Sunday, January 02, 2005

It's All about Accountability
by Markar Melkonian

In my email-blast message of December 23, I wrote that soon after December 25, “Washington’s minions in Yerevan might well have cleared the last procedural hurdle before sending Armenian troops to join Bush’s army of occupation in Iraq.” The events of the past several days have confirmed my worst suspicions. Many of you have heard by now that Armenia’s National Assembly, meeting behind closed doors on western Christmas Eve, has green-lighted the deployment by a vote of 91 to 23. We owe the twenty-three dissenting legislators in Yerevan a debt of gratitude for maintaining their integrity in the face of a level of intimidation that most of their colleagues were too weak and cowardly to resist. Since then, international news sources in a variety of languages, including Arabic, Farsi, and Russian, have spread the news about the National Assembly’s decision or more accurately, its official acquiescence to a decision made in Washington.

For months, Armenia’s Foreign Minister, Vartan Oskanyan, and Defense Minister Serj Sargsyan have repeatedly claimed that the deployment would be “strictly humanitarian,” “only humanitarian,” “solely humanitarian in nature.” In an interview that appeared one day after the December 8 Constitutional Court ruling that green-lighted the deployment, the Defense Minister assured us that “our contingent may only take part in defense and humanitarian actions.” (“Armenia Has No Right to Stay out of This Process,” Hayots Ashkharh newspaper, December 9, 2004.) A day before the National Assembly was set to “discuss” the plan, Sargsyan stated that “the volunteers will engage exclusively in humanitarian missions.” (ITAR-TASS News Agency, December 23, 2004.)

The Foreign and Defense Ministers themselves know very well that the resistance is not impressed with their distinction between “humanitarian” assistance to the occupiers and direct military assistance to them. Resistance fighters have targeted United Nations and Red Cross personnel and buildings, to such an extent that both of these “neutral” international organizations drastically curtailed their presence in Iraq. In the first days of the U.S. onslaught that reduced the city of Fallujah to rubble, one of the thousands of corpses in the streets was that of Margaret Hassan, a genuine humanitarian worker, the wife of an Iraqi, and a convert Islam who devoted twenty-five years of her life to the healthcare concerns of Iraqis. A group opposed to the occupation had abducted Mrs. Hassan prior to the destruction of the city, and then, in the face of the U.S. onslaught, they shot her in the head and threw her body into the street. If a group of Iraqis could do this to Mrs. Hassan, and if other groups can bomb Shiite mosques and holy places, then why would ministers in Yerevan honestly believe that Armenian troops will be able to hide behind a thin smokescreen of “humanitarianism”?

This was a good question for the Constitutional Court and the National Assembly to ponder, but it is now a moot point: In an Armenian public television broadcast of December 25, Defense Minister Sargsyan stated that the Armenian deployment “will be working mainly in humanitarian spheres.” Note here the use of the adverb: mainly. Only hours after the Constitutional Court and the National Assembly had given the final green light to the deployment, the Foreign Minister’s “exclusively humanitarian” mission had changed into the Defense Minister’s “mainly humanitarian” mission.

Reality has torn the Foreign Minister’s credibility to shreds. At the time of the National Assembly meeting, Foreign Minister Oskanyan assured his audience once again that “There is not, and will not be an Armenian military presence in Iraq,” (Associated Press, December 24, 2004), but an ITAR-TASS news agency headline two days later directly contradicted him: “Armenia to Send 46 Military Experts to Iraq.” As if to underscore this point, the English-language report of the Defense Minister’s December 25 television interview described the Armenian contingent as composed of “mainly snipers, doctors, and drivers.” (“Armenian Peacekeepers May Go to Iraq in Early 2005,” Public Television of Armenia internet release, December 25, 2004.) Let us assume that the word snipers , which appeared twice in the report, is an error of translation, and that the passage was supposed to refer to sappers.

Sargsyan, of course, would never dream of sending sappers to disarm the Apache helicopters and Abrams tanks that have killed and maimed so many Iraqi civilians. So what exactly is the “mainly humanitarian” mission of his sappers? In an interview published on December 24, Sargsyan provided a clue: “In case of disarming handmade bombs,” the Defense Minister said, “America must supply Armenian sappers with robots.” (“Armenian Parliament Approves Sending Military Specialists to Iraq,” ITAR-TASS, December 24, 2004.) Thus, the Defense Minister has left open the possibility that Armenian sappers--who had their hands full clearing mines from Armenian territory*--will be sent to Iraq to defuse improvised explosive devices (IEDs). IEDs are one of the few efficient weapons available to the Iraqi resistance. To defuse these devices is to provide a service to the U.S. military, and to an army of occupation that already outguns the resistance more than one hundred-to-one.

Thus, only hours after the National Assembly green lighted the deployment, its most vociferous supporter has admitted that the “mainly humanitarian” mission of Armenian troops will include direct military assistance to an army of occupation.

Reviewing the record, it is hard not to conclude that the Defense and Foreign Ministers of the Republic of Armenia have misrepresented their intentions whenever it has suited their purposes. Opponents of the deployment have pointed this out time and again, over the course of weeks. If nothing else, the campaign against the deployment has made it more difficult for Constitutional Court judges and pro-deployment members of the National Assembly to pretend that they were mislead about the true nature of the deployment in Iraq. It’s all about accountability.

* * *

Months ago, when I decided that I could no longer abstain from the campaign against the deployment, well-informed friends smiled and shook their heads. They assured me that not even the most venal and thuggish leaders in Yerevan would dare peddle Armenian blood to the warmongers in Washington DC. Unfortunately, subsequent events have confirmed my initial concern.

In my email message of November 4, I stated that, “When ministers use the phrase ‘complicated issue,’ it often means that they are getting ready to make the wrong decision.” This is exactly what has happened: The Foreign and Defense Ministers pushed for their deployment and got it.

In my message of December 8, I suggested that Armenia was poised at the edge of a steep, slippery slope. The Defense Ministry’s revelations on December 25 that the mission of the Armenian deployment had changed from “exclusively” to “mainly” humanitarian has confirmed my concern on this point, too.

In my message on the eve of the December 24 National Assembly session, I noted that, in all probability, “the National Assembly will simply put its stamp of approval on a decision that has already been made for it.” Unfortunately, this, too, has come to pass.

So far, developments have confirmed the claims of opponents of the Armenian deployment. Now, we must hope against hope that future events will prove us wrong about the consequence of this foolish, foolish move.

*According to the Ministry of Defense’s own Humanitarian Demining Center, an estimated 100,000 uncleared mines remain active over 11,000 hectares of land in Armenia’s border regions. These mines continue to wound and kill civilians, notably children, in the border regions. (“Hidden Danger: Armenian Border Territory Holds 100,000 Landmines,”, December 3, 2004.)

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