The Uncelebrated, Nameless, Faceless Women of Armenia

Published in The Armenian Weekly and Asbarez

Last month Zimbabwe’s Co-minister for Reconciliation, Healing, and Integration, Sekai Holland, received the Sydney Peace Prize for a lifetime of campaigning for human rights and democracy and challenging violence.

Throughout her life, Holland has been at the forefront of many human rights issues, including the rights of Aboriginals in Australia, opposition to the apartheid system in South Africa, and perhaps most of all democracy and women’s rights in her native Zimbabwe. She has survived attempts on her life and has been tortured for her opposition to President Robert Mugabe’s oppressive policies, but she has been impossible to silence.

Elegant, composed, and with a presence that demands respect even if you’re only seeing her on television, Holland is the type of politician that makes you wish there were more like her in the world. And then, inevitably, you wonder: What if there were more politicians like that in Armenia? Women politicians, fighting for women’s rights, for broader human rights, for democracy.

Gender inequality is a serious issue affecting Armenia’s women today. The prevalence of traditional views and expectations of women as obedient subjects of their fathers, brothers, and husbands have not only hampered their empowerment, but also continue to allow for widespread, gender-based discrimination and even violence.

Gender-based domestic violence in Armenia has been an area of particular concern. In 2008, Amnesty International reported that national surveys taken in Armenia suggest more than a quarter of the country’s women have been subjected to physical violence at the hands of their husbands or other family members. One such nationwide study, conducted by the American University of Armenia’s (AUA) Turpanjian Center for Policy Analysis (TCPA) in 2007 found that nearly 66 percent of respondents experienced psychological abuse; 27 percent experienced acts of moderate physical abuse; and 12 percent experienced acts of severe physical abuse.

In 2010, the brutal murder of Zaruhi Petrosyan horrified many in Armenia and the diaspora, bringing to the surface the ugly truth of domestic violence in the country in a more powerful way than ever before. Yet, domestic violence is not the only form of gender-based violence existing in the country.

In more recent years, the selective abortion of female fetuses emerged as another dangerous practice discriminating against women, and one that carries long-term demographic consequences for a country already facing low fertility rates and high emigration. Armenia’s abnormally high rates of 114 male births to 100 female births (compared to the natural rate of 105 males for every 100 females) led the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to condemn the practice of selective abortions in the country in an October 2011 resolution. Analysts have explained this phenomenon in Armenia with reference to attitudes towards the role of women and the paramount importance given to bearing a son who can carry on the family’s name.

Traditional attitudes towards the role of women in Armenia have also proved a significant obstacle to their participation in the public sphere. The 2012 World Economic Forum “Global Gender Gap Report” ranked Armenia 92nd out of 135 countries with respect to gender gaps measured in four areas. Ironically, Armenia ranked 25th in educational attainment, but 76th in economic participation and opportunity, and 114th in political empowerment (all three rankings among 135 countries). These results speak volumes about the economic and political participation of Armenian women despite the relatively high level of education equality in the country.

Perhaps nowhere is the limited role of women in public life in Armenia more evident than in the area of politics. Only 2 of Armenia’s 18 ministries are currently headed by women (the ministries of diaspora and culture) and a mere 14 of the 131 members of the National Assembly are women. This, despite a 2007 amendment to the Armenian Electoral Code stipulating that women should account for 15 percent of a party or bloc’s list of candidates in the proportional component of the vote and that a woman should occupy every 10th place on the list.

Unfortunately, Armenian women’s attitudes towards their own rights can be a serious part of the problem. Sixty-one percent of respondents in AUA’s TCPA survey said that “a good wife always obeys her husband even if she disagrees,’’ and that it is important for a man to show his wife who is boss. Moreover, NGOs and activists working in the field of human rights in Armenia confirm that it is not uncommon for victims of domestic violence to believe they deserve to be subjected to such abuse or to stay silent.

The government of Armenia has taken some steps to address gender issues in the country. An example is the amendment to the electoral law to ensure higher participation of women in the National Assembly. It has put in place a Strategic Action Plan to Combat Gender-Based Violence in Armenia. Police training programs have been implemented to educate police on their responsibilities in responding to domestic violence. Work has also been underway for some time, particularly by civil society in Armenia, to introduce legislation criminalizing domestic violence.

More concerted effort is needed on the part of the government, however, to ensure more equal rights for Armenia’s women in practice. Women in Armenia must also learn to be advocates for their own rights rather than play the role of submissive, second-class citizens. Armenia’s women politicians are few but they are uniquely positioned to lead the fight for gender equality. As women occupying public office, they have first-hand experience in the challenges and pressures women face in their pursuit of a more active participation in public life. As politicians, they have unrivalled access to other decision-makers in the country and the platforms from which they can advocate better rights for and more positive attitudes towards women in Armenia.

In essence, respect for women’s rights is part and parcel of respect for broader human rights. Promoting a society where women are considered as equal and are provided with equal opportunities for economic and political participation is an important factor in promoting democracy in the country. Armenia’s women have the potential. They are well educated, they are resilient. They deserve the opportunity to leave their mark on the country’s and nation’s future and they must fight for it.


The Diaspora must act as an agent for change in Armenia

Published in The Armenian Weekly
8 October 2012
By Houry Mayissian

The National Assembly of Armenia voted on Oct. 2 to remove former Foreign Affairs Minister and Prosperous Armenia MP Vartan Oskanian’s parliamentary immunity. Oskanian is being accused of money laundering in what is widely perceived to be a political move to impede his return to active politics.

Around the same time, activists from Armenia and the diaspora gathered in New York and then in San Francisco and Los Angeles for the Armenians and Progressive Politics (APP) Conference to discuss a range of issues from foreign policy, to civil society development and the rule of law in Armenia. While the presentations delivered at the conference are yet to be made public, there was a clear call from many of the speakers for the diaspora to be more active in the promotion of democracy in Armenia.

Ironically, the two events couldn’t have coincided better. Two decades on, the disconnect between independent Armenia’s realities and the diaspora’s understanding of these realities is striking.

In the past 21 years, entrenched Soviet legacies of corruption and a lack of respect for basic freedoms and fundamental rights have hindered the democratization of Armenia. A strategic alliance with Russia, a country that faces its own serious challenges when it comes to democracy, has not helped. Some have even argued that the lack of a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict has allowed Armenia’s rulers to cling to power and derailed democratization.

While the challenges for democracy to take root in Armenia have been many, the agents for change have been few.

Some external powers have tried to fill this role, yet have been limited in their ability to drive true change. A case in point is the impact Armenia’s integration into various European structures has had on delivering internal change.

Armenia undertook formal obligations to adopt democratic reforms as part of its membership in the Council of Europe (since 2001), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (since 1998), as well as cooperation with the European Union particularly under the European Neighborhood Policy starting in the mid 2000’s.

Successive Armenian governments embarked on a series of legislative reforms in the judicial, electoral, human rights, and fundamental freedoms spheres. Constitutional reforms were adopted, election laws were reformed and refined time and again, and legislation relating to freedom of assembly and media freedom, to name a few, were amended in cooperation with experts from these organizations.

In practice, however, legislative reforms have failed to translate into behavioral change. In what democratization experts call cost and benefit calculations by governments, the potential threat posed by putting these reforms into practice has surpassed any benefit that may come out of implementing behavioral change. In other words, when it comes to democratic reform triggered by external pressure, the ruling elites in Armenia have talked the talk but failed to walk the walk.

In recent years civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have emerged as potential change agents in Armenia. NGOs were quick to mushroom in Armenia following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It has been argued that the Armenian NGO sector has been influenced by the availability of funds from donors who have not only played a role in shaping the issues raised but also the solutions proposed, often resulting in a mismatch with the local context (see Ishkhanian, A. Democracy Building and Civil Society in Post-Soviet Armenia, New York: Routledge, 2008).

While civil society in Armenia faces significant challenges, a number of civic initiatives have been able to rally and maintain enough popular support to register small successes. We have seen examples in the fields of environmental activism (for example, the “Save Teghut” initiative), domestic violence, and the protection of public spaces (the campaign against the demolition of Mashdots Park).

Some of these initiatives have also resonated with the diaspora. Such was the case of the anti-domestic violence initiatives organized in the U.S. following the murder of 20-year old Zaruhi Petrosyan, beaten to death by her husband. By and large, however, the diaspora’s involvement in Armenia’s democratization has remained minimal.

There needs to be a deeper understanding in the diaspora of the serious threats that corruption, the absence of rule of law and accountability, and persistent violations of human rights constitute to the long-term viability of the Armenian state. More than 20 years after Armenia’s independence, it is high time for the diaspora to open its eyes to these realities and reassess its role in bringing change to Armenia.

What can we in the diaspora do? To begin with, we need to start talking about the serious internal issues that threaten Armenia today. We need to start talking about them not in a way that feeds into already well-established stereotypes, but in a way that creates meaningful public discourse and seeks solutions.

Do we have a vision for Armenia? What is it? How do we get there? These are the questions we need to be asking ourselves today as individuals and communities. The imperative for internal reforms in Armenia must become a topic of mainstream concern and discussion in the diaspora if we are to find ways to affect positive change in the country.

The structures and processes by which the diaspora can influence the course of democracy in Armenia is a topic that warrants serious discussion and one we are yet to start. However, in trying to bring change to Armenia, the diaspora can find an important ally in civil society. A generation of young and motivated Armenians who want better for their country exists in Armenia today. Let’s reach out to them, learn from them, empower them. They may become the country’s next leaders.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of an independent Armenia, the priority for the diaspora was to provide immediate relief to an impoverished country devastated by an earthquake and a protracted war. Now it is time for the diaspora to re-consider its priorities in Armenia and act as a much needed agent for change in the country.

Beyond Stories of Survival

Published in The Armenian Weekly
19 August, 2012
By Houry Mayissian

Hatoun is sitting up still with her back against a tall palm tree, her head bowed as though she’s asleep. She has seated a doll she received as a present from an American aid worker up in the same position against another, smaller tree close by. She has torn the doll’s head off and placed it, face up next to its body.

Hatoun is one of the main characters in Chris Bohjalian’s recently released masterpiece on the Armenian Genocide, The Sandcastle Girls. Hatoun is a child of not more than 7 or 8. Hatoun is a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. And in this scene, Hatoun is re-enacting the murder, by decapitation, of her mother and older sister which she witnessed on the long march from Adana to Aleppo.

No scene in any other book has haunted me to this extent. And certainly, no other character I’ve come across has pierced through me with the same intensity. Ever since I came across it, this scene has taken a life of its own in my mind, epitomising the millions of untold stories of suffering, of trauma, of feelings experienced both by those who perished during the Genocide and those who survived.

I have reflected on this moment over and over in the past ten days since I put the book down. How did Genocide survivors deal with and try to overcome the trauma they had experienced? What did they feel on those marches, in the concentration camps, witnessing the brutal murder of family members, throughout the starvation, the deprivation, the humiliation? How were raped women and young girls ever able to love and have sex again? What type of parents did orphaned children manage to become? How did their experiences during the Genocide impact their day-to-day life as survivors?

I tried to recall stories about my own ancestors who had survived the Genocide in hope of remembering a habit, an incident, a characteristic, anything of theirs that would tell me something beyond their story of survival, beyond the chronology of how they ended up where they did.

I remembered that my maternal great grandmother, who suffered from advanced Alzheimer’s at old age, would stand in front of a mirror, stare at herself in horror and ask her grandchildren to give “this poor starving orphan” some bread and water. My great grandmother was a survivor of the Genocide, rescued by a Turkish man who adopted her somewhere along the march from Harput.

I recalled hearing about other survivors and their stories. A friend’s grandfather, also a Genocide survivor, would have an anxiety attack if ever he walked into the living room and saw there was no food on the table. There always had to be food on the table. The horror an Armenian American friend managed to inflict upon his grandmother while she babysat him one day, when he innocently opened the door to a stranger. After all, isn’t this how it started for many—with an unannounced visitor at the door?

I spoke with my parents, I spoke with my husband to try and dig out more memories that would help me understand how Genocide survivors dealt with their trauma—something we might have overlooked or forgotten. How did my husband’s grandfather, a survivor with a remarkable story that took him from Hassanbey to Australia, overcome seeing his father, along with all the other men in the city, rounded up in the city square, their beards set on fire until their bodies turned to ashes? Some of these stories we will never know.

I remembered Suzanne Khardalian’s “Grandma’s Tattoos” and the story of a grandmother as told through the eyes of her grandchildren: A woman rendered cold, distant, and strange after her experience being raped as a child while escaping the Genocide.

Too often when we’re busy advocating for Genocide recognition and fighting denial, are we prone to “forget’’ the names and faces behind the numbers. Too few are the survivor accounts that take us so deep into the psyche of the survivors themselves beyond the story, beyond the events, beyond the facts.

The Sandcastle Girls brought a forgotten or neglected aspect of the Genocide to life for me. It reminded me that our ancestors were not only stories of survival. They were flesh and blood, heart and soul, they felt, they hurt, they struggled, they loved, they lost and they loved again—they were.

Choosing to be Armenian in Adelaide

Originally published in Armenia
25 February, 2012
By Houry Mayissian

If you happen to be in Adelaide on Australia Day this year, make sure you don’t miss Noah’s Ark resting on a snow-capped Mount Ararat “parading” through the city’s streets.

“What place does Noah’s Ark have in Australia Day Parade?” you are probably asking yourself and rightfully so.

William Saroyan once famously declared it only takes two Armenians to create a new Armenia. And in Adelaide a handful of Armenians seem to be doing just that as I had the pleasure to discover during a recent trip.

The Armenian community of Adelaide is estimated at 200 only. Yet, its achievements have been quite remarkable for its size. Next to New South Wales, South Australia is the only other Australian state to have recognised the Armenian Genocide. A plaque at the city’s Immigration Museum pays tribute to the Armenian Genocide victims of the Ottoman Empire.

The President of the Armenian Cultural Association of South Australia, Elena Harrison, has been literally on the hunt for Armenians since her arrival from Armenia in 2009.

“I signed up for salsa classes recently because I heard there is an Armenian girl who goes there. I’ve been three times already but she hasn’t shown up yet,” she says laughingly.

I meet more community members during an Armenian Christmas celebration hosted by Harrison and her husband on a warm, summery January 6. It is an evening of many things non-traditional for an Armenian Christmas, yet typical of an evolved, 21st century Armenian-ness that is able to embrace all things new and different.

There is the Armenian pilaf and barbeque with soft drinks and beer. There is also Armenian brandy and music, Australian sausages and lamington. But most interesting of all, there are Armenians from Uruguay, Iran, Armenia, Georgia and elsewhere with their own unique stories and backgrounds but with one thing in common – their choice to be Armenian.

There is Sergio Javier from Uruguay, who has recently started learning Armenian with the help of friends in the community and a small pocket dictionary. “Genatset” (“to your health”) he cheers as we sip Armenian konyak and toast to the New Year. He has just learnt a new word.

Then there is Joanna Ignoyan with her four children, who speak the most impeccable Armenian I have encountered in kids their age in the Diaspora.

“When did you last visit Armenia?” I ask 10-year old Erik Avetisian as he tries to sell me raffle tickets. “In 2007,” his elder sister, Arevik, jumps in noticing the confusion on her brother’s face.

“What do you like most about Armenia?” I ask next. “The snow,” he boasts confidently this time wearing his Armenia T-shirt with the republic’s Coat of Arms.

And of course there is Alec Balayance, one of the founders and former presidents of the Armenian Cultural Association of South Australia, passionately arguing the case for further Diasporan involvement in ensuring Armenia’s sustainability and growth.

Formed in the 1960s, the Armenian Cultural Association of South Australia has been the main organiser of Armenian life in South Australia. Most recently, the association became one of six other community organisations to receive an invitation from Multicultural South Australia to participate in the annual Christmas Pageant. Community members marched some 3.5 kilometres in the city’s streets dressed in traditional Armenian costumes.

In March, the Association is organising an exhibition on Armenian culture and history at the Immigration Museum in Adelaide. For a period of three months, visitors to the museum will learn about Armenia and the Armenian people through images, videos, costumes and artifacts. The exhibition will also feature a section on the Armenian Genocide, hopes Harrison.

Meanwhile, the community is busy making the final preparations for Thursday’s parade. The Ark, made of cane frame covered in tissue paper, painted and mounted on a steel frame on a bicycle wheel, is bound to turn some heads at one of the largest Australia Day celebrations nation-wide. There will be miniature animals like giraffes and elephants coming out of the Ark. And of course, the cherry on top, there will be Armenian flags along with community members dressed in traditional Armenian costumes, making a very Armenian statement in this city far removed from Armenian life.

On the Genocide Conference in Yerevan, H.Res.252, and the Armenian Government

Originally published in The Armenian Weekly
January 6, 2011
By Houry Mayissian

The Armenian government recently hosted an international conference on genocide prevention, condemnation, and elimination in Yerevan. Genocide scholars from around 20 countries gathered in Yerevan in what could be considered as one of the Armenian government’s rare acts aimed at proactively seeking international acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide. While we can’t but applaud this initiative, we also can’t help but say it was a belated effort and not enough on its own.

The conference was helpful in inviting public attention to the issue not only in Armenia and the diaspora but also internationally, given the level of international participation in it. Once again, it dealt a blow to denialists in Turkey and abroad by providing an opportunity for high caliber genocide scholars of different nationalities to throw their support behind the truthfulness of the Armenian Genocide. It was a slap in Turkey’s face and its attempts to undermine the historical truth of the Armenian Genocide through such attempts as setting up a historians’ commission to discuss historical issues between the two nations.

However, the initiative was belated, because while successive Armenian governments since Robert Kocharian’s presidency at least have declared that recognition of the Armenian Genocide is on Armenia’s foreign policy agenda, this can be considered as the first major proactive (emphasis on the word proactive) initiative of its kind undertaken by Yerevan.

More than coming late, however, this conference is not enough effort on the part of the Armenian government to show that it takes this matter seriously. Notwithstanding public declarations on the importance for international recognition of the Armenian Genocide, little government action has been seen on this front so far. Yes, almost all official dignitaries, diplomats, and foreign government officials who visit Yerevan are taken to the Genocide Memorial in Dzidzernagapert. Yes, the issue has been raised on a few occasions in presidential speeches to the international community, including at the UN. However, little has been seen or at least made public in terms of consistent and serious efforts to pursue genocide recognition.

Robert Kocharian’s administration at least smartly avoided falling in the cunning Turkish trap of “leaving history to the historians” by rejecting a proposal for setting up a commission of historians that first surfaced in a letter by then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul in April 2005. It’s silly to say Sarkisian was not smart enough to avoid the trap. By then, the idea had been discussed so much that no one in their right mind could deny its implications on the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Sarkisian did it anyway, though. In 2009, he signed the infamous Turkish-Armenian protocols, one of the stipulations of which was the formation of exactly such a commission. His reasons? Unprecedented international pressure, continued blockade and economic isolation, continued deadlock in the Nagorno-Karabagh peace talks, coupled with intense militarization in Azerbaijan, awareness of growing Turkish influence in the region, and perhaps to some extent a gradual shift in Russia’s attitudes due to military and energy deals with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

With the failure of the protocols in the face of consistent Turkish efforts to tie Armenian-Turkish normalization to the resolution of the Karabagh conflict and what Sarkisian has started to consider as a lack of sincerity towards reconciliation in Turkey, the genocide conference could have signaled renewed effort on behalf of the Armenian government to assure that it stands on moral high ground when it comes to this issue. Could have, but as far as I’m concerned, it did not.

In fact, only a few weeks after the international conference in Yerevan, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) started pushing U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to schedule a vote on H.Res.252, a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide, in the U.S. House of Representatives. The resolution had previously been adopted by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March 2010. The ANCA assured that Pelosi had the opportunity and the majority to schedule a vote on the resolution just before the House adjourned its session for the year.

In the final days of the sitting, Washington witnessed one of the most intense confrontations between the Turkish and Armenian lobby groups in history.

On the Armenian side it was the ANCA, the Armenian schools, the church, the individuals in our community, anti-genocide activists, and Armenian celebrities the like of Kim Kardashian and Serj Tankian. Advocating the Turkish “cause,” however, was a state-sponsored lobby machine channeled through such influential mediums as the Congressional Turkish Caucus.

Moreover, Turkish pressure was exercised directly by Turkish government officials. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called his American counterpart Hillary Clinton, while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, both with the intention of getting senior U.S. officials to pressure the House Speaker into avoiding a vote on the resolution. The Turkish ambassador in Washington, Namik Tan, used every tool at his disposal, including Twitter, to lobby against H.Res.252. All of this demonstrates the vigilance of the Turkish administration on issues related to the Armenian Genocide, and their preparedness, time and again, to go above and beyond in their efforts to block any measure that might lead to its recognition.

The question that begs itself: Where was the Armenian government? Where was our ambassador in Washington when Armenian students, clergy, community members, and celebrities were working day and night sending emails, calling Pelosi’s office, publicizing the issue to fellow Armenian Americans and American citizens at large? Was a statement of support deemed too much? Where was Eduard Nalbandian? Was he worried that if he were to publicly support the resolution and ask the American administration to take the right stance on this issue normalization efforts with Turkey would go even further downhill? If so, why make declarations on the need to recognize the Armenian Genocide in general? Why organize a conference in Yerevan? Whatever the calculations of the Armenian government were, and it is not too difficult to guess them, the bottom line is it missed yet another perfect opportunity to translate statements into action on the issue of genocide recognition.

That being said, it is never too late. More resolutions dealing with Armenian Genocide recognition will be presented to the U.S. Congress and legislative bodies in countries across the world in the future. It is not unreasonable to expect that while the groundwork is done by Armenian lobbying organizations, the Armenian government should throw its weight behind these efforts even if at the ambassadorial level only. This would provide moral support to our activists. It would demonstrate to foreign governments that this is Yerevan’s fight, too, and not just that of the Armenian people. And by doing so, add a new kind of legitimacy to the struggle for genocide recognition.

Speaking to be Heard: An Interview with Vartan Oskanian

Below is an interview with Armenia’s former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, conducted via email about his book, Speaking to Be Heard.

Originally published in The Armenian Weekly
June 3, 2009

Houry Mayissian: What led you to prepare Speaking to Be Heard?
Vartan Oskanian: Even when I was in office, I was conscious that a public official—elected or appointed—has a responsibility to communicate with the public, especially in a country like ours, where every event, every agreement, every international organization, everything is new. It is a learning process for all of us, and it’s important to share that process with our public so that expectations are realistic. At the same time, in the sphere of public and foreign policy, I have always believed that the Armenian perspective needs to be heard from every possible podium, in every possible forum. Each of these speaking opportunities was a chance to explain our positions, our limitations, our expectations, our policies. So, when you live your life that way for 10 years, at the end you realize there is a body of work there that represents a 10-year evolution. And I wanted that to be available as a historic record of how our history and our policies have evolved.

And I had another reason. I am honored to have served in that capacity for a decade, and in this small way, I wanted to share my experience with readers.

H.M.: As the minister of foreign affairs of Armenia for 10 years, you delivered a substantial number of speeches articulating Armenia’s positions on a wide range of national and international issues from various influential platforms, such as those of international or regional organizations, important conferences, and universities. The book features only a selection of these speeches. How was the selection process made and what does it reflect?
V.O.: There is much more included than excluded. There were some speeches that we did not have saved, some which were never recorded or transcribed. There were also some that were repetitive. In the process of explaining policy, it is important to deliver the same message consistently. As a result, sometimes within the space of several weeks, there were several similar speeches. That’s fine, when you’re presenting them to different audiences. It’s not fine when a reader is reading them.

H.M.: In your book, you underline the importance of these speeches in getting across Armenia’s positions and interests on various issues. What has guided your speech-writing throughout?
V.O.: I have always been conscious that I have two audiences—domestic and international. Actually, three audiences—the [Armenian] Diaspora too. So, I have always been careful to frame issues in a way that is relevant and understandable to all of them, because in today’s world, there is no international border for news and information. Everyone hears, reads everything. Even in the case of the international audience, there are two segments—those who understand and support our positions, and those who, to put it mildly, don’t. There again, a speech has to be aimed at all those segments, and has to use the opportunity to gain support and understanding.

H.M.: You are known as one of the architects of the policy of “complementarity,” which has been the basic principle guiding Armenian foreign policy over the last decade. In your book, you outline the difference between this and the policy of balance adopted by the first government. Can you elaborate?
V.O.: It’s a nuanced difference, but one that frees you to act more boldly. When we were applying a policy of balance, it meant balancing one act among different countries. But I wanted to achieve the maximum for Armenia, out of our various relationships, and this led me to think that we have to complement what we do with one country with what we can do with another. The nuance here is that you are doing similar things with rivals in the same area—in security, economy, energy. You are doing more with more partners, always trying not to exacerbate their differences, not necessarily to do the same thing with one as with the other, but to do what is possible with each, to complement that which is being done with each.

H.M.: In your introduction to the book, you emphasize the importance of multilateral diplomacy in Armenian foreign policy. An integral part of this policy is membership in regional and international organizations (such as the CoE, OSCE, CIS, partnerships with NATO, and the EU) which serve as opportunities for not only pursuing national interests beyond borders but also for lesson-drawing through interaction with the representatives of other states. As a newly independent country with little diplomatic and political experience, what were some of the important lessons Armenia drew from its membership in these organizations?
V.O.: Not only did we have little diplomatic or political experience, we also had limited resources. So, if we only had 10 or later 20 embassies around the world, it is difficult for us to communicate with the other 180 capitals around the world. The first thing international organizations made possible was direct contact. It was during those annual or semi-annual meetings that we could converse with ambassadors of those other countries and make sure they understood our perspectives, our policies, our positions. We also learned a very important lesson about multilateralism, that is, if you want others to be interested in your issues, your causes, your problems, you must be interested in theirs. We cannot be a member of the world community and not be concerned with global issues like weapons of mass destruction, climate change, minority rights, migration, reforming international institutions. If we’re not interested in those topics, if we don’t have something to say about them, then we shouldn’t be surprised if they leave the room when we start talking about self-determination or genocide recognition or regional cooperation. International organizations force you to become a member of the international community.

H.M.: What would you say is your most important foreign policy legacy of the two governments you were a part of?
V.O.: One was clearly our willingness to enter into relations with Turkey with no pre-conditions. This was a noble gesture on our part. After all, we are the survivors of the genocide, yet we are the ones who extended our hand, unconditionally. This is what has made it possible to even contemplate normalizing relations between our countries. The other is our clear commitment to Europe. Although we haven’t done enough I think to move towards European values and traditions, we have stated clearly from the beginning that our view is toward Europe, that is where we belong. Europe knows this, our people know this. What remains is that we give them the tools to get there.
I would add that the work we did during the last 10 years especially on bringing the international community to a more supportive position for self-determination of Karabagh was very important. Our history will show that the first administration did what it could to secure Karabagh’s security during and after a time of war. During our decade, we had the task of reversing Lisbon, of rejecting autonomy as the maximal possible status for Karabagh, and of bringing an international community to regard Karabagh’s right to self-determination as equally important to stability in the region. We ought to maintain that thinking.

H.M.: In the book, you mention your intention to write another book. Tell us about your plans in this regard.
V.O.: It’s probably better I not saying anything until the book is further along. It will be a memoir of the 10 years I spent in office. It’s being written from the same sense of responsibility that moved me to write the first one—that this is our history and it should be shared.

Turkey legalizes the denial of the Armenian Genocide – Part V

Originally published in NewropMag
June 09, 2005
By Houry Mayissian

The Clear and Present Danger test, as it is called, was first proposed in 1919 by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in his interpretations of the First Amendment of the United States’ Constitution (1). In order to determine whether the speech at hand is constitutional, “the Clear and Present Danger test asked not whether the words had a bad tendency but rather ‘whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.'” (1)

Advocates of this theory of freedom of expression believe that it is “the best available judicial test for striking a proper balance between protection of the marketplace of ideas and the need to protect the national security and the publics order.” (2) The opponents to this theory, on the other hand, argue that the test is “open to widely varying interpretations” and provides “little or no protection to radical speech in times of political stress” (2). While this argument makes a logical point, I personally believe, that if exercised with care, the above test would be efficient in both securing freedom of expression to the citizens of a country and protecting its national security, especially in times of war.

Although the Clear and Present Danger test is an interpretation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, it can be applied to other countries as a means of regulating government intervention in the right to freedom of expression. Furthermore, using this test in the case of article 305 is appropriate, because the article itself is based on the need to protect “fundamental national interests.” Thus, based on this concept, article 305 would have been justifiable if recognition of the Armenian Genocide truly constituted a “clear and present danger” for Turkey. Not only the recognition of the Armenian Genocide constitutes no such danger to Turkey, its denial threatens one of the country’s basic national interests as announced by Turkey itself: its membership to the European Union. Recent developments show that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey will be one of the issues on the agenda of accession talks. In fact, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told the French RTL radio in December that France will include the issue of the Armenian Genocide in the accession talks that are due to start with Turkey in October 2005 (3). Similar statements by other EU officials and member countries indicate that denial of the Armenian Genocide might in fact become a headache, causing more danger to Turkey, than its recognition.

In conclusion, the adoption of article 305 of the Turkish Penal Code has no justification; the argument that recognition of the Armenian Genocide is a threat against national interests has no basis. In addition, the article contains serious shortcomings that might lead to its abuse by the government. The article has been criticized by the European Parliament and Commission, as well as a number of non-governmental organizations and has been regarded as an infringement on freedom of expression. The article is not the only attempt by the Turkish Government to deny the Armenian Genocide, but its significance lies in the fact that it legalizes this denial. Finally, the article violates the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, a document Turkey has ratified and is obliged to respect. For all the above reasons, the explanatory report citing the Armenian Genocide example (this paper has not dealt with the Cyprus issue) should be deleted.

(1) Kersch, K. I. (2003). Freedom Of Speech: Rights and Liberties Under The Law. California: ABC-CLIO
(2) Cohen, J. & Gleason, T. W. (1990). Social Research in Communication And Law. California: Sage Publications
(3) France to Include “Armenian Genocide” in Turkey’s EU bid talks: FM. Retrieved 19-01-2005.