America and Armenia: 25 years later
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America and Armenia: 25 years later


This year, Armenia and the United Stated of America celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. For such a short historical period, many important political events took place. They changed the image of the Armenian-American connections. However, speaking about the brief period of interstate relations, one should not forget about longer and deeper ties between the American and Armenian peoples. Analyzing the process of formation and development of the American state, many well-known historians considered the place and role of the Armenian factor.  In his book "Builders of the Bay Colony," Professor Samuel Morison mentions some Armenian families from France and Britain among the first settlers. While studying American history thoroughly, one can see that the Armenian heritage was formed in America not from 1915, but from 1630.

Early Heritage

The first settlers of Armenian origin helped to develop trade and were actively engaged in agriculture. Jack Sadurian and Stephan Tarrien that came to America from London became the foundation of farming entrepreneurship in South Carolina. Analysis of the limited sources shows that the representatives of the Sadurian family (to a lesser extent) and Tarrien family (to a larger extent) played a significant role in the formation of banking system in the first thirteen states that declared their independence. Unfortunately, many documents on the activities of Armenians in the colonial and early post-colonial period remain unexplored in the archives of various universities. Very little is known about the influential Constantinopolitan Garabedian clan, whose representatives had close ties with Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant.

The processes that occurred from 1915 to 1923 were studied a little better. However, it is important to understand that the formation of the Armenian agenda in America took place with the direct participation of the "old" Armenian-Protestant elite that was represented by the descendants of the first settlers. This elite, which was assimilated long ago, provided financial and political support to Vahan Kardashian, the first lobbyist for Armenia's state and national interests. It would be almost impossible to create the American Committee for Independence without that assistance. By the way, that Committee included the US Vice-President, Governors, Senators, and aristocratic representatives. Today, many significant events of the US-Armenian relations have not been analyzed yet. For example, it is still unclear, how the Armenian capitalists Gulbenkian and Mantashev's relationship with the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Morgans, the leading American financial and industrial elites of the time, influenced the decision-making process on the Armenian issue.

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, official Washington viewed Armenia as its strategic partner in the region. The bet on Armenians was made for many political, economic, cultural and civilizational reasons. America experienced oil boom and sought to enter new commodity markets. It was extremely crucial for American monopolists to gain access to Mosul oil. However, to reach the Middle Eastern oil, it was important to overcome the political monopoly of the British and the French. In a complex geopolitical configuration, where Britain set the tone, Washington considered Christian Armenia a potential ally and conductor of its interests. Not surprisingly, the USA was the first state to recognize the independence of the First Armenian Republic. Moreover, America took the mission to determine the physical borders of Armenia and consistently lobbied for its interests at different levels.

In the period of 1915-1930, Congress established more than thirty major programs to provide humanitarian, financial and moral-psychological assistance to the Armenian population. It is noteworthy that significant sums were sent by such influential American clans as Girard, Rensselaer, Rockefeller, Stuart, and Carnegie. With regard to Armenians, there were informal migration preferences (entry, citizenship, etc.). All these steps demonstrated the political will of Americans to establish long-term and multilateral relations with the Armenian people. Undoubtedly, the world political processes made their adjustments to these calculations. For many objective and subjective reasons, Armenia lost its independence very soon and spent almost a century in the Soviet Union.

A losing move

By the end of World War II, more than forty different Armenian public organizations of religious, cultural and educational character operated on the territory of America. According to the widespread opinion, the "classical diaspora" was formed by the descendants of the Armenians that survived during the Genocide. During the Cold War (the confrontation of democratic capitalism and social communism) the Middle East was still a vital region for the great powers. Including Turkey in the military-political bloc of NATO, the United States made a crucial political choice, which would subsequently become the main obstacle to deepening the dialogue with the global Armenian nation and the Armenian state.

For American Armenians, the main guideline was the idea of the international recognition of the Genocide of 1915-1923. However, it was already doomed to a political failure. What was the reason for that? Politicization of historical events could become a threat in relations with Turkey, which was the Middle Eastern outpost against communism. Many experts disagree with this point of view, giving the example of the Jewish Holocaust. However, these comparisons are incorrect. Let us not forget that the recognition of the Holocaust could not threaten the relations between the USA and Germany, which was occupied and divided into zones of influence. In other words, at the earliest stage, the problem of the Holocaust acquired political rather than humanitarian character. As with the Jewish issue, Washington has always sought to transfer the issue of the Armenian Genocide into the humanitarian plane.

At that period, it was important to form mechanisms that would allow the Armenian Diaspora to become a substantial political factor in the process of developing American foreign policy strategy in the Middle East. In this regard, the issue of Genocide recognition had a reverse effect, turning Diaspora into an instrument of politics. If we analyze the dynamics of the Armenian issue development over the past 70 years, it can be noted that success in lobbying the recognition at the federal level occurred only during the periods of deterioration in Washington-Ankara relations. Thus, the first Resolution on the National Day of Remembrance of Man's Inhumanity to Man was devised and adopted after Turkey's occupation of the northern part of Cyprus. Since then, the issue of recognizing the Genocide has become a kind of "political club" for Washington. From the point of view of political realism, not a single state of the world wants to lose the tool that can be used at any convenient moment against its competitors and aggressive allies.

Missed opportunities

America began to show increased interest in Armenia in the 80's.  It happened due to many reasons. Firstly, this period is considered to be the peak of the political lobbying influence of American Armenians. Starting with the administration of Richard Nixon, Armenians have consistently strengthened their positions in big politics. By the early 80's, ethnic Armenians worked in the White House (Kenneth Khachigian, Aram Bakhshian, Jr.), the State Department (Edward Djerejian) and Congress (Charles Pashaian). However, the most influential politician of Armenian origin was George Deukmejian, the 35th Governor of California and a close friend of President Ronald Reagan. By 1988, Deukmejian was one of the most popular and influential politicians in the country, who played an important role in ending apartheid in South Africa. Suffice it to say that during his election campaign, George H.W. Bush offered "Duke" to participate in the campaign as Vice-President. Deukmejian refused, arguing that it was necessary to keep California for the Republicans to win the presidential election. This step strengthened the authority of Duke, who became one of the three most influential "elephants" along with Bush Sr. and Senator Bob Dole.

Secondly, there was the movement of Karabakh Armenians for reunification with Armenia. Washington was encouraged by the protest potential in Armenia and sought to support the political demands of Armenians towards central Moscow. After the events in Sumgait and Baku, Senator Claiborne Pell, Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee, sent Gorbachev a letter in which more than 40 lawmakers called on Moscow to stop Azerbaijan's aggression against the Armenian population. With the escalation of the conflict, Senators Robert Dole, John Kerry and Pete Wilson initiated a new appeal, which noted that Moscow could no longer allow Azerbaijan to control Armenian Karabakh. Moreover, Senator Pell repeated this request during the personal meeting with Eduard Shevardnadze, the last Head of the USSR Foreign Ministry. Thus, already at that period, Americans spoke about the topics related to Armenia and Karabakh.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington once again relied on Armenia as a potential ally in Transcaucasia. The political will of Americans was demonstrated in many ways. Firstly, Armenia and the NKR (not recognized by the US de jure) were included in government programs of the Freedom Support Act.  Moreover, Section 907 prohibited any assistance to Azerbaijan due to aggressive actions and illegal blockade of the land border with Armenia. At the same time, according to the recounting per capita, the amount of America's gratuitous aid to Yerevan was second only to Israel. Secondly, America supported the development of humanitarian and infrastructure projects through the Millennium Challenge Corporation. It is noteworthy that the Committee on Appropriations allocated to Armenia an amount that was twice as much as the similar assistance to Georgia. By the way, Azerbaijan was not included in the program at all.

Thirdly, the USA contributed much to the facilitation of attracting American businessmen of Armenian origin to Armenia. We must not forget that the money of such well-known philanthropists as Kirk Kerkorian or the Hovnanian brothers is American financial capital, convertible into the political influence of official Washington. Fourthly, America promoted the development of relations between Armenia and NATO. Undoubtedly, Armenia, unlike neighboring Georgia, initially stated that it was not going to join the North Atlantic Alliance. However, Yerevan also understood that the absence of dialogue with NATO could lead to the fact that Turkey and Azerbaijan would have the opportunity to use the Alliance's tools against it. Thus, for a long time, these directions were the primary points of contact in the US-Armenian relations.

After 2008, relations between the countries began to lose their former impetus: the Millennium Challenge Corporation was closed, funding for Armenia and NKR under the USAID line was cut, the Lincy Foundation was closed and there was a significant reduction in the inflow of large diaspora capital from America. These changes were caused by objective and subjective reasons. After the signing of the "Contract of the Century" with Azerbaijan, American oil corporations were given the opportunity to conduct business in the Caspian Sea. Meantime, Armenia's consistent movement towards the Eurasian integration structures forced the United States to take a fresh look at Georgia. Today, there is an urgent need to find new guidelines that would allow the Armenian side to develop the dialogue with the United States. It is quite obvious that without closer relations with the US, it will be more difficult for Armenia to respond to new threats, modernize its economy and develop democratic institutions.

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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