Armenia at the crossroads between Russia and Turkey
Turkey, in turn, while blaming Russia for the war, voting against Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and supplying Bayraktar drones to kyiv, refuses to join the West’s sanctions policy against Russia, most likely to reap some benefits by circumventing these sanctions, as it does during the West’s measures against Iran. In addition to these acts of political juggling, Turkey has become the main mediator between Russia and Ukraine; the first attempt to bring together the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine did not yield any results, but the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Çavusoglu, continues his strenuous efforts through a diplomatic shuttle between Kyiv and Moscow.
Armenia is caught in the middle of this enigma. The European Union’s promise of a €2.6 billion economic aid package and President Joe Biden’s insistence on President Erdogan to enter into negotiations with Armenia to improve relations and lifting its blockade have encouraged Armenia’s western tendencies, although Yerevan does not have too much leeway to veer west without offending Moscow. So far, Armenia has come out unscathed with a vote in favor of the Russian position in the Council of Europe and abstentions in other forums.
Public demonstrations in Armenia are also in line with Yerevan’s neutral stance. A demonstration was organized by the European Party of Tigran Khzmalyan in the presence of Ukrainian officials condemning the war. The other was held outside the Russian Embassy, during which the old Soviet flag was raised, with speakers demanding that Armenia become a member of the Union State with Russia. On a positive note: the government’s tolerance in allowing these two contrasting demonstrations reinforces Armenia’s democratic credentials.
This issue has been raised recently by pro-Moscow political circles in the country, first by former President Robert Kocharyan and more recently by oligarch and benefactor Ruben Vardanyan. This movement has the potential to become a strong political trend, should Russia win a decisive victory in the current war. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had previously said dismissively who cared about Armenia and that it ultimately had no choice but to join Russia as a member of the Union.
Armenia’s devastating defeat in the 44-day war had a negative impact on people’s perception of the country’s survival as a sovereign state. Some even posed the question publicly to government officials, asking if joining Russia was on the agenda and the answer was no.
Armenia is negotiating with Turkey and so far some positive signals have emerged from these talks. For some discouraged critics and analysts, Armenia’s future is shaped in black and white. They believe that for Amenia to survive, she must make a choice between joining Russia or becoming Turkish vilayet.
Pietro Shakarian and Benyamin Poghosyan published a joint article outlawing three choices for Armenia’s survival as a sovereign state: 1) preservation and protection of the Armenian population on the historic Armenian homeland, 2) military harmonization Russian-Armenian and 3) the restriction of the Turkish economy. penetration and control of the Armenian Republic.
It’s debatable how these recommendations can be realized, but what’s most interesting is that the authors provide statistics that gauge public sentiment and provide guidance as to which policies have a better chance of succeeding. Thus, they write: “The results of recent polls by the International Republican Institute reflect the growing popular mood. Forty-six percent of Armenians agree that their country is not moving in the right direction, a blow to the current leadership of the republic. Of those polled, 88% said the main national security threat Armenia faces is the Turkish Republic. Only 5% say Armenian-Turkish dialogue is necessary, while the vast majority say the government should instead invest its greatest effort in strengthening Armenia’s strategic security alliance with the Russian Federation. The poll results echo popular sentiments on the streets of Yerevan, as residents express comfort with the regular flights of Russian MiG-29 fighters above the skies of the Armenian capital. On the other hand, the “new era of peace” proclaimed by the government with Turkey has caused considerable concern, even apprehension, among the population, given not only the memory of Turkey’s direct involvement in the war of Karabakh of 2020, but also of the Armenian genocide of 1915, which Ankara still denies.
Considering that Armenia is in a federation with Russia, many assume that it will survive, if the Russian Federation proves that it is not a crumbling empire as some assume. But with its meager resources, Armenia cannot wield more influence than Belarus or Kazakhstan and will be treated cavalierly by Moscow.
The mirror image can be expected in any structure in the West, again due to Armenia’s economic fragility. One lesson should be Greece-Turkey relations within NATO. There, Greece has compromised its sovereignty and is treated as an outsider. Armenia cannot hope to do better.
One thing is certain: there is confusion in public opinion about the political direction that Armenia must take to survive. If we believe in historical determinism, it is the perfect reproduction of a situation that Armenia has faced on several occasions during its long and arduous history. Whenever such disarray has occurred, with different groups pulling Armenia’s national policies in different directions, Armenia has lost, the resulting fatalism leaving only hope that Armenia can be revived one day.
It is time for visionary leadership to emerge either from the ranks of the current government or through a combination of forces to be able to chart a realistic and achievable future. Otherwise, we will be lost at a crossroads between Russia and Turkey.