The anti-government protests that broke out in Armenia, the losing party of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War ended in November 2020, turned into a political crisis that brought the country to the brink of political conflict on February 25, 2021. The escalating tension between the government and the army with the “missile crisis” has once again made the South Caucasus a center of attention.
Armenia’s territorial loss during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War became one of the most important factors that determined the agenda of the country. According to Armenian Political Scientist Arman Boshyan, the origin of the problem is not Nagorno-Karabakh but it is the strategic importance of the Syunik region for Armenia. The control of this region was left to Azerbaijan with an agreement between Aliyev and Pashinyan. There are strategically important roads in the Syunik region, especially connecting the border between Armenia and Iran, and this region is currently under the control of Azerbaijan. Iran has an alliance with Russia and commercial relations with Armenia. Tehran, in order to break the influence of both the West and Turkey in the South Caucasus, establishes strategic relations with Yerevan.
The Syunik region is also strategically vital for Iran due to the concern that Azerbaijani territories can be used in the case of possible attacks from the United States of America (USA) and Israel. The Syunik region was designated as the joint economic zone between Armenia and Iran in 2013. The region has been used for the transportation of Iranian industrial products to Armenia for years. In fact, this is the only place where the roads can provide trade links between Armenia and Iran in case Iran’s relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan exacerbate. Apart from being a strategic point for Armenia and Iran, the region has rich copper and gold mines, which are important for Armenia’s economy as well. Boshyan argues that having Armenia lose the control of the region is a coup itself and that is why what Armenian General Staff did on 25 February 2021 was supposed to happen before.
In fact, the changes that took place in the region pushed Armenia out of regional processes. Ensuring the position of guarantor for the security of Nagorno-Karabakh and Syunik caused Armenia to lose its regional role. Therefore, the reactions against the Prime Minister of Armenia have increased.
It is suggested that if Pashinyan does not leave his post, the political tension between the government, the opposition and the army will increase. Unless the current crisis is resolved, it is safe to assume that the President will expand the executive powers.
As it is known that Sargsyan has previously expressed his opinion on the rearranging of constitutional powers. In his statement published in RITM News on 30 November 2020, the President of Armenia stated that a referendum should be held before the elections in order to change the constitution. Sargsyan said, “Whether it is a presidential or a parliamentary government system, there should be checks and balances along with control mechanisms in every constitution.”
If the political crisis turns into conflict, it is also possible for Pashinyan to be dismissed in an extraordinary way. In this case, some of the people determined by the army may come to the stage. This would indicate either a direct military coup or indirectly a military tutelary regime.
The first statement on the subject came from Russia. Moscow expressed that they are concerned with the developments and expressed its desire that the crisis does not turn into conflict. The result of the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pashinyan was that Moscow favors the resolution of the current crisis within the constitutional order.
How the crisis in Armenia results is important for the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. In a future scenario where Pashinyan will not be in power, it is possible that the ceasefire agreement signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan will come to an end and the Nagorno-Karabakh will be on the agenda again. A government dominated by the army can pursue a nationalist policy against loss of territories. In other words, the tension in Armenia is closely related to the Nagorno-Karabakh Problem.
According to Fatima Albakova, a faculty member at the Faculty of Philosophy at Moscow State University, the crisis in Armenia may stem from the struggle between the former nationalist group loyal to Russia and the separated officers of security, including the pro-Western party. Albakova stated that the course of events will be shaped depending on which global center will hold the power, and that the tension in Armenia is caused by the embarrassment of the defeat of the war with Azerbaijan.
Considering the geopolitical importance of Armenia, which is the outpost of Russia in the Caucasus, also the buffer zone among global Powers, the events can be expected to unfold in two directions:
Armenia’s territorial loss can turn into a tool of manipulation by domestic and foreign actors.
As the Armenian side may seek to compensate some of the so-called losses in Nagorno-Karabakh, this event can be turned into a historical trauma similar to the so-called “Armenian Genocide” fiction.
From this perspective, the U.S. will interpret both possibilities mentioned above in line with its interests in the South Caucasus. In this regard, Washington could try to increase its influence in the region by using the support of the strong Armenian lobby in the U.S. If the defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh is viewed as Armenian nationalism, the current crisis may create a basis for political and ethnopolitical conflicts. In such a picture, it can be predicted that the U.S. will try to gain influence in the region again. Therefore, the transformation of the crisis into a conflict and the formation of an administration under the control of the army may bring up a scenario in favor of the U.S. In this case, it is possible that the ceasefire will be broken and the borders will be redrawn.
The recent events about Pashinyan’s efforts to maintain his position in Armenia and the resignation demands of the opponents in the country is closely followed by global actors for geopolitical reasons. Undoubtedly, it is clear that Moscow would not want to come to the point of losing control over Yerevan. That is why it is vital for Russia to end the crisis in the country before it turns into a conflict. The transformation of the crisis into a “civil war” may increase the influence of global actors, especially the U.S., in the country. Developments in this direction may also reignite the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. Pashinyan came to power as a pro-Western opponent as a result of the “Velvet Revolution” in 2018. Nevertheless, due to its organic ties with Russia, Armenia did not oppose Moscow completely during the period of Pashinyan administration.
At this point, considering the scenario that the Armenian Army, with the support of Moscow, forces the Pashinyan administration to resign, it is clear that this claim does not have basis. In the Putin-Pashinyan meeting, which took place after the increasing tension following the missile crisis, the Russian leader emphasized the importance of staying within the constitutional framework. On the other hand, the Armenian Army replied to Pashinyan through only one statement. Kremlin does not make an effort for a change of power in Yerevan. Because in such case, it can be predicted that both Russia and the Armenian Army will adopt a much tougher attitude.
In short, after the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, Moscow wants to preserve its advantageous position of maintaining border control between Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan. In other words, any circumstance that would make it possible to reconsider the Nagorno-Karabakh issue would contradict Russia’s interests.
Another strategy that Russia would follow in the region can be explained as follows: After the Armenians evacuated the villages of Kafan in the Syunik region and handed them over to Azerbaijan, the border with Azerbaijan shifted here. Later, Russian Peace Force soldiers were deployed in the area. Therefore, Russia can establish a military base in Syunik to build up its influence. The presence of a Russian military base in the Syunik region is not a situation that the U.S. would prefer in terms of its South Caucasus policy.
If the crisis in Armenia turns into a “political conflict” or military comes to power, this situation may pave the way for speculative discourses. The statement of the U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price on February 25, 2021 is also significant at this point as he said: “We urge all parties to exercise restraint and to avoid any escalatory or violent actions. We continue to support Armenia’s democracy and its sovereignty, and we urge its leaders to resolve their differences peacefully while respecting the rule of law, Armenia’s democracy, and its institutions.”
On the other hand, as stated above, if the crisis turns into conflict and an administration under the control of the army is established, there will be a scenario that can work in favor of the U.S. A possible junta in the future would bring the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and of course the attention to the Syunik region. In this context, it is suggested that Armenia’s territorial loss would become a priority and may lead to manipulations in domestic politics. It is undeniable that a possible confusion /conflict situation in domestic politics would not be ignored by foreign actors.
A possible military administration could lead the reshaping of the South Caucasus policy through the “anti-democratic Yerevan administration” with the support of the Armenian lobbies in the U.S., which is one of the global actors that is cautious of its interests in the region. One of the Minsk Triad in the region previously, Washington has used its power of control over energy and transportation routes, especially in line with its economic and political interests. However, the U.S. was excluded in the new status quo. Such an environment of chaos can work in favor of the Minsk Group, especially for the U.S. In that case, the breakdown of the agreement in Nagorno-Karabakh and the redrawing of the borders may become an issue.
Anti-government protests started in Armenia after the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. Following Pashinyan’s statement about the Russian missiles, the crisis atmosphere that dominated the country became more and more serious. At this point, it is assumed that the coup attempt in Armenia will also affect the geopolitics of the region. Undoubtedly, as global and regional powers; Russia and the U.S. will try to achieve maximum gain based on their national interests.
 “Эксперт Рассказал, Почему Взбунтовалась Армия в Армении (Ekspert Rasskazal, Poçemu Vzbuntovalas Armiya V Armenii)”, Pravda, https://www.pravda.ru/World/1595149-armenia, (Accessed: 25.02.2021).
 “Президент Армении Предложил Создать Новое Правителство И Изменить Конституцию (Prezident Armenii Predlojil Sozdat Novoe Pravitelstvo İ İzmenit Konstitutsiyu)”, Ritm Eurasia, http://www.ritmeurasia.org/news–2020-11-30–prezident-armenii-predlozhil-sozdat-novoe-pravitelstvo-i-izmenit-konstitutsiju-52116. (Accessed:02.03.2021).
 Interview with Fatima Albakova, Faculty Member of Faculty of Philosophy at Moscow State University.
 “США предосторогли армию Армении от вмешательсва в политику (SŞA predostorogli armiyu ot vmeşatelscva v politiku)”, DW, http://www.dw.com/search/ru?languageCode=ru&origin=gN&item, (Accessed: 26.02.2021).
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