The political career of Levon Ter-Petrossian - Armenia's first post-Soviet president from 1991-1998 and current Chairman of the country's leading opposition party Armenian National Congress opposition party - has been defined by his struggle for two things: a democratic Armenia and an Armenia that is at peace with its neighbors.
This is according to a new book - Armenia's Future, Relations with Turkey, and the Karabagh Conflict (Palgrave Macmillan; 1st ed. 2018 edition September 19, 2017), a collection of Ter-Petrossian'a articles, speeches and interviews from 1990 to 2016. It is the first time a collection of his writings from this period have appeared in English translation in compilation.
The volume is edited by Arman Grigoryan, Assistant Professor of International Relations at Lehigh University who also served in the Armenian government from 1991 to 1993. It provides a unique window into the political transformations of this period and the issues that have plagued Armenia's politics since its independence.
"Ter-Petrossian was not a mere politician but also a statesman and an intellectual who led a process of transforming the political discourse in Armenia," said Grigoryan. "In particular, he targeted many of the calcified dogmas of the traditional Armenian nationalist narrative, especially the dogmas related to Armenia's relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan."
His collected writings also forcefully respond to the popular view among Western journalists and academics that clashing ethnic identities and historical hatred are at the root of the Karabagh conflict and the cold war with Turkey.
Addressing Ter-Petrossian's detractors in Armenia and the Armenian diaspora, Grigoryan writes in the foreword: "The overarching theme in all of these arguments is that Armenians have to begin to think and act like a people with a state, rather than a stateless ethnic group, and that doing so requires pragmatism, rational calculation, and rejection of historic grievances, including the ideology of the Armenian Cause, as a basis of politics."
The stakes of the struggle to change this logic, Grigoryan argues, are nothing less than Armenia's future and its ability to reach its potential as an independent, democratic nation.
His foreword concludes: "...Armenia's chances of becoming a 'normal state' [versus a state bound by 'national ideology'] are closely tied to normalization of relations with its neighbors. The alternative is a state, where every democratic challenge is menacingly described as a threat to unity, where the public even refrains from issuing such challenges lest it wets the enemy's appetite, and where the defense minister is seriously pushing the idea of turning the nation into an army..."
Grigoryan gave a presentation on the topic earlier this year in Los Angeles as part of a panel during a conference titled "End of Transition: Armenia 25 Years On, Now What?" The conference, hosted by the University of Southern California's Dornsife Institute of Armenian Studies, brought together notable names in media, government, academia and the arts to explore demographic changes, transitions in social and economic policy, the development of formal and informal political and social institutions, bottom-up social change and civil society formation, and the foreign policy challenges Armenia is dealing with.
Grigoryan is exploring the broader topic of war and democratic transition in an upcoming book.