'Only Russia can save us from Turkey' – Armenia's new geopolitical myth
Myths and political narrative
Every day following the second Karabakh war in 2020 has forced the Armenian public to increasingly doubt the truth of the myths and political narratives that had been implanted in the minds of people for years.
Discussion of these myths and the emergence of new ones have continued without pause, with the ‘imminent threat of a Turkish military attack on Armenia’ being the most prominent.
The news of an impending attack by Turkey was not confirmed, and the Armenian authorities declared them a narrative spread by the opposition. But the matter did not end there.
The threat of an attack by Turkey and a possible loss of territorial integrity still raises concerns in society, and Russia is perceived as the only party capable of restraining Turkey’s aggressive aspirations.
This article is an attempt to understand how the narrative “only Russia can protect us from the Turkish threat” was formed, who is spreading this opinion and how justified it is.
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Obviously, the source of this narrative is not only the opposition, as noted by the secretary of the Security Council Armen Grigoryan, and the problem has deeper roots.
Consider the three main sources of propagation of this narrative: Turkish, Russian, and Armenian.
The latter, by and large, is a reproduction of Turkish and Russian information policy.
The first and foremost source of this narrative is Turkish politics. It appeared as a result of statements and actions emanating from Turkey.
Of course, the genocide of 1915 against the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire remains the main reason for the fears of Armenians about their western neighbor. However, over the past 30 years, there have been many other incidents that have reinforced existing fears.
Here’s a case study from the early 90s.
On December 24, 1991, Turkey recognized the independence of Armenia as an independent state and it seemed that cooperation between the two countries would begin. Turkish Ambassador to Moscow Volkan Vural even stated that Turkey is going to open a consulate in Yerevan.
But during the first Karabakh war (1992-1994) the situation changed.
These aggressive statements and actions did not escalate into a war. However, Turkey still refuses to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia.
In 1993, Turkey unilaterally closed the border with Armenia, defending the interests of a friendly country and demanding the return of the regions adjacent to NK to Azerbaijan, which were under the control of the Armenian forces.
As a result of the second Karabakh war, these areas around Nagorno-Karabakh came under the control of Baku, and Turkey no longer has a reason to leave the land border closed.
However, Armenian analysts believe that instead of opening the border, Ankara will now demand that Yerevan renounce international recognition of the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century.
By the way, the air border with Armenia was opened under pressure from the international community back in 1995.
Turkey and neighbors
Turkey’s foreign policy also largely contributed to the preservation of a cautious attitude in Armenia and fears of possible aggression on its part. Briefly about Turkey’s relations with its neighbors in recent years – on the slide:
Kurdish militants as a pretext for the invasion
According to the observations of Armenian political scientists, Turkey often justifies a military invasion on the territory of other countries with the intention of “neutralizing terrorist elements.” It is noteworthy that, since the 90s, Turkey has also accused Armenia of cooperating with the PKK militants and involving them in the Armenian armed forces.
And in May 1996, the Turkish government announced that the Kurdish militants were using Armenian territory for some of their own purposes, and for this reason tightened the Armenian-Turkish border regime.
In November 1998, in response to Ankara’s repeated accusations about Armenia’s ties with the PKK, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian stressed that “the leader of the Kurdish Workers’ Party Abdullah Ocalan has never been, is not and will never be in the territory of Armenia.”
Similar accusations were voiced during the second Karabakh war, both from Turkey and Azerbaijan. And so far, both countries have not succeeded in presenting a single reliable fact on this matter. But these accusations are another reason for experts to believe that Turkey is setting the stage for an invasion.
Secret documents about Turkey’s plans
In June 2020, the publication of the Swedish website Nordic Monitor that Turkey had developed a military action plan against Armenia was widely disseminated in the Armenian press. The author of the article, Abdullah Bozkurt, reported that the military plan of Turkey became known from a copy of a secret document of internal use of May 23, 2016, endorsed by the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces, which fell into their hands.
A later study by Regionmonitor.com showed that the Nordic Monitor website is owned by the non-profit organization Nordic Research Monitoring Network. It is coordinated by Turkish journalists Abdullah Bozkurt, Levent Kenez and security specialist Murad Cetiner. And all of them have an extremely oppositional attitude towards the current Turkish authorities.
But this, of course, does not mean that the information about the plan of military actions against Armenia does not correspond to reality. According to experts from Regionmonitor.com, the analysis of the data does not allow to confirm or deny the existence of this document.
The dissemination of the narrative by the Russian side
Russian sources also speak of a Turkish threat. And the Russian Federation is presented as the only country capable of protecting Armenia and preventing a war in the region.
Political observer Pyotr Akopov, for example, wrote in September 2020 that Russia would not allow a large-scale war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and gave many arguments. Similar formulations were voiced by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and ex-President Robert Kocharian. Life has shown that all these statements are political myths.
And during the second Karabakh war, the Telegram channel WarGonzo, which has recently gained great popularity in Armenia, wrote about Erdogan’s intention to invade Armenia.
To check this information, the Armenian website 168.am spoke with the Turkologist Ruben Safrastyan, who considered the news plausible and stressed that the 102nd Russian military base stationed in Armenia and Russia as an ally is a deterrent mechanism for Turkey.
Moreover, the topic gained momentum again after the war, when the Armenian authorities announced their readiness to establish a dialogue with Turkey.
The head of the National Front organization Gevorg Gevorgyan, for example, said that Prime Minister Pashinyan has a clear plan to withdraw the Russian base:
“If everything here is Turkish, then from whom will Russia protect Armenia: the Turks from the Turks? As a result, Russia will leave the region, Armenia will fall under Turkish control along with the enslaved Armenians. ”
If before the war it was said that the Russian Federation would not allow a large-scale clash, then after the war, analysts emphasize that Armenia is now very weak and can receive appropriate assistance from its northern neighbor if it proves its unquestioning loyalty.
Thus, in an interview with tert.am, professor-orientalist Alexei Maslov noted:
“Despite the weakness of its position, Armenia can receive serious support if its relations with Russia are properly built, that is, with an absolutely obvious pro-Russian position on all issues.”
Turkologist Anahit Veziryan told JAMnews that the threat to Armenia is not in the past, since Turkey has become an aggressively expansionist country since 2015.
Erdogan’s policies in recent years have helped reinforce these narratives in society. However, she considers a military invasion unlikely. According to the Turkologist, if Azerbaijan is able to fight on its own, there is no need for Turkey’s direct involvement.
Political observer Hakob Badalyan considers it unimportant whether the narrative about the Turkish threat is of Turkish or Russian origin. It is important how this threat is regulated:
“If we believe that only Russia is against this threat, then the history of Russian-Turkish relations makes us at least consider other ways of containing the Turkish threat.
After all, we really saw that the mechanism of Russian defense against the Turkish threat did not work – both in the historical context and a month ago, when after the war against us Turkey established itself in the Caucasus, actually outlining new borders. Russia not only failed to protect us from Turkish claims, but once again followed the traditional path of collusion with Turkey. “
According to the observer, Russia continues to view Turkey as the main partner of its positions in the Caucasus. Consequently, the question arises: is Russia the only mechanism that will allow us to defend ourselves if it sees us only as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Turkey?
According to Hakob Badalyan, Russia is important, but it is not the only one:
“Of course, Russia and Turkey are fighting for the Caucasus. In a strategic sense, they seek to supplant or reduce the influence of each other, but at the same time they are united on the issue of preventing any third party from entering the arena. And this is a serious topic for us to think about: to what extent, in this case, we can only rely on the Russian mechanism in the defense sphere. “
Alternatively, the observer talks about dialogue with Turkey, while he does not mean complete forgiveness, but the establishment of some kind of communication, political ties that can be used in exceptional situations to relieve tension. Direct relationships as an additional defense mechanism become inevitable.
According to Badalyan, Turkey also benefits from the current state of affairs, since if there is a dialogue, its presence in the region will become a matter of competition. If such a relationship is formed, the region may open up to other players with whom it will not be able to compete.
And, perhaps, the Russian-Turkish format plays into the hands of Turkey, because, working and competing with each other, they close the region to other players and periodically carry out a cyclical redrawing of the region.