Op-ed: How does Armenia approach its 30th anniversary of independence
On September 21, the Republic of Armenia celebrates 30th anniversary of independence. During this time, the country experienced periods of both boom and decline, celebrated victories and suffered defeats. Two different opinions – political scientists Benjamin Poghosyan and Andrias Ghukasyan – about the path traveled, what Armenia has come to at the moment and what can be expected in the future.
On September 21, 1991, a referendum was held in the country, during which 99.5 percent of the population gave an affirmative answer to the question: “Do you agree that the Republic of Armenia should be a democratic independent state outside the USSR?” A year before, on August 23, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Armenian SSR adopted the “Declaration of Independence.” Thus, the republic officially seceded from the USSR.
Benjamin Poghosyan, political scientist
The beginning of the way
“Despite the fact that Armenia gained independence in 1991, in many cases the state was“ façade ”. A number of institutions, structures and phenomena either did not function or were of an imitation nature. But all this imitation was to some extent compensated by the victory in Artsakh and its security.
Nagorno-Karabakh was probably the only bright spot in Armenia for the entire period, starting from 1991. The country’s independence, membership in the UN and various international structures were nominal.
The Karabakh victory was of great importance from a psychological point of view. Since the fall of the Bagratid kingdom, since 1045, the Armenians simply did not have such victories. And the Armenian people are ancient and have a collective historical memory that strongly influences each of us.
The Artsakh victory broke this long absence of positive things in the history of the Armenian people.
But besides the psychological side, the issue of safety must also be taken into account. As a result of the victory in Artsakh, a significant part of the Armenian border (about 500 km) was simply safe, which was lost with the defeat in 2020.
With the victory in Artsakh, Armenia’s geopolitical importance in the region increased. Against the background of the difficult situation around Iran and its relations with the United States, Israel and Turkey, Armenia controlled the 130-kilometer border with Iran in Artsakh.
In addition, Armenia imported 20-25% of its consumed wheat from Artsakh, and since 2019 it has also imported electricity.
The defeat in the Karabakh war in 2020 led to an economic downturn and the collapse of Armenia’s security system.
Unfortunately, it all ended tragically. Today, a small part of Artsakh remains under the control of Russia, and in Armenia no one can imagine what will happen to it. The authorities have come to terms with the opinion that Nagorno-Karabakh has passed into the field of Russia-Azerbaijan-Turkey relations.
The authorities think: if Russia wishes, the Armenians will live there, and we will try to help them financially, pay them salaries, pensions, and this is all that depends on us.
Armenia will be powerless when Russia, as a result of its weakening, outside pressure or as a result of other geopolitical calculations, decides to leave NK for its own benefit. All that Armenia can offer to people leaving Artsakh is temporary housing in Armenia.
Nobody talks about this publicly, many political forces talk about the resumption of peace talks under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group [through which negotiations were held before the Karabakh war in 2020], about the possibility of reviving the basic principles of the conflict settlement, about the status of Artsakh.
But all this is idle talk. Those who said: yes, it is regrettable, but having lost Artsakh, at least we will gain peace, the roads will open, the economy will develop, investments will come, and we will heal, they also already understand that this is not serious.
A year after the war, our security situation is only getting worse, and the economic situation is getting worse. The 5.2% growth in January-July 2021 does not even cover the decline in the Armenian economy over the past year. We have already recorded inflation of at least 20% for essential goods. “
Armenia should not rely on the West
“Today there is no longer the concept of the“ collective West ”. Tensions arose in relations between the United States and France in connection with the creation of a new US-UK-Australia military alliance, a new agreement on the creation of nuclear submarines for the Australian Navy and the termination of Australia’s contract with France (worth $ 66 billion).
France has recalled its ambassadors, and this is a serious diplomatic step that happens between opponents, not allies. The collective West existed until 1991 under the USSR. Then it stretched from Turkey to Canada, from New Zealand to Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Then the collective West lost its essence, and the United States for 15 years was a superpower playing a gluing role in Europe.
But now the United States has weakened relatively, while other centers have strengthened in parallel – China, India, Russia. Starting in 2010, and even more so after 2020, these countries began to defend exclusively their interests and stopped blindly following the United States.
For the United States, the South Caucasus has never been archival.
America is directing its attention to the Asia-Pacific region, and the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is not accidental. America prefers to spend its resources on containing China.
The processes in the South Caucasus do not threaten the life of the United States, and it makes absolutely no difference for them who controls the border with Iran – Armenia or Azerbaijan, delimitation of the border or shooting at each other.
But the weakening of US influence on the region does not mean annulment altogether. To defend its own interests, the United States will rely not on Armenia, but on Turkey, despite the tension in their relations, despite the fact that Turkey has said goodbye to the status of the “junior partner of the United States”. And it is impossible to assume that the United States will turn Armenia into a second Israel ”.
Russia seized Armenia, Azerbaijan’s turn
“Russia, in turn, views the South Caucasus as its former territory, and considers the independence of not only Armenia, but all other republics of the former USSR as an artificial agenda.
For Russia, these are Russian territories that have been lost as a result of their own gross mistakes. The USSR collapsed, and the union republics gained independence, and now some of them are also opposed to it, changing their vector to the West (Ukraine, Georgia).
Russia wants to have influence in the entire South Caucasus. She firmly settled in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Armenia is already Russian, and because of the incomprehensible policy of the current authorities, it has become even more dependent on Russia and fulfills all its whims. The queue is for Azerbaijan.
Russia is now trying to settle in Azerbaijan and increase its influence there.
I see the deployment of Russian troops in Artsakh only through this prism. Having established its influence in Azerbaijan, it will not matter for Russia whether Artsakh is independent or not, whether Armenians live there or not. “
What awaits Armenia
“Armenia has lost its own resources. Since the beginning of the 90s, about a million people have left the country, mostly intellectuals who were able to generate ideas. In recent years, society has depreciated, therefore, significant ups and downs in any industry should not be expected.
Most likely, you will have to go through complex processes, including humiliation and pressure from Azerbaijan. And if there are also changes in the Armenian-Turkish relations [speaks of the normalization of relations], this will lead to the infusion of Turkish capital in the form of all kinds of business projects, and the average Armenian will be forced to work for them. We will not be able to hinder this process, since both Armenia and Turkey are WTO members ”.
Armenia must show honesty in the NK issue
“Armenia must be honest and make a decision on Artsakh: is it able to keep it or not. She should not create illusions that he got back on his feet and overcame the crisis.
If Armenia is not able to keep Artsakh, then it needs to honestly explain to the people of Artsakh that henceforth they must resolve all issues with Russia. If you want to live under the Russian guarantee – live, you don’t want to – we are ready to build for you a small town in Armenia, you will live there.
And if a decision is made that Artsakh is still possible to keep, then, first of all, it is necessary to declare, including at the parliamentary level, that Artsakh with territory X Armenia considers occupied, will never recognize it as a part of Azerbaijan and will do everything for them. return. This, at the very least, will give the people of Artsakh hope that they are not forgotten, and serving the Russians is not the best future for them.
But first, Armenia must assess its capabilities, because this will mean: in the near future, Armenia will not have any relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey. This will mean that Armenia must find additional resources to rebuild its army, because Azerbaijan will increase its military pressure.
We cannot imitate, pretend that we are thinking about Artsakh, reassure people that negotiations will resume soon, the Minsk Group will return Hadrut and Shushi through negotiations and other nonsense.
In such uncertainty, people will leave, and in 10 years about 20 thousand Armenians will remain there, and we will say, “what can we do, people didn’t stay”. This is the way of Nakhichevan. There are no Armenians there – there is no Nakhijevan issue. 100 years ago, Nakhijevan was no different from Artsakh. As of 1921, more than 50% of the population were Armenians ”.
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Andrias Ghukasyan, political scientist
New accents of foreign policy
“All these 30 years Armenia has been connected with the Artsakh problem, and Armenia’s movement towards its greater political and economic freedom would inevitably mean that Azerbaijan would strengthen its relationship with Russia. And this would have a negative impact on the Karabakh settlement.
All these years, all the leaders of Armenia could not leave Artsakh in the zone of Russian-Azerbaijani influence. Armenia’s foreign policy was predetermined by this. Now the problem of Artsakh looks in a new light.
More and more the situation around NK is beginning to resemble the situation around Kosovo.
The international community realizes that international governance should be introduced in Artsakh in order to provide full-fledged conditions there for the final self-determination of the Artsakh people. And in this regard, Armenia will be more free in its actions.
The foreign policy situation is developing very quickly and violently, and the main prerequisite for this development is the decisions taken by the international community – the United States, France and other powers to establish international governance in Artsakh.
This means that Artsakh should have an administration appointed by the UN, which by its actions will ensure human rights and create conditions for a final and complete settlement of the conflict. The administration will create conditions for a referendum that will determine the final status of Artsakh.
It can be “joining Armenia”, “independence” and “joining Azerbaijan”. The latter is unlikely, given the hostile Armenian-Azerbaijani relations. “
Armenia goes to the West
“Of course, the current government is the government of the previous model, but the change in the geopolitical situation in the world and in the region for Armenia today creates more opportunities for reaching a legally binding solution for all parties.
This is an opportunity for Armenia itself to reduce its dependence on Russia for security issues. Today’s dependence of Armenia on Russia is artificial, it is determined by the current government. These are the last attempts to keep the old model. The objective possibilities of Armenia are much wider.
There will be a change of power in Armenia, with the support and patronage of France. After that, Armenia will have the opportunity to take its political and economic steps to realize the opportunities that the new geopolitical situation provides.
In words that are loved in Russia, Armenia is going to the West. Despite the fact that the term “west” in Russia is understood as the United States, in reality it is the possibility of a free national existence without coercion into one or another action, the recognition of human rights and respect for democratic values. “