Armenia Is Bleeding

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Yerevan is one of the ideal touristic destinations in the summer season, both for Europeans and as well as travelers from Moslem countries. No one has yet conducted a statistical analysis on the impact of the visits by Pope Francis and the Kardashian sisters. Nevertheless, both visits have helped many to discover Armenia, tucked away in the faraway Caucasus Mountains.

Yerevan especially is a showcase for tourists; Moslem visitors, mostly from Iran and the Gulf Emirates, find welcome relief from social restrictions while European visitors are always surprised to find a modern country in many measures rivaling their societies, in the backwaters of the collapsed Soviet empire.

Summertime in Yerevan is an idyllic fairyland for its inhabitants and visitors alike, offering social, cultural and culinary delights.

But, unfortunately, the country as a whole is wasting away as it is bleeding on two fronts. There is a population hemorrhage and there is bloodletting on the border with Azerbaijan. Three soldiers were killed recently, sending a shockwave through the population, especially in families with sons of military draft age.

The Azeri leaders have discovered that they will not be able to achieve victory through a frontal attack and thus they have opted for a war of attrition, which Armenia can ill afford.

Developments in the region do not bring any comfort to Armenia. Iran has been one of the safe outlets to the world for Armenia as well as a reliable trading partner, but was recently shaken by two terrorist acts, meant to destabilize that powerful country.

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Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia used to hold military drills every other year. However, this year, they had a second set of drills to keep Armenia on edge.

Military analysts in Armenia and around the world have been pondering the root causes of last April’s flare-up in which Azerbaijan killed many soldiers by a sudden, brutal attack on the border. Gen. Norad Ter-Grigoriantz, one of the founders of the modern Armenian Army, said during a recent interview that the Azeri war planners, assisted by the Turkish brass, had been probing the vulnerable areas of the Armenian defense forces. They have failed in their attempt and have been repelled so far.

The presidents of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), recently made their regular trip to Armenia and Azerbaijan to continue admonishing the parties to exercise restraint and prepare their respective populations to compromise as there is no military solution for the Karabakh conflict.

Armenians had been expecting that the Minsk Group cochairs would address Azeri belligerence, but the group came to Armenia with the same mantra they recited in Baku.

One school of thought believes that Azeri President Ilham Aliyev is running out of patience and funds and the sooner he can bring a military solution to the conflict, the better it will be for his nation since the country’s petrodollars are depleting fast and fossil fuel exports have been facing an uncertain future.

Aliyev has been rewriting history to present Armenians as relatively recent settlers on the so-called “Azeri lands,” even though there was no nation called Azerbaijan before 1918 and archeological finds show Armenian presence in the region goes back at least two millennia.

Azerbaijan wants a war now, not necessarily to recover “historic Azeri territory,” but to cover up the nation’s deteriorating economic situation and in the meantime to whip up nationalistic fervor to divert attention and anger from the rampant corruption which have become the talk of the town in Baku through the Panama Papers and other scandals. For Azerbaijan, the war is a matter of saving the Aliyev dynasty with its wealth, while for Armenia, it is a matter of existence.

The OSCE group is focusing on the Madrid and Kazan principles, which prominent anthropologist and political analyst Hranoush Kharadyan finds unacceptable, because, she says, “They do not favor Armenia. It does not make sense [for Armenia] to cede seven regions today hoping to attain a status for Karabakh, as that status may materialize in 20 years, and no one knows under what conditions.”

It is common knowledge that to maintain peace, a country has to prepare for war. That is where Armenia is now.

Military analysts have ranked the Armenian army as the best fighting force in the Caucasus region. And that has been proven time and again in every instance that Armenia has stopped Azeri aggression. But no one can predict the outcome of a conflict with combination of forces that is, in case Turkey lands tactical support to Azerbaijan, if not outright participation.

The depleting number of soldiers on the borders will certainly do their best to minimize bloodletting on the battleground, but to stop the population hemorrhage, needs a well-thought-out policy for fast economic recovery, eradicating corruption, equal application of the law and above all, inspiring hope for a more prosperous future.

Many have pinned their hopes on Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, who has already introduced some bold reforms.

The proof of the pudding will be in its eating.