Tuesday, 20 October 2020

E Editorial

Independence or Sovereignty?

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In Armenia’s political discourse one can often hear expressions such as “reestablishment of independence” and “struggle against colonialism,” and certain groups which present themselves as alternative initiatives threaten to turn that struggle into reality.

In fact, in Armenia long after being recognized by the UN as a sovereign country, that is to say a completely self-sufficient subject of international relations, the struggle is still on to become an independent nation.  How are “independent” and “sovereign” different notions?  That is important to grasp, because it is not only a matter of how you view the world and your value system, but it is a question of correctly understanding the essence of the global political system.

In order to come upon answers it is necessary to take a brief historical look back and understand how those terms came about and what they mean.

The concept of “state sovereignty” was first formulated in the 16th century by French thinker Jean Bodin who used it to mean feudal rights, that is to say the feudal lord is suzerain of his vassals, he is empowered to determine their destiny, and nobody can interfere in the suzerain’s “internal” affairs.

Similar approaches still abide in the contemporary world.  In Turkmenistan, for example, the president has a high level of personal sovereignty in deciding the fate of his people, and that is reflected in the meaning of his popular title of “Arkadash” (literally Sponsor).  There are such “arkadashes” in several other countries, especially Arab monarchies.  But those are remnants from the past; the modern world is built on other conceptions.  Is the people under sponsorship, or is it the principal subject of rights?

The next formulation of “state sovereignty” first appeared in official documents in 1648 in the treaties of the Westphalia Peace (that ended what was in reality the first world war), in which the European states recognized each other's sovereignty in internal affairs.  For the first time states, not monarchs or princes, were recognized as the subjects of international relations.

But what is sovereignty’s source?  European political thought has found the answer here as well.  The concept of “popular sovereignty” was introduced in the 18th century by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  In his view, the Sovereign is a collective body composed of private subjects which in assembly is called People.  The essence of popular sovereignty is the supremacy of the people’s will toward the state.  This is a higher level of sovereignty, that is, sovereign citizens who are vested with rights form a sovereign power which depends on the will of the citizens.

In the modern world “popular sovereignty” is the foundation of international law upon which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been proclaimed and which is expressed through the conduct of regularly-held just and unfalsified elections.  In international assessments of Armenian elections one can often come across the terms “universal,” “equal,” and “free” in the context of the realization of electoral rights.  These principles also are invoked in the first and second articles of the Armenian constitution.

The concept of “independence” does not always entail absolute sovereignty.  For example, in contemporary countries human rights are a question of international jurisdiction and other countries can intervene in the event of violations in that sphere. This is among Armenia's internationally-assumed commitments, and it is confirmed constitutionally as well.

In modern international relations to be independent means to be recognized by other states as a subject of those relations, and its first step is to receive that right from its own citizens—and the basis for that is the Constitution, constitutional law.

Flowing from this, let us offer a few conclusions that are crucial for Armenia’s current political discourse but, sadly, absent from its agenda.

1.  Armenia’s independence, hence sovereignty, is not to struggle against this or that country, but to receive from its citizens the right for pursuit of its own domestic and foreign policy.  That is called political activity, the receipt from the people through nationwide elections of the right to carry out one’s political conceptions.  That also relates to the widely-circulated manipulations about this or that foreign orientation.  The foundation of independence must be sought within the country, not outside.

2.  Another important point relates to the occasional portrayal of Artsakh as a marz (region) or integral part of the Armenian republic.  Only the people of Artsakh can make such a proclamation, and capriciously changing various signposts is not only unserious, it is unlawful which, unfortunately, we are witnessing.

3.  In our long-suffering planet only those territories that are beyond civilization’s reach can be absolutely sovereign.  To be sovereign means to be recognized by the international community as possessing correspondent obligations.  Here it is important to comprehend the vulnerable pressure points of the modern world order and one's own place in that system.

The Armenian Center for National and International Studies

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Yerevan, Armenia

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The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect those of the Center.

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