Can You Be Simultaneously For And Against A War? Ask The DC Armenian Lobby

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Twenty-eight years of death and destruction, a million people forced out of their homes at gunpoint, and land occupied by invaders can end in peace, overseen by international community. A peace in one of the most hostile parts of the world, and a potential model for cooperation by global leaders. So why then is this peace so elusive?

In June of this year, Russia hosted Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in St. Petersburg, which followed a similar meeting in Vienna the month before with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Ministers from France and Russia.  The June meeting ended with a tri-presidential joint statement that cast an optimistic light on settling the 28-year-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. At these meetings both countries moved closer to peace than ever before.

Co-chaired by the U.S., France and Russia, the main mediator in this conflict — the Minsk Group — is overseen by the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, a body comprising 57 countries. OSCE’s involvement in this conflict has most likely kept the intermittent war from escalating beyond regular illegal incursions and shelling across the “Line of Contact” which has been separating Azerbaijani and Armenian armed forces since the 1994-ceasefire.

Armenia and Azerbaijan waged a war in Karabakh in 1988-1994, which resulted in the occupation of a large swath of Azerbaijan’s territory by Armenia and the creation of a phony “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”, which no nation on Earth has recognized.

The future of Nagorno-Karabakh and the intrusion and invasion by Armenia within the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan are the obstacles to settlement.

Enter the well-funded Washington D.C. lobby group, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and its allies. President Jimmy Carter’s National Security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, described it as one of the most powerful lobby groups in Washington DC. ANCA supported OSCE in the past. But as of late, as peace prospects seem to loom possible, this support has gyrated 180-degrees into opposition to OSCE’s efforts to end the almost three-decade-old conflict.

According to OpenSecrets.org, ANCA has unleashed significant political and financial resources throughout the country on House and Senate members and the White House. ANCA has launched, during the last few weeks, a nationwide campaign against the OSCE proposals to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (“Madrid Principles”) with letters and meetings to pressure members of the U.S. Congress. According to news reports, some members of Congress have even  flown to Armenia — on ANCA’s dime — to have discussions with the government.

ANCA opposes as “reckless” the Basic (Madrid) Principles which are based on The Helsinki Final Act (1975). The proposed elements include the return of the Armenian-occupied territories (15% of Azerbaijan) surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control; an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for its security and self-governance; transit corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh; future determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will; the return of all internally displaced persons and refugees to their former places of residence in occupied Azerbaijan; and international peacekeepers to maintain order until the status of Nagorno-Karabakh is decided.

One would think that these seemingly reasonable provisions that are being embraced by the larger international community should be supported by the Armenian lobby as well. This is not the case however.

So why would such a powerful special interest group advocating for the welfare of Armenia not follow the lead of Armenia’s important international partners and embrace a settlement?  If this settlement is finalized and there is peaceful engagement with Azerbaijan, open borders would allow Armenia to improve its economy and to lessen its dependency on foreign interests like Russia and Iran.

Up to a million displaced Azerbaijanis could return home. Construction alone in the former occupied territories would jumpstart the local and national economies.

The native-born Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh could lead normal lives, not lives in a perpetual “state of war” dictated by Armenia. This could end the huge drain from Armenia’s meager treasury. They wouldn’t need an “army.” Their standard of living would automatically rise.

Based on falsehoods and little compassion, ANCA’s opposition to an OSCE-negotiated peace over Nagorno-Karabakh is perplexing as it seems to disregard the well-being of the very people it claims to represent.

Unlike many other conflicts around the world, the US President, Congress and Secretary of State can make a difference in this one. They should ignore special interests like ANCA and the Armenian-American lobby and do what is right for the lost and powerless people. Those people would rather live normally than fight for another 28 years because well-paid Gucci-clad Armenian lobbyists in Washington, D.C. need a “cause celebre” to continue to raise money and exist.