The Coup Attempt in Armenia from the Perspective of Iran

The Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, which started on September 27, 2020 and ended with the victory of Azerbaijan on November 10, 2020, brought a major political crisis in Armenia. In addition to the economic problems in the country, the trauma caused by the defeat of the war caused the repercussion in society targeting the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. The protests that are emerged following the defeat, the opposition demanded Pashinyan’s resignation and these actions carried on for months despite the responses of law enforcement officers. Moreover, the demonstrations of the opposition bring politicians to the forefront, who are known to be close to Russia in Armenia. such as Vazgen Manukyan, Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan. Demands on overthrown of Pashinyan, a pro-western politician, point out that Armenia become a playground between Russia and West to struggle for influence. Within the scope of the struggle, Iran is one of the actors whose approach to the events occurring in Armenia centered as a question of curiosity.

Before addressing the Iranian dimension of the issue, it is necessary to briefly summarize the struggle for influence between the West and Russia in Armenia. The most important reflection of the competition in question was the coup debates that brought the political tension to a new level that started with the protests in Armenia. Pashinyan’s statement on 90% of the Iskender missiles purchased from Russia did not work during the war, revealed the geopolitical dimension of the polarization in the country.[1] Thence, Tiran Khachatryan, Deputy Chief of General Staff of Armenia, denied Pashinyan’s statement and then Pashinyan dismissed the Deputy Chief of Staff. Following the dismissal, the General Staff requested Pashinyan’s resignation by issuing a statement signed by many commanders.

Although all these developments indicate that the pro-Russian opposition and the army wants to punish a pro-Western leader for the war defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh, Pashinyan defines the current process as a coup attempt and calls on his supporters to organize democratic protests. Pashinyan wanted to dismiss Chief of General Staff Onik Gasparyan after the event of  declaration, however, decision vetoed by Armenian President Armen Sargsyan. When Pashinyan submitted the aforementioned decision last time to the approval of President; Sarkisyan do not have legal right to veto third time. Only, there is a possibility for Sarkisyan to bring issue to the Constitutional Court.

All these events point out, there is a major political crisis takes place in Armenia. To interpret from a broader perspective, Russia wants to see overthrown of Pashinyan, the leader who has pro-western tendencies. In other words, Russia stands in the backstage of ongoing protests and debates over coup attempts. At this point, referring to one of Russia’s main allies in the region is essential; the Iranian aspect of the issue needs to be addressed in more detail.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh made the first official statement from Tehran regarding the coup attempt in Armenia. Khatibzadeh called on the parties to act cautiously and expressed his wish that the civilian population would not be harmed.[2] Undoubtedly, this statement, which does not condemn the coup attempt, indicates that Iran is also keen on the overthrow of Pashinyan. Because, Iranian decision makers consider, if pro-Russian cadres come to power, it better complies with the interests of Tehran in geostrategic terms.

There are various factors that are effective in Iran’s close policy line with Russia, in the region of South Caucasus. The most important one of these factors is, Tehran administration does not want to face the risks of being a neighbor with a pro-Western Armenia. Because, Iran is worried about the use of Armenian territories as a base for an attack against herself, in the medium and long term. Moreover, the United States (US) itself surrounded herself over Afghanistan and Iraq, the two neighbors of Iran. Considering the membership of Turkey to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and friendly relations between Israel and Azerbaijan, Iran is aware that under an intense encirclement. The possibility that pro-Western cadres will be in power in Yerevan and Armenia therefore become completely detached from Russia through these cadres is perceived as taking Iran into a geopolitical grip for Tehran. For this reason, Khatibzadeh made a statement that gave an implicit green light to the coup.

On the other hand, in case of shift of power in Armenia, Iran will be pleased if one of the names such as Manukyan, Kocharian and Sarkisyan, who are also referred to as the “Karabakh Clan”, becomes the Prime Minister of Armenia. Because, Iran anticipated that, such transition of power create a change of Armenian policy on occupying Nagorno-Karabakh thence break the ceasefire. This will be a development in line with Iran’s goals regarding the South Caucasus. It is appropriate to say that although Tehran’s discourse favored Baku in the Nagorno-Karabakh Question through expressing support, there is no discourse-action consistency in Iran’s Nagorno-Karabakh policy. In this sense, Iran assumed an attitude in favor of the occupying state, firstly with the support it gave to Armenia for many years and secondly with the use of its territory to provide logistical support to Armenia during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. In other words, Tehran was pleased with the status quo created by the occupation that lasted for thirty years in Nagorno-Karabakh and made various attempts to maintain this status quo. Therefore, Iran considers the possibility of cadres who will adopt pro-occupation policies to come to power in Yerevan as a development in line with its interests.

At this point, there are several answers to the question of why Iran supports Armenia’s occupying policies which are listed as follows:

  • Tehran regards a strong and independent Azerbaijan, which has established its territorial integrity, as a threat of partition. Because Iranian decision makers are concerned that Baku’s consolidation as a prestigious actor in the international arena will have an encouraging effect on Iranian Turks.
  • Iran worries about the influence of Azerbaijan, through its secular structure, on the whole Iranian society, especially on the Iranian Turks.
  • Tehran administration considers an interaction potentially established over Nakhchivan through Turkey-Azerbaijan and Turkey-Turkic World. This regarded as a threat to Iran’s interest in Caucasus and Central Asia. Consequentially, a possible integration within Turkic World is inevitably undermine the “Persian World” projection of Tehran that planned to realize on Iran-Tajikistan-Afghanistan line. Therefore, it has desired to maintain the occupation status quo in Karabakh for many years. However, on the occasion of the ceasefire agreement dated 10 November 2020, a new status quo was formed in the region and the Nakhchivan Corridor established. This constitutes a negative development for Iran. Moreover, in terms of economy, the need of Turkish trucks for Iran routes has disappeared, Iran has suffered a serious economic loss.

Due to the reasons above, Iranian decision makers possibly think that, if pro-Russian cadres come to power, reoccupation policies can be implemented in Nagorno-Karabakh. In such a situation, the Tehran administration, which is likely to give tacit support to Yerevan, also welcomes the idea of power change in Armenia.

On the other hand, Tehran’s interest disturbed due to the Syunik region left under control of Azerbaijan, as a result of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. Region had been facilitating Iran-Armenia connection and encompass the strategic routes. There are concerns, in medium and long terms, this region is a potential threat to host act of aggression towards Iran.  Additionally, Tehran believes that Iran-Armenia relations are going to worsen due to the loss of control on strategic routes.

As a result, Iran worries about the status quo established in the South Caucasus with the ceasefire agreement dated November 10, 2020. Tehran experience a deep discomfort due to the new balance of power in the region; Turkey’s growing influence of the impact it will have on Iranian Turks, also USA and Israel have the opportunity to implement their policies towards Iran more easily. Therefore, Iran favors the idea of overthrowing Pashinyan, a pro-Western political figure. In this sense, the Tehran administration will be pleased with the transition of power to the cadres, that have internalized the mindset and support occupation, in Armenia. The failure of Khatibzadeh to condemn the coup attempt in his statement is arise from these facts.


[1] “Paşinyan’dan Rusya’ya Salvo! “İskender’ler Patlamıyor!””, Haber Türk, https://www.haberturk.com/rus-fuzeleri-patlamiyor-son-dakika-pasinyan-dan-rusya-ya-salvo-iskender-ler-patlamiyor–2984887, (Date of Accession: 02.03.2021).

[2] “Iran Urges Parties in Armenia to Exercise Self-Restraint”, IRNA, https://en.irna.ir/news/84243485/Iran-urges-parties-in-Armenia-to-exercise-self-restraint, (Date of Accession: 26.02.2021).

 

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Doğacan BAŞARAN
Doğacan BAŞARAN
ANKASAM Uluslararası İlişkiler Uzmanı

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