2871) Interviews: Oskanian, Sefilian, Saltzman, Liljegren

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  1. Interview: Vartan Oskanian
  2. Interview: Jirayr Sefilian
  3. Interview: David Saltzman On Turkish American Legal Defense Fund
  4. 5 Questions for Henrik Liljegren

Speaking To Be Heard: An Interview With Vartan Oskanian, Armenia Weekly, By Hourig Mayissian • on June 3, 2009
Below is an interview with Armenia’s former Foreign Minister of Vartan Oskanian about his recently published book, Speaking to Be Heard.

Hourig Mayissian: What led you to prepare Speaking to Be Heard?

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

H.M.: As the minister of foreign affairs of Armenia for 10 years, you delivered a substantial number of speeches articulating Armenia’s positions on a wide range of national and international issues from various influential platforms, such as those of international or regional organizations, important conferences, and universities. The book features only a selection of these speeches. How was the selection process made and what does it reflect?

V.O.: There is much more included than excluded. There were some speeches that we did not have saved, some which were never recorded or transcribed. There were also some that were repetitive. In the process of explaining policy, it is important to deliver the same message consistently. As a result, sometimes within the space of several weeks, there were several similar speeches. That’s fine, when you’re presenting them to different audiences. It’s not fine when a reader is reading them.

H.M.: In your book, you underline the importance of these speeches in getting across Armenia’s positions and interests on various issues. What has guided your speech-writing throughout?

V.O.: I have always been conscious that I have two audiences—domestic and international. Actually, three audiences—the [Armenian] Diaspora too. So, I have always been careful to frame issues in a way that is relevant and understandable to all of them, because in today’s world, there is no international border for news and information. Everyone hears, reads everything. Even in the case of the international audience, there are two segments—those who understand and support our positions, and those who, to put it mildly, don’t. There again, a speech has to be aimed at all those segments, and has to use the opportunity to gain support and understanding.

H.M.: You are known as one of the architects of the policy of “complementarity,” which has been the basic principle guiding Armenian foreign policy over the last decade. In your book, you outline the difference between this and the policy of balance adopted by the first government. Can you elaborate?

V.O.: It’s a nuanced difference, but one that frees you to act more boldly. When we were applying a policy of balance, it meant balancing one act among different countries. But I wanted to achieve the maximum for Armenia, out of our various relationships, and this led me to think that we have to complement what we do with one country with what we can do with another. The nuance here is that you are doing similar things with rivals in the same area—in security, economy, energy. You are doing more with more partners, always trying not to exacerbate their differences, not necessarily to do the same thing with one as with the other, but to do what is possible with each, to complement that which is being done with each.

H.M.: In your introduction to the book, you emphasize the importance of multilateral diplomacy in Armenian foreign policy. An integral part of this policy is membership in regional and international organizations (such as the CoE, OSCE, CIS, partnerships with NATO, and the EU) which serve as opportunities for not only pursuing national interests beyond borders but also for lesson-drawing through interaction with the representatives of other states. As a newly independent country with little diplomatic and political experience, what were some of the important lessons Armenia drew from its membership in these organizations?

V.O.: Not only did we have little diplomatic or political experience, we also had limited resources. So, if we only had 10 or later 20 embassies around the world, it is difficult for us to communicate with the other 180 capitals around the world. The first thing international organizations made possible was direct contact. It was during those annual or semi-annual meetings that we could converse with ambassadors of those other countries and make sure they understood our perspectives, our policies, our positions. We also learned a very important lesson about multilateralism, that is, if you want others to be interested in your issues, your causes, your problems, you must be interested in theirs. We cannot be a member of the world community and not be concerned with global issues like weapons of mass destruction, climate change, minority rights, migration, reforming international institutions. If we’re not interested in those topics, if we don’t have something to say about them, then we shouldn’t be surprised if they leave the room when we start talking about self-determination or genocide recognition or regional cooperation. International organizations force you to become a member of the international community.

H.M.: What would you say is your most important foreign policy legacy of the two governments you were a part of?

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

H.M.: In the book, you mention your intention to write another book. Tell us about your plans in this regard.

V.O.: It’s probably better I not saying anything until the book is further along. It will be a memoir of the 10 years I spent in office. It’s being written from the same sense of responsibility that moved me to write the first one—that this is our history and it should be shared.

Interview: Jirayr Sefilian, 29 May 2009, Interview by Armen of Shoushi, by Stéphane / armenews

Interview Jirayr Sefilian, Lebanon Armenian heroes of the war in HK, former Commander of Shushi special battalion. He was denied citizenship by the Armenian authorities in the country because of political considerations.

Armenews: Mr. Seyfilian, you are originally from Lebanon and you are intensely invested in the war of independence of Artsakh and the constitution of the army of defense. What is your ambition?

Jirayr Sefilian: Our problem was not only to keep our land, but also beautify the new country. If we managed to keep the land, we have failed on the second question and for over 10 years I get involved to the extent of my capabilities in this work for the development of our country.

You are faced with the administrative authorities. Understand how they have begun under the chairmanship of Robert Kocharian and Serge Sargsian continue with even though he says he regularly need to reform the country, strengthen ties with the Diaspora.

All statements are false. This makes 11 years that positive work is conducted in our country. Periodically, the power of the book pretense featuring in national projects, which are actually empty of content. These people are very far from any understanding of how to conduct public affairs, what it involves and interests the conscience of the nation. In this context, the attacks on me are quite normal as we are now caught in the turmoil of an anti. It is therefore understandable that people like me are doomed to be reduced to nil. Perhaps, from this point of view, can I take this as positive for me since 8 years. After all this behavior to me allows our citizens to better understand the true nature of power in place. My business provides a focus on the dark side of a certain policy. This is not a personal problem but a matter of public interest.

You have been sentenced to 18 months in prison. Upon your release from prison last year, you were threatened with deportation to Armenia. Last December you will be granted a tourist visa in 4 months he has been denied the extension. Where are you?

On my release, I again sent an application for citizenship. Serge Sargsian continued so very true policy of his predecessor, a detail: it was very dynamic. While its predecessor was waiting for the legal time, ie the end of the year, to answer me then, Serge Sargsian is more efficient in responding to me in a few months in the negative. So I then sent an application for a visa for 10 years. It has again been refused in a very expeditious, in just a month. Finally, I made an application for a visa one year. It was also rejected. Thus, it remains for me only able to stay legally in Armenia that regularly extend my tourist visa for 4 months. But I am not now prepared to send any request whatsoever. That's their problem. If they wish to regulate the conditions of my stay, they have to deal with them. Personally, I will continue to live in my home as I wished.

Why the Republic of Armenia for such behavior towards you?

There are several reasons. First I make myself understood well that the power has the means to do exactly what they want. If he wanted, he m'inflige punishment. Political philosophy currently is: you dislike me so I must punish you, you are my enemy, I am your president and I'll take it as it seems. For these leaders, there is no law or considerations of national ... And since they have no other means of pressure on me to grant me citizenship or not, the above they play. It is also clear that if I get Armenian citizenship so I can participate in certain elections and me as a candidate. This does no service either. Especially as the mistakes to me have caused me to receive feedback and some support in the population. They are aware and have no intention of me easier.

Why this treatment?

They tell me that it would be better if I'm not in politics. If you want to worry about politics, come join us, everything will go well. If you have used the opposition then we t'attaquerons. This is a primary. They have difficulties especially with veterans of the war, because people who have made weapons have a certain reputation among the population. For her, there is only one alternative: either they fall to their side or they should not appear.

In your opinion, the law on dual citizenship and are working or are only?

Personally, I feel no particular enthusiasm for the promotion of dual nationality, especially if one considers that there is great expectation among Armenians worldwide. But that the law exists, it is a fact. The law is for people who come to Armenia to make investments or who come as guest. Nationality will be given to all those people. But those like me or Vartkes Gaspari for example, who are actively involved in politics, it will be difficult to obtain citizenship.

Would you Armenians in diaspora who wish to obtain dual nationality not care about politics?

Apart from this, I repeat what I have always said that any Armenian whatsoever has the right to deal with internal affairs of Armenia. Questions concerning the destiny of our entire nation. An example: today our capital has been transformed into a large dump. That is why any Armenian, wherever they are, even if born and raised in Zimbabwe, has the right to deal with such affairs as the cleaning of our capital. This is an example as there are many others. It is not necessary to have Armenian citizenship to deal with domestic problems of our country. The whole problem in fact has been presented in reverse. In 1991, we had to establish that Armenia should be co-managed and the Armenians of Armenia and Diaspora. At the national aspect, it is one of my main concerns that has been completely reduced to nothing over the years. The time has come to find a balance. I repeat: all Armenian, where he lives, has the right to deal with internal affairs of Armenia. And only then can our country become a real country. I appeal to our countrymen: We need the Armenians invest in their country not only capital but also their values. This is one of the foundations of the Armenian issue as a whole.

Interview With David Saltzman On Turkish American Legal Defense Fund
Turkish American Legal Defense Fund Advises and Assists on Free Expression: An Interview with David Saltzman by Demet Cabbar and Sonay Kanber, 16 May 2009 . ATA News Magazine

David, Could you introduce yourself? How were you involved into Turkish-American community issues?

I've been a lawyer since 1991. I first got involved in Turkish community issues as a law student when I was cajoled into volunteering at the ATC conference in 1990 by Gunay Evinch. When he and I formed our firm in late 1993, we joined local Turkish American organizations and have been involved ever since.

Can you tell us a bit about the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund (TADLF)? What is it and what was the reason behind establishing such a fund?

TALDF was formally launched in the Spring of 2008. As we note on our website (www.taldf.org), our initial mission is to educate and advise Turkish Americans regarding their constitutionally guaranteed right to free expression. In our experience, Turkish Americans most often perceive limits on free expression when encountering one-sided depictions of controversial issues related to their ancestral history, but also in current issues related to Turkey or Turkish Americans. If a Turkish American feels that he or she has been deprived of a constitutional right because of his or her ethnicity or national origin, then the TALDF would consider taking the case. Our emphasis is on preserving an open environment in which all Americans can discuss issues of importance to them without intimidation or fear of opprobrium.

Thus, we do not seek, for instance, to prevent the Armenian viewpoint from being taught, heard, or published. Rather, we fight to ensure that the Turkish viewpoint has the same status in, what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called, "the marketplace of ideas." We feel strongly that when given a more complete description of this historical controversy most people will find validity in the Turkish viewpoint and deem it worthy of continued research and that it be taught in courses that concern the history of the late Ottoman Empire.

Can you give us a few examples of some of the cases TALDF supports?

We have taken on a variety of cases. One of our first was to prevent the cancellation of a of a program by a public library in New Jersey that would have included a book discussion by Prof. Guenter Lewy. TALDF testified before the library board and succeeded in preserving the entirety of the program. We have filed a brief amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the federal appeals of the Uighur detainees at Guantanamo Bay, reminding the court that the Uighurs have been subjected to persecution because of their Turkic ethnicity. TALDF is representing Guenter Lewy in a defamation case against the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) over publication of an article in which the SPLC alleges that Professor Lewy is on the Turkish government payroll and that such influences his scholarly views. Recently, the TALDF has been retained to represent Representative Jean Schmidt (R-OH) in her case before the Ohio Elections Commission in which she alleges that one of her opponents in her last re-election, David Krikorian, violated Ohio election law by lying about her campaign funding (that it was derived from the Turkish government) and that she has in effect been bribed to not favor Congressional resolutions on the Armenian allegation of genocide. This case will go to trial before the end of the summer. This is a particularly important case because the TALDF feels strongly that Members of Congress should not have to yield to intimidation by Armenian activists who claim without foundation that the Turkish government is behind any Member's studied decision that the Armenian case constitutes a genuine historical controversy, one which is best studied by historians and not opined upon by Congress. TALDF also has been active in opposing legislation in California that is unconstitutional, but also would harm Turkish Americans and impose a de facto embargo against doing business with Turkey. And quite recently we intervened with a major corporation, Newell-Rubbermaid, to protest the use of the term, "Turk's Head Toilet Bowl Brush," by some of its retailers and distributors. The company subsequently agreed to urge all to cease using the term. Most of these cases are discussed in greater detail on our website.

This sounds great, David! Do you see any results coming already?

We are very pleased with the results so far, especially given that we have only existed for about 1 year. The New Jersey library matter was a big success and strengthened the hand of the local Turkish Americans who had worked so hard to promote the program. In the Uighur case we were on the prevailing side. In the Jean Schmidt case, we have already surmounted the first hurdle at the probable cause hearing, earning the right to a full trial. In fact, I am attaching an article about this that was published in media.

And in the case of the California legislation, already the bills have been amended, at least in part, we believe, because of the testimony that we offered. What is most gratifying, however, is that in most of these cases, we have worked with brave and intelligent Turkish Americans who have proven to the decisionmakers that their voices and votes count. In everything we do, we always want to strengthen the Turkish American community.

Who can apply for TALDF? Does the Fund support only politicians, academics, and other visible people or could any Turkish-American or friend of Turkey whose rights are violated expect to receive TALDF's assistance? How does the process work? Are there certain criteria you are looking for in the applications? Anyone can apply to the TALDF. We receive a fairly steady stream of inquiries, all of which we study carefully. However, our resources, both human and financial, are limited and we cannot take every case. In general, we take cases that have broad application or at least symbolic value. By this, I mean that we want cases that will forward the rights of Turkish Americans as far and as widely as possible. We also favor cases in which the cause of the harm is most clearly evident as being because of Turkish ethnicity or national origin. If we do take a case, we require that the party we are representing allows us to publicize the matter so that we can ensure that whatever lessons are learned, that they be widely understood. Anyone can contact us with a potential case via our website.

It all sounds great but how is all this financed?

The TALDF is supported by the Turkish Coalition of America, a 505(c)(3) public charitable organization. Donations to the TCA that will benefit the work of the TALDF can be made by check and are tax-deductible. Please see the TCA website (www.turkishcoalition.org) for contact information.

David, what can we do for TALDF? As Turkish-Americans, how can we help you?

Aside from financial support, the best way to help the TALDF is to understand your rights and then actively keep your eyes and ears open for instances when you feel that those rights or those of a Turkish American you may know are under threat, and then alert us. It is hard to know of these instances, however, if you are not involved in the civic processes from which these cases often spring -- testifying before school boards, applying for protest permits, urging your local public library to hold a program, etc. That is, we cannot protect our rights by "flying under the radar."

We need to be out in society confidently participating in all manner of civic affairs. So, I would say that you can help us most merely by being good, activist Americans.

Thank you so much for your time. This is a great initiative and we congratulate the entire TALDF team for this break-through approach. We wish you much success!

Sonay Kanber is a research associate at Saltzman & Evinch, P.C.

5 Questions for Henrik Liljegren, James Joyner | June 03, 2009

Henrik Liljegren, an Atlantic Council board member, served 42 years in Sweden’s diplomatic corps, including stints at Ambassador to the United States, Turkey, East Germany, and Belgium. I had the opportunity to get his thoughts on some key issues of interest to our community.

1. During your time in Washington (1993-97) you were instrumental in negotiating the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Baltic States. What do you expect from this weekend’s meeting between President Obama and President Medvedev in Moscow?

I think the Russians will be pleased to have the publicity that inevitably surrounds meetings of this kind. It will project the image that Russia is a global player whose views count. In addition, bilateral arms control talks with the US creates the impression that Russia and the US are of equal superpower status just like when the Soviet Union and the US negotiated SALT during the Cold War.

For the Obama administration it might be the beginning of a long testing period where it will find out whether the Russians can be encouraged to see the advantages of behaving like a responsible stakeholder in the international system. Who knows, maybe people in the Kremlin will one day see the advantage of having free, peaceful and democratic countries on their borders. And perhaps one day they will see the advantages of genuine cooperation based on mutual trust.

2. What are the chances that this will happen?

I am not optimistic. Russia suffers from post-imperial withdrawal syndrome.

Many people have forgotten how powerful this empire seemed to be only some twenty years ago. I was ambassador to East Berlin when West Berlin was an island in the middle of East Germany and a potential hostage of the Soviet Union. At Embassy receptions all the ambassadors of the Warsaw Pact countries flocked around the Soviet ambassador to East Germany to pay their respects in a rather servile way. It was a spectacle somewhat painful to observe but heady days for the Soviet officials.

Those were the days when Putin was a young KGB officer in East Germany and Dmitri Trenin, nowadays director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and of the most influential commentators on relations between the West and Russia, was an officer in the Soviet Army at Potsdam outside East Berlin. I am sure that their experiences are deeply ingrained in their respective mindsets. It must have been a terrible shock when the wall came down and the Soviet empire rapidly dissolved.

What we are observing today is how Russia under Putin and Medvedev try to use all means at Russia’s disposal to gradually regain some influence over territories it acquired during the last three hundred years. Right now it seems that Russia also tries to block the United States wherever it can globally. It has been said many times before, but it is worth repeating; the Russian leadership perceives it its relations with the US as a zero sum game. So if it is able to block the US anywhere on the global chessboard it probably will.

3. What would you like to see happen in US-Russian relations?

I hope of course that the new and very constructive approach by the Obama administration towards all its partners will have a positive impact on the leadership in Moscow. Since the people in the Kremlin have a tendency to mistake a polite posture for weakness I think it is important that the Obama administration reaffirms what Vice President Biden already said, i.e. that it will not accept the concept of a sphere around Russia where Moscow has legitimate or privileged interests. The administration should also provide the countries in what Russian calls its “near abroad” with support in appropriate forms whenever they come under pressure.

4. To what extent does the West bear a responsibility for ignoring Russian concerns, such as in recognizing Kosovo’s independence and expanding NATO up to its borders?

I don’t think that the West is to blame. During the first year of the Russian Republic the Yeltsin government adopted the positions of the West on practically every important international issue and in response Washington had adopted the “Russia First” policy and paid a lot of attention to Russian views. However, when I asked a member of the NSC in the middle of April 1993 about Russia the answer was that a change had occurred in Russian foreign policy and that they had started to spring some nasty surprises on the West in the Middle East, North Korea, Georgia and the former Yugoslavia. The American honeymoon with Russia was over already in 1994 and it was not the fault of the American partner.

5. You spent the last years of your diplomatic career in Turkey and still have a home there. What context should we view recent disputes with the West over energy, the Armenian genocide, NATO leadership, and EU membership? How do we reconcile Turkey’s critical role in NATO and geopolitics generally with its political behavior?

Turkey, like Russia, constitutes what remains of a great empire. An important difference is that Turkey has been more successful than Russia in overcoming its huge loss of territory. In fact Turkey has turned it into an advantage.

The current Turkish Foreign Minister, Prof. Ahmet Davutoglu, writes that Turkey’s geography gives it "a specific central country status" and “an optimal place in the sense that it is both an Asian and European country." Davutoglu adds that "in terms of its area of influence "Turkey is a Middle Eastern, Balkan, Caucasian, Central Asian, Caspian, Mediterranean, Gulf and Black Sea country."

If you look at Turkey with this perspective in mind you understand that the Turkey of today might be tempted to act according to what it perceives are its own basic interests in relation to the EU and NATO. In the view of leading Turks probably the advantages that Turkey can offer NATO and the EU outweigh what these institutions can offer Turkey in return.

Turkey is rapidly changing, sometimes at a faster pace than foreign observers can keep up with. The Turkish leadership of today does not feel closer to the member countries of these institutions than to, let us say, Iraq. Opinion polls show that most Turks nowadays feel that being a Muslim counts for more than being a Turk. If Muslims are killed in distant countries Turks feel as if their close family has been attacked regardless of the circumstances.

Add to that the strong emotional element of Turkish foreign policy. Turkey is a proud nation and reacts strongly to what it often sees as unfair and prejudiced treatment on the part of the West. During my two tours of duty in Ankara I witnessed how Turkish views were ignored or vilified while the not quite so objective historic accounts and arguments by groups that murdered Turkish civilians and waged war on the Turkish state were readily accepted as the ultimate truth by the media and public in Europe and the US.

Turkish foreign policy, which used to be reactive and cautious, has lately become proactive and creative. Instead of trying to achieve a dominant position in the territories of the former Ottoman Empire, Turkey nowadays conducts a policy which tries to achieve maximum advantage and" zero problems" in the relations with its partners at the same time as it tries to assist ongoing negotiations between adversaries like Syria and Israel.

However, Turkey has not yet come to terms with its own identity. Turkey is torn between a desire to rid itself of the secular system imposed by Atatürk and a wish on the part of what looks like a more and more beleaguered minority to stick to secularism. My own hope is that Turkey will one day find its own model for combining the population’s predominantly Muslim faith with the secular structure needed both for the efficient organization of the affairs of state and a successful relationship with the West.

You can read about Ambassador Liljegren's fascinating life story in his memoir, From Tallinn to Turkey - as a Swede and Diplomat

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. http://www.acus.org


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