Will elections make a difference for Armenia?

“Hye” Marks: Bush or Kerry. Will elections make a difference for Armenia?
By Aris Ghazinyan and John Hughes, ArmeniaNow reporters

Armenia Now
29 Oct 2004

When Americans go to the polls on Tuesday, Armenians will be watching,
with more than passive interest.

Armenia’s regional neighborhood has been disturbed by a United
States-initiated war that shows no sign of ending. Diaspora in Iraq
has suffered, and Armenia itself is poised to enter the fight, with
50 Armenian troops scheduled for an undetermined deployment perhaps
by the end of the year.

Whether the man elected the next President of the United States is
the one who started the war (President George W. Bush), or the one
who promises to end it (Senator John Kerry) Tuesday’s outcome could,
of course, have an impact on Armenia’s future and, even, security
(especially if relations worsen between the U.S. and Iran).

At home and in Diaspora, however, the one who is seen as best for
Armenia’s future is widely considered the one who would take a strong
stand regarding her past. In truth, it is doubtful either candidate
would. Needing to keep cozy relations with the U.S. powerhouse partner
in the region, Turkey, the next Chief of State isn’t likely to push
Genocide recognition any farther than predecessors have safely left it.

Still, it appears that the Armenian-American community has pinned
its hopes on Kerry – if not for Kerry, himself, then to express the
anti-Bushism that may be the strongest plank of Kerry’s political

Before Kerry had even been officially nominated by his party, more
than 20 influential American-Armenian organizations had endorsed him.

“One should realize that for Armenians the party affiliation of a
candidate has absolutely no significance,” says Tigran Gevorgyan, a
political scientist. “For several decades, the only guideline for the
‘Armenian voters’ in the U.S. is the candidates’ position related to
the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

“Armenians supported Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger by the same
principle in 2003. Earlier, American Armenians have many times voted
for Republican candidates. Particularly, they have twice voted for
Ronald Reagan who, moreover, had promised the Armenians ‘independence
and riddance of the Russian oppression.’ So, the statement of the
Armenian organizations in the U.S. concerning their support of John
Kerry should be perceived in the same context.”

Support for the Massachusetts senator grew from an ill-informed
notion that Kerry would include Genocide recognition as part of his
presidential mandate. It subsequently become clear that hopes pinned
to Kerry for that reason, were misplaced. (He recently inferred that
any attention the subject might get from his administration would be
in the context of assuring continued good U.S. relations with Turkey.)

The American-Armenian community is left, then, to judge the candidates
on other potential merits. And in this line of reasoning, for many,
Bush comes up short as an Armenia-friendly president, if only for
fear of how this part of the world might turn under the influence
of a world leader whose foreign policy centers around “smoking out”
Muslim-world “evil-doers”.

Kiro Manoyan, head of Hay Dat committee of Armenian traditional party
ARF Dashnaktsutiun, holds a somewhat a different viewpoint about
reasons his world-wide political action organization is for Kerry.

“As early as July 26, the Armenian National Committee of America
(ANCA) expressed its support of John Kerry’s candidature,” says
Manoyan. “Many people in Armenia think that our discontent with
Bush is basically conditioned by his policy regarding the Armenian
Genocide. Bush’s distorted promises are, in fact, one of the 14
points of our Statement. The rest of the issues are related to the
Armenian-American relations:

“It was during Bush’s presidency that the direct military assistance to
Azerbaijan made its way, and Article 907 of the Freedom Act was then
interpreted differently – as a charity action. The incumbent head of
the White House never invited Armenia’s president to Washington. He
is the only one of the latest U.S. presidents who never received the
delegation of the Armenian Diaspora in the U.S.

“The activities of the Bush administration regarding the Nagorno
Karabakh issue are also unsatisfying, the failure mostly because of
Heidar Aliyev but Bush continues keeping close relations with the
Aliyev clan. Bush also increased the amount of military assistance
to Turkey which he called ‘a country with a 150 year old tradition of
democracy.’ There are also many other issues connected with corporate
interests in the fuel companies within the area of the South Caucasus.”

Political scientist Ruben Margaryan also maintains that there are
non-Genocide related reasons why Bush is bad for Armenia.

“When Bush came to power, radical ways of resolving regional
controversies were abruptly activated, and the South Caucasus also
proved sensitive to that turnaround. In the course of his presidency
the aggressive statements became more frequent, which forebodes nothing
good. Peace grew more fragile and vulnerable in that period. Today
nobody is able to forecast the further course of events, should the
global and regional radicalism tend to go on for several years. Perhaps
Bush himself is not to blame – there was the tragedy of 9/11. However,
the total tension all over the world today is connected with nobody’s
name but his. In this case, it is difficult to make a clear statement
which of the factors – the negative attitude of Armenians to Bush or
Kerry’s promises to recognize the fact of the Armenian Genocide in
case of winning – underlies the Armenian vote.”

Will the U.S. policy change in respect to the countries of the South
Caucasus if Kerry wins?

“John Kerry has been keeping in touch with the Armenian Diaspora for
over 20 years,” says Manoyan. “A member of the Congress and the Senate,
Kerry was handling the issues of the Genocide, the blockade of Armenia
and the U.S.-Armenian trade-economic relations. In the long run,
it should be mentioned that if Bush is reelected the possibility of
changes in Washington’s policy regarding the South Caucasus will be
lost. Whereas we can expect tighter relations between the American
Armenians and the White House if John Kerry becomes president. This
is the least that could change.”

Armenians are fond of saying that “hope is the last to die”. But while
the political scientists speculate on potential shifts of policy,
historians remind that campaign optimism has always wilted in the
reality of politics, once a U.S. president is in office.

Concerning Genocide Recognition: “At the very beginning of the
1920s, Woodrow Wilson made similar statements but in other historic
conditions. He personally signed the well-known map of ‘Independent
Armenia.’ But not a single Armenian promise has ever been kept in
the U.S.,” says historian Armen Hakobyan. “To hope that John Kerry
will be the ‘first violator’ of that tradition is not serious. And
the matter is not the candidate himself but the regional policy of
Washington where Turkey and Israel have absolutely a special place.”

Genocide recognition aside, analyst Manoyan says Kerry is Armenia’s
best choice, if only because his election would introduce a new Vice
President (John Edwards).

“It is important that the Turks at the moment haven’t settled any
relations with the circles of John Kerry, unlike (VP Dick) Cheney
who acts like a lobbyist of Turkish interests,” Manoyan says. “So,
there will surely be positive changes if John Kerry wins.”