- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 March 21, 2003 

War in the Neighborhood: Ministry of Foreign Affairs officer discusses Iraq-Armenia-US relations

In the past two years Armenia-Iraq relations have been strengthened as Armenia opened an embassy in Baghdad. In 2001, Minister of Foreign Affairs Vartan Oskanian met with Saddam Hussein to discuss cooperation between the countries. Since, members of Parliament have made trips to discuss business deals, including acquiring oil from Iraq.

The Armenian community in Iraq is estimated anywhere from 15-35,000, the majority of whom live in Baghdad, where there are four Armenian churches, cultural clubs and numerous businesses.

Additionally, some 30,000 Kurds live in Armenia.

It is less than 200 miles to the Iraqi border from Armenia, and only about 500 miles from Baghdad to Yerevan.

As the United States, Armenia's largest source of aid, leads war against Iraq, a neighbor with significant potential economic influence, ArmeniaNow ask the Foreign Ministry to address some concerns that war in the region might raise.

We met with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghajanian, who has held the position since 2001 after having other posts, including political assistant, at the Ministry since 1998. She has held various government positions since 1992.

Aghajanian has a Masters degree from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, New York.


ArmeniaNow: Is Armenia any less secure for the American community here than it was a few days ago?

Dziunik Aghajanian: I don't think Armenia is any less secure for the American community here than it was two or three days ago because nothing has changed in the country and the security situation within the country mostly dictates the condition of security of all people living there whether they or foreigners or nationals.

. . . After Sept. 11 there was a warning in the State Department that asked all its nationals to be on guard and to increase the security within the embassies area and within the periphery of the embassies and we met the request of the US embassy then. We haven't gotten anything like that (this week) because I don't think there's much of a terrorist threat from Armenia itself or anybody living in Armenia that could pose a threat to the US embassy. However from what I know the State Department has issued a warning to its nationals as it usually does to warn them of travel to areas that might be unsafe given the circumstances.

AN: When families of those living in Armenia look at a map and realize that we are this close to Baghdad, it becomes a different matter than just the notion of a general threat of terrorism which has been almost daily for Americans since September11.

DA: Geography plays a major role here. Although we are close to the region we are still far from the field of battle. However it has its positive and negative aspects. The positive aspect is that when we will not be engaged in any way in the instability that will be coming because of war in the immediate neighborhood. But the negative side is that there will be an outflow of people and the Armenian community living in Baghdad and iraq will be part of this people who will be leaving the country. We should be ready to receive them because we are the mother land and it is quite natural for at least some of them to ask to get refuge in our country . . .

AN: And what if the war moves north and forces Kurds out of Iraq . . .

DA: I don't think we will be making any difference for those coming form Iraq whether they are Armenians or Kurdish population because according to international law if you give refuge to people leaving war areas you cannot make any difference and you cannot discriminate based on their ethnicity.

We are thinking and getting ready for the cases that might come up and thinking of certain mechanisms that will help us to ease the situation and give proper shelter to those who might be coming. . . . We cannot simply disregard the fact that several 10s of people or 100s of people will be wanting to come to Armenia.

AN: Armenia is in a very tender spot, needing to maintain neutrality. Is that possible?

DA: Till now it has been possible and we are still keeping our neutrality to this effect or to the fact that we would have liked to have seen the international community acting in unity and trying to get Iraq disarmed in a peaceful way and have the diplomatic effort succeed. Unfortunately it didn't happen and I guess no one can tell what will follow. It is very hard to say at this moment what will be the status or the kind of relationship between the countries of Iraq and Armenia or any other country and Iraq as no one knows what will follow.

AN: Concerning US-Armenian relations. You've seen how the US has ostracized some countries who have refused to join the coalition. Are you concerned that might also be a condition of those who have merely remained neutral?

DA: I don't think there will be the same kind of reaction to Armenia given the state of Armenia-US relations and the basis of it because it's not based simply on the alliance with regard to this issue. It is a more fundamental relationship based on the interests of the countries, on the big Armenian community living there . . . on the US role in Nagorno Karabakh conflict and a number of issues that dictate the relation we have with the US.

AN: By its geographic position and its Christian heritage, Armenia has a rare opportunity to be of assistance to the United States. Has Armenia been called upon to assist in any way in the confrontation with Iraq?

DA: In this case our geographic position made it easier for us to choose because there is no way that Armenia's territory could have been used for this war in that sense (or that) the air corridor could have been useful. For that simple reason we haven't been approached with specific requests on assistance.

AN: The time may still come when Armenia could be called upon to participate in any post-war reconciliation . . .

DA: We are ready for that. The Foreign Minister, while answering questions yesterday at the national assembly stated specifically that Armenia will be ready to participate in post-conflict rehabilitation also given the fact that we have a big community there and simply to serve and help them in the post-conflict phase.

AN: There have been unsubstantiated reports that aides to President Bush suggested using Genocide recognition as a threat to get Turkey's full cooperation in helping the US get into Iraq. Do you have any information to substantiate that claim?

DA: I have been following the press and media coverage of that. We have not received any official paper that would state that. But whatever has come up in the press we have been familiar with all the interpretations given by the US side and the Turkish side.

AN: From the position of this office, what is the likelihood that Genocide recognition could have been a playing card in negotiations?

DA: In diplomacy every other card is being used. Hypothetically it is quite possible it could have been raised, but I don't think it would have been considered seriously.

AN: Could Turkey's reluctance or refusal to give the US everything it was asking for in this war effort have some de facto positive impact on further negotiations in Genocide recognition?

DA: I wouldn't link those two issues because though they both refer to Turkish policy and the Turkish attitude they are totally different parts . . .

AN: But does Turkey's position on Iraq put Genocide lobbyists in a better position to say to the United States: "Now you have at least one reason to not be so friendly to the Turks."?

DA: It's quite possible that the lobbyist will use that particular issue, but I think Turkey has quite a basis for being reluctant given the internal instability that could come up if the northern Iraq part is destabilized and they get more Kurdish influence in their country. It's quite understandable why they may be concerned and take a more cautious approach toward giving the US full support in that sense. . .

AN: So invading Iraq for the purpose of removing Saddam Hussein is, in Turkish relations, a different matter than liberating Kuwait?

DA: If you remember when Iraq occupied Kuwait the international community came up with the decision and the UN security counsel endorsed that decision. . . . In this case it is different and it complicates the whole situation more.

AN: Would Armenia profit from a democratic government in Iraq?

DA: I think Armenia will profit from a democratic society in any part of the world and in neighboring countries specifically. It goes without saying that the more democratic our neighbors are the better the condition in the region is and the better the living standards will be and the economic cooperation will be. Armenia has been standing for democratization in the whole region . . . I don't think any other country would say that democracy will not work in this case as well. But the people of Iraq are the ones that should go for democracy and choose the government that they want to have. This is my personal opinion.

AN: Is the United States out of place to have invaded Iraq?

DA: This particular action puts the international community in a very, very hard position and it challenged international norms and standards in general and I think the international community and the US have to do a lot to regain what has been lost.


Flight of Fear: As war begins, some from Iraq seek refuge in Armenia

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Border War: Kurds in Armenia watch fighting in Iraq with special interest

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Before the Bombs: Locals and foreigners gather in small war protest

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  Photo of the week
  Minor Protest
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Minor Protest

Members of "Mister and Miss Armenia", an organization that produces children's pageants and contests held a beauty protest outside the United States Embassy in Yerevan Thursday. The kids recently were in Iraq, and wanted to demonstrate their feelings to the US presence here.



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