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.