Canada-Armenia ties, 25 years and beyond

October 3, 2017

“ Hagop Arslanian is a community organizer and executive board member of the Armenian General Benevolent Union – Canada.Photo courtesy of the Armenian General Benevolent Union” THE HILL TIMES

Arslanian Hagop 2017

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations Between Canada and the Republic of Armenia, signed on January 31, 1992 in Prague, Czech Republic, by Barbara McDougall, Canada’s Secretary of State for External Affairs. For more than two decades the development of bilateral relations has been significant in areas related to human rights and international cooperation, but meagre in the areas of trade and economy.

Following the collapse of the USSR, Armenia actively pursued the establishment of diplomatic relations with many countries. Sidestepping the Soviet Union’s shadow and transcending the challenges posed to date by Ankara’s forced blockade of its western border and Baku’s reckless military aggressions to the East, official Yerevan opened an embassy in Ottawa in 1995. Interestingly, bilateral ties developed in every sphere, with Canada’s vibrant Armenian community playing a key role.

On the home front, community organizations worked hard for many decades urging consecutive governments to recognise the Armenian Genocide. After a long uphill campaign for justice, the truth prevailed: In 2002 the Senate called upon the Government of Canada to recognise the Genocide; in 2004 the House of Commons passed a resolution, and later on in 2006 the Government of Canada led by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a clear statement recognising the Genocide. Canada did the right thing, the recognition of the Armenian Genocide is a call for Turkey to reconcile with its past and establish fresh new relations with Armenia and Armenians based on truth, justice, and mutual respect.
In the international arena, against the overwhelming challenges of terrorism, war, and forced migration, both countries share similar visions of positive engagement, peace, and prosperity. A decent level of cooperation exists within the framework of international organisations. One noteworthy example is the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF): over the years, Armenia has shown great interest in the work of La Francophonie, and Canada has welcomed that effort of active participation. Most recently, Canada’s support of this cooperation has been phenomenal, with three votes cast (last November) in favor of Armenia hosting the 2018 La Francophonie summit in Yerevan.
Arguably, trade and economic relations can still be improved, and there is a need for a broader vision – especially in view of Armenia’s unique position as a gateway to the Eurasian zone. Canada has considerable interests in the gold-mining sector, and Canadian IT companies have already made inroads. Opening a Canadian embassy or trade office in Yerevan would certainly be a positive move toward laying out future perspectives on the development of a wide range of economic ties.

Now, as the next twenty-five years unfold, Canada needs to address another issue that ultimately concerns human rights, namely the Republic of Artsakh. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union led by dictator Joseph Stalin forcibly placed the Armenian enclave of Artsakh (known back then as Nagorno-Karabakh) under the rule of Soviet Azerbaijan. Against all odds, the local population succeeded in maintaining its identity and establishing an independent state on September 2, 1991, through a state-wide referendum held in full compliance with then-acting local legislative Soviet procedures and international norms. Azerbaijan responded to that democratic expression with aggressive military intervention, which lasted from 1991 to 1994, when the Bishkek Protocol, a cease-fire agreement, was signed.
Since then the main conflict resolution mechanism in place has been the Minsk Group established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and co-chaired by the United States, France, and Russia. Throughout the years, OSCE has come up with a number of peace proposals. However, daily shooting from the Azeri side may soon return the region to the brink of war. International law interprets people’s right to self-determination with certainty. In cases such as that of Nagorno-Karabakh, where people have been and still are subjected to external oppression, the law is precise and undisputed: the right to self-determination triumphs over the notion of territorial integrity.
Today, Artsakh meets all the requirements set by the Montevideo Convention. Subsequent to the international recognition granted to the people of Kosovo, East Timor, and South Sudan, the people of Artsakh deserve to exercise their right to self-determination and have their statehood recognized by the international community, including Canada. Under the strong leadership of Honorable Chrystia Freeland, a visionary and principled woman who is shaping Canada’s international role, the NKR issue must be included in our international human rights agenda. Perhaps a first step for Global Affairs Canada would be organizing a fact-finding mission to the South Caucasus to better understand the NKR situation.

Remaining loyal to our principles enable us to maintain credibility. It is time for Canada to take the lead. By actively participating in NKR’s quest, Canada would once again demonstrate its attachment to these fundamentally universal values.