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Review & Outlook - 08/12/2003

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Armenian News Network / Groong
August 12, 2003

By Asbed Kotchikian

The definition of foreign policy is a very broad one. It may be
implemented on groups, organizations (political or otherwise),
nations, and in the most common and traditional sense, states. In our
modern world, the need to conduct foreign policy has become one of the
most pressing issues for any government. Foreign policy is the method
by which the international community recognizes a country. It is also
the major venue through which countries engage in self-promotion,
pursuing political, economic or other agendas.

The formulation and conduct of foreign policy is very much a
reflection as well as a component of the realities and the needs of
the country, which is conducting said policies. As such, geography,
economy, culture and of course history play determining roles in
shaping a country's foreign policy priorities and orientation.

Armenia's foreign policy is influenced by the factors mentioned above.
However, there is also another dimension of conducting a successful
foreign policy in Armenia, a very unique phenomenon, and that is the
Diaspora factor.


Without a doubt, the ability of Armenia to conduct an influential (but
not necessarily successful) foreign policy is very much dependent on
the dispersed Armenian communities all over the world. Compared to
most of the former Soviet republics, Armenia has the most exposure in
foreign media stemming from the relentless efforts of the Diasporan
Armenians. Since the first days of independence, the majority of the
Diasporans have supported the foreign policy efforts of the new
republic (The fact that the first and current foreign affairs
ministers are Diaspora Armenians could be considered the epitome of
this support). As a result, Armenia was able to receive economic and
humanitarian aid from foreign groups and institutions, as well as
combat the efforts of big business and oil companies in the lobbying
war against Azerbaijan.

It is a fact that small and new states face various challenges in
conducting their foreign policies. One such obstacle is the financial
limitations encountered when trying to establish foreign embassies and
consulates. Also, financial constraints hamper small states from
investing considerable amounts of money in various diplomatic
activities (a good survey of this issue is a study commissioned by the
United Nations Institute for Training and Research titled `Small
States and Territories: Status and Problems'.)  Armenia has benefited
from the various Armenian communities all over the world as those
communities provide physical space for the embassies, and in some
cases even incur the monetary costs of various embassy activities.

While it is not important for small states to have an embassy in every
single country in the world, having representatives in as many of them
as possible helps boost the image of the country vis-à-vis its rivals
and neighbors. For those countries that do not have the capabilities
necessary to conduct individual diplomatic relations with various
countries, international organizations, such as the UN or the OSCE
provide forums for interaction with other countries without the burden
of supporting individual embassies. In this sense the role of Armenian
communities to help set up and to support embassies in their home
countries has been a major factor in the conducting of a balanced
foreign policy not only with major actors in the international
community (USA, UK, France, Russia, etc.) but also with mid-range or
regional powers (Argentina, Canada, Syria, Iran, Egypt, etc), which
provided Armenia with economic and trade benefits.

Consequently, the role of the Diaspora in assisting the mechanism and
procedures of Armenia's foreign policy is very important, and is an
issue acknowledged by both Armenia and the Armenian communities around
the world.  Without a doubt, the support of the Diaspora has
facilitated a great deal of Armenia's diplomatic ventures around the
world, but it has also alleviated the financial burden accompanying
such undertakings.


The formulation and shaping of foreign policy is the essence of any
state's orientation and relations vis-à-vis its neighbors, regional
powers, international super-powers and international organizations.
The development of a foreign policy strategy or orientation in any
country is based on various factors in that country. The formulation
of foreign policy itself is dependent on different variables some of
which include the geographic location and geography of the country,
the state of the economy, security issues and the overall well-being
of the state itself. All these factors are sometimes referred to as
Realpolitik, corresponding to the conduct of politics in a realist way
without being influenced by emotion, ideology, religion or historical

In the case of Armenia the shaping of foreign policy based on
Realpolitik is difficult but not impossible. The difficulty arises
from the fact that the Diaspora factor and their demands play an
important role in Armenia's foreign policy, or at least in the foreign
policy of the current Armenian administration. Moreover the factors
shaping the Diaspora's understanding and conducting of foreign policy
are more subjective rather than objective.  What is meant by
subjective is the burden of history that Diasporan Armenians carry
with them. A good example of the burden of history is the issue of the
Genocide and Turkish-Armenian relations. For the Diaspora, or at least
a large section of the Diaspora, as well as a number of Armenians from
Armenia, Turkey remains the default enemy, which not only refuses to
accept its responsibility for the Genocide and the subsequent
dispersion of Armenians all over the world, but also engages in an
active policy of denial, a policy which certainly strengthens the
position of Diasporan Armenians who see Turkey as that default
enemy. Fueling these feelings is Turkey's continuous blockade of
Armenia and its insistence on putting forward preconditions to
normalize ties with Armenia. Consequently, any agreement that the
Armenian government makes with Turkey is viewed with skepticism by the
Diaspora, which considers the recognition of the genocide by Turkey to
be a starting point of bilateral state-to-state relations.

For their part, foreign policy makers and formulators in Armenia view
Turkey as a regional power and a neighbor with which Armenia must
establish diplomatic relations and engage in political and economic
activities with.  In this formula, the issue of history's burden is
not forgotten, but is put on the backburner, or at least used as a
card to exert pressure on Turkey.  However the main dilemma facing
Armenia's foreign policy makers is how to balance Realpolitik with the
wishes and demands of the Diaspora, which contributes tremendously to
the various economic and social development plans and projects in the

The method of handling this dilemma varied between the administrations
of Levon Ter-Petrossian and Robert Kocharian. In the first years of
independence, the Armenian government wanted to clarify to the
Armenians that it was not a pan-Armenian government but it was the
government of the Republic of Armenia and had to think about its
citizens and the realities of the country rather then the wishes and
demands of the Diaspora. However, this policy did not mean that
Armenia did not need the Diaspora or that it is not interested in
cooperating with it on various levels. Moreover the appointment of a
Diasporan as the first foreign minister of the new republic, Raffi
Hovannisian, as well as the appointments of other Diasporans as
various advisors, showed a clear desire to include the Diaspora in the
various processes of government in the Third Republic. However, just
as there was fallout between the Diasporan foreign minister and the
President, the relations between Diaspora and Armenia faced similar
pressures. The main point of contestation was Armenia's relations with
Turkey, and as mentioned above, that proved to be the dividing line
between the Armenian state and the Diaspora.

Some sections of the Diaspora, carrying the burden of history, refused
to support any pre-recognition relations and opposed Ter-Petrossian's
normalization attempts with Turkey, which eventually created a rift
between those and other sections in the Diaspora, and more importantly,
between Armenia and the `opposition' in the Diaspora. What ensued was
a classic battle of foreign policy orientations akin to similar
battles in any other country, the difference being that one of the
opposition groups had a different approach and understanding of
foreign policy, one which is based on history rather than Realpolitik.
It should come as no surprise that that opposition group was
Diaspora-based and not republic-based.

Eventually with the change of government in Armenia, the new
administration followed a more cautious policy with all the Diasporan
groups and a period of détente followed. It should be noted that a
careful examination of the foreign polices of both administrations
does not reveal a fundamental shift in agenda, and that the current
administration still pursues normalization of relations with
Turkey. However, the difference lies in the fact that the Kocharian
government was able to utilize anti-Turkish nationalist rhetoric to
appease and soothe the various opposition groups.

A very rough survey of Armeno-Turkish relations over the past two or
three years reveals increased activities between the two states to
break the existing deadlock between them and, more importantly, the
creation of a Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) to
include the Armenian Diaspora (or at least segments of it) in the
state-to-state dialogue. It is worthwhile to mention that the
composition of TARC completely ignored a large part of the Armenian
Diaspora, and also ignored nationalist anti-Turkish sentiment in
Armenia. Moreover the Turkish members in TARC were either hard-line
generals or career diplomats, a fact that made the Armenians view the
Commission with utmost suspicion.

The assumption that the governments of Armenia and Turkey had nothing
to do with the founding and activities of TARC comes across as very
naïve.  The statements issued by Armenia's foreign ministry at the
time stated that the Armenian government was aware of such activities,
but did not participate in, nor prevent them. This statement, along
with other strategies, was able to shift the criticism that TARC
received from several Diasporan institutions away from the government
and on the individual members of the commission itself. This is a
perfect example of how the current Armenian administration handles the
issue of Armenian-Turkish relations and avoids coming under fire by
the Diaspora.  This is especially true considering that those segments
opposed to any such activity, over the past years have become closely
identified with President Kocharian's administration; too much to be
able to attribute the TARC activities as attempts by the government
itself. Had the TARC activities been more closely associated with the
government, the opposition would have been to the administration
rather than the idea.

The Diaspora should not have any direct role in shaping or formulating
any of Armenia's foreign policies. This does not mean that it should
not have its say in it. On the contrary any advice or professional
support foreign policy makers in Armenia receive from the Diaspora
positions them make better-informed choices. Moreover, dictating the
foreign policy of a country is the prerogative of its citizens and
residents and as such if any Diasporan wants to become part of that
process than they should be part of the country itself.

What the Diaspora needs to understand is that at the end of the day it
is the realities facing Armenia that shape its foreign policy and that
process should not be held hostage by Diasporans or by the burden of

Asbed Kotchikian is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Boston
University and an instructor at Wheaton College. He spent two years
(2000-02) in Armenia and Georgia conducting research and teaching at
the local universities. Comments to the author may be be sent to

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