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Conflict of Interests: American Armenian Relationships


On the occasion of the 4th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Armenia, the Armenian Studies Program invited Dr. Levon Arustamian to be the guest lecturer on the topic of “American-Armenian Relations: U.S. Policy in the Transcaucasus. The lecture was held on Thursday, September 21 in the Alice Peters Auditorium of the University Business Center.

Dr. Arustamian was born in Baku and later went to college in Stepanakert, the capital of Karabagh. Arustamian’s family were originally from Karabagh and his parents are currently residing in Stepanakert After working for a few years in Stepanakert and teaching history in a secondary school he served two years in the Soviet Army.

Dr. Arustamian received his Ph.D in history from the Institute of World History of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1992 in the field of Russian-American relations. His dissertation topic was “The American Theme in Russian Periodicals, 1841-1856.” Since 1993 he has worked in the Center for Armenian Culture of the Mission of the Republic of Armenia in the Russian federation. His focus of attention now is the modern period and Russian-American relations.

Last year he was invited to the University of Kansas in Lawrence to give a series of lectures on diplomacy. He is now in Los Angeles continuing his research on Russian-American relations. Dr. Arustamian’s presentation focused on US policy toward the former Soviet Union. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, American policy has been focused on the former republics of the Soviet Union and many commentators have concluded that the United States has not formed a coherent policy towards the former states.

Arustamian analyzed policy in the United States and mentioned the division over how to treat the new republics and Russia. Many believe that Russia must remain the main focus of US policy because if Russia is to lose democracy, then the other Republics will follow. The role of Turkey is also important because of its ties with the United States. The United States has recognized Armenia and five other republics in December of 1991 based on their adherence to the principles of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The U. S has security and economic interests in the region according to Congressional testimony. Per capita aid to Armenia is third highest in world and first among the former states of the Soviet Union. Armenia has received over 460 million dollars of aid from the United States in the past few years. American-Armenian organizations were key in mobilizing continuing support for this American aid. The large numbers of Armenians living in key Congressional districts has been important as well.

For the United States, Turkey continues to be an important ally. An understanding of the Turkish view of the world is seen to be important for the United States. Turkey has seen a renewal of pan-Turkism and claims to former Ottoman territory. Arustamian described how some have characterized Armenia and Iran as “obstacles” to the unification of a “pan-Turkish” unit. The U. S. has recently begun to pay attention more to the Karabagh conflict. A peace would allow the construction of an oil pipeline from Baku to Turkey, running through Armenia.

The U. S. supports settlement of the conflict through the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe process which also keeps Iran out of the negotiations. Although recognizing the seriousness of the situation, the CSCE so far has not succeeded in solving the problem. Obstacles and discord between Russia and CSCE states have also slowed the peace process.

It is the Western view that Russian peacekeepers demonstrate the Russian desire to establish a presence in the region. From the Russian perspective, the southern border of Russia is the most unstable in Russia. The situation in the Caucasus directly affects its security. Dr. Arustamian concisely and comprehensively discussed the issues which he raised. Community members and students asked many questions at the end of the lecture.