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Returns on Diplomatic Investment: Zionist Policies and the Armenians

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There were repercussions to Zionist pursuits associated with the Armenian Question over a century ago. The Armenian Question refers to the protection and the freedom of Armenians from their neighboring communities and the Ottoman Turkish government. The Armenian Question spans forty years of history in the context of international power politics generally from the 1878 Congress of Berlin to the start of World War One.

These Zionist pursuits appear continuing to the present day.  The advancement of a surrogate Turkish identity onto Muslim-centric Turkish leaders was initiated in large part by Jews and crypto-Jews in influential and leadership positions. The resulting ultra-nationalist ideology along with the manipulation of external conditions or direct involvement in internal events of the Ottoman Turkish state by international players had a devastating effect on the Armenians. It provided the ideological basis for, and encouraged, the genocide of the Armenians under the guise of World War One. The subsequent policy of genocide denial by Turkey was supported by the state of Israel for decades. These actions should provide a lesson for today’s semi-official Israeli public relations policy regarding present-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The Theodor Herzl faction of early Zionism attempted to secure influence with the Turkish Sultan in the very late 19th century by offering to help calm anti-Turkish opinion in European press in the aftermath of empire-wide repressive measures against Armenians. Near the end of the nineteenth century, at a time when scores of Jews were subject to pogroms in central and eastern Europe, the Armenians in Turkey were being eliminated in state-sponsored massacres on the order of tens of thousands, later into hundreds of thousands with their possessions and lands expropriated, Armenians were eventually subjected to a genocide which exterminated nearly two thirds of the Armenians in Turkey and neighboring countries. It was during this time when Herzl offered to secure financing to pay off the massive Ottoman debt in exchange for medium-scale Jewish immigration into Palestine and the outright purchase of large swaths of land for that purpose. These actions will be examined and contrasted with other policies:

  • Aiding in the ideological formation of an ethnic Turkish uniqueness to replace the traditional religious identity
  • During the 1980s and into the early 2000s kowtowing to Turkish denials of their genocide of the Armenians during World War One
  • Today’s anti-Armenian/pro-Azerbaijani articles and political commentary, the majority being authored by Jewish writers and posted in leading Israeli or otherwise Jewish-centric on-line sites.

Theodor Herzl, Early Zionism, and the Ottoman Sultan

Early Zionism as defined by Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, had a goal of alleviating the deteriorating conditions under which Jews lived, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, in an attempt to catch up with the nationalist and societal consolidation that was sweeping across Europe. As part of that goal, it was concluded that Jews ultimately needed a sovereign homeland. It was not immediately apparent where such homeland might be, but Palestine was at the top of the list. Palestine had been ruled by the Turks since the early 1500s. There was a brief period, from 1832 to 1840, when Palestine was conquered by Egypt, but the British eventually re-secured Turkish rule over the region. Such realpolitik certainly caught the attention of Zionists, that is, a power such as Great Britain could determine the fate of a piece of land Zionists eyed as the Jewish homeland. However, the issue for Herzl and his Zionist contemporaries was that Palestine was an integral part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire with its sultan as the Sunni Islamic Caliph. A confluence of opportunities presented themselves to the Herzl camp in the late 1890s. Herzl was a journalist and businessman well aware of the dire financial situation of Ottoman Turkey. Being well-versed in contemporary European politics, with contacts in centers of power in Europe, acquaintances in the publishing industry and centers of finance, Herzl was introduced to the Turkish Sultan, Abdul Hamid II. This initial meeting took place on May 17, 1901, in the aftermath of the sultan ordering the empire-wide massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians. Ottoman Turkey was receiving negative press across Europe, which made its financial condition critical due to a near complete erosion of trust and sympathy towards Turkey in general and the sultan in particular.

Herzl offered the sultan financing for the payment of the sizeable Ottoman state debt and use his influence in countering anti-Turkish/pro-Armenian sentiment that existed throughout European press. In return, Herzl wanted to acquire large regions of Ottoman Palestine accompanied by Jewish immigration. Herzl also met with Armenian leaders in an attempt to end to their demands for equal rights as Ottoman citizens. Herzl’s association with the sultan was not universally accepted by others across the Zionist political spectrum. Max Nordau wanted nothing to do with Herzl’s dealings. Bernard Lazare, a French Jew quit the 1899 Zionist Congress with the statement, “How can those who purport to represent the ancient people whose history is written in blood extend a welcoming hand to murderers, and no delegate to the Zionist Congress rises up in protest?” He protested the Herzl Zionist faction’s public honoring of Sultan Hamid II. After back and forth meetings between Herzl and the Ottoman Turkish Sultan, Herzl’s offers were rejected.
Some present-day Jewish hypotheses surrounding Herzl’s motives suggest that Herzl sold out the Armenians or had contempt for the Armenians and their plight. In most likelihood, there wasn’t an anti-Armenian sentiment working here, but rather the Armenian condition was exploited.

The global power of Great Britain was apparent to Zionists, whose goal was at least securing Jewish immigration into Palestine, but whispers of dismembering the “Sick Man of Europe” was heard again across the capitals of Europe during these early years of the early 20th century. A catalyst for such dismemberment was the introduction, organizing, and manipulation of latent ethnic identities and national aspirations among the constituent population of Ottoman Turkey. Amplifying such a group ethnicity was challenging since Sunni Islam permeated the Ottoman Muslim constituency. The national emergence of the Empire’s Christian populations resulted in the independence of Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and eventually most all the Balkans between the late nineteenth and just before out outbreak of World War One. Greece had become independent much earlier in the nineteenth century. European powers, especially Great Britain, in an attempt to counter Russian expansion in both Central Asia and towards the Adriatic shores based on a pan-Slavic ideology, looked favorably upon the introduction of a pan-Turanist (pan-Turkic) ideology which glorified a mythical ethnic origin of the Turks. The mechanics of this pan-Turanist doctrine were rather crude as compared with the republican implementations seen in Europe, such as with Garibaldi’s unification of Italian city-states and Bismark’s Prussian homogenization. In Ottoman Turkey, Sunni Islam was the element of identity, ethnic and linguistic association was secondary. Something needed to be instilled into the Turkish element of the empire, just as Arab nationalism was championed by Lawrence of Arabia as its public face, to generate enough centripetal force to replace Islam as the leading or only group identity with a national, and subsequently a geo-ethnic character. Directed nationalism ushered in the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire by the British and French, the most capable colonial powers.

The Young Turk Movement and Dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire

The Young Turk movement, also known as Committee for Union and Progress (CUP) with its origins many years earlier, overthrew the Ottoman Sultan in 1908 and initially promised equality among the constituent ethnicities of the Empire. However, soon after that putsch, the hard-line faction within the CUP prevailed with its Social Darwinist ultra-nationalist ideology. Its many tenets were based on concocted racial theories put forth by contemporary writers, including Arminius Vambery a Hungarian Jew and “The man most responsible for popularizing the concepts of Turan and pan-Turkism…”.  Vambery published many works on the necessity for the revival of Turkish nationality, language, literature and generated theories about ethnic ties between Turks and Hungarians. His 1864 work, Travels in Central Asia, was written for [British] Major-General Sir Henry Rawlinson, implying it was of military interest. For decades Rawlinson advocated that Russia was hostile and expansionist, threatening British interests in Afghanistan and India. Tekin Alp, born Moiz Cohen was a writer, philosopher, and one of the founding fathers of Turkish nationalism as well as the Pan-Turanist movement. The 1912 work Turan was his seminal work. The efforts of these and other writers resulted in the mythic Turkish ethos espoused by individuals such as Ziya Gokalp considered the CUP central ideologue along with a noteworthy individual, Dr. Nazim.

There were high-ranking CUP officials and other lesser known figures that were secret Jewish converts to Islam, known as dönme in the Turkish language. Many had an association with Masonic clubs and other societies in Salonika (now in Greece) cooperating with Turkish military leaders across Ottoman lands in the now ex-Yugoslav areas and Albania.  An Italian Jew, Emanual Carrasso founded the Macedonian Masonic Lodge and spearheaded the Young Turk movement. Many leaders of the Young Turks movement were from the Salonika region, especially local dönme. In his book, The Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks, Marc Baer states on page 96 “Dönme played a significant role in the turn-of-the-century Ottoman politics and an important founding and supporting role.” Talaat Pasha, considered the architect of the Armenian genocide, was a member of the Salonika organization, as was the dönme, Dr. Nazim. Nazim, a chief ideologue in the CUP, was vehemently anti-Armenian, and also championed the expulsion of Greeks from Anatolia. Dönme Mehmed Cavid was the Ottoman Turkish Minister of Finance until 1914 but remained as a financial adviser until 1917.

It was in the interest of Zionists to instill a sense of Turkishness in a constituent population that was otherwise Islamic-centric. This mechanism was in the plans of imperial Europe bent on the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. Imperial European and Zionist interests were parallel. Zionist intelligence organizations, such as the Nili group, were in the service of Great Britain during WWI. Memoirs of the Nili spies describe the Turkish extermination of Armenians. Zionists feared the Turks would seek the elimination of Jews, for the Turks not only went after Armenians, but Greeks and Assyrians were to be eliminated as well. Indeed, the Jews in Palestine were to be deported. Initially, thousands of Jews were deported from Jaffa in 1917, but this was quickly halted.

With Turks expending enormous resources exterminating the Armenians and plundering their wealth,  less energy would be spent in fighting the Allied Powers during the war. Simultaneously, the effort creating a new geo-ethnic identity, the Turk, was crudely successful, mechanically manifesting itself by eliminating the Armenian presence in Anatolia, the heartland of an envisioned Turk-only republic. The elimination of the Armenians, as the significant ethnicity controlling commerce and trade in Anatolia, was also encouraged by the Germans as they would co-opt Armenians to increase their influence along and far beyond the Berlin-Baghdad railroad. In fact, the elimination of the Armenians was suggested by influential Germans years before World War One. One such example is Dr. Paul Rohrbach, Settlements Commissioner in German Southwest Africa, the location of the German genocide of the Herero in 1905. He was an advocate of eradicating native Africans to make room for the “white race.” Rohrbach also proposed a deportation of the Armenians as early as 1913 to solve the “Armenian Question.”

Early after the outbreak of World War One, the Sykes-Picot agreement had been agreed to with British and French mandates over large regions of former Ottoman territories. This agreement included a British mandate over Ottoman Palestine, and in association Jewish immigration, as spelled out in the Balfour Declaration. The Armenians were in the way of these European powers economically controlling areas stretching from the Mediterranean to the oil fields of Baku, where the Rothschilds found Armenians competitors and irritants to unfettered transport and control of oil.

Jewish and Israeli Support for Turkish Genocide Denial

Israel’s semi-official policy of supporting the official Turkish state policy of genocide denial, unfortunately, meant that denial of genocide could be rationalized for the benefit of more significant interests. It should not be concluded that Israel is anti-Armenian or even pro-Turkish, but rather the interests of Israel is a simple calculation. The prospects (economic or regional) appeared brighter for Israel in detente with Turkey than to deal with a frail ex-soviet Armenia and politically weak Armenian diaspora. To encourage better relations with Turkey, Israel was in a position to offer their influence to minimize or otherwise obfuscate the genocide of the Armenians. Israel has never politically recognized the Turkish genocide of the Armenians and is still not part of the official Israeli school curriculum, even though a large percentage of books, articles, and analysis about the Armenian genocide are authored by Jewish and Israeli authors. Israel could get away with claiming Armenians were not subject to genocide, or claim Armenian suffering cannot possibly be compared with the Holocaust. However, as Turkey’s relations began to improve with Israel throughout the 1970s and 1980s, official Israeli statements regarding the non-genocide of the Armenians intensified. It hit a peak on April 10, 2001, when Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was quoted on the front page of April 10, 2001, Turkish Daily News, “Armenian Allegations Are Meaningless.”

What followed were Jewish organizations in places such as the United States quietly supporting Turkish efforts in defeating US congressional resolutions recognizing the Armenian genocide, year after year. As relations between Turkey and Israel soured in the latter half of this decade, many US Jewish groups began distancing themselves from supporting Turkish genocide denial.

Azerbaijan Gets Free Anti-Armenian Public Relations

Ever since members of the Israeli Knesset visited Baku in September of 2015, with some of them (Israeli Knesset Member Oren Hazan and advisor Mendi Safadi) pledging to counter Armenian claims over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, there has been a spike in the number of articles written that are thoroughly anti-Armenian and pro-Azerbaijani. At that rather high-level meeting, Safadi, in particular, said, “I’ve always been on the side of Azerbaijan, and we are ready to provide assistance and patronage of the Azerbaijani side to neutralize the influence of the Armenian lobby in the US Congress, the EU institutions, and international organizations.” The themes are so conspicuous that propaganda is the only purpose of such yellow journalism. It has been observed that an overwhelming number of these politically targeted articles are written by Israeli or diaspora Jews with publicly verifiable affiliation with Israeli or Jewish groups. See the table below.

Nurit Greenger
Jacob Kamaras
Alexander Murinson
Israel Barouk
Arye Gut
Diana Cohen Altman
Samuel Rahmani
Justin Amler
Lloyd Green
Jason Katz
Marcia Bronstein
Raoul Lowery Contreras
Eugen Iladi
Neil Richards
Peter Tase

Note: While not exhaustive, the table above includes those affiliated with organizations in Israel or the Jewish diaspora, and only English language articles. Other authors are listed whose affiliations are indeterminate. Every listed author has nearly the same themes through their published articles. The table is based on publicly available information. Samples of their writing can easily be found by searching for their names on the internet.

Many articles usually combine themes extolling zero anti-Semitism in Azerbaijan, Jews living idyllically in Azerbaijan, or how Azerbaijan surpasses all expectation of a state exhibiting multi-cultural tolerance. Armenia is portrayed as the devil incarnate, being racist, fascist, anti-Semitic, pro-Russian and Iranian, buying and selling illicit nuclear material, having powerful lobbies in the United States, etc. This propagandist effort is detrimental to readers because it generates a completely inaccurate view of reality. For example, Israeli flags are burned on Azerbaijani streets, and the Azerbaijan President Aliev in 2012 was given the title of the Corrupt Man of the Year. Only a couple months back the term Azerbaijan Laundromat was used to describe widespread money laundering and influence peddling discovered based in the UK. Armenia isn’t perfect, no state is, but the universal representative theme of these articles is zero-sum, 100% positive for Azerbaijan, 100% negative for Armenia.

It appears some of what Theodor Herzl suggested to the Ottoman Turkish Sultan in Constantinople is being played out a century later in Baku. Hypotheses can be proposed to account for this targeted public relations campaign, and they include:

1) Israeli Knesset members were sweetening deals made with Azerbaijan by offering positive Azerbaijani public relations at the expense of Armenia.
2) Providing a convenient rationale to Israeli’s Jewish constituency and diaspora Jews questioning Israel purchasing half its crude oil imports from a Muslim country.

3) Providing a convenient rationale to Israeli’s Jewish constituency and diaspora Jews questioning Israel’s selling billions of dollars of high-technology weaponry as well as covert security arrangements with a Muslim state.
4) Since Armenia has cordial relations with both Iran and Russia, Armenia is an indirect secondary target for both anti-Russian and anti-Iranian propaganda regardless of Azerbaijan also having close relations with both Iran and Russia.

Israeli concerns about Azerbaijan receiving negative public relations are not new and can be traced back to the early 1990s when the use of the internet began. Starting in the late 1980s, the first facility that today is known as social media was called Usenet newsgroups. The mechanism of information transfer, clearly preceding the World Wide Web, looked like emails sent to all those registered for the particular topic of interest. This author was a prolific contributor to the issue of the denial of the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, exposing real-time human rights violations taking place against Armenians across Azerbaijan, and fighting taking place in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The reports coming out of Azerbaijan were horrific. I was the top contributor to these Usenet newsgroup reports. In early 1992, I was contacted by the purported president of the Shawsheen Valley Zionist Council, a chapter located in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. I lived in the Boston, Massachusetts area at the time. Interestingly, I worked with this woman at a previous job and knew her well. She was extremely interested in what I was posting about Azerbaijan, why I was posting, where I was getting my information, and asked for an account on my server for somebody in their organization. I was told that my efforts were interfering in the interests of the state of Israel.  After a few questions and answers, a several year friendship came to an end.

What Lessons Might be Learned

Not recognizing a genocide that was the prototype for the Nazi Holocaust apparently had almost no downside for Israel. Israel and the Jewish diaspora absorbed a lot of political backlash from allegations made about crypto-Jewish involvement with the Young Turk and the CUP movement, as well as Israel supporting Turkish genocide denial. Israeli non-recognition of the Armenian genocide caused angst in the Jewish diaspora.  Many were torn by the dissonance between supporting Israeli actions, while such policies denied a crime of genocide. The latter is something antithetical to modern Judaism. Recognizing claims of genocide where none occurred is equally disgraceful especially in the most sacred of Jewish venues, synagogues.

Today’s blatant anti-Armenian/pro-Azerbaijani propaganda will have lingering repercussions. It will linger because these actions are inevitably woven into issues associated with continued non-recognition of the crime of genocide committed on the Armenians and existential threats to the survival of Armenia.  It is not necessary for the state of Israel to create a soft [Armenian] enemy where no enmity exists, even if half of the gasoline tanks in Israel are filled with an Azerbaijani crude distillate. Israel could purchase just as much crude from Azerbaijan, sell Azerbaijan billions of dollars of high technology weaponry yet not engage in anti-Armenian propaganda. Policy makers in Israel weighed the numbers and compared the possible reaction of land-locked Armenia with a population of three million against an oil-rich Azerbaijan with eight million people and its long border with Iran. Experts in the Israeli Foreign Ministry might want to review such policy, given its lack of return over the past century.

The Diplomatic Returns

Armenians today view the Jewish or crypto-Jewish influence in both the Young Turk movement and its ideology as at least a contributing factor in the genocide of the Armenians. This view might be a logical hypothesis. However, there is no evidence of any organized Zionist or crypto-Jewish universal interest in seeking the destruction of the Armenians. However, it would be rather unlikely for dönme in leadership positions in the CUP not to have known of the planned elimination of the Armenians. In the end, the process of forced ethnic homogenization of Anatolia continues as Turkish state policy, unabated to this day, taking on a path of its own.

Theodor Herzl’s foray with the Ottoman Sultan at the expense of the Armenians ended in a dead end. Zionists certainly aided European forces associated with the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Turkish nationalism. Their participation at the highest levels of the CUP attests to this. The results of this were indeed the dismemberment of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, the Balfour Declaration, but also the genocide of the Armenians. Were the Armenians mere collateral damage, as a result of an operational ultra-nationalist Turkish policy?

The genocide of the Armenians became the prototype for the Nazi Holocaust. Over eight hundred German officers were in the Turkish Army before and during World War One, many witnessed the extermination of the Armenians, but others planned and participated. The German General Fritz Bronsart von Schellendorf, the Chief of the General Staff of the Ottoman Army, justified actions against the Armenians – even after World War One. In 1919 he stated, “The Armenian is like the Jew, a parasite when outside his homeland, who sucks up the health of other country in which he settles. Thence comes the hate which was discharged in a medieval fashion against them as an undesirable people and which led to their murder.”  (See another translation) Von Schellendorf became a fervent supporter of Hitler in the 1930s. If the Armenian Genocide didn’t occur or if the Turks were not allowed to evade justice, the political discourse in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany could have been different enough that it is possible the Nazi Holocaust may not have taken place. Every significant political or diplomatic effort has its effect and overtones. The human condition is a continuum.

Israeli support for Turkish genocide denial only brought attention to Israel’s, seemingly hypocritical, policy regarding its non-recognition of the Armenian genocide, although minority parties in the Israeli Knesset periodically open debate on the topic. In the end, Israel appears to be holding the Armenian genocide like the Sword of Damocles over the head of Turkey.

Armenia’s geopolitical situation is not of its making. After a devastating genocide, what remained of Armenia was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union. This incorporation included Joseph Stalin placing heavily Armenian populated regions, such as Nagorno-Karabakh under Azerbaijani jurisdiction. During the breakup of the Soviet Union, fighting escalated between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh. In 1994, Armenians were able to defend and establish sovereignty over this region, to the dismay of Azerbaijan. Subsequently, both Azerbaijan and Turkey blockaded their borders with Armenia. Seventy percent of Armenian’s borders are currently blockaded. During this same period, the West being euphoric having won the Cold War and with NATO busily dismembering Yugoslavia, Armenia had no choice in turning to Russia for its defense, having been strategically threatened by Turkey and ignored by the West. In contrast, Azerbaijan was signing lucrative oil extraction and transportation deals with western suitors funding both Baku’s oligarchic system and its substantial arms purchases. Unless another party comes along and offers a better deal to Armenia, a Russian retreat from its treaty obligations to defend Armenia’s borders will spell the end of what exists of Armenia. As it was a century ago, the international community perceives Armenia as an irritant to broader corporate, regional and international interests. What will Israel do when Azerbaijan is critically out of oil? It will buy it from somebody else or pump it out of the Golan Heights, but the fallout of its unofficial anti-Armenian/pro-Azerbaijani policy will linger.

These series of Zionist policies and activities over a century are essentially realpolitik, with results both chaotic and riddled with Machiavellian indifference.

The Armenians over a century ago were in political situations beyond their ability to influence. Powerful forces were in motion then, and the Armenians were used, manipulated, and eventually deemed an inconvenience, relegated to extermination. The existence of Armenia, today, appears to be an inconvenience and remains a tool to be used by others.

David Davidian is a Lecturer at the American University of Armenia. He has spent over a decade in technical intelligence analysis at major high technology firms.

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Eastern Europe

Russia aids Italy in fight against COVID-19: Why we should be aware

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You’ve probably heard this week that Russia ­- with such ceremony, might I add – sent planes with its military medics to Italy to help in the fight against the coronavirus. This charity event was nothing more than a PR stunt by the Russian army, the sole purpose of which was to spread Moscow’s propaganda narratives and influence the Italian public, as well as politicians.  

It seems that some Italians are aware of this as well. The newspaper La Stampa cited high-ranking officials and reported that 80% of the aid sent by Russia turned out to be “completely useless”, adding that it is being used as a cover by Vladimir Putin to further his own political and economic ends. Right from the beginning, there was no humanitarian element to this charade.

Moscow, as one would expect, denied this, stressing the “good” nature of its intentions. Sadly, such sentiments are shared also by Italian politicians. As reported by La Stampa, the Italian prime minister agreed to receive aid from Russia to please Moscow and improve bilateral relations.

Currently, an increase in Russian disinformation can be observed in Italian social media – fake accounts are thanking Russia for the support, some are continuously slandering the EU and NATO about their inability and individual useful idiots are even tearing off EU flags and replacing them with Russian ones. And all of this is eagerly reported by the pro-Kremlin and anti-EU media outlets.

Unfortunately, a large part of Italians, crippled by the crisis, will believe the Kremlin’s propaganda campaign, and we can soon expect increased criticism of the EU and NATO coming from Rome along with improved relations between Italy and Russia. I think this will most likely begin by Rome attempting to cancel the sanctions imposed against Moscow.

The coronavirus is a global issue, but it seems that Moscow for quite some time has been lying about the spread of the virus in Russia in order to paint itself to the rest of the world as civilization’s last refuge. Rumors are spreading among Russian social media users about the special genes and formidable immune systems of the Russian nation, and this has resulted in many, including the elite, believing that COVID-19 will not affect them. At the same time, an unprecedented outbreak of “pneumonia” continues in Russia.

Despite Putin ordering to implement emergency measures to combat the coronavirus (the constitutional vote has been postponed and everyone in Russia received a paid week off from work), it is clear that the Kremlin’s primary objective is to exploit the new crisis to gain diplomatic advantage over the West.

This means that not long from now other EU and NATO member states could receive offers of “aid”, and this also includes Latvia. Let’s hope that our politicians, unlike the Italians, will have enough mental clarity to resist the Kremlin’s lies and refuse any ambiguous offers before it’s too late.

Imagine such a scenario: the crisis caused by COVID-19 in Europe continues to worsen: the US, the UK and other partners of Latvia are too busy with their internal problems and are no longer able to support Europe’s eastern flank against Russia. The response capabilities of NATO are paralyzed, and the West is unable to guarantee even diplomatic support for Latvia. Moscow understands this, and the Kremlin decides to act by turning to the Baltic states with an act of “goodwill” in the form of 10 military aircraft containing “humanitarian” aid.

Looking back at history, I clearly remember how “humanitarian aid” trucks from Moscow helped during the Ukraine crisis when Russia occupied Crimea. Kremlin-hired trolls worked even more vigorously by glorifying the Kremlin, which had no issues of using the pretext of humanitarian aid to occupy the Crimean Peninsula.

Italy saw this scenario and clearly lost. What would our own government do in such a situation?

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Eastern Europe

Defeating Systemic Corruption? Anti-Corruption Measures in Post-Revolution Ukraine and Armenia

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Ukraine and Armenia offer case studies on the challenges of recovering from post-Soviet authoritarian legacy, fraught with rampant corruption. As a matter of fact, systemic corruption has long condemned the two post-Soviet countries to a vicious circle of underdevelopment, bad governance and inability to implement fundamental economic and political reforms. Not surprisingly, the anti-corruption reforms have been put at the heart of post-revolution state-building in both countries.

Notably, Ukraine’s former President Petro Poroshenko’s government significantly reduced the corruption, particularly in the gas, banking, and government procurement sectors. As a sign of moving the fight against corruption to the highest possible policy agenda, the Ukrainian government introduced the National Anti-Corruption Bureau  and the Specialized AntiCorruption Prosecutor’s Office NABU as well as Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO)  established in 2015 with the participation of civil society and donor countries. Yet, the effectiveness of these institutions has been questioned by several observers, pointing to insufficiency of anti-corruption measures amidst unrelenting efforts by power  groups to retain their outsized influence over law enforcement and justice. In essence, Poroshenko’s steady decline as a political powerhouse significantly owed  to his failure to eradicate corruption.

Meanwhile,  VolodymyrZelensky’s promises of defeating rampant corruption resonated with Ukrainians, who placed a great deal of faith in his ‘game-changing’ agenda.

The Rada’s first day was marked with the adoption of important pieces of anti-corruption legislation, including the removal immunity from prosecution for MPs and the proposal to provide the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) with the right to undertake autonomous surveillance.

Moreover, Zelensky’s anti-corruption efforts resulted in investigations and subsequent arrests of  some of President Poroshenko’s associates, including Oleg Hladkovsky, a top Defense official; a People’s Front party MP and the former head of the Rada’s defense committee SerhiiPashinsky; ex-deputy minister for the occupied territories Yuri Hrymchak; and Poroshenko Bloc MP YaroslavDubnevych, etc. Furthermore, Zelensky put the High Anti-Corruption Court into action,  that passed a bill   reinstating criminal liability for the illicit  enrichment of officials.

Similarly, the post-revolution government in Armenia criminalized  illicit enrichment and intensified its anti-corruption campaigns. The government pushed for a series of high-profile trials against former senior officials, most notably ex-president  Robert Kocharyan, former high-ranking officials Manvel Grigoryan,  Aram Harutyunyan, Seyran Ohanyan and others. This extended to former defense minister and outstanding former ruling Republican Party member, Vigen Sargsyan, who was charged with “abuse of power,”  as well as to former  Chief of Police Alik Sargsyan  –  charged   with   covering up  illegal post-election crackdown on opposition protesters in Yerevan in 2008 and with  destroying evidence of the “overthrow of the constitutional order” led by then President Kocharyan. However, these arrests and investigations have not yet led to court rulings. Essentially, both Pashinyan’s and Zelensky’s fight against corruption has so far focused on punishing former governments’ members or associates. The question remains if the anti-corruption measures will move beyond selective prosecution of former officials to the unequivocal application of “zero tolerance for corruption” principle.

This, in turn comes down to the furtherance of democratic reforms , leading to the advancement of good governance  practices and eradication of the systemic corruption in both countries.Some  critics have been skeptical about the effectiveness of anti-corruption reforms in these countries, positing that while governments   embark on “crowd-pleasing affairs,” much needs to be done to address the more systemic problems that the new governments inherited.

Both Zelensky and Pashinyan have placed a special emphasis on defeating judicial corruption. While former Ukrainian President Poroshenko hailed the  judicial reform  as “the mother of all reforms,” there was not much to reinforce government’s pledges of fundamental reforms.

In an effort to rectify this, in autumn 2019, President Zelensky embarked on judicial reforms. More specifically, he dismissed the High Qualification Council of Judges (the body responsible for attestation and selection of judges), announced plans to reload the Higher Council of Judges (the highest self-governance body of judges) and halved the number of Supreme Court judges.   Remarkably, while the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe,  praisedZelensky’s government’s judicial reform, it expressed concern over certain aspects of the reform, pertaining to “important issues of the rule of law” in Ukraine. The Commission criticised the situation, where the politicians are seen to get too much power to determine whether the sitting judges remain in their position or not. Similarly, the judicial corruption is one of the most harrowing challenges facing Pashinyan’s government. Following the controversial release of second President Robert Kocharyan in May 2019, Pashinyan contended that the judiciary is a remnant of the former corrupt system which would cook up conspiracies against the Armenian people.  As a result, he called for a mandatory “vetting” of all judges to the all the courts in the country because of their ties to the previous regime. The tension between Pashinyan’s government and the “remnants” of the former regime reached a point, where the Armenian parliament adopted a bill on holding a referendum on suspending the powers of a majority members of the Constitutional Court. Pashinyan would largely treat the current Constitutional Court as an impediment to completing the revolution in Armenia. More specifically, it was regarded as an instrument that prevented the people from exercising their right to form a government in the country in the 1996, 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013 presidential elections. Notably, PACE co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Armenia, called on Armenian political players to refrain from actions and statements that could be perceived as exerting pressure on the judiciary.  Essentially, Pashinyan threw his weight behind changing the Constitutional Court, contending that the latter represents the corrupt regime of Serzh Sargsyan, rather than the people of Armenia. Furthermore, he regarded the opponents of the referendum as “anti-state” forces.

Overall, the judicial reform remains as big challenge in both countries, as its success is critical to breaking with the authoritarian legacies.

 Based on the comparative analysis of anti-corruption strategies in developing countries, there are three main  observations to make regarding  Ukraine’s and Armenia’s trajectories.

First, in both countries corruption has been deeply entrenched and a result of the post-soviet authoritarian legacy. Essentially corruption has permeated every section of society and become a way of life in both countries . A major impediment to democratic state building, including fight against corruption in Armenia  and Ukraine is related to prevailing post-Soviet “informality”. The use of informal networks and connections in exchanges of favours, gift-giving along with other informal activities have been been deeply ingrained in both Ukrainian and Armenian societies. Therefore, the state apparatus, as well as education, healthcare, judiciary and law enforcement have long been dominated by informality.Thus, quite often the  institutions that have been set up to fight corruption  run up against deeply entrenched habits of graft in society and politics. Even though it would be an oversimplification to contend that Armenian and Ukrainian societies are congenitally hooked on graft as a way of life, the “culture of corruption” will not disappear overnight. Studies show that Ukrainian citizens tend to  “condemn” high-level corruption”  yet “regard petty corruption as a justifiable evil”. As a matter of fact, countries with long histories of informal illiberal practices and corruption often face tremendous challenges in eradicating these blights .Therefore eradicating the culture of corruption and informality should be an urgent priority on the reform agendas of new Ukrainian and Armenian governments.

 Second, one of the biggest challenges of anti-corruption reforms in developing and particularly transitional countries is the persistence and prevalence of corrupt practices by political and economic elites. More specifically, the residual influence of oligarchy presents a threats to the fight against systemiccorruption. Clearly, the political elite’s robust commitment to eradicating systemic corruption is indispensable. Meanwhile, inconsistencies and the weakness of a commitment lead to a situation, under the banner of “zero tolerance for corruption” governments keep playing a “tolerant corruption” game. Although political will may not be sufficient, it is a necessary condition to defeat corruption. The case of Romania demonstrates that the political will to defeat corruption may well make up the absence of a tradition of the rule of law and democracy. More specifically, the European Union pressure, along with the electoral pressure and the political will of the domestic political elite combined to ensure the establishment of the rule of law and defeating corruption in the Romanian judiciary .

Third, external factors including the anti-corruption programs of international donors have proved conducive to the fight against corruption.  While Ukraine’s choice for Europe and fervent desire to irreversibly depart from the orbit of the Russian influence is a crucial impetus to defeat corruption, Armenia’s centrality in the Russia-led socio-political order has remained intact. Nevertheless, Pashinyan’s government’s anti-corruption efforts prompt to posit that international efforts may well resonate with prevalent social norms in Armenia. A question remains if the legitimacy of the anti-corruption norms promoted particularly by the European Union will lead to their smooth implementations in Ukraine and Armenia.

Last but not least, the lessons from the successful anticorruption crusades of Singapore and Hong Kong show the need for anticorruption reform initiatives to be participatory and inclusive of all stakeholders including public and private sectors as well as civil society. Thus, it is absolutely essential for Armenian and Ukrainian civil society organizations to further develop institutional and professional capacity to contribute to anti-corruption reforms and influence their implementation.

Overall, the grounds for cautious optimism need to get reinforced to ensure that systemic corruption will no longer undermine democratic state-building in both countries.

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Eastern Europe

The EU Introduces New Vision for Eastern Partnership States

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The EU has published an Eastern Partnership (EaP) policy which outlines the Union approach for 2020 and beyond towards the six former Soviet states bordering Russia. This comes amid fears that the EU has not been able to fully implement its previous Eastern Partnership policy as Georgia and Ukraine, the states which most successfully implemented the reforms, have not become EU members.

The new policy document is therefore an important step, serving as a continuation of the EU’s resolve to further integrate the 6 former Soviet states into the Union’s institutions.

The new policy document is a result of consultations launched in 2019 by the European Commission. The previous document made an emphasis on engaging with civil society to ensure effective reforms. There also was a focus on increased public accountability, advanced human rights and local development.

The new policy document outlines changes in 3 out of 4 priority areas. The EU again will work on building stronger economy, connectivity and stronger society as a guarantee.

In the new policy, bilateral cooperation will remain the main way to ensure the implementation of policy recommendations. According to the document, “the EU will continue to provide support in bilateral, regional and multi-country fora, including targeted sectoral assistance in line with the principles of inclusiveness and differentiation. In addition, the EaP will continue to be flexible and inclusive, allowing countries to tackle common and global challenges jointly in a wide range of areas, fostering regional integration”.

Overall, there are the following long-term Eastern Partnership policy objectives the EU plans to implement beyond 2020: building resilient, sustainable and integrated economies, accountable institutions; increasing the rule of law and general security; making progress in building environmental and climate resilience; implementing a resilient digital transformation; building a fair and inclusive societies.

There are also purely geopolitical clauses. For example, “the EU and the partner countries will invest in physical connectivity and infrastructure (in transport, energy and digital) as underpinning conditions for economic development”.

The new document also underlines the importance of increasing bilateral trade which builds upon the previous progress. For example, in the 2010s, EU-EaP trade has nearly doubled, turning the partner countries into the EU’s 10th largest trading partner.

This has the geopolitical ramification of Russia gradually losing the economic battle as the EaP states diversify their economies. The EU is the first trading partner for four partner countries (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine), while for Armenia and Belarus the EU is the second biggest trading partner.

The diversification in exports of goods of EaP states helps to better integrate those states into the global value chains. Another sign of closer interaction between the EU and EaP states is the number of companies trading with the Union. In Georgia, the number increased by 46%, from Moldova by 48% and from Ukraine by 24%.

Building upon this achievement, the new document calls for deepening of “the economic integration with and among the partner countries, particularly that of the three associated countries through continued support for the full implementation of the current DCFTAs”.

Another geopolitical realm covered by the new document is transport. The EU will be focusing on upgrading key physical infrastructure in road, rail, port, inland waterway and airport facilities, and logistics centers, in order to further strengthen connectivity between the EU and the partner countries and among the partner countries themselves. This is in connection with the energy connectivity in the South Caucasus, as the Southern Gas Corridor is nearing completion with first gas from Azerbaijan likely reaching the EU in 2020.

Yet another important sphere of cooperation will be strengthening the EU’s cooperation with the partner countries to create a strong financial system for sustainable economic growth.

Within the measures to minimize organized crime, the EU will continue its support for the EaP states to cooperate with EU justice and home affairs agencies to fight human trafficking and trafficking of illicit goods (notably drugs and firearms), etc.

Among other policies the EU’s support for the cyber resilience of the partner countries stands out. This is particularly important for Georgia as the country was recently subject to massive external cyber attacks.

Author’s note: First published in Georgia Today

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