Armenia’s European Checkpoint

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By Hayk Demoyan

On November 24 of this year, Armenia is going to sign an accord with the European Union during the EU summit in Brussels. Although some may call it a moment of truth, one should foresee that any move towards closer European integration is not an easy one for Armenia. It definitely will be monitored by Moscow, which will apply heavy pressure.

It was such pressure earlier which led President Serzh Sargsyan to decide ad hoc to turn Armenia’s move towards European integration in the opposite direction. This happened on September 3, 2013, when it was declared that Armenia would join the Eurasian Economic Union. Such a decision saddened many in Armenia and in Europe, since the country, at least within the last decade, was declaring that European integration is a dominant paradigm among Armenian foreign policy priorities.

What we see now from the EU is a policy of offering added incentives in order to keep Armenia motivated for closer relations with the EU — no doubt, at the expense of Armenia’s Eurasian preferences. The recent statement of Piotr Switalski, the head of the EU delegation in Armenia, should be understood in this context. He suggested that Armenian officials be prepared for a visa-free agreement between EU countries and Armenia. The West tries to synchronize its offers to official Yerevan, naturally targeting the latter’s heavy dependence on Russia.

Quite recently, Richard Mills, the US ambassador to Armenia, stated that Armenia had great potential for developing renewable energy, adding that “there were prospects for investing 8 billion US dollars as part of cooperation in this field.” While making such an unprecedented statement, the American diplomat also stressed that the US Embassy could not guarantee the implementation of investments if Armenia failed to show its attractiveness to US investors, and “ensure equal rules to all players.” Official Yerevan reacted to such a proposal with silence.

If one wants to count the Eurasian “blessings” of Armenia since the very moment the country joined this organization, then it becomes obvious that since 2013 Armenia secured and even institutionalized the status of a “geopolitical hostage” country while in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). This new club of former Soviet republics is in a friendlier and closer partnership with Azerbaijan than with its natural ally, Armenia. This is obvious even from the position of Russia, which is still supplying modern weaponry to Azerbaijan. To the protests from Yerevan, Moscow gives a bizarre excuse: “If we do not sell to them, then they can buy it from other sources.”

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Note that last year’s escalation also occurred on Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan, when several Armenian citizens were killed. The new escalation only led to a muted reaction by the secretary of the Collective Defense Agreement Organization (CDAO), while Azerbaijan still continues to receive modern weaponry from Russia and strengthen its military potential. Without a doubt, such supplies played a crucial role in pushing Azerbaijan to its April 2016 escalation. The heavy fighting, despite its local nature, occurred only 100 miles away from the Russian border with Azerbaijan.

The question of who pushed Baku into an adventuristic blitzkrieg attempt, and for what reason, can be judged from ongoing developments.

The escalation on the contact zone of Azerbaijan and Artsakh in early April 2016 was unprecedented since the 1994 ceasefire, causing deaths or injuries to hundreds of Armenian servicemen. It raised the security guarantee issue for Armenia once again, and questioned the status reserved for Armenia in CDAO, particularly for Russia. The massacre of the Armenian family in Gyumri by Russian conscript Valery Permyakov in early 2015 and the April war of 2016, together with subsequent mentor-like reactions from Moscow to Armenian protests, made it obvious that the image of Russia heavily lost its value as security guarantor at various levels of Armenian society, which traditionally praised such a status for the northern power.

Yes, historically Russia has a special image in the perception of Armenians, primarily in the strictly-defined identity of protector and guarantor of the security of Armenians. But decomposition of that image occurs not because of external involvement in Armenian society, but due to periodical official statements from Moscow, causing a natural reaction in Armenia. A new harsh reaction ensued after the suggestion from Moscow to make Russian the second official language in Armenia in order to obtain the necessary driving licenses for Armenian truck drivers crossing the Russian border.

The Ministry of Education of Armenia was forced to follow this instruction, though Russian was not made the second official language, in adopting a document to improve the teaching of Russian in the Armenian schools. The aforementioned does not necessarily mean the existence of anti-Russian sentiments and hatred in Armenia. Not at all. We simply conclude that the level of pro-Russian sentiments and attitudes in the last two years declined unprecedentedly, which for Moscow is a bad sign, but one with which it must deal. Any other arrogant policies could lead toward a constant and firm position of absolute distrust towards Russian policies concerning Armenia with further consequences.

It is clear that instead of making Armenia its natural ally and role model for others to show what could and should be a strategic partnership with Russia, Moscow has decided to weaken and marginalize the Armenian state in order to secure effective control over its Caucasian partner and not to let her go to European embraces.

Today Russia controls almost everything in Armenia, leaving less space to Armenia to be a sole decision maker in major external and internal issues. The critical level of such control brought further marginalization and polarization of the relations between society and the ruling elite in Armenia. Armenia’s membership in CDAO and the Eurasian Economic Union so far did not prove itself as a security guarantee, considering Russia’s military supplies to Azerbaijan and Turkey while both countries continue to block Armenia. Secondly, the new integration did not lead to ending the economic stagnation of the country and a reduction in poverty.

Will the EU try to appear as a security guarantor instead for Armenia sandwiched in-between Turkey and Azerbaijan? Most probably not. At least there are no indications to think otherwise. But the European track for a shattered Armenian statehood is important for crucial counterbalancing. The leaders of Armenia have to show the political will to not to be afraid of it.

Although the main text of the Armenia-EU agreement is not public, one of the good signs of real interest towards European integration by the Armenian side would be to accept the principles of the resolution on “Europe Reunited: Promoting Human Rights and Civil Liberties in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) region in the 21st Century,” adopted in Vilnius in 2009, which appeared as a united European stand condemning totalitarianism. The resolution states that “in the twentieth century European countries experienced two major totalitarian regimes, Nazi and Stalinist, which brought about genocide, violations of human rights and freedoms, war crimes and crimes against humanity,” urges all OSCE member countries to take a “united stand against all totalitarian rule from whatever ideological background,” and condemns “the glorification of the totalitarian regimes, including the holding of public demonstrations glorifying the Nazi or Stalinist past.”

It would be more than appropriate if the Armenian parliament adopts a resolution on the condemnation of Stalinist and totalitarian crimes 80 years after the major Stalinist purges started, which resulted in the persecution and destruction of tens of thousands of Armenians in 1930s and 1940s. Such a resolution could be also a signal of the readiness for an independent move towards Europe, but not one based on the principle of “one step forward, two steps backward.”

After all this, a crucial question remains: who is the guarantor of Armenia’s security? No one except Armenia’s citizens, its army, and motivated compatriots in its diaspora. It is perfectly clear that the main threat from the outside is doubled by internal disturbances and drastic polarization of Armenian society and ruling power. This makes the country more vulnerable. It is high time to take real steps for real results in fighting corruption, limiting foreign dependence and eliminating the consequences of disastrous elections, which shook the very foundation and essence of the Armenian statehood.

The sooner the further and fatal consequences of the existing situation will be understood, the better for the future of Armenia.

(Dr. Hayk Demoyan is a US Fulbright visiting scholar at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies of Harvard University. He is researching identity transformation processes in the South Caucasus. From 2006 to 2017, he held the position of director of the Armenian Genocide

Museum and Institute in Yerevan. Demoyan remains the head of the scientific council of the latter. He is also a chief editor of the International Journal of Armenian Genocide Studies published starting in 2014. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.)