Getting This Wrong Will Be Unforgivable

Armenia's former foreign minister Vartan Oskanian

Armenia's former foreign minister Vartan Oskanian

We are at a crossroads in our history. We have on the table the first bilateral document that the independent sovereign Republic of Armenia intends to sign with the Republic of Turkey. This is an unprecedented process that is far-reaching and irreversible.

Yet, the debate on the issue is going in the wrong direction. It is hugely insulting that high-level government officials can be this dismissive and trivializing on a matter that is so critical for our people.

There is no sense whatsoever in telling us that what we see is not what we get. It is not reasonable to spell out a set of specifics and then defend an incongruous but desirable interpretation. That is not how political documents work. It is indeed possible to write flexibly and loosely in order to allow both sides to interpret things differently. But this is not that document. This document, perhaps good intentioned, is formulated badly.

When the Armenian side says that although the protocol specifies recognition of today’s borders, that does not mean that we are renouncing past borders, that is absurd. That would be commensurate to the Turks saying, for example, that although there is reference to the border opening, that does not mean that Armenians will necessarily receive visas.
Or when the Armenian side says that the formulation about a sub-commission’s “examination of historical records and archives” does not mean they will study the genocide, this is like the Turkish side saying they will open the border, but not at Margara, but some 10-meter space somewhere near the 40th latitude and 45th longitude. Again, this is absurd.
The reality is that a good idea, a needed policy, a necessary move toward rapprochement has been negotiated poorly and framed dangerously. It is irresponsible of our government to force our people to make such choices about our present and our future.

The history of our relations (and non-relations) with Turkey has a pre-history and begins before Turkey’s closing of the Turkey-Armenia border in 1993.

After Turkey recognized Armenia as an independent republic in 1991, it laid down two clear conditions that had to be met by Armenia before it would establish diplomatic relations: Armenia was expected to renounce territorial claims on Turkey, and Armenia was to set aside or dismiss the genocide recognition process. (Turkey’s later proposal of a historic commission was the modification of this last condition.) In 1993, with the border closure in support of its brethren in Azerbaijan, Turkey added a new condition to the other two already existing, that Armenia renounce Nagorno Karabakh’s struggle for security and self-determination by conceding to an Azerbaijani-favorable solution.

To forget this pre-history, or to expect us to forget, or – worse – to pretend that Turkey has forgotten, is not serious. In the context of Turkey’s consistent policies about territorial issues, genocide recognition and Karabakh concessions, our public debate must revolve on the substance of what this protocol gives Armenians and what it takes away.

Even when signed, these protocols merely tell us Turkey’s willingness to enter into diplomatic relations and to open the border. The open border will become reality only after eventual parliament ratification.

But whether ratified or not, Turkey will still have received what it wanted. When signed, this protocol gives Turkey the opportunity to tell the world that Armenians have in fact conceptually relinquished territorial claims and are also ready to offer the genocide for bilateral study, therefore no third-party involvement, recognition or condemnation is in order.

As someone who has worked for such normalization both with Turkey and Azerbaijan, I would want nothing more than to see agreements, knowing full well they must come with difficult concessions. The negotiations about these concessions however should not endanger our future security nor violate our integrity and values.

We can and should, as the protocol says, ‘implement a dialogue on the historical dimension’ with ‘the aim of restoring mutual confidence’ but the way to do that is not by mandating an ‘impartial scientific examination of historical records’ as if all other examinations thus far have been neither impartial nor scientific. In earlier negotiations, we focused on creating an intergovernmental commission with the aim of overcoming the consequences of our tragic past.

Alternate, more dignified, wording is also possible on the border issue. We can and should, as the protocol says, ‘respect and ensure respect for the principles of equality, sovereignty, non-intervention in internal affairs of other states, territorial integrity and inviolability of frontiers.’ The focus on territorial integrity is the international formulation that protects concerns about frontiers, while not diminishing the right to pursue historical injustices. The current formulation about  ‘the mutual recognition of the existing border’ should have been avoided.

However, an equal risk in this document is the unwritten one. The link to Nagorno Karabakh. Unwritten perhaps, but clearly spoken at every turn are the repeated, continuing, unabated, undiminished affirmations of the highest Turkish and Azerbaijani officials who insist that Turkey will continue to defend the interests of Azerbaijan and nothing will be done, no border will open, until the Nagorno Karabakh settlement process begins to move in a direction that suits Azerbaijan.

In fact, expecting Turkey to move without considering Azerbaijan’s interests would be similar to expecting Armenia to move without considering Karabakh’s interests. This is not and was not a reasonable expectation.

In which case, if ratification is to take place, and if it’s to take place before the next Obama-April 24 deadline facing Turkey, then we can expect that Azerbaijan has received sufficient guarantees on the return of territories and on the status of Nagorno Karabakh.

These are the worrisome elements – both in the content of these documents, and in the hasty process that accompanies it – that cast doubt on the intent of the document. It also makes clear the readiness to lower the bar to reach an agreement, at questionable cost.

If this implies distrust on our part, that should be eminently understandable. On the Armenian side, those who crafted this document are insisting that it really means something other than what it says. On the other side, Turkey is to ‘refrain from pursuing any policy incompatible with the spirit of good neighborly relations,’ yet it continues to side with one neighbor Azerbaijan, against their other neighbor Armenia.

In other words, on the ground, nothing seems to have changed. Yet, the Armenian bar has clearly moved lower in the Armenia-Turkey negotiations, and therefore it is natural to assume that the same thing may be happening in the Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations.

This is the situation today, as we are presented documents not for and by third parties, as with the countless historical documents of the past where Armenia is a subject and not a party, but for the first time in history, a document in which Armenia is signing on to its own perceived place in history.

This document with such formulations should not be signed. Indeed, no one is authorized to sign this document with such formulations.


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  1. Realist said:

    Baron Oskanian hit the nail on the head.

    There is no question these protocols violate our rights and deface our history. For Sarkisian to sign the rights and memory of our 1.5 million martyrs away is irresponsible, cowardly and insulting.

    Upon signing these two sham protocols, Sarkisian will have earned his keep as
    another two-faced ‘tool’ of the West and will forever be remembered as the President who lost everything for nothing.

  2. Aram Suren Hamparian said:

    Consider this: In 1799 George Washington’s doctors may have correctly identified his last illness as pneumonia, but it was ultimately their “cure” (bloodletting 5 pints) that killed him. A diagnosis that Armenia faces economic challenges does not automatically compel us to accept the remedy of unilateral concessions offered in the recently proposed protocols.

  3. Garo Garabedyan said:

    The Armenian genocide is not purely an issue between Republic of Armenia and Turkey. Treating the first must contain policy for future genocide prevention. And having in mind the letter we must not accept a historical commission between countries of Armenia and Turkey, it will send a message to the all world that if you commit a genocide and the victim group has no state in the post-genocide era, you are free and no one will punish you for your crimes. Genocide is not a monopole of Jews or Armenians.
    In my opinion to accept historical commission is to recognize real politik as a winner in a battle with world’s collective conscience. Have you forgot the life of Raphael Lemkin and so many other activists for genocide punishment and prevention?

  4. Let us vote! said:

    If Democracy is the answer to Armenia’s development, then let us vote on these protocols. We must ALL have a say on this matter, Diaspora included.

    The Armenian Nation cannot sit by and allow the Armenian State to deprive us of our collective rights.

  5. Mher Arakelian said:

    Well put Mr. Oskanian! Your are most needed today in Armenia as our Foreign Minister. Apsos you are not there today.

    I look at this whole thing and I find myself having difficulty in believing that any Armenian President would agree to sign such a betraying document. So, I’m trying to convince myself that our President and our nation must be under tremendous pressure from the superpowers acting in the region. I’m trying to convince myself by saying that Russia, US & Europe have cornered our President and have left him with no choice. Regardless of me being right or wrong, we (diaspora & homeland Armenians) need to deliver one LOUD & CLEAR message to our government and to those superpowers who are trying to tear us apart by taking away our history, our rights and our dignity. WE need to STAND UP and do everything possible to deliver our message – WE DON’T FORGET THE PAST, GENOCIDE IS NOT NEGOTIABLE, OUR HISTORIC LANDS BELONG TO US & REPERATIONS WILL HAVE TO BE MADE. Obama, Medvedev, Gul and Mr. Sarkissyan, back off and don’t waiste your time. We will never ever let the opposite happen!

  6. mego said:

    Stop analyzing how deep of a mess we burried ourselves in, instead we should push on with our demands and change our nonsense approach for dealing with Turkey. One which is not based upon no-preconditions, Remember!

  7. Haro said:

    Everyone is asking for a All-National vote on this issue. But what if we all vote and the result concludes the ratification of these “khaydarag” protocols?
    I beleive we should denounce the actual signing of these protocols and force the S. Sargisyan government to denounce with us or resign from his post.

  8. Ishkhan Babajanian MD said:

    Dear Mr. President Sargsyan:

    The Armenian community in Armenia, Karabakh, and the Diaspora is duefully concerned that the agreement protocol between Turkey and Armenia does not represent Armenia’s national interests and harms Karabakh’s vitality and future. The best manner to redirect the course of these negotiations at this time would be to make notable amends to our foreign policy. Therefore, we as Armenians propose to replace our Minister of Foreign Affairs with a skillful politician who is well versed with international politics and dialogue. We have many competent Armenians who would be solid candidates such as Mr. Harout Sassounian, Mr. Aram Hamparian, Mr. Kenneth Hachikian and many other selfless compatriots They could provide useful consultation in external affairs and safeguard Armenia’s rights and Karabakh’s independence.
    Respectfully yours,
    Dr. Ishkhan Babajanian MD

  9. Haro said:

    I agree with Ishkhan Babajanian, as well as all the other comments. But my point was a inter-governmental strategic point, which may be more powerful than, for example, what Mr. Harout Sassounian and Vardan Oskanyan articles presuppose. Instead of waiting who will blink first in passing and not-ratifying these “khaytarag” protocol, we the Armenian people and major parties of the nation must get together to not even pass these protocols for consideration. For example, we should reject the consideration or hearing of these protocols in the parliament based on the illegality of the documents with respect to the Armenian national constitution. These kind of politic was used upon us by almost all Western and USA governments with regards to the Genocide Recognition hearing or consideration on the respective congress or parliament level, why should not we use these same tactic upon them.
    Or even better, a new set of Armenian National Foreign Policy protocols must be written (by the Armenian people) with regard to Turkey and Azerbeijan, which is favorable to all Armenians, and instead this new protocols must be put on the national parliament table for ratification (instead of these “khaytarag” protocols).
    By rewriting a one sided protocol by the Armenian side and ratification, we will once for all avoid the risk of continuous pressure by the West, USA and Turkey by means of other future protocols.
    Recall also that, each time a new public uproar is put upon us, we are runnning towards the risk of alienating the effectiveness of the Armenian people. The West and USA know this game, and they know how to control the masses. One by one, each of us will be alienated and exhausted if we keep waiting and do not take the measures to play the reverse game on them (the governments).

  10. Svetlana said:

    This protocol shows how indifferent, unconcerned is the Armenian side. Giving up everything, for nothing . Self-identity, even. Under Turkey’s management of the regional road-map, Armenia will simply become a gas-station on this road-map. Who doubts that? Turkey will never miss any chance to eradicate any revitalization of the Armenian realm in the future.

  11. miro said:

    A big portion of Armenian nation – not last because of Armenian Genocide- is living in Diaspora-. Armenian Diasporas has justified demands!
    Mr . V Oskanian was a very important voice of Armenian Diaspora in the Kocharians´s Administration.

    Serzh Sarkisia´team prefers to use tricks to “disqualify” Diaspora. To appoint a “Diaspora Minster – nothing to any way” and to appoint respected figures l- but not politicans- ike Aznaviour as ambassador, are well calculated steps to mislead the Diaspora!

    What count is, what Mr. Serzh Sarkisan is going to singe and it handed it to Turks.

  12. Aziz Denian, MD. said:

    By:- Aziz Denian, MD.
    Originally from Mardin city / Diar-Bakker.
    Pary or.
    Actually, the Turks and their coalitions? do not and will not recognize what their bloody hands did without shaming or blinking. In contrast and since the first decade after the massacre, they completed occupying our empty??? homeland, and shared our country sides, villages and towns.

    Since the acts of our massacre, we the Armenian nation at the Diaspora, we don’t have too much to loose. But the Turks needs such an agreement a one and a half million time more than we needs it. This agreement is essential for them to get the green light to freely entering the EU before completing its contamination. By assigning such an agreement we will confine our massacre issue and our national question. Additionally we will let our 1.500.000 victims soles disappointed. We don’t need to get broke more than we are already. We the Armenian Nation’s Diaspora people are determined to keep a single light ray shinning toward our hope tract for the justice day, if we give away our national and international rights, then how we will ask God for justice, we left everything and we keeps on following Jesus, and here we are at the Diaspora since a hundred year.

    Practically, we the Diaspora Armenian nation have almost no chance to return to our physical homeland, therefore, why to rush for such unfair agreements with such a non-regretted enemy. God’s justice day will come unexpectedly, then we and all our nation victim’s spirits that are observing from above the clouds, we will observe the Turks and their all coalitions bagging for Gods mercy, and for sure they will never achieve it, because God will never accept bloody handed savages at his heaven, this is our believe and we will continue being stacked to it, peacefully.

    I believe that it’s a one and a half million times better for our Armenian nation to live with our wounds than to contaminate it by such unilateral agreements.

    Finally; any agreement should hold a clear pre-confession regarding the 1.5 million Armenians massacred by the Turks and their coalitions, and they should apologies, then they should return back all our homelands villages and towns. Additionally the United Nations (UN) that is always busy in claiming about making peace on earth, should solve all our related national and international rights, before we rush for signing of any agreement, this is impossible, and the otherwise fact that here we are everywhere on the earth standing still, waiting for Jesus Justice he promised