The three whales of Armenian soft power
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The three whales of Armenian soft power


Trying to survive in our changing world over the past twenty years, many large and small countries have made certain attempts to adopt some foreign policy tools that were invented in the United States. The international community is most actively discussing the factor of "soft" or "smart" power, which has become an important element in maintaining, supporting and strengthening America's global leadership. The governments of Russia, China, India, Turkey and Azerbaijan, as well as the authorities of the Gulf Monarchies have allocated multimillion-dollar funds to devise concepts of their national models of "soft" power. Some countries achieved certain success, others still suffer permanent failures. Many experts mistakenly believe that only wealthy states can afford the political pleasure of having "soft power". However, the practice shows that such rich countries as Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkey were not able to achieve the desired results, while Ireland, Israel and Poland now top the ratings of the most successful states that are using "soft" power.

Why is this happening? The most common mistake is copying the models of others. Numerous countries, disregarding their own historical development features, are trying to implement the American version as the most successful and effective one. For example, Hollywood, McDonald's and Apple are the historically formed American brands. That is why just copying them cannot lead to success. Another mistake is blind relying on one's own political, economic and financial recourses. The international experience shows that the effectiveness of "soft" power is hardly dependent on the size of the state, its economic capabilities and military power. Some countries believe that their foreign policy behavior and demonstration of force make others feel fear. In turn, it is supposed to generate respect from other actors. However, history demonstrates that this approach causes opposite results.

Thus, the war in Vietnam and military operations in the Middle East resulted in a sharp drop of America's popularity throughout the world. Today, we are also witnessing the way how Russia's rigid foreign policy line on a number of issues has led to its international isolation. Thus, countries that are oriented primarily to these elements will be the carriers of classical "hard" force. In turn, states that strive to achieve results in building "soft" and "smart" power should either use the existing elements, or develop a system of national "brands" and implement them at the international level.

Paradoxically, many small countries and peoples have more opportunities to develop mechanisms of "soft" power. In the first years of independence, Armenia pursued complementary foreign policy, where the highly organized Diaspora structures around the world acted as the main instrument. That factor allowed the Armenia, which was blockaded by Turkey and Azerbaijan, to have balanced relations with regional and global centers of power, regardless of their relationship to each other (for example, the US and Iran, Russia and Georgia). However, due to the lack of a long-term strategy for Diaspora, Yerevan missed great opportunities to form and strengthen the Armenian factor in international relations. Today, Armenia, having joined the Eurasian Union, in many respects is limited in its foreign policy maneuvers. Undoubtedly, that choice was made not only for objective reasons (security, a new platform with Russia), but also for subjective ones (international situation, external pressure).

The theory of political realism says that a small state and its people that depend on one center of power are at serious risk. Regarding the regional and international instability, Armenia, which objectively needs the strategic dialogue with Russia, should also seek other political opportunities. Due to the limited resources and instrumental capacities, it is Diaspora that must take the responsibility of that complex but vital function. A number of Armenian political scientists put forward a primitive thesis that the very presence of Diaspora is the guarantee of maintaining stable relations between Yerevan and the rest of the world. Meanwhile, the trends of the last ten years show different results: the pro-Turkish and pro-Azerbaijani groups of influence are getting stronger, there is an annual reduction in the foreign aid programs for Armenia and, finally, there is a drastic drop of interest in the Armenian agenda in the West.

Certainly, many negative decisions can be partly explained by systemic changes in geopolitical configuration, in which the Armenian factor does not play an important role. However, absence of the Armenian agenda is a serious consequence of the short-sighted, passive and narrowly directed policy of Diaspora’s organizations. Indeed, the Armenian world has extremely great potential and resources to become a major lobbyist for Armenia both at the level of individual countries and within the framework of international organizations. So, what elements can be used as the basis to form the global Armenian "soft and smart" power in America - the center of the Western world?

The first element is Christianity. Christianity can become an important national-political "brand" of Armenia. Unlike many other diasporal peoples in the West, Armenians are actively integrated into all leading Christian confessions. Nowadays, in the USA and Europe there are: the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, the Armenian Evangelical Church, the Armenian Congregational Church, the Armenian Mormon organizations, etc. It is noteworthy that any of these Christian confessions, primarily, has a national character: in all cases, the ethnic affiliation of any narrowly religious trend is emphasized. In other words, all of these confessions are "Armeniated". In addition, we have an objective historical advantage: the first state that adopted Christianity as a state religion, people that defended the Christian faith and religion in numerous wars, people that did not change their Christian principles under the pressure of external forces in different historical periods. All these features mean that it is necessary to form the image of an exclusive Christian nation with the exceptional contribution to preservation and strengthening of the Christian faith. It is important to highlight that this image should not be based on the opposition of Christianity to other religions.

How can this Christian image contribute to strengthening the Armenian lobbying element? Unfortunately, within this limited article it is difficult to disclose the religious factor in American politics. Suffice it to say that this country was founded by the religious groups of Puritans. Despite the formally existing concept of the civil religion, Protestantism continues to be one of the key factors in the socio-political life of the country (John F. Kennedy was the only Catholic President of the USA). It is actively used by many ethnic groups. It is Christian Protestant-Mormon America that is the main source of Israeli lobby. The conservative elite, represented by the Republican Party, considers defending Israel the sacred duty of Christian America.

To date, dozens of influential Christian organizations are lobbying pro-Israeli interests in the United States. Over the past thirty years, predominantly Catholic Polish and Cuban lobbies have also used the tools of their Protestant compatriots. Our Diaspora should work actively with the above-mentioned confessions, informing the broad American public about the historical development of the Christian religion in Armenia. It is necessary to work out a concept for building a strong and long-term dialogue between the Armenian world and Protestant America. It can be based on the forgotten ideas of Reverend Jack Knapp, missionary William Goodell, Senator Henry Lodge and missionary Elizabeth Wheeler. Being engaged in missionary work in the Ottoman Empire, they established very close ties with the Armenian people. Moreover, Elizabeth Wheeler was convinced that one of the sacred missions of America is to protect Armenians, whatever it costs.

The second element is compactness, activity and integration. In the USA, there are fewer Armenians than Jews, Poles and Cubans. However, compared to other ethnic communities, Armenians are compactly concentrated in the key states. The first lobby-state of the Armenian Diaspora is California. According to different data, 700 thousand ethnic Armenians live there.  In many districts, for instance, in Burbank and Los Angeles, the Armenian population accounts for 15 to 40%. In such cities as Glendale, Fresno, Montebello and Passadena, the number of Armenians varies from 30 to 50% of the total number of inhabitants. Representatives of the Armenian community are deeply integrated into the economic, political, social and cultural life and have good positions in the state. What does this mean? California gives most legislators to Congress: 55 people (53 to the House of Representatives, 2 to Senate). To date, there are only 25 legislators in the pro-Armenian Caucus from this state and only 6 of them are Republicans - representatives of the majority party in Congress.

To compare, there are only 5 Californians in the Turkish group and Azerbaijani Caucus. However, four of them are Republicans. Though it may sound strange, but Congressman Darrell Issa from the 49th district is a member of both the Armenian and Azerbaijani lobby groups. Anyway, the Turkish-Azerbaijani tandem does not pose a big threat to the Armenian lobby. However, our opponents continue to work actively in this direction. In this regard, it is necessary: a) to increase the representation of Californian congressmen in the Armenian Caucus; b) to neutralize the influence of hostile lobby groups on politicians in California. Given the availability of quantitative resources (number and compactness) and quality (activity and integration), at least 50 members of the lower chamber from California should be included in the group on Armenian affairs.

Another crucial thing is the process of political diversification. Only 25 members of the Armenian Caucus (out of 91) represent the Republican Party. To some extent, lack of a large number of "elephants" is compensated by the status and influence of such legislators as Paul Ryan - Speaker of the House of Representatives and Edward Royce - Chairman of the International Affairs Committee. However, in order to maintain the inter-party balance, it is necessary to work actively with some traditionally Protestant pro-Republican states like Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, etc. Cooperation with Texas is extremely significant because it has become an informal center of the Turkish-Azerbaijani lobby (the city of Houston). The quantitative factor of the community population in the process of promoting the Armenian factor is not critically important in these states. Crucial results can be achieved in case the well-coordinated work is done to promote the Christian factor.

The third element is the historical and political heritage. The Armenian community is one of the oldest in America. Presidents of the United States Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, George Bush Jr. and Barack Obama have always stressed the invaluable contribution of American Armenians to strengthening and developing economic, political and other institutions in the USA. Thus, Herbert Hoover in his memoirs of 1952 wrote that at that time an American pupil knew a little less about Armenia than about England. Talking about Armenians, Americans had the following associations: Mount Ararat, Noah and faithful Christians. Hoover particularly emphasized that Armenians had left a deep trace in the American mind.

Many ethno-lobbying groups of the past and present used the factor of their heritage as an instrument of political influence. The Irish actively propagated the idea of President Andrew Jackson about the need to appoint representatives of Celtic peoples to key governmental positions related to defense, foreign policy and diplomacy. Until now, the funds in support of the Irish heritage provide publication of books, shooting movies and organization of scientific conferences. Through these actions, the society is informed about the contribution of the Irish people to the War of Independence and the rescue of the country during the Civil War. Americans also get information about the exploits of the Irish during World War II, Korean, Vietnam and other wars with the participation of the United States. Similarly, the Polish Diaspora has turned the friendship of George Washington and Tadeusz Kościuszko into a powerful political and lobbying brand.

Americans are well aware of the Irish, Italian, Israeli, Polish, Albanian, Lithuanian and Cuban legacies. However, little is known about the Armenian heritage. This is due to a number of reasons. Firstly, most American scientists of Armenian origin place emphasis on studying the history of Armenia and the issues of Genocide. Until now, not a single fundamental monograph has been published in America, where the Armenian historical and political heritage would thoroughly be examined and analyzed. A similar situation arose in the cinema industry, where an absolute priority is given to the topic of the Armenian Genocide. Secondly, a significant part of the materials related to the Armenian heritage has not been studied yet. There is not a single fund that would investigate this extremely important element. However, without that, it is objectively impossible to complete the formation of a holistic strategy of "soft" power.

Areg Galstyan - PhD, regular contributor to The National Interest, Forbes, The Hill and The American Thinker. These views are his own.

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