Thursday, April 23, 2009

The new TARC? Meaning of 4/22 statement

Two days before April 24, Armenia and Turkey issued a joint statement saying they are committed to talking to each other. The statement contains no contours or timeframe for these talks, but it helps neutralize third party pressure on Turkey with regard to its genocide denial and border closure against Armenia.

Coming on eve of April 24 it is essentially a fig leaf for President Obama to be able to obviate his repeated pre-election pledges to recognize the genocide with some pretense of Armenian rationale.

So if Turkey neutralizes the annoying resolutions and Obama gets his fig leaf, what does Armenia get?

Nothing good as far as one can see right now. May be an invitation for Serge Sargsian to visit Washington? May be. (Biden did call him on Monday and has since refused to give a public readout.)

But this is an awfully high price to pay considering this contributes to eroding Sargsian's legitimacy at home. And besides, without clearly outlined foreign policy priorities a visit to U.S. is likely to be just protocol and tourism.

One immediate effect of this action is renewed domestic and national acrimony on the Armenian-Turkish issue along the lines of what followed the announcement of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) in 2001.

Dashnaks and Heritage have already condemned the statement and ARF is threatening to leave the coalition. Hanrapetakan, Bargavach (for now) and anti-ARF groups in diaspora are supporting it. U.S. Ambassador just met LTP and most likely got his endorsement as well (at least there was a lukewarm comment by Hovik Igitian - LTP's spokesman in Europe).

One possible positive outcome of this development could be a political realignment in Armenia and creation of a credible patriotic opposition ahead of the elections for Yerevan city council. That remains to be seen.

Friday, April 17, 2009

News from Turkish archives: there was genocide

This was first published in March 14, 2009 Armenian Reporter.

Scholar: Ottoman documents corroborate Armenian Genocide
Hilmar Kaiser on new archival research and view of future

Kaiser (l.) with Ara Nazarian who helped put together the Armenian Assembly's genocide exhibit in background. Armenian Reporter photo

A scholar of Ottoman history, Hilmar Kaiser specializes in the Armenian Genocide. He has conducted archival research on the subject worldwide and is one of only a few Genocide historians to have spent extensive time working in Turkish archives. According to Mr. Kaiser, in recent years these archives have become “world class” in terms of service and are open to all interested experts.

Mr. Kaiser was in Washington to speak at the Armenian Assembly of America’s National Advocacy Conference on March 2, where he introduced an exhibit of photographs taken by German military personnel that depicted Armenian Genocide victims during deportations and their aftermath.

Following his presentation, Hilmar Kaiser spoke with the Armenian Reporter’s Washington Editor Emil Sanamyan.

Official Turkish evidence of genocide

AR: You said in your presentation that there is now the “first low, but reliable body count on Armenian victims - 1.1 million lost their lives, 150,000 were assimilated in Turkey.”

The numbers corroborate what has already been known from Armenian and European sources. What is the significance of the “new” numbers?

HK: These numbers come strictly from official Ottoman Turkish sources, specifically Ministry of Interior archives.

Some of these materials popped up in the “Black Book” of Talaat published in January and others in other places. You have to understand, these sources are from the administration. These sources are political documents people acted upon. These are returns on deportees, survivors, counts, and so on. These are documents prepared for [the Ottoman Minister of the Interior] Talaat to do politics. And Talaat knew exactly what was going on and he had this number in front of him.

According to Hilmar Kaiser there are now “respectful disagreements and debate in Turkey” regarding the Armenian genocide. He encouraged outreach to Turks who don’t recognize the genocide, since many of them see charges of genocide “as a personal insult with hidden agenda.”

“I have come to appreciate Turkish denial,” he said, because to a large extent it represents a rejection of genocide as an immoral act.

HK: There is no unified Turkish position or thesis on [the Armenian genocide]. Just in January six evenings a week, you had two to three hours of Armenian genocide on TV every evening. There is an aggressive debate about the apology initiative.

In addition to people on TV, there are those who work silently in academic circles. The treatment of the subject is much more sophisticated. And I have to say I am very optimistic.

AR: While there is certainly change in Turkey, your colleague Ara Sarafian recently visited a number of Turkish museums and found that denial of Armenian history is still the order of the day there.

HK: This is a slow process. Even if you want to change things, you need a budget for changing things. These are institutions that have bureaucratic processes.

One should not over-politicize everything. Certain things are just red tape. I have seen things done in Turkey in a way that I could never understand. But it is not political. It is just basically administrative law.

Turkey’s good intentions and commission proposal

HK: In Turkey, there is a strong desire for normalization of relations [with Armenia], obviously with a hope that in return the genocide would disappear [as an issue].

[Recep] Tayyip Erdogan is a remarkable person who has the habit of doing the right thing, although he has certain constraints on his policy due to what he inherited.

AR: At the same time, for nearly four years, the Turkish government has conditioned its relations with Armenia on a commission of historians, which as you mentioned earlier was effectively a political ploy thought up by a former Turkish diplomat, who is now a member of parliament.

HK: Some people think that once you put the [genocide issue] out of politics and hand it over to historians, you can deflect the [pressure on this] issue. This is a way for politicians to duck the issue. Although, this may not be a bad idea as such, I do not think [such a commission] would deflect the pressure.

But there is no need for historical commission to do research and it is not going to help advance academic research and understanding of the issue.

If someone wants to have a commission, let them have their commission. I will continue with my work. I hope that we come to a situation when a historical commission is no longer even thought of or deemed necessary.

Just the idea to have this artificial environment created gives me a headache. Knowing the red tape on the Turkish side and on the Armenian side, if these two paper tigers get together there will be a mountain of paper created, and I do not want to be buried under it.

I definitely do not want to be part of any commission, because I am anyhow [doing research] in Turkey, what would I need a commission for?

Preparing for the future

AR: At the end of the day, beyond academic research, what do you want to happen between Armenians and Turks?

HK: It is very simple. [It should become] absolutely normal to walk down the street in Van and hear Armenian and Turkish [languages spoken], like in Yerevan. I do not see many differences between Armenians and Turks. Leave the people alone and let them eat the same food and sing the same songs.

There should be an office of the ARF [Armenian Revolution Federation] in Van with coat of arms and an Armenian flag in front of it, because that is where ARF belongs. Catholicos Aram I should have his See in Cilicia and not in Lebanon. There should be a right of return for Armenians. I think Armenians belong not in Lebanon or Syria but in Turkey.

I would be happy when we see the Armenian genocide and decades following it as one chapter of Armenian history in historic Armenia, Anatolia, Kurdistan, or whatever [you call it]. I think that Armenians were there for 3,000 years and they should be there also in 3,000 years.

We have to overcome the results of the genocide. We have to prepare the future. The recognition of the Armenian genocide is not the end of things, it is the beginning.

State Dept.' incoming Eurasia boss on Armenian genocide, MCC to Yerevan, Clinton pushes 'reset' with Russia

This was first published in March 14, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

State Department’s incoming Eurasia manager opposed Genocide resolution

On March 6, President Obama named Philip Gordon as the next assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, replacing Daniel Fried.

Since 2000 Mr. Gordon has been a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, one of the more prominent Washington think tanks.

Prior to that, Mr. Gordon was the National Security Council director for European affairs in the Clinton White House. He previously held teaching and research positions at Johns Hopkins University in Washington and at leading British, French, and German institutions.

In October 2006, Mr. Gordon co-wrote with his Brookings colleague Omer Taspinar a commentary criticizing a French legislative proposal that would criminalize denial of the Armenian Genocide.

The article also noted, “the Turkish stance on the Armenian massacres themselves is becoming an obstacle to its entry into the [European Union],” and argued, “Turks should do more to acknowledge that atrocities – however characterized – occurred.”

“But these initiatives need to come from Turks themselves in a spirit of reconciliation, instead of being imposed from the outside under threat of prosecution,” the Gordon-Taspinar paper concluded.

“Ultimately, historians, not governments, should be the ones to decide these sensitive issues.”

As advisor for the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, Mr. Gordon said last June that the senator’s and congressional leaders’ support for the Armenian Genocide resolution provided “structural conditions for [the resolution] to move forward” under an Obama administration.

Mr. Gordon was speaking at an Istanbul conference sponsored by the Turkish business chamber TUSIAD. He added, however, that “there will be the opportunity to make all the usual arguments as we head towards April, all of the old arguments that prevailed will still be true and they’ll be even more true in the first year with new [administration’s] relationship with Turkey.”

“So I would encourage our Turkish friends to not only be prepared to fight [the resolution] as they no doubt will but to have a plan B in mind if it passes because that might well happen whatever anyone thinks of the substance of it,” Mr. Gordon advised at the time.

U.S. aid agency issues fresh warning to Armenia

The U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation said it would continue funding its irrigation projects in Armenia, while renewing a hold on the road construction, with both decisions again up for review before MCC’s next board meeting in June.

Armenia “failed over several years to address concerns raised not only by MCC and other U.S. Government agencies, but the international community as well,” the corporation said in a statement on March 11 following its board meeting, chaired for the first time by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“It’s now incumbent upon the government of Armenia to restore the Board’s confidence to its commitment to democracy and good governance. MCC has given the government of Armenia every opportunity to make meaningful reforms and will continue its direct communication about its expectations moving forward,” MCC’s acting chief executive officer Rodney Bent said in the statement.

MCC has so far spent about $35 million of what is supposed to be a five-year $235 million Armenia program launched in early 2007.

The corporation aids U.S.–friendly, lower-income countries that are found eligible based on a complex scoring criteria and board’s decisions. connect:

Washington, Moscow press “reset” button

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Geneva on March 6 and pressed a symbolic “reset” button that was specially delivered by Mrs. Clinton and was intended to signal a fresh start to the relationship promised by President Barack Obama.

U.S.-Russian relations became increasingly tense after Russia fought a brief war with U.S.–backed Georgia last August. In subsequent Cold War–like maneuvers, the United States and Russia sent naval vessels to the Black Sea and Caribbean, respectively.

In their joint press conference following the Geneva meeting, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Lavrov alluded to Georgia only briefly, focusing primarily on Iran, Afghanistan, and North Korea – all areas where the United States is seeking to win Russian cooperation.

Meanwhile, the U.S.–led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) said it would resume fullfledged cooperation with Russia, which it had suspended following the Russian-Georgian war.

“Russia is a global player, and that means that not talking to them is not an option,” NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on March 5, RFE/RL reported.

Previously NATO insisted that relations would only resume after Russian forces withdraw to preconflict lines, relinquishing areas in South Ossetia and Abkhazia they captured last August. Russia refused to pull back, having recognized both breakaway entities as independent republics.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Andranik Migranyan on Armenia, Russia and U.S. An Interview

This was first published in the March 14, 2009 Armenian Reporter

U.S.-Russia agenda and stability of Armenia’s region
An interview with Andranik Migranyan

Andranik Migranyan heads the New York office of the Russian Institute for Democracy and Cooperation. Often described in the West as a “pro-Kremlin pundit” and one of the thinkers behind a more assertive Russian foreign policy, Mr. Migranyan is a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) of the Russian Foreign Ministry, a member of the state-funded Public Chamber of policy experts, and a board member of the Union of Armenians of Russia.

Since 1975 Mr. Migranyan has been a teaching and research professor at several Moscow universities, and a visiting professor in the United States. He came to prominence in the late 1980s as a vocal critic of Soviet policies. In the 1990s Mr. Migranyan served as a senior foreign policy advisor to the Russian parliament and President Boris Yeltsin. Born in Yerevan in 1949, he graduated from MGIMO and earned a candidate’s degree (Ph.D.) from the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of International Workers’ Movement.

Mr. Migranyan spoke by phone with Washington Editor Emil Sanamyan on February 24.

Armenian Reporter: What are Russia’s priorities for the Caucasus? What does its government want to achieve there?

Andranik Migranyan: Russia is interested in peace and stability in the Caucasus because this is one of the most sensitive areas for Russia. [This is a kind] of a “soft belly” for Russia because Russia’s North Caucasus is not very stable [considering the wars in] Chechnya and Islamic radical movements there.

Russia is interested in cooperation with the European Union, Turkey, the United States, and other interested countries – Iran of course – in bringing stability to the Caucasus.

There are some problems concerning Georgia, but with other countries – including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey – Russia has good and stable relations.

Watching Armenia-Turkey dialogue

AR: What has been Russia’s reaction to the high-level Armenia- Turkey dialogue over the last six months? Has Russia played any role in this process?

AM: Russia is not directly involved [in the dialogue], but Russia of course is following how these relations are developing. Russia has very good multidimensional relations with both Turkey and Armenia, which is Russia’s strategic partner and a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. For these reasons, Russia is certainly interested in improvement of relations between these two countries.

AR: In your view, what are Turkey’s intentions in this process? Does its government genuinely seek to normalize relations with Armenia as its officials have stated?

AM: I think at this moment Turkey is closer to a breakthrough in relations [with Armenia] than before. While I was a member of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), [its Turkish members] Gunduz Aktan, Ilter Turkmen, and others emphasized that there is a linkage between Turkish-Armenian relations and Armenian-Azerbaijani relations. And as far as I know, Turkey is now ready to go forward and not to link these two sets of relations.

This means that without preliminary preconditions Turkey could come to normalization – establishing diplomatic relations and opening the border with – Armenia. This in turn could create favorable conditions for solution of all conflicts and problems inherited from the past.

AR: Why do you think the shift you described occurred?

AM: Turkey is interested in addressing its own problems, first of all. This unsolved problem with Armenia hurts enormously the image of Turkey in Europe and in the United States.

Perhaps they are thinking that the United States under this new administration could recognize the [Armenian] Genocide, imposing additional pressures on Turkey. That is one reason. On the other hand, there is growing sense among Turkish elites that this is an abnormal situation between the two countries and the two nations.

The two are neighbors and there is a need to improve the relations.

No Russian unilateralism in Karabakh

AR: Following the war in Georgia, there was much speculation in Armenia that Russia was pushing for a deal in the Karabakh conflict that would involve the introduction of Russian forces in Karabakh. Do you know if in fact something like that was being considered?

AM: I don’t think this was the aim of Russia. ere are three co-chairs [mediating in the Karabakh conflict] and Russia cannot act unilaterally. I don’t believe any such ideas are circulating in Moscow.

AR: And what was then the purpose of the November declaration between the Russian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani presidents, with Moscow stepping up its role above the two other co-chairs?

AM: That was quite a natural thing for Russia to do, since its government wanted to – especially after the Georgia events – have stability in the region. So it was not something exceptional. A joint declaration of presidents [sought to] formulate the idea that a military solution to the problem was not a good idea.

Just previously we witnessed the terrible events between Georgia and Ossetia. And I think the less-than-favorable outcome for Georgia helped disincline Azerbaijan [from acting in a similar manner].

The fact that Azerbaijan signed the declaration was recognition that no military force could be used to solve the problem. That was a good achievement and it was not
intended to undermine either the United States or France.

AR: Following U.S. and European recognition of Kosovo, there has been Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Serbia and Georgia have been forced to live with the respective outcomes. Who do you think will be the first to unilaterally recognize Karabakh – Russia or the West?

AM: In this [Karabakh] process, I think either all sides [France, Russia and the United States] are going to recognize [the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic] or none of them.

AR: Unlike the United States, Russia does not have a direct aid program in Karabakh. Is there any reason why Russia has stayed out of Karabakh more than the United States?

AM: It is not true because Russia is a partner with Armenia, because Russia is doing a lot to [strengthen] Armenia’s economy and military. This is indirectly or even directly creates support for both Armenia and Karabakh. Because although Karabakh is not recognized as part of Armenia, in economic and military sense everybody knows there are no serious barriers between the two.

Under Obama, a stronger emphasis on Russia partnership

AR: The new administration is now putting together its foreign policy, in particular seeking the ways to, in the words of President Obama, “reset” relations with Russia. What changes do you detect in the new administration’s approaches toward Russia and the Caucasus?

AM: Not too many serious changes are visible so far. [The conversation took place prior to the March 6 meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – Ed.]

In my op-ed in the Washington Times, I listed some of the ideas on the bilateral agenda. Because President Obama is shifting the center of gravity [of U.S. policy] from Iraq to Afghanistan, Russia and Russia’s allies become more important partners for the United States in terms of supplying its forces there; perhaps more important than many of the NATO allies.

Russia is also a critical partner for the United States on the policy toward Iran and Iran’s nuclear dossier. And Russia could contribute to U.S. efforts to address instability in Pakistan and nonproliferation concerns.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted in his recent Foreign Affairs article that while America’s resources are enormous, they are limited when it comes to solving many problems unilaterally. That is why multilateralism will be the new administration’s line, making Russia more important for the United States.

AR: How is the economic crisis changing attitudes in Moscow in terms of foreign policy?

AM: [Russian Premier Vladimir] Putin’s speech in Davos is a good answer to this question. Russia’s position is that this crisis is global and requires multilateral actions to get out of it. No selfish or individual activity could solve the problem.

This is why the G20-type of meeting is the proper way of dealing with these problems. [The G20 is made up of the finance ministers and central bank governors of 19 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, and the European Union, which is represented by the rotating Council presidency and the European Central Bank. President Obama and other world leaders are expected to attend the G20 summit in London this April -Ed.]

First Russian Institute in America

AR: What is the role of your institute in shaping U.S.-Russia relations?

AM: It is a normal attempt to establish a place where Russians and Americans could come together to discuss different problems and try to better understand each other’s aims and goals.

Our first event last November was a seminar on how relations could improve under the new Obama administration. And on February 15 we had a seminar on problems of democracy, discussing the situation with democratic institutions in the West and rest of the world.

We are planning to study local governance in Russia and the United States and media issues.

We are a nongovernmental organization and this is the first such attempt to have such an entity outside of Russia. We have a branch here in New York and one in Paris.

AR: Why New York and not Washington?

AM: Might be because we have the Embassy in Washington, which is an official place. New York is the place for nongovernmental organizations. New York is a great city that has, in addition to political, a lot of great media, financial, and cultural institutions. This is why we are here. But we are certainly in contact with all major think tanks in Washington.

AR: A couple of years ago, while speaking in Washington, you said that Washington is your favorite city after Moscow and Yerevan. Is that still the case?

AM: Not Washington, New York!

Russia raising its U.S. profile:

Long an outsider to the American political establishment and still often treated with suspicion and hostility, the Russian government recently began to emulate other foreign governments that have long attempted to “buy-in” into the Washington policy-making process.

Last month, the New Republic in an article, “Pravda on the Potomac,” described the evolution of Russia’s public relations efforts.

Since 2004 Russia has regularly invited Western experts to Moscow through the “Valdai Discussion Club” for meetings with senior leaders and visits throughout the country.

In 2005, the Russian government launched the 24-hour English- language Russia Today channel, now available via major satellite and cable providers.

In 2006, for the first time in history, the Russian government paid a leading Washington public relations firm, Ketchum Inc. (which has represented Kodak, IBM, Nokia, and FedEx), to promote its policies.

Most recently, the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation was launched in New York in January 2008.

But some less than sophisticated methods have yet to be phased out.

In a recent Atlantic Monthly article, one Washington journalist described a blatant bribing attempt by Russian Embassy staff in an alleged effort to publish stories favorable to Russia.

At another extreme, the World Russia Forum, an annual conference intended to broadcast the importance of Russia for the United States, has a “quota” system that limits media access.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Humanizing the other side: Interview with Alex Avakian

This was first publised the March 7, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Photographer Alexandra Avakian seeks to “humanize the other side”
She has worked in some of the world’s most violent places

Alexandra Avakian has been a National Geographic photographer since 1995. Armenia, Gaza, Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Muslims in the United States have been among her assignments. From 1988 to 1996 she worked for Life, Time, and the New York Times Magazine, covering conflicts in Africa, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union, including the 1988 earthquake in Armenia and the war in Karabakh.

Ms. Avakian recently released a book, Windows of the Soul: My Journeys in the Muslim World, published by Focal Point / National Geographic. She completed it while she successfully battled breast cancer. The book includes a chapter on the former USSR, including a number of photos from Karabakh. She spoke about her work with Washington Editor Emil Sanamyan on February 13.

Professional roots

Armenian Reporter: What brought you to photography?

Alexandra Avakian: By the time I graduated from college, I was already very advanced, soon became a professional, and got my first paid job at Newsweek. And one of the most important reasons is my dad.

Ms. Avakian produces the November 1969 issue of Life magazine (“I just bought it on E-bay”) featuring the work of her father, the late Aram Avakian, a filmmaker best known for his 1969 film End of the Road. The article includes a picture of Ms. Avakian’s mother, actress Dorothy Tristan, and of Alexandra herself.

And the family’s artistic prominence by no means ends there. Aram’s brother George Avakian is a jazz music producer who was honored with a Grammy award on February 7.

Avakian: My dad taught me how to tell stories through pictures from the time I was very, very young. He sat me down on his lap as he was editing a movie, and he would say, “Here is where you cut the story and this is why.” And he would let me make the cut.

I would draw him a story on a blank strip of film that he would run through a Moviola, so that I could see the product. Photography was a way of expressing myself since the time I was very young.

By the time I finished college in 1983, I already had a portfolio of my work in Manhattan. And that was another thing, since I was born in New York City, I didn’t really have to go far to begin working for top magazines.

AR: And how did you end up going that far away from home?

Avakian: Already in college I was very fascinated by revolution and fights for freedom and how far people would go to be free. And it did not have anything to do with ideology.

I covered the Berlin Wall fall [in 1989] and ended up living in Moscow [from 1990 to 1992] during the fall of the Soviet Union, and I was fascinated with all these republics spinning away and what they were doing.

The other important thing that influenced my work deeply is my Armenian heritage. Like many Armenians, my family fled many terrible things, survived many horrors, and that led me to engage in world events and cover people’s suffering.

Learning what my family went through was the ultimate lesson in empathy for others. And working in regions my family had lived in was a way of reaching my ancestors and relatives who have passed and can no longer speak to me and tell me what it was like to live through these things. I felt the need to understand what human beings do to one another and why, and what it is like to be in the shoes of a refugee woman trying to escape with her children.

The strange and awful times in Armenia

AR: You went to Armenia following the earthquake in December 1988.…

Avakian: I did. We were on a family vacation in Egypt. And when I heard [the news] I felt I could never forgive myself if I did not get on the plane and go.

So, I went to the Soviet Embassy and there was an ethnic Armenian diplomat there. And I nagged him, “Please, I am an Armenian, I have got to go.” And he said, “You need an invitation [to go into USSR] but just go.”

When asked if the diplomat in question was the current foreign minister of Armenia, Edward Nalbandian, who worked for the Soviet Embassy in Egypt at the time, Ms. Avakian says: “You are probably right, but that was a long time ago.”

“It is interesting how many people who became well-known Armenians I met over the years while at work,” she adds later. “I met Robert Kocharian while he was organizing a protest in the Stepanakert street in 1989. And Arkady Ghukasian and I worked side by side on the front line when he was a war reporter in 1992.”

So he gave me a visa and I went, and I landed in Moscow, and I could never have imagined myself in that place. I was wearing very light clothing and it was snowing. I could not get a hotel room because I did not have an invitation.

But I had already been working for Time and Life magazines a lot and by the time I arrived in Moscow, I had an assignment to cover the earthquake. I went to their [Moscow] bureau, not realizing at the time that my life would center on that bureau and the former USSR for the next four years.

It took me a while to get permission to get out to Armenia. In the meantime, I photographed children evacuated from Armenia to Moscow and camped out at government buildings there.

Eventually, I went to Armenia for a month and lived with Armenian doctors from MSF [Doctors without Borders] in a broken-down school in Leninakan, now Gyumri.

It was a strange and awful time.

When I first arrived our plane had to land in Georgia because of the weather – I think a plane had just crashed trying to land in Armenia – and we drove in.

The first place we stopped was Spitak, and there were these trenches for the coffins. It was extremely difficult. To see people suffer is difficult enough and that was in a country where I have roots.

I saw very moving and very surprising things. Like in a war, [in a major calamity] you see the seemingly weak become strong and strong become weak; I saw a lot of that. ¬ere were villages where people were looking after one another and villages where aid trucks were attacked.

After covering the earthquake area, Time magazine had me stay on to cover some of the skirmishes on the border with Azerbaijan [in early 1989]. It was in the Kapan area [in southern Armenia].

There were these villagers mostly with hunting rifles and some with Kalashnikovs patrolling the area. I stayed at the home of one of their grandmothers, who was a very classic Armenian lady.

And then, being based in Moscow, I kept coming back to Armenia. But I also went to the Baltic states, Central Asia, and to Georgia and covered the wars there. (In fact, my grandmother was an Armenian from Tbilisi, whereas my grandfather was from an Armenian village in northwestern Iran.)

AR: When did you cover the Karabakh war?

Avakian: I got out there five or six times during the war and afterward as well.

The first time I really covered Karabakh was for the New York Times with Bill Keller in August 1989. We arrived in Baku – it was still possible for me to do this in the Soviet period – and we went by train to Aghdam and then to Shushi and Stepanakert.

There was not an out-and-out war yet. Armenians and Azeris were fighting village to village. [The Soviet envoy] Arkady Volsky was still in [charge of Karabakh] and Soviet troops were very much there.

The next time I went in March 1992. Things got really intense by then. My Armenian colleagues in Yerevan discouraged me from going, but I again really felt like I had to go. In the end they gave me a bulletproof vest and a map. We took a small plane in that landed like this [makes a corkscrew motion].

AR: What did you see?

Avakian: It was bad. People were losing their minds because they were living underground [in bomb shelters] for so long. 158 or 159 Grad missiles landed on Stepanakert in one day. It was nuts.

It was also fascinating because I got permission to work at the front line in the trenches between Askeran and Aghdam. And it was as wild and out of control as wars get.

I went to one of the exchanges, where prisoners, civilians, as well as bodies were traded. And as we were driving away a shell flew right over the hood of the Armenian commander’s car we were in. ¬

They tried to kill us. And it was not the guys with whom the trade was done because their commander was actually a friend of the Armenian commander’s. And you could tell the shell came from another direction.

I could no longer cross the line to the Azeri side – it was impossible at that time. And in fact it was not possible for a while before and after. As a journalist you want to reach the other side but it was just not possible [because of my Armenian background].

Windows of the Soul is not about Armenia – that I will get to, perhaps when I do a book on the fall of Communism or something – but I decided to include Karabakh.

The last time I went to Karabakh was in 2003 when I did a story on Armenia for National Geographic.
I guess I have been to Armenia 15 times all together.

AR: And how did Armenia strike you that time?

Avakian: The previous time I went was in 1994, shortly after the cease-fire, so there was a big difference. But there were three things that were challenging for Armenia.

In Gyumri, there were still people living in a bad situation in makeshift housing. There were so many Armenian men going to work in Russia, leaving women and children alone. And something that former Soviet republics have difficulty focusing on with all the other problems – the environmental issues, like industrial waste.

But it was a much happier time and I really felt the country was really healing at that time.

Importance of mutual respect

AR: You worked in Iran – covering Ayatollah Khomeini’s funeral in 1988 and again later – and you worked with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Was it especially challenging for a woman?

Avakian: I had to wear extremely strict hijab (modest dress with head covering) in 1988. Now it is much looser, you can show more hair, but then it was really strict. It was never my role to challenge those mores at all. For me wearing a scarf was like having a passport. And when I wear it, I am treated with respect and people know that I respect their culture. And I am happy about that.

There is a chapter in the book about Muslim-Americans. I spent almost two years with them after the September 11 attacks. In one of the assignments, I photographed the Muslim population of Graterford prison in Pennsylvania – some 800 inmates, mostly African-Americans – they are mainstream Sunni Muslims and just a few Nation of Islam guys.

It was a maximum-security facility, a lot of [people] sentenced to life in prison. But when I went in, even though it is America, I went in full Islamic dress to show respect to the Muslim elders at the prison. I was coming to ask them if I could photograph their Friday prayers.

And they were very welcoming to me. Moreover, they protected me in this very dangerous facility, because when you are deep inside a prison like that there are no armed guards around.

World’s least frequented places

AR: What was the most dangerous place that you have been to?

Avakian: There are different levels of danger.

Living in Gaza, anything could happen any time. I was shot at by an Israeli sniper and beaten bloody by Hamas just doing my job. It was at the time of riots against Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian authority.

[In the latter case] I had to go the Hamas sheikh in the area that I lived in to complain, because I could not be beaten like that and continue living in that place. And the next day they ordered from the minarets that journalists are not to be attacked.

Somalia definitely was most dangerous in terms of going from place A to place B. You could not do it without bodyguards. ¬They could kill you for a can of coke, your sunglasses, or nothing. I was there for five months and people were dying from starvation all around and clans were fighting each other.

In the book there is a story about a 12-year-old boy trying to kill me. For nothing. His gun was practically as big as he was. And I yelled at him, “I could be your mother.” And other gunmen around actually took his gun away from him. It was a gamble, but it turned out OK.

AR: And how was southern Sudan? How did you even get in there?

Avakian: I was in Nairobi, Kenya, and wanted to cover Sudan, where the famine was getting worse. With a few journalist friends we rented a little plane, with Time magazine and Reuters splitting the costs.

We went and spent some time in Ayod, this tragic village with the Irish aid group Concern. ¬The people were starving to death there in large numbers. And the axle on the plane breaks as it hits a hole in the earthen landing strip on takeoff and we wait for another plane.

And then we fly to this other village, Yuai, to photograph the rebel chief and his guerilla fighters. The writers, including the Time correspondent, did their interviews and they said “we are done” straight after they finished their interview with the commander.

And the United Nations [people] said, “we are done too,” because they could not operate anymore with the front line getting so close. All the aid agencies left and I stayed along with two other journalists because I did not have my story yet. (In addition to starving civilians I needed to cover the rebels.)

I finally got out of there after being stranded with no way out after my work was done, when an aid plane dropped some bags of food and I jumped aboard. But all the people of that village were massacred a couple of weeks later if they were too weak to run. I can never forget them.

From violence to dialogue

Now, for many years I no longer cover open conflicts. By the time National Geographic first hired me in 1995 I felt I was really done. I had seen too many funerals and I felt lucky to be in one piece.

But before that, [covering conflicts] was my job and my calling. Starting with the Haitian uprising against Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986 and through 1995, I was covering conflicts.

But I am still interested in revolutions and revolutionary societies are fascinating. And I love culture. I am always interested in covering the other side.

Iran, for example, is fascinating for all those reasons. It is a very old culture, by now also an old revolution and also a long-time enemy of the United States.

It is very interesting to go to the other side and capture the humanity of people. How they get up in the morning and have breakfast. How they dress. How they worship, whatever their religion. All these things humanize the other side and this is especially important in a post 9/11 world of deep misunderstandings. Because then I feel like there is a chance for dialogue.

AR: The recently elected President Barack Obama has been talking about the need for dialogue with the Muslim world. Having spent so much time in that world, what advice can you offer?

Avakian: I am not an advocate. I always try to cover both sides. I think that is my duty as a reporter. What I think I have learned is that all over the world people want to feed their families, they want freedom of speech and security, they want respect. ¬This is what all people share.

Now, looking back at the many conflict areas I covered it seems economics are at the root of many conflicts. People need to have an opportunity to make a living, to protect their families, and to build a decent life.

Alexandra Avakian is a senior member of the prestigious Contact Press Images, N.Y. photo agency. For Avakian’s National Geographic blog, book, gallery, bio and more visit:

Rep. Sherman: no progress for U.S. affirmation in near-term

This was first published March 6, 2009 at
Armenian Genocide resolution to be introduced shortly
U.S. affirmation of Genocide will take time, backers say
by Emil Sanamyan

Washington, - Speaking at an Armenian community event in Fresno, Calif., on March 1, Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.) said the introduction of a resolution affirming the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide was imminent, the Fresno Bee reported the same day.

Members of Congress warned Armenian-Americans, however, not to take the success of the resolution or presidential affirmation for granted.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.) told the Armenian Reporter that he was "not particularly hopeful" that President Barack Obama's message to the Armenian-American community on April 24 this year "will contain the word genocide." Mr. Sherman was one of the lead sponsors of the Genocide resolution in the previous Congress.

Mr. Sherman added that when it comes to affirmation of the Genocide, he expected "no success in the next 60 days," pointing to Turkey's importance to the Obama administration's Middle East priorities. Mr. Sherman spoke to the Reporter after addressing an Armenian Assembly of America advocacy conference in Washington.

Another congressional supporter of affirmation, Rep. Jim McGovern (D.-Mass.), struck a similar note.

On the subject of the Obama administration's approach to the Armenian Genocide, "a lot still remains unclear," he told about 100 community activists at the conference.

Mr. McGovern made the comment after speaking with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prior to her departure on a tour of Europe and Turkey this week. He added that while he did not know whether the administration would "soft-pedal" on pre-election pledges, he "shared the apprehension" that it might do so.

During last year's presidential campaign, both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton pledged to affirm the Armenian Genocide as president.

"We believe that Barack Obama remains a man of his word, and that this April our president, with the energetic support of our friends in Congress, will finally override Turkey's veto on U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide," a source in Armenian advocacy circles said.

Emphasizing Turkey's importance to the United States, President Obama called Turkey's president and prime minister on February 16 to discuss U.S. priorities for the Middle East. (The State Department's senior Middle East envoy George Mitchell visited Ankara last week.)

While the White House readout of the conversation made no mention of Armenian concerns, Turkish officials claimed that Turkey's opposition to U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide was one of the main issues raised by Turkish leaders.

In a February 27 briefing, prior to Mrs. Clinton's visit to Ankara this week, outgoing Assistant Secretary of State for Eurasia Dan Fried emphasized the "very rich agenda" shared by the United States and Turkey. Mr. Fried said that in addition to Middle East priorities, Mrs. Clinton's talks would include a discussion of the efforts to "advance peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia's settlement over Nagorno-Karabakh."

In a comment about the latter subject, Mr. Sherman described Karabakh as an "Armenian territory," where any settlement should "make sure that people of Artsakh are self-governing and safe." While Mr. Sherman reiterated his support for U.S. recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, he also acknowledged there was significant opposition to such a move.

Both Mr. Sherman and Mr. McGovern spoke at the Armenian Assembly's 2009 National Advocacy Conference that focused on efforts to win U.S. government affirmation of the Armenian Genocide as well as recent academic research on the subject of the genocide.

Mr. Sherman is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He has been a longtime and prominent supporter of Armenian-American concerns. Mr. McGovern is a member of the House Rules Committee and also a strong advocate of Armenian Genocide affirmation.

Other scheduled conference speakers included Sen. John Ensign (R.-Nev.), Reps. Thaddeus McCotter (R.-Mich.), Gus Bilirakis (R.-Fla.), Reps. Zack Space (D.-Ohio) and Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.); Major General Tod Bunting of the Kansas National Guard; Armenian Genocide scholar Hilmar Kaiser; as well as Armenia's Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobyan and Director of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute Hayk Demoyan.

Al-Bashir in Sudan, Turk officials lobby DC, Azeri - California

This was first published on on March 6, 2009

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Sudan’s leader wanted over Darfur crimes

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan visits Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Jan. 2008. AP Photo

In a landmark ruling against a sitting head of state, the Hague-based International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, news agencies reported.

The March 4 warrant charged Mr. Bashir, who has been ruling Sudan for 20 years, with crimes against humanity, murder, and forcible displacement in Darfur. The court said that its investigators did not find enough grounds to charge Mr. Bashir with genocide, however.

In response, Sudan ejected foreign-aid groups and said it would defy the ruling. The warrant was also opposed by the African Union and the Arab League, as well as China and Russia.

The White House reacted cautiously to the ICC ruling, with a spokesperson for President Barack Obama saying that in general the United States believed that all those who committed atrocities in Darfur should be held accountable and that there should be an immediate end to violence.

United Nations officials estimate that several hundred thousand have died and some 2.7 million have been displaced during a six-year campaign against rebel groups in Sudan's Darfur province.

The warrant is a first against a ruling head of state by the court. Set up in 2002, the court can only prosecute crimes committed since its establishment and has, in addition to Darfur, investigated allegations of crimes against humanity in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. Last January it launched its first-ever trial against a Congolese militia leader.

While the International Criminal Court has no power to enforce its warrants, wanted individuals could be detained in 108 states that have signed on to the court's Rome statute and have ratified it. While most European and Latin American countries and many African countries are members of the court, China, Russia and the United States are not. In the former Soviet space, only Georgia and Tajikistan have joined the court so far.

The ruling was welcomed by the Armenian National Committee of America. The ANCA has for years campaigned with groups like the Save Darfur Coalition for tougher U.S. action to stop the violence that the Bush administration described as genocide.

In recent weeks, as part of the campaign to win official U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, the ANCA has been highlighting the ties between Mr. Bashir and the Turkish government, in what it has dubbed an "axis of genocide."

Last year, Turkey decided not to accede to the court amid worries that some of its military commanders could be prosecuted over their tactics against Kurdish rebels, Zaman reported at the time.

Turkish officials resume Washington lobbying

As in years past, Turkish officials intensified efforts to lobby the U.S. Congress ahead of the anticipated introduction of a congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide and a presidential statement on April 24.

Speaking at an Armenian community event in Fresno, Calif., on March 1, Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.) said that the introduction of the resolution was imminent, the Fresno Bee reported the same day. One of the resolution's main co-sponsors, Mr. Schiff said he also expected "an onslaught" by the Turkish government opposing the measure.

According to a Dear Colleague letter made available to the Armenian Reporter, a delegation led by the Turkish parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee chair Murat Mercan was hosted on the Capitol Hill on March 5. The letter was distributed by co-chairs of the Turkey Caucasus Rep. Robert Wexler (D.-Fla.) and Ed Whitfield (R.-Ky.) and vice co-chairs Steve Cohen (D.-Tenn.) and Virginia Foxx (R.-N.C.).

Separately, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D.-Tex.) distributed a letter opposing congressional condemnation of the Armenian Genocide and pointing to reports of high-level meetings between Armenian and Turkish officials.

For his part, Rep. Bill Shuster (R.-Penn.) circulated a newspaper story that played up Turkey's importance for the anticipated U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Turkish officials were also expected discuss the anticipated resolutio with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was due to visit Ankara on March 7.

Azerbaijanis lobby in California

A group of Azerbaijani officials was back in the state with the largest Armenian-American population. Member of the Milli Majlis Asim Mollazade, accompanied by Azerbaijan's consul general in Los Angeles Elin Suleymanov, visited with members of California State Assembly, including Sam Blakeslee, Bob Blumenfield, Julia Brownley, Felipe Fuentes, Fiona Ma, and Lori Saldaña.

The visit, a second such tour in six months, was intended to play up Azerbaijan's importance, including its efforts to turn "'black gold' (oil) into 'human gold," Azerbaijani media reports said.

Ms. Brownley and Ms. Saldaña were among California officials who in September 2007 went to Azerbaijan, where they heard about the misdeeds of the "destructive" Armenian diaspora.

According to a February 24 Trend news report, Mr. Fuentes sent a letter to President Ilham Aliyev, expressing "condolences" to Azerbaijan over its losses in the Karabakh war. Mr. Suleymanov called the letter a "very important event since "Armenians provide false information about the [Karabakh] conflict."

Mr. Mollazade and other Azerbaijani officials were reportedly ordered to the United States as part of the Azerbaijani State Committee for Work with Diaspora "action plan." According to APA, the plan also involved pickets, presentations, and exhibits held in Washington, New York, California, and elsewhere to highlight Azerbaijani grievances against Armenians.

Friday, April 10, 2009

An Armenian is imprisoned in Iranian crackdown

Silva Harotonian’s family blames “tragic misunderstanding”
by Emil Sanamyan

, - An Iranian-Armenian employee of the U.S. government-funded International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) has been detained in Iran for more than seven months and was recently sentenced to a three-year prison term, her employer and family said in statements last week.

Silva Harotonian, 34, an Iranian citizen, was arrested on June 26, 2008, while on a business trip to Tehran for IREX's Maternal and Child Health Education and Exchange Program (MCHEEP). Ms. Harotonian was an administrative officer for the program, launched in 2007, and the only IREX staff member on the ground in Iran at the time.

According to a statement by IREX president Robert Pearson, her "role as a program administrator involved explaining logistics for the two-week exchange program, translating documents between Armenian and English into Farsi, and answering telephone inquiries."

On January 19, Ms. Harotonian was sentenced to three years in prison on what IREX described as "erroneous" charges of plotting against the Iranian government; she is currently appealing the ruling.

Keith Mellnick, a spokesperson for IREX in Washington, told the Armenian Reporter that his organization was "working with the family to open channels to the Iranian government to free Silva Harotonian" and were seeking public support for the same.

Forced confession

The Iranian-Armenian's arrest was first revealed on January 21 by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI); she was then identified as Sylvia Hartounian.

Citing its sources inside Tehran's Evin prison, the group reported that following ten days of solitary confinement, Ms. Harotonian was forced under duress to claim she was part of a "plot" against the Islamic Republic. That report was picked up by the Los Angeles Times.

In a report on January 19, Press TV, Iran's English-language television station, cited an unnamed Iranian intelligence official as saying that four individuals were sentenced on charges of "organizing anti-government public rallies and creating ethnic division in the country."

The channel further cited Tehran's Islamic Revolution Court as concluding in its verdict that the four Iranian citizens "confessed to trying to distance the people of Iran from the government and introduce the United States as their sole savior."

Hadi Ghaemi, a New York-based spokesperson for ICHRI, said Ms. Harotonian was likely to be one of the four individuals being referred to by Press TV. The other two are brothers Arash and Kamiar Alaei, both Iranian medical doctors who focus on HIV/AIDS; the fourth is so far unnamed, but is believed to be an Iranian documentary filmmaker, although it is unclear whether their cases are connected.

It is normal practice in Iran for the government and judiciary not to reveal to the public the names of those detained, Mr. Ghaemi told the Armenian Reporter. The families in turn tend not to publicize the names of the detained, hoping to quietly win government leniency.

IREX and Ms. Harotonian's family went public about the arrest only after initial reports by human rights activists.

Family appeal, a website launched on behalf of Ms. Harotonian's family in Los Angeles on February 20, seeks to gather public support "in respectfully urging the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran to grant the release of our loved one."

"Our family has always appreciated the Iranian government's efforts to ensure the safety, religious freedom and prosperity of its Armenian community," the family said in a statement. "We believe releasing Silva would further demonstrate Iran's solidarity with its Armenian population and generosity toward our loyal Christian minority."

After studying Armenian literature at the Azad University in Tehran, Ms. Harotonian taught at an Armenian school and held several administrative jobs, including at the Armenian Prelacy in Tehran. Her family described her as a "patriot" of Iran and a loyal citizen, pointing to the formal recognition she received for her role in celebrations marking the Islamic Revolution anniversary in 2004.

Ms. Harotonian recently moved to Yerevan, where she began working for the IREX program that supports health practitioners in Iran.

On the website, the family described Ms. Harotonian's arrest and imprisonment as a "tragic misunderstanding." They argued instead that "granting her a release after serving time in prison would recognize both the need for law-abiding behavior and the value of forgiveness of innocent mistakes."

Caught in a stand-off

Although United States entities are not legally allowed to operate in Iran, U.S. government-funded organizations like IREX and others have worked with Iran's nongovernmental groups.

At the same time, the Bush administration publicly sought to undermine Iran's government, and there were credible reports of U.S.-funded covert operations underway.

As a result, all U.S.-funded projects in Iran - even those dealing with science, education, and healthcare - have come under official suspicion, with a number of individuals - mostly Iranian citizens -held and imprisoned by the government.

Mr. Ghaemi estimated about 400 individuals are currently being held in Iran on politically motivated charges. In a recent case, a scholar of Iranian descent and U.S. citizen, Haleh Esfandiari, was released after months of detention in 2007.

While President Barack Obama has called for an open dialogue with Iran and for its leaders to "unclench their fists," no progress toward normalization of relations has occurred so far.

Obama proposes budget, new reports on Armenian politics and Karabakh

First published in February 28, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Obama proposes 2010 budget, as Congress funds 2009

President Barack Obama made his first budget proposal since taking office, calling for an overall increase in funding for the State Department and other international programs to $51.7 billion, or $4.5 billion more than the Fiscal Year 2009 spending estimate, the White House announced on February 26.

Country-by-country breakdowns, including that for Armenia, were not available at press time. But the overall increase may help reverse the trend of recent years with U.S. aid programs for post-Soviet states declining from $452 million in 2007 to an estimated $346 million in 2009.

Meanwhile, on February 25, Congress passed the Omnibus spending bill for Fiscal Year 2009. According to the Democratic Party managers' report accompanying the legislation and made available to the Armenian Reporter, the legislation set aside $48 million in aid to Armenia and $8 million to Nagorno-Karabakh. There was also $3 million in foreign military financing for Armenia and Azerbaijan, each.

Overall, Armenia aid program remains one of the largest in Europe with only Kosovo ($120.9 million), Ukraine ($71.5 million), Russia ($60 million), and Georgia ($52 million) receiving more funding. Aid to Azerbaijan was set at $18.5 million.

The legislation mirrored closely the spending levels proposed by the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee last summer. (See this page in the Armenian Reporter for July 17, 2008.)

There is also substantial cut in Millennium Challenge Corporation programs, set at $875 million, down from $1.35 billion requested by the Bush administration.

Reports review Armenia’s post-election crisis

Allegations of misconduct by Armenia's law-enforcement agencies during post-electoral collisions last year should be thoroughly investigated, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged as part of a detailed study released on February 25. The watchdog also called on the United States and the European Union to make their engagement with Armenia contingent on such an investigation.

The 64-page HRW report, "Democracy on Rocky Ground: Armenia's Disputed 2008 Presidential Election, Post-Election Violence, and the One-Sided Pursuit of Accountability," is perhaps the most comprehensive available account of Armenia's latest post-election crisis.

The study is based on interviews with 80 witnesses, participants, and victims of the March 1-2 clashes in Yerevan, conducted in March and April last year.

Also released on February 25 was the State Department's annual study of human rights practices worldwide. Its Armenia chapter, in addition to compiling human rights issues throughout 2008, retained a controversial reference to the Armenian republic of Nagorno-Karabakh as a "region of Azerbaijan."

There were community and congressional complaints when the reference was first introduced into the report in 2006. State Department officials claimed at the time the reference did not signal a change in U.S. policy. There was no public reaction when the reference was repeated last year.

Expert recommends change of rhetoric on Karabakh

"Both internationally and locally, the language used about the [Karabakh] dispute needs to change for progress to be made" in the peace process, the leading Western expert on the conflict Thomas de Waal argued in a paper for the Conciliation Resources, a British charity.

The 20-page paper titled, "The Karabakh Trap: Dangers and dilemmas of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict," released online on February 24, provides a review of the status quo in the Armenian-Azerbaijani standoff and outlines potential future scenarios.

As immediate steps, Mr. de Waal recommends "less use by international officials of formulas about ‘territorial integrity' and "self-determination' which obscure more than they reveal" about the conflict; he also urges "an end to the talk of war" by Azerbaijan and a distinction between the rights of Karabakh Armenians and Armenian-controlled former Azerbaijani-populated areas.

"On both sides, [there is a need for] mention of regret for the shared tragedy of war, of the deep common culture and of the necessity and value of living together as neighbours and partners in the future," the expert concludes.

Mr. de Waal is author of Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War, the only thorough study of the conflict available in English, released as a book in 2003.

Polls note Muslim suspicion of U.S., worldwide religiosity

Most Muslims oppose terrorist attacks against civilians but are also suspicious of the United States and endorse the al Qaida objective of removing American military bases from the Middle East, according to surveys conducted last year and released on February 25.

The World Public Opinion poll found that a significant number of respondents in eight Muslim countries studied support attacks on U.S. military forces deployed in the Middle East. While majorities hold a negative view of Osama bin Laden and al Qaida, they also believe that Islamist groups should be allowed to participate in the political process.

In Turkey, 87 percent of respondents believed the United States intends to "weaken and divide" Muslims and 77 percent thought the U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf was a "bad idea." Turks were split on attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq, with 40 percent disapproving and 39 percent approving of such attacks.

In Azerbaijan, 67 percent of respondents believed the U.S. goal was to undermine Muslims and 66 percent called U.S. military presence a "bad idea." Nevertheless, fully 76 percent of Azerbaijanis also opposed attacks on U.S.-led forces in Iraq. (Azerbaijan was the only country included in the survey to have had a contingent in Iraq until last year.)

In a separate Gallup poll of worldwide religiosity released on February 9, Azerbaijan was determined to be the least religious majority-Muslim country in the world. Only 21 percent of Azerbaijanis surveyed responded affirmatively when asked if religion was an important part of their life.

By contrast, 75 percent of Georgians and 70 percent of Armenians said they were religious. In the United States two-thirds of respondents described themselves as religious. Egypt, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, topped the ranks of the most religious countries worldwide.

Israeli elections and Armenia's friends

This was first published in February 21, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Armenia’s Israeli friends re-elected to Knesset
by Emil Sanamyan

Ze'ev Elkin, left, with Bibi Netanyahu during the election campaign

, - Following general elections on February 10, the Israeli political scene remains deadlocked, with no one party or bloc enjoying a majority in the nation's Knesset.

Media reports suggest that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-of-center Likud party is most likely to lead the next government, which might also include his main rival, outgoing foreign minister Tsipi Livni of the centrist Kadima party. On February 19 Mr. Netanyahu won the support of two right-wing parties that won the third and fifth largest shares of seats in the parliament.

Among those re-elected is co-chair of the Israel-Armenia parliamentary friendship group, Ze'ev Elkin, now with Likud. Mr. Elkin was elected to the Knesset in 2006 on the Kadima list, but left the party over its support for a Palestinian state. Last year, Mr. Elkin sought to raise the long-taboo subject of the Armenian Genocide in the Knesset. (See an interview with him in the April 12, 2008, issue of the Armenian Reporter.)

Also re-elected was Chaim Oron, veteran politician and leader of a small leftist Meretz party, who has long championed Armenian Genocide affirmation efforts.

Among those not re-elected was Yosef Shagal, a lobbyist for Azerbaijan who, following several public embarrassments, was dropped from the list of the Yisrael Beitenu party of Avigdor Lieberman.

Obama hears from Ankara, CIA on Caucasus, NRC on Armenia, Turkish President visits Moscow

This was first published in February 21, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Obama hears about Armenia from Turkish leaders

President Barack Obama had "wide-ranging" phone discussions with Turkey's president and prime minister, the White House reported on February 16. President Obama initiated the calls to "emphasize his desire to strengthen U.S.-Turkish relations" and to discuss specific U.S. concerns related to its Middle East priorities.

According to Turkish media, President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan both raised Turkey's opposition to U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide. During the election campaign, Mr. Obama pledged that as president, he would recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Turkish media claimed that in response Mr. Obama welcomed the recently intensified dialogue between Armenia and Turkey. According to Mr. Erdogan's office, Mr. Obama added that "America always understands Turkey's sensitivities."

The White House read out of the conversation made no mention of Armenian concerns and, as of press time, the White House had not responded to the Armenian Reporter's request for clarification.

Meanwhile, Mr. Erdogan again lashed out at Israel, questioning Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's credibility. His remarks came after the outgoing head of the Israeli government attempted to explain why, during a visit to Turkey just days before launching the Gaza operation, he did not tell Mr. Erdogan about Israel's military plans, Zaman newspaper reported on February 19.

National intelligence director notes Caucasus problems

"Fundamental differences between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh will keep tensions high in the Caucasus," National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in testimony on February 12.

The testimony summarized recent developments around the standoff: "Azerbaijan fears isolation in the wake of Kosovo's independence, Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and signs of improved Armenian-Turkish relations. Armenia is concerned about Baku's military buildup and does not want to become dependent on Russia. Both countries face the dual challenges of overcoming inertia in democratic reforms and battling endemic corruption in the face of an economic downturn."

In the aftermath of the Georgia war, the U.S. intelligence community's "Eurasia/Caucasus/Central Asia" concerns occupied a full page of the total 44 pages of testimony.

Admiral Blair noted that despite its many problems, "the Russian military defeated the Georgian military last August." He also referred to Russia's persistent line that Georgia's and Ukraine's membership in NATO would put U.S.-Russia cooperation on international security issues in jeopardy.

In their recent comments, Obama administration officials have stepped back from the Bush administration's outright support for the two countries' NATO membership.

In a possibly related development, Russia this week indicated it would continue to hold up supplies of sophisticated air defense missile systems to Iran.

U.S. nuclear regulator ready to help Armenia

"We have had a good bilateral agreement with Armenia," sharing technology and training, chairperson of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Dale Klein told the Armenian Reporter on February 13.

Asked if the United States would continue to have a role in Armenia's efforts to replace its existing nuclear power plant with a new one in coming years, Mr. Klein said he and his counterparts in Armenia enjoyed a "very good relationship" and, "if asked for help, [the NRC] will try to help to the extent that [it] can."

The NRC oversees safety and security of U.S. plants and provides expertise around the world. An NRC commissioner, Peter Lyons, visited Armenia last year and the United States had funded a feasibility study looking at options for building a new reactor.

Mr. Klein noted that for the United States to take part in the Armenian nuclear energy sector, privately owned U.S. companies would have to be attracted to the project. In general, he said, it made sense for Armenia to have a "diversified portfolio" in terms of energy supplies.

In remarks at the Council on the Foreign Relations, Mr. Klein said that 50 new nuclear power plants were being built around the world, 21 of them in China and 12 in India.

In the United States, in addition to 104 functioning power plants, 17 applications for 26 more reactors are currently being considered by the NRC.

But there are concerns that fewer reactors may end up being built, considering the economic slowdown and the Obama administration's reservations about the long-term impact of nuclear waste.

Russia, Turkey tout friendly relations

Turkey's President Abdullah Gül visited with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in the Kremlin on February 13, with the two presidents signing a joint declaration "on new stage of relations" and "deepening of friendship and wide-ranging cooperation," according to the Kremlin website. Mr. Gül made a four-day state visit to Russia between February 12 and 15.

The declaration, mirroring the document signed during then President Vladimir Putin's visit to Turkey in 2004, emphasized cooperation on energy and trade issues.

Russia is seeking to build four nuclear reactors in Turkey worth $20 billion and supply electricity to Turkey on a long-term basis, Russia's energy minister said the same day. Turkey already relies on Russia for natural-gas supplies, and overall bilateral trade topped $32 billion in 2008.

The document also briefly referred to the need to settle Caucasus conflicts. Last year, Turkey in effect backed Russia's military action against Georgia, although Ankara has declined to recognize Abkhazia or South Ossetia.

Interview with Armenia's new consul in LA

Armenia’s new consul in Los Angeles pledges better constituency services and outreach
Interview with newly appointed Consul General Grigor Hovhanissian
by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Thursday February 19, 2009

Grigor Hovhanissian comes to Los Angeles after two and a half years as executive director of the Shushi Revival Fund, an Armenian government entity. Prior to that, Mr. Hovhanissian worked from 1993 to 2006 for the United Nations in field offices in Armenia, Africa, and the Middle East. Born in 1971, Mr. Hovhanissian is a graduate of the Middle East Studies department of Yerevan State University and has a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Mr. Hovhanissian spoke with the Armenian Reporter's Emil Sanamyan on February 12, about a week into his posting. They discussed Mr. Hovhanissian's background and plans in the new assignment.

From Arabic studies to the heart of Africa

AR: How did you begin working for the United Nations?

GH: I did a year of postgraduate study in Beirut, where I met some UN people working with Shiite refugees in Lebanon and did some research work for them.

And when I went back to Armenia, I had an offer from the local UN office to do something similar, working with Armenian refugees displaced mostly from Azerbaijan but also from Central Asia. That was my first exposure and experience with international civil service. In 1993-94, I helped design and implement shelter projects for refugee resettlement in various parts of Armenia.

AR: And from Armenia you went to Congo. . . .

GH: Yes, it was actually the Great Lakes region of Africa, specifically the province of Kivu in the eastern part of what at the time was known as Zaire. Since I knew French [which is widely spoken there] and already had experience with refugee protection and resettlement, I was offered [a chance] to go there.

It was in the early aftermath of the Rwanda genocide, and we had to deal with a number of issues from security to crisis management. Those countries - Rwanda, Burundi, as well as Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, the Central African Republic - are still coping with the aftermath of that genocide.

AR: It must have been tremendous for someone learned about the Armenian experience to find himself in Rwanda immediately after the genocide. . . .

GH: That was a real issue for me. Imagine a relatively inexperienced young man getting involved in things like forensic expertise of mass graves and seeing an army, millions of people fleeing in search of security. I was grateful to my colleagues who realized the special sensitivity I had to this situation. [That experience] marked me big time.

From the Great Lakes I was posted to a more political-coordination position with the UN office in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, dealing with UN mediation in the civil wars both in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) and Congo-Brazzaville.

AR: This is a bit off topic, but our readers like to know about Armenians in exotic places. Did you meet many in Congo?

GH: Yes, of course. Not just in Congo, but in even less frequented places. There are plenty of natural resources in that area, diamonds in particular, and our compatriots from as far away as Lebanon and France reached all the way to the rainforest.

I saw a small Armenian chapel in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. And in fact one of the senior officials in that country's former regime was a Lebanese Armenian.

And in Zimbabwe, there was a prominent doctor Levon - I forget his family name. He first arrived there with the Soviet mission to UNESCO, and eventually settled down and opened his own clinic. There were a few [Armenian] families in Namibia. Armenians from Armenia found their way to South Africa.

Since I traveled most of the continent, and was specifically looking for compatriots, I could find at least a few Armenians in almost every country I visited.

AR: And then it was on to the Middle East. . . .

GH: Yes. From 2000 to 2004 I was working in Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank, dealing with the crisis in the Palestinian territories. And from 2004 to 2006, I was with the UN Mission for Iraq, which because of the security situation was remote-operated. I was senior advisor to the special representative of the UN Secretary General, based in Amman, Jordan.

That was the period when the U.S. was transferring authority to the Iraqi government, and we were dealing with capacity building for that government. But our real presence [in Iraq] was extremely limited. We were doing in-and-outs to the "Green Zone" [area of central Baghdad heavily protected by U.S. forces].

AR: And I imagine you had come into contact with Iraqi-Armenians who were displaced to Jordan?

GH: Yes of course. And in Iraq itself, the UN mission as well as other international offices had a number of ethnic Armenian employees as well.

And you will recall that for many years our compatriot [from Cyprus], Benon Sevan, headed the very important [oil-for-food] operation dealing with Iraq. It was a great regret and disappointment when unverified and outright accusations made this very prominent person resign after a very long and productive career with the United Nations.

And back to Armenia

AR: How did you make the leap from working for the UN for over a decade to going back to Armenia and working for its government?

GH: It was a pretty gradual process. At some point I decided that despite my career at the UN, for full professional satisfaction I needed to move back to Armenia. I am very attached to our country and everything happening there affected my life and work, so I decided that it would be better to experience it from inside. So I moved back and did not regret it.

I began by teaching at the university - Arabic studies and country studies. Then I was offered [a chance] to establish and lead the Shushi Revival Fund, which is both a political and a development venture. I was very happy doing that job until very recently, when totally unexpected for me, I was offered [a chance] to become Armenia's consul general in Los Angeles.

AR: What was your mandate at the Shushi Fund and who were you in effect answerable to?

GH: The fund has a Board of Trustees chaired by the mayor of Yerevan. The mission statement was to create a framework to facilitate investments and development of the town of Shushi.

It was not a charity per se, since charity is good for building schools and hospitals; but to really have a city that is developing and economically viable, you need more than that. So we went about designing a master plan for Shushi's development. We did that with help from an Orange County-based company. And we did some basic infrastructure work, like water supply.

We thought of ourselves as sort of a vector that underscores the importance of Shushi as a historical capital of Artsakh (Karabakh) to attract wider involvement in Shushi's future.

AR: And in two years with the fund, what were you most happy and most unhappy with?

GH: Unhappy with the pace of programs. It has been slower than initially expected. Perhaps initial expectations were really too high. There were also some setbacks related to the international economic crisis over the past year affecting the flow of investments.

And I was certainly happy that with our small team we managed to organize a telethon between Shushi, Bethlehem, and Moscow, which was an unprecedented thing to do and was broadcast on Orthodox Christmas Eve in 2008. It drew quite a bit of attention as well as support.

The Los Angeles mission

AR: What did President Serge Sargsian ask you to do as consul general?

GH: I was given a very clear sense of mission.

I am here to serve the needs of our community; interpret the government's position vis-à-vis various issues the community has, including repatriation; try to smooth over any tensions between various community groups; work to improve Armenia's image; and maintain our diplomatic presence to promote political and economic relations with the United States.

We are here on a service mission, and that I think that is the key word. We will particularly be focusing on improving the quality and expanding the quantity of services of this consulate for our compatriots and all people with goodwill for Armenia.

AR: You are the sixth head of the mission since the consulate opened in 1995. Before speaking with you I spoke to a number of my colleagues and friends and heard repeatedly the refrain that the consulate is widely perceived as an OVIR - the Soviet era-legacy passport and visa agency known for its bureaucratic hassles - and that there was not nearly enough outreach to the community.

GH: To be perfectly blunt and frank with you, I heard these same things in Armenia. But I should note that I found this office well-managed and quite efficient.

I know that there have been issues of a logistical nature and with the efficiency of consular services. Sometimes the overall discontent comes from a very basic thing - our inability to deliver services in a well-managed and timely way. We will be assessing these issues as a matter of first priority.

In terms of outreach, the complicating factor is that the consulate is located in the Beverly Hills area of Los Angeles, which is not the most convenient location relative to where most of our constituency lives - in Glendale, Pasadena, Hollywood, and elsewhere. We will try to reconcile these [disconnects].

What is clear is that we need to improve the outreach and quality of services.

AR: What have you done in your first week in Los Angeles other than moving in?

GH: Meeting with community members, getting introduced to leaders of the Church, political parties, civic groups, and various organizations. I am trying to complete this introductory part as quickly as possible to be able to get down to practicalities and tangible things. I want to note that I found these briefings extremely important and I am very grateful to all our community leaders who have been very forthcoming.

In the future, being the field person that I am, I will try to be out with our constituency as much as I can.


Consulate General of the Republic of Armenia
50 N. La Cienega Blvd., Suite 210
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Tel: (310) 657-6102
Fax: (310) 657-7419

The consulate does not currently have a web site.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ian Bremmer predicts the future, an interview

Ian Bremmer: no war over NK, same challenges for Genocide resolution
Prominent political risk consultant offers Armenia, regional outlook for 2009
by Emil Sanamyan

Ian Bremmer, 2d from right with, from left, Pres. Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian of Armenia, and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki of Iran at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday Jan. 29. AP Photo: Michel Euler

Ian Bremmer is founder and President of Eurasia Group, one of the world's leading providers of political risk analysis for corporate clients. Self-described "intellectual entrepreneur" Mr. Bremmer, who turns 40 this year and is of Armenian and German descent, has built the consultancy from the ground up since 1998. The group is at 100 full-time staff in offices in New York, Washington and London, including former senior U.S. government planners and analysts, and hundreds more contributing experts worldwide. On February 9 Mr. Bremmer spoke with Armenian Reporter's Washington editor Emil Sanamyan about risks faced by Armenia and the world.

Nonpolar world and Russian regional dominance

AR: In a Foreign Affairs article last year, Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, observed that the world order was shifting from U.S.-dominated "uni-polar" one to a "non-polar" state of affairs. And you agree with that view. What does this mean for the world and for countries like Armenia?

IB: This [nonpolar arrangement] is unlikely to be the equilibrium outcome, [i.e., the world order will continue to undergo changes]. But there is no question that America's ability and willingness to do the heavy lifting on global issues is much more limited than it was five years ago or even one year ago.

What it means for a country like Armenia is that you are dealing much more with your immediate neighborhood. At the end of the day that means countries like Russia.

Look at what happened in Georgia. The Russian government, after a number of provocations, basically goaded the [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili to do something stupid and he did. And the Russians would have probably gone to Tbilisi if it was not for the U.S. and France.

The end of that story is they have got control [over the region]. You saw that the U.S. base in Kyrgyz Republic was forced out after the Russians threw a little more cash and engaged in political pressure [against the Kyrgyz government].

It is very clear that Russia believes that there is a region of the world that is in its sphere of influence, where [Russian interests] are privileged. In the same way the United States exists in Latin America. And the Russians intend to behave that way.

So if you are Armenia, a tiny landlocked country with very limited resources, it means that your relationship with Russia is going to become even more important than it has been.

AR: How significant an event was the war in Georgia last year? In terms of regional impact, was it on the scale of the September 11, 2001, attacks or perhaps even the Soviet breakup?

IB: No, because [Georgia] is a tiny little country and because, at the end of the day, you can give Russia 75 percent of the blame, but you have to give Saakashvili 25 percent [of the blame] for sheer lack of understanding of what he was getting himself into. Or lack of care.

Georgia is a small country, where the United States and Europeans are not prepared to move quickly on NATO integration or send troops to stop the Russians. It could have 9/11-type implications if Americans and Europeans decided that Georgia was an ally they could not allow to fall, but that was not the case.

When I wrote my early 2008 paper about expectant risks going forward [in 2008], I talked about Georgia. I didn't say it was going to be the number one risk, because it is not that big of a deal, but certainly the likelihood that Russians could have gone in, we could predict a while back.

AR: Do you see this sort of Russian resurgence exhibited again in 2009?

IB: We just saw that in the Kyrgyz Republic, and we saw that in a natural gas cut off to Ukraine earlier in the year that had implications for European countries.

And if people said that Russia attacked Georgia when a barrel of oil was $120 and Russians felt a lot stronger, the fact is that Russia cut off gas to Ukraine when oil was at $40 a barrel. So clearly, it is not just economic interest that is playing a role here for the Russian government.

The willingness of the Russian government to ensure that they have dominant political influence over Ukraine is significant. That may well mean that they play a more proactive role in trying to get [former prime minister Viktor] Yanukovich as the next president of Ukraine.

There is greater possibility for tensions over Crimea - both directly with local population that has a pro-Russian orientation and also in terms of the Russian naval base in [Crimea's port of] Sevastopol - and Russia continuing to leverage their energy influence over Ukraine.

I do not expect to see Russian tanks rolling into Kiev or anywhere else in the region. While there is always a possibility, if we are looking at the immediate future in 2009, there is not the same level of expectation of military confrontation that Russians could provoke that we saw with Georgia.

Aliyev's success and Karabakh stability

AR: Considering the increase in Russian influence and the fall of oil prices, which is very important to Azerbaijan, where do you see the Karabakh stand-off going?

IB: Clearly, the Armenians are showing more flexibility [in negotiations] than the Azeris are since [Armenians] recognize that they are increasingly in a weaker position than the Azeris, with all their resources and regional allies.

When I met [Azerbaijani President] Ilham Aliyev [before the panel that Mr. Bremmer moderated] in Davos, it struck me that he felt that he had more of an upper hand to play.

But Karabakh is not an area where Russians are actively playing one side against the other. Moscow's relationships with Yerevan and Baku are both pretty good.

If you do see Aliyev saying, "I am going independent, I am going to build Nabucco [a gas pipeline to Europe bypassing Russia] all by myself, I don't care about Russia and their energy interests," then you could see Russians promoting more conflict and trying to squeeze the Azeris.

Aliyev has been a comparative success story in the region. When he first became president, everyone said he was a playboy, not an intellectual, not serious. But he actually became a pretty good and articulate head of state. And he is aware of the difficulty of Azerbaijan's geopolitical position even in the context of Russia economically being a bit on the back foot.

AR: What do you make of all of Aliyev's threats to go to war over Karabakh that have been coming for many years? What do you think has held Aliyev back?

IB: First of all, they know that it's not in their interests. I think it is much more rhetoric, knowing that Armenians are in a difficult position and taking the more maximalist diplomatic line to try to improve the terms of any eventual settlement.

Secondly, the Azeris do listen to Russia; they listen to Turkey. Neither of those countries is pushing the Azeris toward a military confrontation with Armenia. And I just don't expect it.

And certainly Azerbaijan is an oil producer and oil prices being now at about a quarter of what they were at the peak, it's not the time I'd be wanting to launch military excursions. They are expensive.

Armenian-Turkish dialogue

AR: The other Davos panel that involved Turkish and Israeli leaders created quite a bit of news. Where do you see Turkey going and what does that mean for Armenia?

IB: You know that the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers met privately three times the day before the panel that I moderated. I had been told directly that those meetings went quite well. And [Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan met with Armenian president Serge Sargsian. When I asked Mr. Erdogan, he was cautiously optimistic that [the matter of] relations with Armenia is going well.

The Armenian government understands it has to play a very sensitive role. The diaspora is much more focused on the Genocide issue and is much more loath to support Armenia opening relations with Turkey. But it really behooves the leaders of the Armenian diaspora to recognize that opening diplomatic and trade relations between Armenia and Turkey would be an incredibly positive step that does not mean that Armenians should never talk about genocide again.

The genocide recognition should not be a precondition. Armenia is in the difficult position. The leaders in Yerevan and citizens of Armenia have to live in that geopolitical context. Members of the diaspora living in Watertown or Pasadena do not. And I think there needs be a level of sensitivity with the extraordinary pressure that the Armenian government is presently under.

There is a real opportunity with the Erdogan government right now. And if diplomatic relations with Armenia are opened, that creates more of an opportunity over the longer term through dialogue and through closer relations to get the Turks to move to the place where they could finally recognize and offer an historical apology for what happened between our two nations.

AR: Over the past number of years, whenever there are improved expectations of headway for Armenian Genocide recognition, especially a congressional resolution in the United States, Turkey becomes more interested in talking to Armenia on a high level. And as soon as the resolutions get shelved, dialogue on normalization gets shelved as well. Would it be too unfair to suggest that Turks are using these talks to simply try and prevent once again a congressional resolution?

IB: Certainly, pressure in Congress under the Obama Administration is something that is talked about in Turkey frequently and that plays into their calculus.

But that does not mean you do not open relations. What the Armenian diaspora does vis-à-vis Washington is separate from what the Armenian government does vis-à-vis Ankara. And these need to be recognized as dual tracks.

The diaspora telling the Obama administration and their representatives in Congress that the Genocide resolution is important to the community is very different from the diaspora telling Yerevan you can't open relations with Turkey.

AR: In your outlook for 2009, you wrote that "Turkey-U.S. relations could suffer significantly if President Obama decides to fulfill his electoral pledge to approve the Armenian genocide resolution, a step that would seriously inflame the Turkish government and public opinion." Do you think that perhaps the adoption of the resolution could be helpful in that it would no longer "threaten" U.S.-Turkish relations as it has for the past two or three decades?

IB: No, it will always threaten U.S.-Turkish relations but that does not mean it is not helpful for the Armenian diaspora. We need to recognize that the diaspora has a different view of priorities than the U.S. government does, which is perfectly reasonable for a special interest group.

The pro-Israel lobby in U.S. has interests that differ from U.S. priorities in the Middle East or even in U.S-Israel relations.

And it is appropriate for the Armenian diaspora to push for what they feel is incredibly important to them. But it is also appropriate for the Obama administration to resist that, because Turkey is an important country. And that is healthy for a democracy.

Openness, stability, and risks

AR: In your 2006 book The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall, you argued that there is a peculiar relationship between a country's stability and its openness toward the flow of people, goods, and information (not necessarily being a democracy). Sometimes it seems that Armenia is just open enough to frequently find itself at the bottom of this curve, do you agree with that?

IB: No, Armenia is reasonably closed at this point and it pretty much has to be in the present environment. Armenia is a country that lost about thirty percent of its population in the 1980s and 90s, some of the most pro-globalization, pro-entrepreneurial citizens of that country, because they had opportunities outside of Armenia.

So it is not a surprise in that context that the Armenian government is focused on stability. They fought a war against Azerbaijan and their closest relationship is with authoritarian Russia. It is a very difficult geopolitical position and no surprise it finds itself on the left side of the curve.

AR: Overall, is the so-called Putin model of authoritarian leadership the best possible fit for Armenia?

IB: Not long-term. Being a small country with a very active diaspora, Armenia could open up in a relatively short time, developing ties and trade with Turkey, and move toward settlement with Azerbaijan. And if Georgia remains less stable, Armenia becomes a better option for things like pipelines. A small country like that with a relatively small amount of money gets a lot of optionality. But we are not there yet.

AR: And you have a new book coming out in the next couple of weeks, The Fat Tail: The Power of Political Knowledge for Strategic Investing. What is that about?

IB: The book tries to explain how politics increasingly affect the market. The notion of the "fat tail" is that so many of the things that affect us in the global economy today are things that we think are very, very unlikely to happen, but they actually happen much more frequently.

A lot of people say that these things cannot be predicted. And what I am saying in the book is that increasingly the biggest risks in the market are not economic but political in nature. And I am trying to help people understand what these political risks are all about.

Top 10 risks of 2009 according to Eurasia Group
(Eurasia Group's Jan. 5, 2009 release)

1. Congress: how the U.S. reacts to the economic crisis

2. South Asia security: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India

3. Iran/Israel: Nuclear Iran to shift regional balance

4. Russia: economic problems and tension with the West

5. Iraq: reduced U.S. presence to lead to spike in violence

6. Venezuela: Chavez to fight to retain power

7. Mexico: War on drugs taking a violent turn

8. Ukraine: economic implosion and political bickering

9. Turkey: Islamists v. secularists; drift from the West

10. South Africa: elections and political instability

Red herrings:
China: no domestic unrest and resilient economy

The Persian Gulf: Petro-states to weather the oil prices

Climate change: Issue to take back seat to economic crisis

Brief description for each item inserted after colon is the Reporter's summary of Eurasia Group findings.