Eurasian Neighbours of Russia (V): Armenia

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Armenia is the only Eurasian neighbour of Russia who is resolutely attached to Moscow. While Ukraine and Georgia have a western dimension of their national identities, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have Turkic dimensions to balance Russian pressure on their national identities. In Tajik case, there are Iranian/Persian and Islamic Worlds which can balance the Russian culture in the country. In comparison, Armenia has no external dimensions to its national identity. This peculiarity of the country is reflected in the foreign policy of Yerevan. In this article will analyze the foreign policy of Armenia taking into account the national identity of the country.

To begin with geographical location, Armenia is a landlocked country in the South Caucasus. It is one of the post-Soviet Caucasian states besides Georgia and Armenia. While Georgia is looking to the Black Sea, Azerbaijan has a border with the Caspian Sea. These opening give Georgia and Azerbaijan certain privileges in foreign policy. However, Armenia has access neither to the Black Sea or the Caspian one. Neighbourship with Turkey could be utilised as an opening up to the West, but Ankara has closed its borders as a reaction to Armenian aggression towards Azerbaijan. The only neighbour with whom Yerevan can cooperate is Tehran. But Iran’s isolation until recent times due to UN sanctions did not promise many things. Therefore, the end of the sanctions after a nuclear deal in 2015 signalled the rapprochement between Iran and Armenia. However, the anti-Iranian policy of US President Trump seems to harm the euphoria of the opening up of Iran.

To continue with identity politics, the primary determinant of Armenian national identity is its conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. In the early 1990s, Armenia not only annexed Nagorno-Karabakh which was the part of Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic but also occupied seven regions (rayon) of Azerbaijan. Due to this situation, Armenia is defined as an aggressor state according to International Law. But the fact is that Russia and other western countries implicitly and explicitly support Armenia. The so-called Minsk Group of OSCE which is composed of Russia, the USA, and France, was established to mediate the conflict, speaks about a peaceful settlement of the dispute and does not force Armenia to leave the occupied territories. The conflict can be solved in a day if only the great powers wish to do so.

The matter is that Russia is interested in the continuation of the hostile atmosphere in the region. The circumstances where Armenia consider itself encircled by enemy Azerbaijan and its big brother Turkey, in fact, justifies the existence of Russian military bases in Armenian territory. If the problem is solved and Armenia and Azerbaijan are reconciled, Russia will disinherit its requisite to control of the region. Therefore, Russian media supports Armenian Turko-phobic sentiments. So-called Armenian genocide nurtures this hostility against Azerbaijan and Turkey.

As it is known, Armenia is accusing Turkey of genocide which took place during the First World War in 1915. The accusation came to the agenda of the League of Nations after the war. The British Royal Court which acted as the International Court of the League having investigated all documents of the period and interrogated the members of Ottoman cabinet concluded that the accusation is baseless and closed the file. After the Second World War when the Nazi Party of Germany was accused and found guilty of Jewish genocide, the issue of Armenian genocide once more came to agenda but this time through Armenian diaspora in the USA. From the perspective of the Armenian diaspora, the issue was important to consolidate Armenians and rescue the Armenian identity. In other words, the genocide discourse became the main force which could guarantee the survival of Armenian identity. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the issue ceased to be judicial one but became a political campaign of Armenia, on the one hand, to justify its occupation of Azerbaijani territory and on the contrary, to present Armenians as the victims of Turkish politics. While the case should be solved by International Criminal Court and the final decision should be given by judicial authorities, today parliaments and national legislative bodies of countries where Armenian diaspora are active adopt statements which find Turkey guilty. To sum up, we can say that Armenians are living with the past. By debating century old issues, they expect that they can solve problems of today.

When we analyse Armenian foreign policy in this context, it can be fairly said that identity politics paralysis foreign policy. Armenia’s hostile relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, force it to build close ties with other neighbours, Georgia in the north and Iran in the south. While Armenia’s alliance with Russia makes it difficult to cooperate with Georgia which considers Russia as an enemy, the same alliance can be the basis for Armenian-Iranian convergence. Iran which is threatened by the USA seeks balance through Russia. In this way, Iran and Armenia become partners in the region. Tehran also sees Turkic solidarity in its north as a threat to its territorial integrity because Turks populate the northern provinces of the country. Thus, the anti-Turkic stance of both countries is another reason for cooperation. From the perspective of Iranian foreign policy, Tehran wants to balance the rising influence of Azerbaijan by Armenia. Therefore, it can be argued that Iran is also interested in the continuation of the hostility between Baku and Yerevan. While Iran develops cooperation with both Azerbaijan and Armenia, the latter has no option except collaboration with Iran. But Azerbaijan who succeeded to form a stable relationship with Turkey, the USA, EU, Israel and even with Russia and Iran can easily balance one power with another.

In the final analysis, it ‘s hard for Armenian decision makers to overcome the national sentiments of the population. Only one fact that the coat of arms of the Republic of Armenia contains the mountain Ararat, which is located in Turkey, thus underlines that the mountain is Armenian one, reveals that it is impossible to convince Armenians to reconcile with its first neighbours, namely Turkey and Azerbaijan. While this hostile attitude of Armenians is supported by national ideology on the one hand, and by foreign countries such as Russia on the other, it is not difficult to predict that the peace will not come to South Caucasus shortly. Ironically the main deadbeat of the aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan is Armenia itself. There is no doubt that the winner of the hostile relations between Baku and Yerevan is Georgia as oil and gas pipelines and railway projects from Azerbaijan to Turkey pass through Georgian territory thus bypassing Armenia. To alter this status quo, there should be a strong political will of Armenian politicians which is unfortunately absent at the moment.