Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Open Letter to Ambassador John Evans

Ambassador John Marshall Evans
Embassy of the United States of America
18 Baghramyan Avenue
Yerevan 375019
Republic of Armenia

November 30, 2004

Mr. Ambassador:

Like many of my fellow Armenian-Americans, I object to recent attempts by the United States to push the Republic of Armenia to dispatch troops to Iraq. It is no secret that Armenian leaders would never have considered sending troops to join the Polish contingent in Iraq if it were not for U.S. pressure.

Surely you are aware that the Armenian population overwhelmingly opposes such a deployment. A recent opinion poll conducted by the independent Vox Populi Centre found that sixty percent of the respondents opposed the proposed deployment, and only six percent supported it. That is a ten-to-one ratio against sending troops to Iraq, and every indication is that the percentage opposed to the proposed deployment has grown since the poll was taken. Despite the shaky democratic credentials of Armenia’s leaders, they have not yet ignored the wishes of their countrymen. In this respect, they have distinguished themselves as better democrats than the leaders of Donald Rumsfeld’s “New Europe.” At least so far.

Surely you are aware, too, that the presence of an Armenian contingent in Iraq would amount to nothing short of incitement of violence against 25,000 Iraqi Armenians. The Armenians of Iraq are patriots who have stood with their fellow Iraqis, Muslims and Christians, throughout decades of war and years of a cruel embargo that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and children. Before Operation Iraqi Freedom, nobody was bombing churches in Iraq, but thanks to the U.S. occupation, at least a dozen churches have been bombed since August 1, causing scores of casualties. Escalating attacks against the ancient Christian communities of Iraq might count as a propaganda coup for neoconservatives in Washington, but I suspect that most Armenians are not willing to pay this price for a few more alligator tears from American diplomats.

On September 21, President Bush noted in a message to President Kocharian that he was “particularly grateful for the important counter-terrorism assistance that Armenia has rendered to the US.” He failed to mention that Armenians, together with Russians, Georgians, Azerbaijanis and many other nationalities of the old Soviet Union, fought some of the very same people who seized power in Afghanistan in 1992 and formed the Taliban regime. Soviet forces also fought some of the very same foreign fighters from Egypt and Saudi Arabia who planned and carried out the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. At least 15,000 Soviet soldiers died in Afghanistan between December 24, 1979 and February 2, 1989, and at least 37,000 were wounded. I am not sure how many of these casualties were Armenians, but I have met Armenian veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, including the blind and the paraplegic.

While Armenians and hundreds of thousands of other young men in Soviet Army uniforms were fighting against the embryonic Taliban and the foreign Jihadi’s, U.S. President Ronald Reagan was celebrating them as Freedom Fighters who were waging a noble battle against an Evil Empire. The Central Intelligence Agency provided them with Stinger missiles, and U.S.-supported trainers taught them how to blow up buildings, among other things. The CIA, the Pentagon, and the U.S. State Department spent billions of dollars over the course of ten years, to help their Freedom Fighters kill Soviet soldiers, including Georgians, Azerbaijanis and Armenians.

All of this took place during the final years of the Cold War. But now, if we are to believe George W. Bush, America is engaged in an even more desperate war against “evil-doers.” As it turns out, these “evil-doers” are the very same people whom George W. Bush’s father called Freedom Fighters. What happened? Either (a) the embryonic Taliban and the Jihadi’s have always been evil doers--in which case Reagan and Company were wrong--or (b) they used to be Freedom Fighters, but somewhere along the line they changed into evil-doers.

If scenario (a) is the case, then representatives of the United States owe Russians, Georgians, Azerbaijanis, Armenians and the other former Soviet nationalities a big debt of gratitude for confronting the scourge of terrorism back when the United States of America was supporting it. You, sir, could best express your thanks for Armenia’s early contribution to the War against Terrorism by requesting that your colleagues in the State Department stop trying to punch and kick Armenia into their “Coalition of the Willing.”

If, on the other hand, scenario (b) is the case, then we are entitled to ask just how it was that yesterday’s freedom fighters have become today’s terrorists. After all, today's terrorists are doing exactly what they were doing twenty years ago, when they were freedom fighters--namely, bombing buildings, taking hostages, and attacking the latest invaders of Afghanistan and other Muslim countries. The only notable difference is that the erstwhile freedom fighters’ primary targets these days are Americans, not Soviets. So what makes a Jihadi a terrorist instead of a freedom fighter, it seems, is that they are attacking the U.S. military, instead of attacking for the U.S. military.

In either case, there is no basis here for arguing that Armenia has any security interest in allowing itself to be dragged into the Coalition of the Willing. And there is certainly no basis for arguing that leaders in Yerevan should contribute troops to the occupation of a country that 25,000 patriotic Iraqi Armenians call their home.

Or perhaps America’s War against Terrorism has nothing to do with “terrorism,” however one wishes to define the word. Perhaps, as opponents of the war have alleged from the very beginning, Operation Iraqi Freedom is just another war for oil and empire. In any case, I want to add my voice, the voice of one more Armenian-American, to the overwhelming chorus of voices opposed to the deployment of Armenian troops in Iraq.

Markar Melkonian

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