This week's editor

Jeremy Noble, editor

This week Jeremy Noble and the oDR team edit the front page.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Cultural heritage and violence in the Middle East

When people are dying in their thousands, why should we care about the destruction of artefacts? Cultural violence has long been a component in the obliteration of communities; it legitimates the denial of diversity and makes them much harder to rebuild.

Georgia looks west, Armenia east

Arm-Geo flags [courtesy of Armradio] crop.jpg

This summer, Georgia signed an Association Agreement with the EU, but its southern neighbour, Armenia, has opted for the rival Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union.

Azerbaijan: a dual offensive

Azerbaijan’s strategy over the disputed, Armenian-held territory of Karabakh is also aimed at eliminating domestic opposition. But the country's rising troubles make this a self-defeating strategy.

Turkey's Armenian opening: towards 2015

The approaching centenary of the genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman empire is a moment for Turkey's civil society to create a new ethical reality around the issue

Armenia and the EEU: the point of no return for Yerevan

Early last year Armenia entered into accession talks with the Russian-led Customs Union – a precursor to the EEU. But does this path hold the key to greater economic prosperity for Yerevan or is it just a dead end?

Syria: Kessab's battle and Armenians' history

The takeover by anti-Damascus rebels of an Armenian village in northern Syria, near the border with Turkey, has triggered a propaganda war which focuses on the position of Syria's Armenians. This highlights core aspects of Armenians' experience since the 1915 genocide, says Vicken Cheterian.

An Armenian perspective on Khojali

Many civilians were killed in the war between the newly independent states of Armenia and Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. But the disputed period raises larger questions of common suffering, says Gerard Libaridian, adviser to Armenia's president at the time, who reflects on one incident that casts a long shadow.

Ukraine, and a Europe-Russia crack

The conflict in Ukraine is part of a wider tussle over eastern Europe's political orientation. The European Union remains pivotal to progress, says Krzysztof Bobinski.

Baba-Hadji, symbol of ethnic harmony

The complicated relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan that have erupted since the break-up of the USSR belie the fact that in the past the two nations often coexisted more or less harmoniously. Maxim Edwards visited the mountain mausoleum of Baba-Hadji, an ancient symbol of erstwhile good relations

Peace, not diplomacy in the South Caucasus

If the primary concern is to establish peace in the region, then the central question is the social status of the people rather than internationally established political norms, such as territorial integrity.

Armenia's election message

A flawed presidential vote that confirms the incumbent in power also exposes anew the dysfunction of democracy in post-Soviet states, says Krzysztof Bobinski

Breaking the vicious circle - reconciliation in OSCE areas

Work must be done to overcome divides even many decades after official agreements to end violence have been signed. But the process is neither simple nor direct, with social media as easily a tool for vitriol as for furthering understanding of others. What, and who, can help?

Can rancour in the south Caucasus go beyond tit for tat?

For close on a millennium Azeris and Armenians co-existed reasonably peaceably. At the end of the Soviet period tensions erupted and they have been bubbling ever since. No need, thinks William Gourlay, because they are actually quite similar. Is it just a case of ‘must try harder’?

Armenia and Azerbaijan: what can societies do when political judgement errs?

Instigating dialogue across entrenched conflict built on ethnic stereotypes is long and precarious. The pardon given to Ramil Safarov of Azerbaijan is a blow to the sense of trust built painstakingly in the region. Now peacebuilders have to weather the storm.

Turkey and the Armenians: politics of history

A new generation's encounter with the Armenian genocide of 1915 is producing fresh understandings of Turkey's - and the middle east's - modern history, finds Vicken Cheterian.

Armenia's election: dark deeds, slim hopes

The Armenian authorities' capacity to secure the right result in the country's parliamentary election is matched by their failure to meet citizens' basic needs. The consequences are a priority for Armenia's civil society, says Krzysztof Bobinski.

Putin’s plan for Russia’s neighbours - a Eurasian Union

With the current focus on policy interactions between Russia, the US and the EU in the post-Soviet space, many wonder what future awaits the countries of the former USSR after Vladimir Putin’s re-ascension to the Russian presidency in the 4th March election. One question is whether Putin will succeed in shaping a new, distinctive strategic space with the curious name of ‘the Eurasian Union.’ Elkhan Nuriyev discusses its implications.

A conflicted moment for the Armenian consciousness

The reason the French genocide law has proved so popular amongst Armenians is that it represents the prospect of a final catharsis to a tragic history. In reality, however, it is yet another obstacle to reaching a conclusion.

Armenia-Turkey: the end of rapprochement

A diplomatic process designed to normalise relations between Armenia and Turkey led to the signing of two protocols in 2009. Its failure is rooted in the miscalculations of both sides, says Vicken Cheterian.

Europe’s neglected east: forging partnership

The European Union has an uncertain relationship with the ex-Soviet states to its east. A meeting in Poznan under the auspices of the union’s “eastern partnership” is a timely moment to examine what Europe needs to do to revivify its engagement, says Gevorg Ger-Gabrielyan.

Europe’s Armenian policy: the cost of indulgence

The story of a powerful and ambitious Armenian oligarch is also a case-study in the flaws of European Union policy in the small Caucasian republic, says Armen Haykyan.

Liberation technology: dreams, politics, history

The doctrinal commitment to new cyber and social technologies as a means of solving political problems needs to learn from the past and take a more realistic view, says Armine Ishkanian.

Armenia and Georgia foil latest uranium smuggling plot

Joint anti-nuclear proliferation operation results in multiple arrests in Georgia. One year after Fort Hood shootings, US army outlines plans for radical security overhaul. Somali pirates land largest-ever ransom payment. All this and more in today's security briefing.

The lightness of history in the Caucasus

The Caucasus is often depicted as a region of peoples locked in enduring and invariant nationalist enmity. The reality is more complex and therefore more hopeful, says Thomas de Waal.

The Armenia-Turkey protocols: a year on

The process of dialogue between neighbours locked in an enduring dispute over the events of 1915 is already in trouble. But in assessing what has gone wrong, Vicken Cheterian sees history still on the move.

Armenia deadlocked, landlocked

Despite President Obama’s best efforts on 12 April, negotiations between Armenia and Turkey remain deadlocked, leaving Armenia’s President Sargsyan facing the unequal struggle against problems political, economic, geographical and historical

Waiting for the word in Armenia

The WW1 massacre of more than a million Armenians by Ottoman Turks remains a source of great contention, writes Ara Iskanderian. While there has been some recent reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey on government level, use of the “g” word is still firmly off limits.

Armenian genocide and Turkey: then and now

The destruction of the Ottoman Armenians began on 24 April 1915. Almost a century later the contemporary political relevance of the "great catastrophe" remains undiminished, says Vicken Cheterian.

'Red Shirts' continue symbolic blood protest in Bangkok

‘Red Shirts’ continue symbolic blood protest in Bangkok. Israel lifts West Bank closure. North Korea has 1,000 missiles, says South Korea. Erdogan warns that Turkey might deport up to 100,000 Armenians. Yemen rebels free 178 soldiers and civilians. Fresh clashes erupt near the central Nigerian city of Jos. All this and more in today’s security briefing.

Violence and uncertainty underscore Iraqi elections

Insurgents strike polling stations as Iraq votes for its new government. Turkey withdraws its ambassador to the US in the wake of a House committee vote condemning the Armenian genocide. The British PM defends the Iraq war. Clashes erupt at the al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. All this and more, in today’s security update.

Can Armenia and Turkey be reconciled?

Could historical enemies Armenia and Turkey be moving towards reconciliation? Despite the potential pitfalls, Turkey's acknowledgement of the 1915 "genocide" being the most serious, compromise could be achieved, says Sergei Markedonov

The Armenia-Turkey process: don’t stop now

"Stop the Protocols" is the headline slogan of one of the many websites that emerged soon after news got round of secret negotiations between Turkey and Armenia. Its explicit aim is to make sure that the cautious rapprochement between the two countries - symbolised by the deal agreed in Zurich on 10 October 2009 - is halted. The website classifies the signing of two protocols that day by Armenia's president, Serzh Sarkisian, as a sell-out to the Turks and a surrender of the historical fact of the genocide of 1915; and warns that supporting the normalisation process amounts to treason against the Armenian nation.

Kerem Oktem is research fellow of the European Studies Centre at Oxford University. His books include  (co-edited with Kalypso Nicolaidis & Othon Anastasakis), In the long shadow of Europe: Greeks and Turks in the Era of Postnationalism (Brill, 2009); (co-editor, with Celia J Kerslake & Philip Robins) Turkey's Engagement with Modernity (Palgrave, forthcoming 2010); and Angry Nation: Turkey since 1989 (Zed Books, forthcoming 2010)

There is also an activist dimension to the project. "Stop the Protocols" serves as a coordination platform for the many protests (sit-ins, hunger-strikes and demonstrations) that have taken place in the United States, Europe and Lebanon in the period since the Turkey-Armenia diplomatic process was announced.

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian and Vicken Cheterian, in their contributions to openDemocracy on the 10 October accord, share this critical view of the protocols and highlight what they see as the flaws in the document (for example, its proposals to restore cross-border links, and how these relate to the overriding issue of the genocide).

Yet their own position can be criticised, on a number of grounds. A preliminary one is suggested by the implication in either article that the author is able to speak on behalf of all Armenians, or at least those in the diaspora. But is it possible that the highly cosmopolitan Armenian diaspora, in 2009, can or would speak with a single voice? The answer is a definite "no"!

In fact "Stop the Protocols" and its political initiator (the Armenian Revolutionary Federation [ARF]) may constitute the most vocal political grouping in the diaspora - but it is not necessarily the most representative. The ARF is one of the oldest and most influential Armenian political organisations; few would question its role in re-establishing Armenian communities after the genocide. But it has become trapped in the cage of an old-fashioned, if virulent nationalism: retribution, compensation, and transfer of land to Armenia are central to its vocabulary.

But there are many other voices in the diaspora, with diverse views on a host of questions affecting Armenia and Armenians. These are represented in humanist organisations like the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the dioceses of the Armenian Churches of America and the Armenian Assembly of America. Many members of these groups will feel uneasy at the prospect that the recognition of genocide, a goal that ultimately unites all Armenians regardless of their political persuasion, might be the first casualty on the altar of an ill-defined "normalisation". They support it nevertheless.

The single block

But if there is a range of views among Armenians about the Armenia-Turkey diplomatic process, this leaves a further question to be addressed: why are serious observers such as Juan Gabriel Tokatlian and Vicken Cheterian so dismissive of it? A closer analysis of three dimensions of the genocide might help in finding an answer.

First, there is the destruction of the Armenian communities of the Ottoman empire as a historical reality. Whatever term is used to describe what happened - the juridical term "genocide", its Armenian equivalent meds yeghern (great catastrophe), or the term "crime against humanity" - the fact is that the leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress (Ittihat ve Terakki) used the state apparatus of the Ottoman empire to render large parts of central and eastern Anatolia (or historical Armenia and Kurdistan) devoid of Armenians. The Ittihadists, as they were also called, made use of regular army units, irregular Kurdish tribal groups and criminal gangs to evict from their villages and kill Armenian men, women and children. The subsequent state policies of the Republic of Turkey never broke with the anti-Armenian bias and continued to induce the remaining Armenians to leave. Houses, churches and schools were appropriated and often handed out to local notables, or simply destroyed. This grave injustice has to be acknowledged by Turkey and redressed in one way or another.

Second, there is the daily trauma of the genocide in the lives of the dwindling number of genocide survivors, their children and grandchildren, and hence, of most Armenians in the diaspora. The wounds that have been inflicted on every single one of the survivors and their offspring have been growing over the decades, as the destruction of 1915 was forgotten by most in Turkey and the world and overshadowed by the Nazi holocaust and the second world war. This burden of pain and oblivion has induced a heavy emotional cost: it includes anger at being denied the "closure" which is expected (perhaps in vain) from official Turkish recognition, and the difficulty of being caught between the experience of loss, fidelity to the past, and the frustrated desire to move on. Armenians all over the world have a moral right to be heard, and for their pain to be addressed and ameliorated.

Third, there is the genocide discourse, which is used by (among others) by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the "Stop the Protocols" website as a tool of governance and perpetuation of power. Here, the genocide is employed to control the political life of diverse diaspora communities and suppress dissent by rallying Armenians around the flag. In this discourse, everything short of full genocide-recognition by the Turkish state (including massive compensation and a redrawing of borders) is seen as treason to the nation and hence unacceptable.

I believe - together with the many Turkish and Armenian activists who have been working on all fronts to go beyond the maximalist discourses of their respective nationalisms - that the first and second dimensions of the genocide (the historical facts and the need to address the pain of survivors and successor generations) are not negotiable. The third dimension of the genocide discourse, however, is in my view half of the largest roadblock on the road to normalisation - the other half being, of course, its mirror-image: the Turkish denialist discourse, which has scared internal critics into silence by suggesting that any dialogue with Armenians would result in Turkey's immediate territorial disintegration.

The opening effect

This does not mean that the concerns of Juan Gabriel Tokatlian and Vicken Cheterian, including their sharp denunciations of Turkish policy and intentions, can be regarded merely as cynical or unfounded. Several important world players - the United States and the European Union, and now increasingly Russia - are pushing for stability in the Caucasus, in part to clear the way for energy transports via Turkey and in part to prevent another scenario of the kind that sparked war in Georgia in August 2008. There is little doubt that this is the driving motivation behind the protocols. Turkey is artfully exploiting this current geo-strategic reshuffle in order to downplay the issue of genocide recognition, while it pursues the foreign-policy objective of achieving good relations with all its neighbours.

The joint historical commission, which the second protocol proposes, is indeed a bad compromise, if not a complete sell-out. The fact that the commission needs the agreement of all concerned to reach a binding conclusion, and that it will lose its legitimacy and be disbanded if one side walks out, allows both countries to play it safe. It would be wonderful if both sides agreed that the events of 1915 constituted genocide, for this would both create the space for Turkish political leaders to sell this conclusion to their electorate and help relieve the suffering that is multiplied by Turkey's official refusal of recognition. True, this is not a very probable outcome in the short term. It is more likely that the commission will start to meet amid a big media fanfare, and then gradually dissipate into obscurity once the futility of the exercise becomes apparent.

So the ratification of the protocols by the two parliaments, against widespread opposition from nationalist circles on all sides and from Azerbaijan's government - if and when it occurs - will not bring immediate benefits. There will be no genocide recognition; no genuflection by Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Tsitsernakaberd, the site of Armenia's genocide memorial; no progressive or revolutionary shake-up in the region towards a new fraternity and solidarity. The decisive question, however, is whether the protocols will complicate or delay any such eventual result. I do not think so.

For the implementation of the protocols - and especially open borders - would mean that a lot would change for the better. Turks and Armenians could cross to the other side and get to know each other better; the few existing examples of cross-border municipal cooperation and cultural exchange could expand and multiply; the poor border regions on both sides could be revived; and new life could be brought to Armenia's derelict economy.

Perhaps most important of all, open borders could further contribute to Turkey's own painful process of facing its troubled past. This process might one day gather more than the 100,000 who mourned the murder of the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul in January 2007, and open the way for official recognition of the truth of 1915. But if in the meantime, Turkey can be helped by the protocols to become a country that is more hospitable to Armenians and able to accommodate their pain, then it is worth taking one step further in that direction.

This would also mean a partial loss of power for those actors who have long used the genocide to scare critical minds into conformity, to rule over their flocks as they pleased, and to claim the right to speak in their name.

Also in openDemocracy on Armenia, Turkey and genocide:

Sabine Freizer, "Armenia's emptying democracy" (30 November 2005)

Hrant Dink, "The water finds its crack: an Armenian in Turkey" (13 December 2005)

Üstün Bilgen-Reinart,"Hrant Dink: forging an Armenian identity in Turkey" (7 February 2006)
Sabine Freizer, "Nagorno-Karabakh: between vote and reality" (14 December 2006)
Peter Balakian, "Hrant Dink's assassination and genocide's legacy" (29 January 2007)
Hratch Tchilingirian, "Hrant Dink and Armenians in Turkey" (23 February 2007)
Taner Akçam, "Turkey and history: shoot the messenger" (16 August 2007)

Ben Kiernan, "Blood and soil: the global history of genocide" (11 October 2007)

Vicken Cheterian, "Armenia's election: the waiting game" (19 February 2008)
Armine Ishkanian, "Democracy contested: Armenia's fifth presidential elections" (4 March 2008)

Fred Halliday, "Armenia's mixed messages" (25 September 2008)

Fatma Müge Göçek,  "Hrant Dink: memory and hope" (17 January 2008)

Martin Shaw, "Uses of genocide: Kenya, Georgia, Israel, Sri Lanka" (9 February 2009)

Martin Shaw, "A century of genocide, 1915-2009" (23 April 2009)

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, "Armenia: silence over genocide" (12 October 2009)

Vicken Cheterian, "Armenia-Turkey: genocide, blockade, diplomacy" (13 October 2009)

Armenia-Turkey: genocide, blockade, diplomacy


A process that began with "football diplomacy" between Armenia and Turkey has developed into the real thing, as the countries' foreign ministers signed two protocols on their future relationship at a ceremony in Switzerland on 10 October 2009.

Airstrikes target Pakistan Taliban after weekend of deadly militant attacks

The Pakistani military is preparing an aggressive campaign of air strikes in response to a series of four brazen attack by militants over the weekend, one of which targeted Pakistan's military headquarters leaving twenty people dead. In a further unprecedented attack, a thirteen-year-old suicide bomber struck a military convoy as it passed a crowded marketplace near Pakistan's Swat Valley, killing 41 people.

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The Pakistan army is gearing-up to target the Mehsud faction of the Taliban, headquartered in the South Waziristan area, in retaliation for the attack by Mehsud militants on the headquarters of the Pakistan military in Rawalpindi, outside Islamabad. During that attack ten militants, disguised as soldiers, waged a gun battle with Pakistani security forces which resulted in the deaths of five of the militants and twenty soldiers, allowing the militants to take more than forty Pakistani soldiers and civilians hostage. After a 22-hour long standoff between the military and the militants, Special Services Group commandos assaulted the besieged building, killing four of the five remaining militants and freeing the hostages. The last remaining militant was identified as Dr Usman, the suspected orchestrator of the gun attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in March.

As a result of the attack, Pakistani plans for a ground offence in South Waziristan will be accelerated, indicated Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who warned the Taliban of impending ‘heavy' action by the Pakistan military. Airstrikes in the South Waziristan area, which borders Afghanistan, intensified late on Sunday, Reuters reported, hitting Taliban hideouts in Makeen and Ladha, killing sixteen militants.

The ToD verdict: The attacks against the Pakistan army and the subsequent response illustrate the divergence in Pakistani and American views on how best to deal with the Pakistan-based Taliban operating along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Since the became embroiled in Afghanistan, the US has placed increasing pressure on Pakistan to crackdown on Pakistan-based Taliban, who Washington believes are providing support to the militants fighting against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan's response has been less than satisfactory from the American perspective; the country has continued to pursue peace deals with powerful Taliban factions, despite its campaigns against separate militant groups in the Swat Valley and, imminently, South Waziristan. Pakistan denies that the factions are participating in violence outside of the tribal areas, or that they are hosting Afghan Taliban leaders.

The attack also highlights a concerning lack of focus on the security threats posed by regions outside of South Waziristan, particularly the Punjab province. Despite the Pakistani military focusing its retaliation for Saturday's attack on South Waziristan, security officials believe some of the militants involved in the attack, including Dr Usman, draw support from the Punjab. Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqua has gone so far as to claim that, despite the reluctance of many people in Pakistan to acknowledge the threat, ‘South Punjab has become the hub of jihadism.' The Punjab province is reportedly home to an array of militant organizations, with the town of Bahawalpur host to many hard-line madrasas.

Ultimately, any strategy employed by Pakistan to eliminate the threat of terrorism and insurgency, both domestically and with respect to the conflict in Afghanistan, must focus on all areas in which terrorism and militancy is allowed to grow unchallenged. The recognition that militant fighters are hailing not only from South Waziristan, but also from the Punjab, underscores the need for the Pakistan army to embrace the fight against terrorism wholeheartedly. ‘There is a dire and urgent need to go to the core of these militant groups, whether based in Bahawalpur or Waziristan,' said Imtiaz Gul, author of a recent book on militancy in Pakistan, ‘before they can spring any more surprises on the security forces.'

UN admits fraud in Afghanistan election

The head of the United Nations in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, has acknowledged that Afghanistan's presidential election was marred by ‘widespread fraud,' a week after firing his second-in-charge who had proposed to make the same public admission. Only days before the results of the election are to be announced, Eide admitted there had been ‘significant fraud' in the electoral process, which is expected to result in the re-election of President Hamid Karzai. However, Eide defended himself against the allegations levelled by his former aide, American Peter Galbraith, who had criticized Eide for failing to stop polling stations from opening in areas that were too dangerous for monitors to visit, and banning his staff from handing over evidence collected on polling day that showed that actual voter turnout was far lower than the reported result. The Norwegian diplomat said he had the international support from US, German, British and French ambassadors, who were present at the press conference today but who failed to speak up in his defence.

In a further challenge to Eide's authority, one of only two Afghan members of the UN sanctioned electoral commission, Maulavi Mustafa Barakzia, resigned today. Barakzia claimed that the two Afghan voices on the five-seat commission had been overuled, and that the American, Canadian and Dutch representatives failed to consult them on the proceedings of the committee. 

Turkey and Armenia normalize relations

An historic agreement between Turkey and Armenia signed in Switzerland on Saturday has established diplomatic ties and reopened the border between the two countries, after almost a century of hostility. After a last-minute ‘dispute over wording' necessitated the intervention of Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of State, who was in Switzerland in a show of support for the agreement, representatives signed the agreement without making public comments. According to the BBC, the agreement calls for a joint commission to investigate massacres and deportations of Armenians during the First World War, denounced by many outside Turkey as genocide, in order to examine the ‘historical dimension' of the two countries' relations. 

Armenia and Turkey: forgetting genocide

It is difficult to explain under what circumstances a group of individuals decides to forget the greatest tragedy experienced by the community of which it forms part. For this reason, the decision of the Armenian government to disregard the genocide that the Armenian people suffered at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1915-23 is a shocking phenomenon worthy of special attention.

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