Armenia’s Economy Choked by Undeclared War

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Armenia is caught between a rock and a hard place. All regional developments bypass Armenia either by design or by neglect.

Azerbaijan and Turkey are dead-set against Armenia and have been using their economic and political clout to isolate Yerevan from all regional projects, using the Karabakh conflict as an excuse, and prompting some desperate Armenian disinterested pundits to advise Armenia’s government to give in to concessions or to compromise in the disputed conflict.

However, those familiar with history will warn against such compromises and the Armenian people realize in their guts that the conflict with Azerbaijan does not begin nor end in Karabakh; it goes deep into history to face the real intentions of the Pan-Turkic movement. Armenia is and has been an obstacle in the path of a large Ottoman Empire and it was already the target of an attempt to wipe it off from the map to achieve that dream.

The other regional powers — and some friendly nations at that — have a pragmatic approach to all those problems; their participation in the reginal projects is dictated by their own national interests. Georgia, Iran and Russia are supposedly nations friendly to Armenia but they have virtually abandoned Armenia in its confrontation with Turkey. In view of their self-interest, Armenia has become politically dispensable and left to its own devices to survive.

The hostility of Turkey and Azerbaijan is not simply imagined by Armenia. It is out in the open; It is expressed in words and deeds.

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As reported by the Turkish news outlet Haberler, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking at his AK Party’s recent conference, complained that “official Yerevan keeps the gates of friendship with Turkey locked under pressure from the Armenian Diaspora. As a result, Armenia is ousted from regional transport and energy projects. Moreover, it is plunging into deeper isolation,” adding that by contrast Georgia has successfully built bridges between Turkey and the West.

On the other hand, Georgia has not changed the tone of its relations with Armenia since the days when Mikheil Saakashvili was president and had arrogantly announced that “whoever opposes Azerbaijan is Georgia’s enemy.”

Though nowadays Saakashvili is a renegade and a wanted man in his own country, the policy he crafted vis-a-vis Armenia still stands.

Tbilisi is a partner in all regional projects which exclude Armenia. For example, Tbilisi has voted in Azerbaijan’s favor on UN General Assembly Resolution 62/243 while Armenia to this day has refrained from recognizing South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence despite Russian expectation for it to do so, in deference to Tbilisi.

After completing the energy pipeline network in the Caucasus bypassing Armenia, there was a period of anticipation concerning the construction of the railway system because of a dramatic drop in oil prices but China’s $1-trillion infrastructure development project gave a new lease on life to the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway line. This time, not only was Armenia the victim, but even Russia was excluded. Despite some cooperation and political coordination between China and Russia on international issues, deep suspicions and competition lurk in the background.

China supported the Central Asian nations to construct their share of the Silk Road railway system which will eventually link to the BTK.

This new railway system not only will punish the nation of Armenia but also ethnic Armenians living in Akhalkalaki, where a train station is being built.

Tweeting from Georgia, Bradley Jardine states, “Georgia’s authorities hope the BTK will provide jobs and security for isolated Akhalkalaki, in a region with a large ethnic Armenian population that Tbilisi authorities have long suspected of harboring separatist ambitions. Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirkashvili has stressed that the railroad’s potential to achieve greater economic and sustainable development … but Akhalkalaki locals complain they have seen little benefit so far from the station’s opening. The mood among Armenians in the town is that the project is not for us.”

The Turks and the Azeris have built apartment complexes to bring their workers to settle and take those jobs. Even the Georgian government is encouraging Turkish Metskhets to resettle in the area to scare away the Armenians. In 2015, red graffiti appeared on Old Ottoman fortress in Akhalkalaki warning the local Armenians, “We will return.”

Georgia’s Turkification is progressing at a very fast pace. The Turks have overtaken Ajaria’s economy and they even treat the local Georgians as second-class citizens.

The Georgians are concerned and they are up in arms. Recently, residents of another village called Dardash, on Georgia’s border with Turkey, blocked the main highway connecting Turkey to Georgia to protest the lawlessness introduced in Georgia since the opening of the border with Turkey in 2015.

President Erdogan himself publically announced that Ajaria has been part of the Ottoman Empire and has to be returned to Turkey.

Now comes another railway system to circumvent Armenia: the North-South Corridor (NSTC). NSTC is the Armenian-Iranian railway link, also known as the South Armenian Railway, which would connect Iran’s southern port of Bandar Abbas with the Black Sea and Russia through Armenia and Georgia.

Writing in Eurasian Daily Monitor, Rahim Rahimov, a London-based correspondent states: “President Aliyev pointedly mentioned last month that two transport corridors would be integrated. This effectively puts an end to Armenia’s ambitions to become a regional transit country and adversely affects it politically and economically. Yet, Armenia’s closest ally, Russia, has essentially been unsupportive of Yerevan’s position in this issue.”

Incidentally, Tbilisi took advantage of Azerbaijan’s determination to exclude Armenia and to include Georgia in the BTK system. The Georgian government claimed that it did not possess enough funds to construct its share of the railway system, thus forcing Aliyev to cough up another $775 million in terms of a loan to Georgia.

In this war of monopolizing land transport routes and energy systems, Baku and Ankara seem to be more motivated by isolating and stifling Armenia than truly reaping the rewards of the economic benefits these developments bring.

This is an undeclared war against Armenia; a war of attrition with Georgia’s active participation and Russia’s passive negligence.

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