Transparency Without Borders: WikiLeaks, Armenia and (c)Overt Diplomacy
Times are changing and if there are still people who are unwilling to accept that, a single word should do the trick: WikiLeaks. Founded almost four years ago, WikiLeaks has grown by leaps and bounds since then, by publishing classified and secret documents from various countries, thus shedding light on the internal workings of governments and diplomats as well as violations and insights that governments commit and have. However, the single event that made WikiLeaks a household name was the recent announcement that almost a quarter of a million documents from US diplomatic correspondence were made public. This event was dubbed as a “historian’s dream, a diplomat’s nightmare” by Guardian columnist Timothy Garton Ash.
The true value and weight of WikiLeaks’ impact can be measured by the documents addressing the issue of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, almost every nation in the world was mentioned in the 250,000 diplomatic cables sent by US diplomats from all over the world. Armenia was also mentioned in these cables either directly or in relation to other countries. This piece is an attempt to highlight some of the documents related to Armenia and offer some analysis as to what can be learned from the leaked documents. For this piece, the WikiLeaks website, and The Guardian, published in the UK, were used. The Guardian was one of the five newspapers to which WikiLeaks had provided the diplomatic cables for eventual publication.
One of the first issues where Armenia was mentioned was in relation to an arms purchase and transfer that had occurred almost seven years ago. Thus, in 2003, Armenia’s ministry of defense — headed by then-Minister of Defense Serge Sargsyan — purchased anti-tank rockets and heavy machine guns from Bulgaria, after Sargsyan expressed personal guarantees that the final destination of those weapons was Armenia. However, soon afterwards, some of those weapons — by other accounts all of them — found their way to the Islamic Republic of Iran and then to Iraq, where they were used in attacks against US forces. According to WikiLeaks, when first confronted with these facts in late 2008 — when Sargsyan was already the president — Armenian officials told US officials that such a transaction never happened. Subsequently, though, in 2009, Armenian officials, including President Sargsyan, made no effort to deny the fact that Armenia was indeed involved in an arms transfer deal.
One of the issues that can be deduced from the above revelations is limitations on the complementary foreign policy professed by Yerevan for over decade and which argued that Armenia needs to pursue such a policy because of its “unique” position vis-à-vis the West, Russia and Iran. This policy was first criticized by Iran as early as 2002 when the Iranian Ambassador to Armenia, Mohammad Farhad Koleini, challenged it, indicating that Armenia lacked the resources and international clout to continue to pursue its complementary foreign policy of maintaining good relations with the West, Russia, Iran, and other major powers. Incidentally, it was around that time, and less than a year before the arms sales took place, that Iranian Defense Minister Adm. Ali Shamkhani paid an official visit to Yerevan where he signed a military cooperation agreement with his Armenian counterpart Serge Sargsyan.
Regardless of the fact that Iran is a working partner of Yerevan and even excluding the fact that Iran is under pressure from the US, it seems that Armenia’s complementary foreign policy based on the premise that Armenia could have full-spectrum relations with the West and the non-West has been nothing more than a euphemism for lip service to the West and a full-spectrum relationship with Russia, an image which many of Armenia’s neighbors have expressed explicitly in the past.
A second point to be highlighted from the WikiLeaks is the ménage à trois existing between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. While not a secret, the linkage between normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations and the Karabakh conflict has been highlighted since 1993 when Turkey put the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Karabakh as a precondition to opening the Armenian-Turkish border. In one of the WikiLeaks cables, Ilham Aliyev has reportedly mentioned that the recognition of April 24 as Armenian Genocide remembrance day in the US hangs like a “Sword of Damocles” not only over the resolution of the Karabakh conflict but also on relations between Armenia and Turkey. Again, while not a new revelation, this statement coming from Azerbaijan reinforces, at least in the minds of Armenians, that the Azerbaijani are Turks and that the relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey are tightly knitted to the extent that the war against Azerbaijan is equated to revenge against Turkey for the Genocide. However, it is also in the WikiLeaks cables that one sees a level of discord developing between Azerbaijan and Turkey where Baku is critical of Ankara’s foreign policy orientation as well as wary of the latter’s ruling AK Party, which Baku views as conservative. On its side, Ankara views Baku as still being a post-Soviet, Russian-influenced country with too much reliance on the US. Furthermore, the way the two counties view Iran is also contradictory, as evidenced by some of the cables where Ankara comes across as determined to cooperate with Iran while Baku feels that Tehran is trying to destabilize Azerbaijan.
The analysis of WikiLeaks’ published cables can take forever, and it will be a while until the jigsaw puzzle of the leaked diplomatic cables can be assembled. However, preliminary conclusions from the above analysis include the reality that Armenia is unable to balance its foreign policy between the West and the non-West as competently as Yerevan thinks or claims that it does. Furthermore, the myth that Azerbaijan and Turkey are a united front should be reexamined by Armenia and, if there is any diplomatic initiative left in Yerevan, those differences could be exploited for at least delinking Turkey-Armenia relations from those of Karabakh.
In conclusion, one general question that came out from the WikiLeaks experience is this: if there is such a thing as transparent diplomacy and if diplomatic interactions were to be conducted in the open and in front of open doors, does Armenia — or any other country, for that matter — have the necessary “software” to conduct such a diplomacy?