Second part - “To Forget” Tigran the Great and Create Values
On August 15, 2020 – a month and a half before the war – Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement expressing “unconditional support” to Greece and Cyprus and urging Turkey take steps to reduce the tension in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey responded by saying that the Armenians seemed to confuse the Mediterranean with Lake Sevan. “After the provocative statement of Armenia on the Treaty of Sevres, the latter’s opinion on the Eastern Mediterranean is another example of boundless irresponsibility,” said the Turkish Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson.
A month later, I met with a senior Armenian diplomat and expressed bewilderment on why we were taking such “bold” steps. In response, I heard that there was no need to worry, the Armenian FM had just returned from Egypt where he had been warmly received by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi who was “forming an anti-Turkish front”.
Speaking about Turkey’s role at a news conference in Cairo on September 13, Armenian FM Zohrab Mnatsakanyan said, “We are witnessing their attempts of military accumulation. We are receiving information about the use of foreign terrorist militants who will be transported to Azerbaijan or may have already been transported. We are witnessing a large military presence, military strengthening. All these are actions that undermine the efforts for peace and stability in the region.”
Two weeks later the war broke out with the participation of Turkey and terrorist militants, and Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi did not help us with anything, although on September 30 Armenia’s President wrote a letter to him, asking “to use his ties and authority in international platforms to stop the bloodshed and human sufferings a minute earlier.”
In the second part of the series I wrote about a huge gap between our ambitions and real opportunities. Unfortunately, the above mentioned is one of the proofs of that.
Nikol Pashinyan’s government, of course, stands out for its exceptional dilettantism and infantilism in foreign policy issues. But the examples of irresponsibility have deep roots.
In summer 2013, when it was already felt that Moscow decided to oppose Armenia’s plan to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union, a European diplomat invited me to dinner. When I said that something goes wrong, he said, “The Armenian side assured us that it does not have a Plan B.” Plan A was to sign the Association Agreement. I said that you should always have a Plan B, even if you are sure that you will succeed with the A.
Two months after this conversation, Serzh Sargsyan announced in Sochi about the “emerged” Plan B – membership to the Customs Union. When I was trying to understand why this happened, an Armenian diplomat gave such a seemingly unbelievable explanation: “Well, we started the active phase of the process during Medvedev’s presidency and at that time the Russians did not tell us that they were against it.” This is almost a literal quote.
During the war we all wondered why we were left alone, why we were so little supported. On the second day of the war, a man who previously held an influential position in the Russian media sent me a personal message: “We are all with you and we are very worried for your country.” I also thought, if “you are all with us,” why don’t you say it publicly?
After the end of the war, I came to some conclusions on a colder head. Let’s put aside the geopolitical issues for a moment and try to understand why foreigners “do not like” us or “like less.”
First, because they do not know us.
The last major events aimed at making Armenia more recognizable took place in 2006 and 2007 – the Year of Armenia in France and the Year of Armenia in Russia. Since I was involved in the organizational works of these events, I can state how much resources and energy were invested in them.
One of the biggest achievements was the Armenia Sacra (“Holy Armenia”) exhibition that lasted for several months in the Louvre. But 15 years have passed, and in the modern world you have to constantly present yourself, remind yourself.
The world changed, but we continued to live in the old ways. If 15-20 years ago people were spreading open letters and statements, today many sincerely believe that by putting a “crying smiley” they are expressing real compassion.
During the war, I often thought, well, why were the Russian intellectuals, who supported us so much during the years of the first Artsakh war, silent? Then I realized that the representatives of the old generation have either passed away or no longer have the previous influence, and we have not worked with the new generation.
When was the last time we invited modern Russian (French, German, Greek, you go on) writers, actors, musicians to Armenia?
We do not realize that the generation that read Andrey Bitov’s fantastic “Lessons of Armenia” is no longer active in Russia. And we do not give new “lessons.”
As ridiculous and painful as it is, in the days of the war Russia was embodied for us by three people – Vladimir Solovyov, Aram Gabrielyanov and journalist Semyon Pegov, sent to Artsakh by the latter. This is a real tragedy from which we have not drawn lessons.
A year has passed, during which we have not done anything to find new friends in Russia.
Let’s return to the topic of our unsubstantiated ambitions. It seems to us that the world owes us that we should be loved and cherished. But why? We must understand the simple truth that if we want to win the sympathy of the world, we must work consistently and hard in that direction. In general, after the last defeat, when we have not yet regained our hard power, we should focus on soft power. Turning to the topic of creating values discussed in the second part, let me offer an example.
We can turn the Matenadaran into a real world center for the protection of human heritage by developing a special national program and directing state and private funds for its implementation. Just as the Louvre has “branches” in different countries, so can the Matenadaran. Recently another scandal took place: US-based journalist Harut Sassounian accused the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem of leasing a plot of land for 99 years.
Theoretically, the Matenadaran branch could have been located on that land. I know how many complications there are in the relations between the Patriarchate and Holy Etchmiadzin, but I am sure that they can be solved in case of formulating big national programs.
We must be interesting to the outside world and interconnected with it. We have no other choice. If Azerbaijan gives oil and gas to the world, we must understand what we will give. If we do not give anything, we should not have any expectations.
The “Aurora” humanitarian initiative, founded by Vardan Gregoryan, Noubar Afeyan and Ruben Vardanyan, can serve as a good model. With its Armenian roots, it has managed to play a significant role in the field of international humanitarian industry in just six years. This year, U.S. President Joe Biden appointed Samantha Power as head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Samantha Power has been a member of the Aurora Prize Selection Committee since 2017, she visited Armenia, and these circumstances will undoubtedly have some impact on her work.
Let’s return to the political and geopolitical issues. After the end of the war, I wrote Lavrov, his “plan” and our negligence article, in which I presented Russia’s steps and statements during the five years before the war and the reactions of the Armenian side.
The article ended in this way:
“It is not a matter of changing Moscow’s policy (it was probably impossible), but of making some changes in our own. “Unfortunately, we did not realize its need without war and defeat.”
Unfortunately, we did not realize it a year later either. Our ideas (and expectations) about the possible role of Russia are based on memories of the early 90s (friendship of Vazgen Sargsyan and Pavel Grachev, etc.). We forget or do not want to realize that almost 30 (!!!) years have passed, a lot has changed in the world and in Russia.
For example, according to not denied publications, the director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Sergey Naryshkin has close ties with one of the leaders of the Azerbaijani Diaspora in Moscow, God Nisanov. Have we ever tried to create a counterbalance? Today the lobbyists of Armenia are the same people as 20-30 years ago. For example, State Duma MP Konstantin Zatulin. I think there is no need to explain that Zatulin and Naryshkin’s “weight categories” are incomparable.
Indignant at the alleged closeness of Naryshkin and Nisanov, we again proceed from the already mentioned notion that Russia owes us something. We do not understand that if it is in Russia’s interests to have good relations with Azerbaijan, Moscow will do everything to achieve that goal. To fight against this means to be like Don Quixote. Instead, we should try to form such a quality and volume of relations for Armenia and Azerbaijan be perceived in Moscow as more or less equivalent partners.
We want the world to know and love us, but we do almost nothing for it. For decades, it was possible to create educational programs of Armenian studies in Russian, US and European universities. It was possible to provide special free places in our universities and host several dozen students annually from Russia, the USA and Europe. Maybe as a result we would not have the situation when there are only 1-2 experts in the Western political science community who are more or less familiar with the internal developments in Armenia.
The same barren situation is inside our country. Do you know any serious Armenian political analyst who specializes exclusively in Russia, is aware of the events unfolding in Russia’s elites?
How are we going to build relations with Russia after the war and defeat? As I have already mentioned, we must pay great attention to the soft power and become more understandable for the Russian people. In the political platform, we must avoid a process called in political science circles “Kaliningradization.”
Some time after the war, the already mentioned Konstantin Zatulin said that “Armenia must become Russia’s Israel in the Caucasus.” This is a radically wrong concept: Israel is not “US Israel” in the Middle East, but “its own Israel.”
As in the current situation our options are strictly limited, I think that instead of “Kaliningradization” in the foreseeable future we should follow the path of conditional “Finlandization.” “Finlandization” is a term introduced by political analysts used to describe the relations between the Soviet Union and Finland after the Second World War. Mauno Kokvisto, elected as President of Finland in 1982, said:
“The fierce wars have taught the people of Finland that small nations must take into account the security interests of their big neighbor and be careful while building their future expecting the support of the other side of the ocean.”
As a conclusion
I wrote this series because I think we all need an honest dialogue. Moreover, this dialogue should not necessarily be politicized. We may or may not accept the government or the opposition, but we should not use that circumstance to justify our own inaction. Throughout history, mighty forces have always found the way, even in seemingly impossible situations.
First part - Strong and flexible economy should become our only ideology
Second part - “To Forget” Tigran the Great and Create Values
Ara Tadevosyan is Director of Mediamax.