1564) Corruption, Armenian Mentality & Turkish-Armenian Relationship

Interview with Raffi Hovannisian
By Khatchig Mouradian

The following interview was conducted at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., on March 15.

Armenian Weekly-Rooting out corruption is one of the main challenges facing Armenia today. How do you perceive the solution to this issue? Raffi Hovannisian-Important in the challenge to root out the disease of corruption is giving legitimacy to the government. A legitimacy earned by election. So far in Armenia, authority has never been transferred. It has always been reproduced.

I have not seen in any of the administrations the willingness to apply the law from the president to the last citizen in the Republic of Armenia. It is the administration's responsibility to provide options and alternatives to the nation, and any president, past or president, acting or incumbent, legitimate or illegitimate, is not entitled to say, "There's no alternative to me. L'etat c'est moi."

Diplomacy and the ability to realize foreign policy objectives are directly related to our domestic demeanor, our conduct in our house. Armenia's democratic integrity, human rights credentials, respect of the rights of each and every individual is critical. And if we knock on the world's door demanding justice for our collective and historic rights, we have to live up to the very same standards in our country. For there to be justice in the world there must be justice at home.

Let no one speak to us of "haygagan mentalitet," Armenian mentality. Our benchmarks and traditions are the opposite of that and there is no reason for us to demand any less from our own republic. When people, whether in government or the opposition, confuse national interests with less than national concerns or interests, you have a major catastrophe.

I draw a parallel between each and every tree and the forest at large. We can run into a very respectable debate on the forest and the trees. We can argue that Armenia is newly democratic, it has only been independent for 15 years and that the western democratic nations took centuries to achieve their level. That's no consolation to me as an Armenian, because we both know what potential we have.

A.W.-What difficulties is your party facing during this pre-election period? R.H.- Sometimes we have to run the marathon alone. Despite all the difficulties and tribulations and the unnecessary treatments to which I have been subjected, the Heritage movement will take part in the parliamentary elections.

First, there is the campaign finance issue. Obviously there are those who spend millions of dollars in their campaigns. There are parties whose sole offices are closed down, and only when we come close to elections and I give a press conference and there is some interest by ambassadors of foreign countries do they come and open the door. Also, when we try to rent halls in the public domain, we are being told that all the halls are taken, while other political parties are using those halls all the time.

I have to note that my access to Armenian sources of information has been limited not only in Armenia but also in the Diaspora.

This is the first time that the son of the Diaspora is participating in the democratic process in Armenia. I think that this is something that might be of interest to those who are interested in the mustering of our worldwide resources in the strengthening and democratization and perpetuity of our homeland.

In Armenia, what I say is not covered. We are now entering the election cycle and I have not been shown on TV for two years now.

The coverage, or rather the lack of coverage, by [Diasporan] newspapers of my activities speaks to a lack of strategic vision and a lack of a grasp of what's necessary to run any legitimate broad based medium of information, even partisan. This is one of the challenges of your generation of Armenian analysts and writers.

A.W.-The opposition is extremely weak, disunited and unorganized, and many of its leaders suffer from their own problems of credibility. There have been attempts by some to receive support from Western governments and create a colored revolution in Armenia. Others speak of unfathomable concessions in Karabakh and Turkish-Armenian issues to garner foreign support. How do you explain the failure of the opposition?

R.H.-First and foremost, it is the government coalition that bears the responsibility for the policies. There are different takes on why this particular coalition is together. I was hoping that at least one of the parties represented [in the coalition] would have long ago turned to the conscience of the nation as opposed to being in a situation where one might read complicity into their position. I think the future is before us, and we might see certain-I will not say unexpected-developments in that respect in the months and years to come.

On the other hand, the opposition should accept its own share of accountability and responsibility. But as you know very well, the conditions in Armenia are very uneven. The opposition has failed be come together and become a viable democratic alternative to the powers that be. The people in the opposition have not done enough to deliver to the Armenian constituents a viable ethical response to the challenges.

A democratic systemic change is important, not only in model but in application. It is clear that evolution as understood by the West will not transform Armenia. On the other hand, I think it is pretty clear to everyone concerned that xeroxing a revolution from another state or situation and circumstances is not ipso facto an alternative for Armenia. There needs to be a paradigm shift in the relations between the state and its citizens. The Armenian national machine, based on national interest, national debate and a critical discussion of options, has to keep working regardless of who wins and who loses in the elections. That has not happened so far.

We are in a very dangerous situation. The average Armenian citizen is apathetic, and is only open to a situational solution: taking a vote bribe, whether it is money, free fertilizer, potatoes or whatever. This constitutes a disdain of the Armenian citizen. That is not what the Armenian citizen is all about, and that is what your generations has to work on. Armenia is a small nation, landlocked, long on culture, and short on statecraft, and the role of international actors is important, but clearly it is the role of any sovereign government to pursue national interests.

A.W.-You blamed the presidency and the governing coalition for the state of affairs in Armenia. But do you think the current situation in Armenia supports something else?

R.H.-You raise an issue of strategic and existential importance: Can the system as it is support something else? As I said, on the one hand straight revolution and on the other hand xeroxed resolutions are not the answers to Armenia's national democratic transformation. There has to be some other intersection of circumstances and values to bring Armenia to graduate beyond this parochialism and regionalism and become a viable nation-state that has a strategic role in the region.

I have to criticize the Armenian administration for their very weak policy vis-à-vis deals with Russia that have given them part of our energy system-industry pockets of Armenian sovereignty. I would say that is dangerous for Armenia. While I would want our strategic partner to have acted differently, I don't blame Russia. I blame ourselves. There is no way that a self confident government would approve the ceding of such sovereignty in any direction, and this myopic, parochial approach jeopardizes the future of the country. And whatever government comes into power, it is going to inherit major problems.

There is a very rational progression of these values and we should not expose our compatriots, our fellow citizens, to a situation where they have to choose between supporting our national interest and being a proponent of democracy and the rule of law.

A.W.-How do you view Armenia's relations with its neighbors and its regional foreign policy?

R.H.-I think there is little change in our foreign policy from 1992 until today. The delivery or presentation might have changed in accent or hue, but the policy has undergone very little qualitative change.

Everything is based on the strategic relationship or the lack thereof in the Turkish-Armenian relationship. All other issues-including Karabakh's self determination and ultimate recognition of the sovereign republic and the entire peace process connected with it-are derivates of the Turkish-Armenian relationship. This might not be a majority view, but I think that Turkish-Armenian relations are key, if the dividing lines in the Caucasus are ever to be overcome.

If Turkey and Armenia are to ever find themselves on the same security page in a larger partnership of values, they have to find a way to resolve the entire breadth and depth of the relationship through a diplomatic agenda that takes on all issues, contemporary and historic, and comes forth with a normalization of relations. It requires political courage and ethical fortitude on both sides of the frontier. In their history, the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Turkey have not signed agreements of any kind. There are different previous formulations of agreements between previous republics and the Ottoman Empire, the Bolshevik republic and nationalist Turks, but never between two sovereign republics.

I think that Turkey's desire for European integration is an important development and Armenia stands to gain from a truly European Turkey-a new and transformed Turkey that not only faces its history, but also knows how to respect historic heritage and provide for the right of return, which have to be negotiated with Armenia. There are all kinds of issues that must be resolved there.

Turkey should enter the EU only after having fully normalized relations with Armenia. It should not be able to enter the EU with an unregulated relationship with Armenia. I'll go further and say that if Armenia gets its democratic act together, there is no reason for Armenia to be the odd man out. It could become a member of the EU if not before then at least in synchronization with Turkey, if Turkey ever gets in.

European leaders who will be deciding on Turkey's entry in 10 years are now in schools and universities. We'll see how that plays out, but I think European integration offers great opportunities.

Regarding Karabakh, I believe there will be no solution to the issue without the participation of the Karabakh Republic. Karabakh should be part of the peace process and the exclusion from that process is not a positive trend.

BIO Raffi K. Hovannisian is the founding director of the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), and was the first foreign minister of Armenia.

Hovannisian was born in Fresno, Calif., in 1959. He studied at the Georgetown University Law Center (JD awarded in 1985); the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University (MALD awarded in 1982; fields of specialization included international law, diplomatic history and foreign policies of communist countries, civilization and world affairs); University of California, Berkeley and Los Angeles (BA, summa cum laude, awarded in 1980 in history and Near Eastern studies; Justin Turner Prize for Outstanding Honors Thesis).

Hovannisian held the position of executive chairman of the "Hayastan" All-Armenian Fund (1998); chief of the department of information and publications, Republic of Armenia (March-April 1998); minister of foreign affairs, Republic of Armenia (1991-1992); project director of the Armenian Assembly of America Earthquake Relief (1990-1991); founder and director of the Armenian Bar Association (1989-1990); international lawyer and civil litigator in the firms of Hill, Farrer and Burrill, Whitman & Ransom, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, and Coudert Brothers (1985-1989); lecturer of Armenian history, Tufts University (1981-1982).

His treatises, monographs, essays and articles have appeared extensively in Armenian, Russian, American, European and Middle Eastern publications. He is married and has five children.

(c) 2007 Armenian Weekly On-Line


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