that the Turkish foreign ministry is one of the ICG's major donors.

The implication is, of course, that the ICG report was made-to-order. And, considering the fact that there are no Armenians or other individuals who might argue in Armenia's favour, Sassounian's article further implies that we can all sleep tight: any kind of proposal that would come out of this joke of a think-tank would have to be "outrageous" and "extremely detrimental to Armenia's interests." Somewhat conveniently, those suggestions that do not fit our narrowly conceived nationalist utopias are sent straight to the rubbish bin, without any further debate or contemplation. The certainties of yesteryear are preserved, and the struggle can continue.

For years, decades, we Armenians – especially those of us in the diaspora – have taken a rigid definition of the ‘Armenian Cause’ for granted. While there can be no doubt as to the characterisation of the 1915 events as Genocide, one particular, ethno-nationalist and territorial approach to its political and ethical consequences has been turned into a value in and of itself. A blatant lack of open discussion has led to an obfuscation of the different interpretations one could make of ‘justice’ in the Armenian case. Should the ‘Armenian Cause’ be material in nature, incorporating demands for restitution, or should it be merely a moral quest for truth? If it is material, would it indeed have to incorporate demands for territorial restitution, and, if it is not, could it limit itself to monetary compensation, or perhaps even symbolic gestures? And, if we do agree on the goal that should be set, what would be the best way of attaining it? Striving for recognition by third parties - as before? Direct engagement with Turkish society? Engagement with Ankara? War, massacre and conquest? What should be the role of the diaspora in this cause? And the role of the Republics of Armenia and Karabakh?

All these are questions that deserve answers going beyond the repetitions of empty and not-so-empty slogans that imbue us with a false sense of certainty. What is a matter for particular concern is the fact that these slogans, and the 'Armenian Cause', have not been adapted to the single-most important event in Armenian history since 1918 - the creation of the Republics of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in 1991. "Pahanjatirutyun" - being consistent in our demands - has been used as a passe-partout argument suppressing any genuine debate on the matter. Those who have presented an alternative viewpoint - participating in TARC, or otherwise engaging directly with Turkish society - have often been marginalised as 'traitors'.

Too many of our commentators in the diaspora and Armenia proper have continued adhering to a world-view that turns Armenia - a weak and fragile state except perhaps in the minds of those who revel in wishful thinking - into a vehicle for a utopian nationalist ideology. Rather than striving for the security - that is, the well-being and prosperity - of its population, the Republic of Armenia has simply been seen by too many as a vehicle for our pie-in-the-sky demands - as I said, "Pahanjatirutyun" - even if they are but complete pipedreams and put the Republic at odds with what is still its largest direct neighbour.

Stateless peoples can afford their utopias – because, in the end, they don’t have a state to lose. They can afford to pursue goals that seem largely unattainable, because, in the absence of sovereign statehood, the ensuing conflict will largely remain outside the realm of inter-state politics. Borders cannot be blockaded, national armies cannot be defeated, capitals cannot be conquered: instead, oppressive states are faced with minority insurgent groups that are far more difficult to suppress than a well-defined, well-delineated neighbour - especially if these groups are in diaspora.

Once achieved, however, the independence and sovereignty that come with a minority’s exercise of its fundamental right to self-determination do not stand on their own. They are accompanied by the same kind of responsibility that comes with property: that of the bonus paterfamilias – the good housefather. Independence must be maintained, prosperity nurtured. In the end, nations that achieve statehood must have a fundamentally different attitude to those aspiring to it. They must see statehood as their ultimate common good, as their dominant collective cause. The survival and prosperity of the sovereign state must trump all other ideological considerations. ‘National causes’ – particularly ones aimed against neighbours – become a luxury, subject to power relationships and the ultimate Macchiavellian virtue of prudence.

In the 18 years since independence, the nationalists among us have failed to adapt their ideology to the requirements of a sovereign, independent, prosperous and genuinely pluralistic Republic of Armenia. Instead, they have continued defining its core principle – the ‘Armenian Cause’ – through a mindset of statelessness. They have continued to see Armenia as a springboard towards the realisation of a territorial utopia – by not only supporting Artsakh’s legitimate struggle for self-determination, but by also laying claim to territories in all of Armenia’s neighbours except Iran. They have continued to propagate the idea of an (ethno-)national ideology, despite of the notion’s totalitarian and fundamentally anti-democratic nature, precluding any form of debate and introspection.

And killing the messenger instead of debating the message is precisely one symptom of such rigidly absolutist thought. If you adhere to any of ICG's suggestions after the institution has been declared a Turkish stooge, you in effect adhere to Turkey's standpoint - debate closed. This is the clear implication of Mr. Sassounian's article.

For all his faults - and he had and still has many - Levon Ter-Petrossian was absolutely right when he declared in 1997:

“What do they mean by a national ideology? Only one thing which the whole nation should accept. A whole nation accepts one single ideology only in totalitarian systems, only in ideologized states. If there is democracy, no one can impose any ideology. Today, every ideology in Armenia is a national one to me, because each of them projects the best way of solving the national issues in itself. If a nation is forced to accept a national ideology, that is the end of democracy.”