THE BYZANTINE CAROUSEL: A DIPLOMATIC COMBINATION
ARMAN NAVASARDYAN
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary





Diplomacy, among other spheres, is closely linked to military procedure. At first it might seem that they have nothing in common: one symbolizes peacemaking, while the other war. And yet, the link exists and diplomacy uses it, to a large extent, for its own goals.

Let’s see how. In all social structures military parades pursue two main goals: to convince their own citizens that they are protected (urging them to spend more money on the military), and to frighten potential enemies by showing them their forces. The Bolsheviks utilized this method superbly, staring from 1918, as the government heads welcomed the marchers from their wooden tribunes in the Red Square.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin and Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Kozyrev didn’t hold any parades in Moscow, which was interpreted as a weak stance toward the West and an expression of diplomatic passivity. Vladimir Putin’s iron fist corrected the "mistake”—we saw military parades again on television and the anxious faces of military attaches from the West, watching Russia’s newest military technologies with alarm.
Military parades in Russia have originated during the reign of Peter the Great, when he passed in his gilt carriage in front of the Russian troops, dragging the Swedish flag on the ground behind him.

The tradition of parades was popular in Western Europe as well, especially in militant and bellicose Prussia. The only military parade in England is dedicated to the birthday of Queen Elizabeth. The most important feature of the parade is the display of flags by the arch of Horse Guards Buildings at Whitehall. The spectacular event, which is a real show, includes the march of the Royal Artillery and a fly-past of military aircraft.

The real fanatics of military parades and celebrations are the Americans. Parades and marches are often organized in the United States. And even if the "employment” of thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has caused a reduction in "paradomania,” the parade remains the favorite type of celebration among Americans. Individual state governments often request the local military bodies to organize marches and parades not only on holidays but also on regular days in order to excite the public. The actual military holiday, Veteran’s Day, is on November 11.

If we look into the depths of history, we will see that military power was showcased in ancient Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Later it was adopted and perfected in Ottoman Turkey, specifically through their navy (donanma). However it was the Byzantine Empire that perfected the parading of military forces as a diplomatic weapon. Here the military parade was comprised of a series of celebrations. First, the ambassador was received by the emperor under whose feet they would spread lion skins resembling real lions. When the ambassador would bow to the ground, according to eastern ritual, the "lions” would start "roaring” ferociously, while the palanquin where the emperor sat would be slowly raised with special mechanisms. After the ceremony, the petrified ambassador would be invited to watch the endless military parade. Non-stop. The same military units would exit from the gate and reenter from another gate, changing only the type of their weapons.
What would the tyrants not do to impress and shock everyone!

In the 1960s, the Soviet military attaché in Syria was colonel Aleksandr Mnatsakanyan. He was promoted to major general during his service years in Damascus, which happens rarely to military attachés during their service abroad.

Once they invite Mnatsakanyan to the neighboring country, Lebanon, to be present for a military parade, which was a far cry from a real parade, as the Lebanese armed forces had only a few old armored cars. When the cars pass by the tribunes, the Lebanese Minister of Defense, who was standing next to the Soviet military attaché, leans over and whispers in his ear in a secretive-mysterious tone:
"Colonel, Lebanon is the friend of the Soviet Union.”

"Good! I will send a telegram to Moscow as soon as I return to the embassy, so they can sleep in peace,” Mnatsakanyan responds with a similar tone.
This dialog was circulating in the diplomatic corpus of Beirut and Damascus for a long time as an "Armenian radio” anecdote.
DIPLOMATIC ESSAYS
1040 reads | 30.05.2013
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