a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Two little countries, one little prize

Posted by Thomas Nephew on October 10th, 2009

I guess it’s good to see that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can really get busy when America’s values and interests are on the line.  Mark Landler and Sebnem Arsu of the New York Times report from Zurich (“Turkey and Armenia, After Hitch, Normalize Ties“):

Sitting in the back of a black BMW sedan at a hilltop hotel here, aides thrusting papers at her, Mrs. Clinton worked two cellphones at once as she tried to resolve differences between the Armenian foreign minister, Eduard Nalbandian, and his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu.

Too bad all that drama was on behalf of a deeply flawed pact between Turkey and Armenia.  While it’s hailed as a breakthrough, it seems to me the reality is that an exhausted Armenia surrendered too much in return for normalized relations between the two countries.  The difficulty, as ever, was in Turkey’s ongoing campaign to obfuscate and deny its responsibility for the Armenian Genocide of 1915-18.

It’s not a great sign that the difficulty Clinton solved rested on Armenian objections to Turkish post-signing statements, nor that the solution she brokered was for the Turkish delegation not to say anything.  The text of the protocols includes language bitterly denounced by many (but not all) Armenian diaspora organizations — specifically, text appearing to pledge Armenia to not taking an active role in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, and text calling for the two countries to

Implement a dialogue on the historical dimension with the aim to restore mutual confidence between the two nations, including an impartial and scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations…

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) has posted an annotated copy of the protocol, and comments that this

…secure[s] Armenia’s tacit support for [Turkey’s] longstanding aim of downgrading the Armenian Genocide from a matter of settled history […] At the same time that Turkey is seeking to gain credit internationally by appearing open to dialogue, its government is enforcing Article 301 and other laws criminalizing even the discussion of the genocide.

Turkey is reportedly open to ‘accepting the verdict’ of such a historical commission — but my guess is that commission will deadlock, with Armenian and many outside historians saying one thing, Turkish ones (though there are honorable exceptions) saying another, and Turkish politicians saying “see? No one can agree.”

The Washington Post reports that Secretary Clinton was in “frequent contact with the two sides in recent weeks“, and President Obama called Armenian president Sarkissian to salute him in advance for his “leadership” in accepting the deal.  While some news reports point to regional and U.S. interest in building an anti-Russian alliance in the Caucasus, others cite simpler, more profitable reasons.  The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall:

International pressure on Turkey and Armenia not to let the chance of a rapprochement slip is intense. Both are vital links in the chain of actual or planned western oil and gas pipelines stretching from central Asia to Europe.

Set that against a mere 1.5 million dead in the first modern genocide, and I suppose it was always clear what Clinton’s BMW drama and Obama’s Oval Office phone calls were going to be about — never mind Obama’s own campaign promise to have the U.S. call the Armenian Genocide by name.

The Obama administration has been displaying no such sense of urgency in Latin America’s first coup in years — Roberto Micheletti and his clique’s ousting of rightful Honduran president Manuel Zelaya.  As is well known, Zelaya recently ‘infiltrated’ his own country after his forcible exile, seeking asylum and support in the Brazilian embassy.

Despite strong support from the OAS (Organization of American States) for Zelaya, and even official acknowledgment by the U.S. State Department  that a coup took place, the Obama administration has not taken further concrete steps to put pressure on the Micheletti coup regime — including, at minimum, Secretary of State Clinton’s active efforts to restore an elected leader of an OAS member country to power.

Meanwhile, in Honduras, the coup leaders continue to repress their opposition (often lethally),  have set and lifted curfews, and have claimed the right to curtail freedom of speech to secure their hold on power, and carried out or condoned attacks on independent radio stations.  Now, the standoff at the Brazilian embassy is getting more tense.  Adrienne Pine, who has been monitoring the Honduran media, reports:

Platforms with highly armed sharpshooters installed outside the embassy, using telescopic and infrared targeting systems, just meters away from the windows of the building where the president, his family, and many others are held hostage by the regime.

(Photos are at the link.)  You’d think that would be worth a flurry of cell phone calls.

A Nobel foreign policy?
After the same initial “for what?” reaction everyone else had, I figured that despite my many reservations about Obama, awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize was a decent strategic choice by the Nobel committee.  As the Nobel committee’s press release put it,

The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

I can agree about the nuclear weapons efforts, where Obama has restored nuclear nonproliferation and arms reduction to prominence in U.S. and world foreign policy. That’s important enough that giving him a prize in advance may actually make some sense — maybe this way he’ll stick with this issue the way he sometimes doesn’t with others.  (For more on this, see especially nonproliferation experts Joe Cirincione of Ploughshares, and William Hartung of the New America Foundation.)

Much of the rest of the statement rings hollow, though — especially that last sentence.  But I can fix it with just two words: “when convenient.”

UPDATE, 10/10: ANCA is running a “Tell the President: Genocide Shouldn’t Pay” email protest campaign against US support for the Turkey-Armenia protocol.  From the message:

The United States should address genocide as a moral imperative, not as a geo-political commodity to be traded or sold to the highest bidder. Sadly, however, that is exactly what has happened. Turkey enlisted the powerful, sustained, and very likely decisive support of our government in its shameless but nonetheless successful effort to compel Armenia into acceptance of a set of humiliating and dangerous concessions.

UPDATE, 10/11: See also “Stop The Protocols” website, created by Armenian American student groups.
UPDATE, 10/14: Naturally, the Washington Post editorializes in favor of the protocols.  Nice line: “The genocide issue — and the refusal of some in the American Armenian community to compromise on it — still threatens to undo the deal.” How unreasonable of “some” in the American Armenian community! One hopes the Post would never urge Jewish groups to compromise on recognition of the Holocaust, even if some groups had the so-called “common sense” to acquiesce to a process even the Post acknowledged could “filibuster” the issue.

2 Responses to “Two little countries, one little prize”

  1. Nell Says:

    Thomas, thanks for this. I can only begin to imagine the way this whole sleazy maneuver grinds at the souls of the hundreds of thousands of Armenian-Americans who’ve worked so hard for so long for simple acknowledgement of an unpleasant truth.

    This administration reminds me of my father’s revelation about Time magazine, back when I was about ten years old. He threw down the magazine in disgust and said, “It seems fine until you come across an article where you actually know something about the subject, and then you realize how sorry all the other coverage must be.”

    We’ve got a big old structural problem on our hands.

    Please give Cricket a long hug for me.

  2. Threads Says:

    […] over the territory of Nagorno-Karabagh. Although some elements in the Armenian diaspora expressed displeasure at the terms of the agreement, other major players fell in line behind it, as the New York Times […]

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