Sevak Khatchadorian is chairman of the Armenian Council of America, an organization based in Glendale, California that promotes the civic and civil rights interests of the Armenian American community. Khatchadorian was born in the Middle East and has family in Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt. In mid-November, Diwan interviewed Khatchadorian to get his perspective on how Armenian diaspora communities living in the Arab world reacted to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, in particular to the settlement that ended the fighting.
Michael Young: The Armenian diaspora played a key role in the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Can you tell us specifically how the communities in the Arab world reacted?
Sevak Khatchadorian: The Armenian diaspora in general, whether in the Americas, Europe, the former Soviet Union, or the Arab world, was not surprised that there was another war in the Nagorno-Karabakh region started by Azerbaijani aggression. For years, on and off Azerbaijan had gauged the combat readiness of Armenia and Artsakh. We were, however, extremely surprised at the level of aggression, blatant Turkish involvement, use of Syrian mercenaries, and lack of international attention toward the conflict.
There was a conscientious effort within the diaspora, including Armenians in the Arab world, to coalesce behind the humanitarian efforts. Yet in conversations with family, friends, and colleagues within the region, another aspect of responsibility also came to light. The Turkish involvement not only showed Armenians that the conflict could be an attempt to bring about another Armenian genocide, but also to reestablish a new Ottoman Empire via the pan-Turkic ambitions of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Within these parameters, Armenians in the Arab world attempted to warn their Arab neighbors of Turkey’s desires to dominate the region politically and economically. After all, Turkey under Erdoğan has caused, or attempted to cause, strife in Iraq, Syria, Libya, the Gulf states, and Lebanon, and is attempting to become a regional superpower to forcefully impose its will.
MY: Does the recent focus of Armenian communities in the Arab world on developments in the South Caucasus indicate they see less of a role for themselves in the Middle East, therefore are increasingly preoccupied with developments in and around Armenia?
SK: No, on the contrary. Armenians in the Middle East consider themselves an integral part of the nations in which they live. They see the conflict in the South Caucasus, especially Turkish involvement and use of mercenaries from the region, as a continuation of Turkish policy that they have faced to varying degrees as citizens of the countries in which they live. Armenians in Syria and Iraq have for years faced Turkish military encroachments and continue to do so. Armenians in Lebanon, Egypt, and the Gulf states have also observed the ever-growing political ambitions of Turkey.
As an example, prior to the escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenians in Lebanon had faced growing Turkish-backed anti-Armenian propaganda, with individuals making racist attacks against them and praising Ottomanism, Turkey, and more specifically Erdoğan. This approach has been pursued by Turkey to create a fictional internal enemy—Lebanese Armenians—for those who believe they are unrepresented in the Lebanese political system and have latched on to the myths of neo-Ottomanism and an infallible Erdoğan. The propaganda, combined with charity work, solely for those who have become believers in the myth, is simply a tool utilized by Turkey to gain influence and force it on Lebanese political circles. Nonetheless, Lebanese Armenians are not deterred and continue to be a part of the Lebanese social fabric. They continue to see a role for themselves as Lebanese.
As such, for Armenians living in Arab states, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was felt in two ways: They desired a positive outcome for their historical homeland and the weakening of their current homeland’s adversary, Turkey. And Armenians in the Arab world also saw the conflict, how it was conducted, and how it was treated internationally as a bellwether of what is to come. When the international community did not forcefully condemn war crimes or the use of mercenaries by the Turkish-Azeri partnership, they effectively opened the door for such actions to become more prevalent in the region.
MY: The fact that Turkey has emerged as a winner in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict cannot have been welcomed by Armenians. How do you see this affecting the situation of Armenians in Arab countries where Turkey is playing an enhanced role?
SK: The emergence of Turkey as a winner in the conflict has little to no bearing on Armenians in Arab countries. Armenians in the Arab countries are descendants of those who suffered the Armenian Genocide, and as such they have continuously been troubled by Turkey’s attempts at making inroads into the Arab world. Armenians are forever grateful to the Arab countries that welcomed and helped their ancestors. As a result, they have always felt a sense of duty toward their adoptive homelands. This duty includes conveying the perils that these countries may face when they are entangled in the ever-ambitious foreign policy of Turkey. In essence, Armenians are now more convinced that the Turkish foreign policy of expansionism and dominance is not only dangerous for their historical homeland but also threatens their adoptive homelands.
MY: How might the defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh affect ties between Yerevan and Armenian communities in Arab world? Will it?
SK: The one-sided brokered settlement to end the war came as a shock to the entire Armenian diaspora. Yet, like the rest of the diaspora, Armenians in the Arab world are not a monolithic entity. There are multiple organizations, viewpoints, and desires in the various Armenian communities. As a result, there are disagreements among Armenian factions on the political and military endeavors taken prior and during the war, and steps that need to be taken in the future. While these differences are exacerbated because of the seriousness and fallout of, and proximity to, the brokered settlement, a unifying factor is the overall safety of the ancestral homeland and its people. As such, the ties between Yerevan and factions in the Armenian communities of the Arab world may face short-term challenges. However, these challenges will not result in the long-term harm in ties between Yerevan and these Armenian communities.
MY: What main takeaways do you have from this conflict now that an agreement has been reached?
SK: The brokered settlement as written is one-sided and does not address the key factors which initiated, expanded, and reignited the conflict. If it is not rectified to address human suffering, racism, and the universal right to self-determination, the roots of the conflict will only fester and reignite another war.
The international community failed to not only preempt the conflict, but to take decisive steps to impose a ceasefire. This failure has led to a loss of faith in international bodies, and a self-realization of Armenia’s and the diaspora’s shortcomings during the conflict. Armenians in the Arab world feel as if they are on another front line confronting Turkish and Azeri misinformation, propaganda, and blatantly aggressive foreign policy.