DIPLOMACY 101

Reflections from Washington DC
ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship 2008

Imagine this.

You are sitting around a conference table with a list of recommendations in front of you.

As the foreign minister of Armenia you have the responsibility to negotiate sovereignty for Nagorno- Karabakh. Delegates from Azerbaijan, Russia, the United States, France, and Nagorno- Karabakh surround the table all in an effort to bring peace and prosperity to the Southern Caucasus.

This was the situation the 2008 Leo Sarkisian interns found themselves–embroiled in an exercise on geopolitics and diplomacy–a "game," if you will, to gain greater insight to into the regional struggles, the political complexity and the maneuvering necessary to secure justice for the people of Nagorno Karabakh.

The rules of the game were established early on. Each intern represented an OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair country–Russia, France and the U.S. or the countries in conflict –Armenia, Azerbaijan or the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. The priorities and interests of each country varied based on political, social, and economic reasons. And the interns not representing Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh had to set aside their Armenian, roots, pride, and passion in order to get down to the business of diplomacy.

To better understand each country’s concerns and the geopolitical situation, we visited the Armenian embassy to meet with the Armenian Ambassador to the United States, Tatoul Markarian. Ambassador Markarian has intimate knowledge of the negotiations–having sat face to face with Minsk Group representatives and the Azerbaijan delegation both as Deputy Foreign Minister and now as Ambassador. The interns had done their research about the respective countries, but nothing beats first hand, insider information. We went to the Embassy armed with questions and left with greater insight into the process and situation.

Our advisor in the game was former ANCA Chairman and ARF leader Garo Armenian–a man who has meticulously followed the negotiation process and advised Armenian political leaders. In other words, this was as close to reality as six university students could get.

After weeks of research and preparation, we were finally ready to put our geopolitics knowledge to the test. As the representative from Russia, I had to work with the U.S. and France representatives to craft a list of recommendations around which negotiations could be held. This list was vital to setting the agenda, as the basis of the negotiations hinged on the acceptance of the list by all parties. Some points of interest included security guarantees from the international community, upholding the 1994 ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and representation for the Nagorno Karabakh Republic in the Minsk conference. Once we had finalized the document it was time to meet with, first, the Armenian and Nagorno Karabakh Republics, followed by the Azerbaijani government in order to appease all nations’ deman’s and interests.

All of the interns began to fall into their roles. The debate and negotiations between the co- chairs and the nations involved were passionate, at times heated, as all of us began arguing amongst ourselves for our nation’s best interest. The main points of each nation were established: Russia wanted to maintain its influence in the region; the U.S. wanted to obtain more influence in the region; France wanted to establish a stronger European presence in the region; Azerbaijan wanted Armenia to end its occupation of Azerbaijani lands; and Armenia and NKR sought self-determination for the people of Karabakh. We started off with nine recommendations–all which needed drastic alteration based on the concerns of the various nations.

And this was just to get the meeting agenda set — negotiations to set the boundaries of the negotiations. It all sounds easy before you start the process ‘s and then you realize that every point, every comma–IN THE AGENDA–is subject to argument.

And you realize that being right is simply not enough. You have to navigate through the toughest diplomatic waters–despite history, and truth in your favor–to achieve your goals. And that requires skill, a keen understanding of the competing interests at play and how to leverage your strengths.

The agenda was never set. After hours of negotiation and debate between the countries we couldn’t get the collective sign-off from the Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh. The process was long and arduous with roadblocks along the way. Some points of debate included Armenian forces being removed from Azerbaijan, Nagorno Karabakh getting a vote in the Minsk conference, and for the Karabakh Republic to stop its “expansion” into Azerbaijan. The representatives left the meeting unsatisfied all around, but committed to try again at moving the peace process forward.

To understand the situation between Armenian and its neighbors we need to ask ourselves where do we want to go as a nation and what is the best way to get there. The road to peace, sovereignty, and prosperity is a rocky one. The process is politically mangled as clear solutions appeasing all parties are hard to come by. It takes dedicated and motivated individuals to weave through the process to find sustainable solutions.

Our hats off to the Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh diplomats taking on this difficult task.

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