Does the huge Armenian diaspora in the US seriously affect US foreign policy towards the South Caucasus and Azerbaijan?
Historically the United States has a strong track record of acting as US strategic and economic interests command. So far there have been no or very few cases when the United States has acted contrary to its strategic and economic interests. This will be increasingly so in the 22nd century where the intensified global competition for resources and influence, in large part thanks to the rapid rise of China, India, Brazil and Russia as regional and global powers, will force the US to act more and more as its strategic and economic interests dictate. The United States no longer possesses the global resources and influence to command countries to behave and act as it wishes or wants. As such, it can’t easily lose a country that matters for its strategic and economic interests.
Therefore, it can easily be stated that the role of the Armenian diaspora in defining US foreign policy towards the South Caucasus and Azerbaijan is at best marginal. The Armenian diaspora tries to influence US foreign policy through its few highly committed supporters in the US Congress. However, we should know that the US Congress is not responsible for US foreign policy. It’s the executive branch of the US government led by the president that is responsible for planning and conducting US foreign policy and that is also accountable for the consequences of US foreign policy. The US Congress at best has an advisory role, which is often ignored as US national interests require.
Many Americans, including American politicians at all levels, be it the US President’s Office, Congress or US state legislators, do not posses much information about Armenia and Armenian issues. Few people in the US can easily find Armenia on a world map. This environment has indeed helped Armenian diaspora organizations to create an image of 'strong' American support for Armenians and Armenian causes by mostly working through several members of the Congress and some staff of the US President’s administration, and to a lesser degree, churches, academics and journalists. They have managed to produce 'considerable noise' over Armenian issues through their own noisy propaganda activities and media stories.
Turkey and Azerbaijan share some responsibility for this outcome (Azerbaijan to a lesser extent as it is a young state which entered international relations only after the collapse of the USSR), as Turkey unilaterally did not take the Armenian diaspora seriously and did not take adequate action to counter the activities of the diaspora in an organized and planned way when Armenia launched its propaganda machine in the 1960s. Unfortunately, Turkey began to take the Armenian diaspora seriously only when ASALA (Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia) began its attacks on Turkish diplomats and then in the 1990s. Azerbaijan immediately started to contribute its share and we are starting to see the fruit only nowadays, which makes the Armenian diaspora extremely nervous and more aggressive as they have begun to realize that the global information space is no longer at their disposal.
The negative influence on Armenia of the Armenian diaspora is seen by some as the main obstacle to a Karabakh settlement. Why does the diaspora not accept any compromises in the settlement process?
There is some truth in this opinion. However, we should differentiate the Armenian diaspora from the Armenian diaspora/lobbying organizations. Taken as a whole, the Armenian diaspora is a very heterogeneous community which varies in terms of location, economic affluence, world vision, connection to traditions, awareness of Armenian identity, church attendance, mixed marriages, integration with the local American community, the problems they face in their daily lives, and so on. The only causes that have the power to mobilize the Armenian diaspora and bring them together are the so-called 'Armenian Genocide' claims and the Armenians' territorial claims on Nagorno-Karabakh. These two causes are masterfully used by the nationalist 'Armenian Church' to mobilize Armenians, to keep them organized, to carry out hate propaganda against Azerbaijan and Turkey and to prevent the Armenians living in the US and Europe from assimilation. However, the ordinary Armenian diaspora remains preoccupied with their daily problems in the communities where they live. It is the Armenian diaspora/lobbying organizations and the Armenian Church abroad that are the gatekeepers of the Armenian diaspora, have a negative influence on the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and reject any compromise. As you know, they are trying to present the seven occupied districts of Azerbaijan as 'Liberated Armenian Lands' or the buffer zone required to ensure the security of Armenians in Nagorno-Karbakh.
Coming to the degree of this negative effect, it mainly depends on the charisma, influence and power of the person who holds the presidency. When the president is powerful enough and commands greater support from the citizens of the Republic of Armenia, then he and of course Armenia are less susceptible to pressure and the negative effect of the Armenian diaspora. However, if this person doesn’t have strong charisma and doesn’t command popular support, then he is more vulnerable to external pressure including from the Armenian Diaspora and Russia. Unfortunately, compared to past presidents Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Robert Kocharyan, Serzh Sargsyan is relatively less powerful and has less popular support, which leaves him vulnerable to the demands of the nationalist Armenian diaspora and makes any resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and any Armenian comprise almost impossible. Unfortunately, in this context Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Kocharyan were in a better position to achieve a compromise-based resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict than Serzh Sarkgsyan.
The Azerbaijani leadership accuses the US, Russia and France of trying to improve the economic situation in Armenia and not putting pressure on Yerevan to liberate Azerbaijan's occupied lands. How can you explain this position of the international community? Is it because of the influence of Armenian diaspora or for some other reason?
The Azerbaijani leadership’s position is right, justified and well-informed. The reason for these countries not putting enough pressure on Armenia to compromise definitely lies in their own national, strategic and economic interests. The Armenian diaspora has a marginal role at best. The Armenian diaspora is often used by the political and economic elites in these countries (US, Russia and France) to conceal their real intentions which are driven by their strategic and economic interests. For example, Russia doesn’t feel any urgency to push for the resolution of this conflict, as the Karabakh conflict gives it a lot of hard and soft levers to manage/control both Azerbaijan and Armenia or to keep these two countries in its orbit of influence. Russia can use this conflict to punish Armenia or Azerbaijan, if either country takes actions counter to Russia's strategic and economic interests in the region.
The United States doesn’t feel any urgency on a conflict resolution either. The US is mainly interested in the stability of the region which is a must to ensure the continuity of energy projects in the Caspian region, the smooth operation of the Western energy companies in the region and diversification and introduction of new energy supply routes to the West. Therefore, The US would prefer the status quo (continued occupation of Azerbaijani lands) to any action or change of position that would destabilize the region or instigate military operations. The current US administration also understands that its ability to influence or manage regional conflicts is hampered by its distance from the region (as well as its preoccupation in Iraq, Afghanistan and with Iran’s nuclear project) and that in any conflict a more assertive and confident Russia would play a bigger role, ending in results that would be unfriendly towards the US.
As to France, it is supposed to represent the EU in the Minsk Group. However, the EU suffers from a lack of an centralized, well-articulated, feasible and active foreign policy in the region. This can be seen from the widely differing statements and approaches of EU member countries in respect to Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Therefore, France represents the most impotent of the three parties and has minimal if any potential to affect the solution of the conflict. France’s publicly more visible pro-Armenian stance is mostly the result of its historical ties and commitments to Armenians (whereas France understands its role in promising Armenians 'Greater Armenia' in the early 20th century, but failing to ensure this outcome which resulted in tragic massacres of Turks, Kurds and Armenians), and of cultural reasons rather than the presence of the Armenian diaspora in France. I don't think France has the economic or strategic ambitions and interests to push the Armenians to compromise on a solution to the conflict.
The Azerbaijani side is very disappointed with the role of the US in the Karabakh problem. Some experts even say that it has already harmed the strategic partnership between Azerbaijan and the US. Do you agree?
Azerbaijan was right to display its discontent with the US position on Turkish-Armenian rapprochement, ignoring Azerbaijan’s strategic interests and pushing Turkey to mend relations with Armenia at the expense of its relations with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has been right to expect better treatment from the US as it was Azerbaijan not Armenia that provided significant support to the US in the war on terrorism, opened its air space to US military transport, gave shares to American companies in Azerbaijan’s multi-billion energy projects, took into consideration the US interests and position in choosing oil and gas transportation routes, and acted and still acts as the only safe corridor for US access to Central Asia. However, judging from the recent statements and official trips, it is possible to state that the parties have already begun mending the damage done to the relations, given that this partnership benefits both countries and meets the interests of both the US and Azerbaijan.
The Armenian side says that independence for Karabakh is the only way to solve the conflict. May Armenia expect support from the international community if Yerevan is the first to recognize this 'independence'?
Armenians are well aware of the fact that no country in the world will recognize Nagorno-Karabakh even if Yerevan does. Even Russia, the closest ally of Armenia, clearly stated that Nagorno-Karabakh is a different case from Kosovo and no parallel should be drawn between these two cases. The Armenians have already exercised their right to self-determination. They have their own internationally recognized state. Azerbaijan will never tolerate the creation of a second Armenian state at the expense of Azerbaijan's territory. If any country supports the Armenian claim to a second state, let them give Armenians the territory and land to create the second state.
What are the prospects for progress in the Karabakh settlement? Can it be resolved in 2010?
I don’t expect any solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict soon. A solution would definitely be very difficult, if not impossible, in 2010. A solution to this conflict is possible only if public opinion in Armenia changes or Armenia gets a new visionary leadership (president) with strong charisma, who can command popular support and convince the Armenian population of the futility of their dream of an independent Nagorno-Karabakh and who can also show them the benefits of peace with their neighbours and in the region. From what I observe, Armenian public opinion remains ultra-nationalist and the majority outlaw any compromise solution to the Karabakh conflict. In these conditions, only Azerbaijan with a strong and diversified economy, healthy and well-educated human capital, a strong army and efficient administration can bring about the solution of this conflict any time soon. If outsiders see that Azerbaijan possesses all these characteristics, then they will themselves put pressure on Armenia to compromise in an attempt to save Armenia from crushing defeat and collapse. In parallel, Azerbaijan should continue its policy of isolating Armenia from all regional economic and trade relations.