Is a Political Storm Gathering over Armenia?


By Edmond Y. Azadian

As Armenia’s Parliament continues to strip the newly-created office of the president of any and all meaningful powers and as the media and the opposition forces continue to debate when Armen Sarkissian gave up his British citizenship, one is reminded of the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman forces of Turkish Sultan Mohamed II. According to legend, the capital fell while the Byzantine Court was debating a very crucial topic: how many angels could stand on the point of a pin.

While the story might serve as a very effective metaphor, it sounds as if it is an apocryphal one, because that analogy is more relevant to 17th-century theology and also, because Byzantine Emperor Constantine and his courtiers were in a struggle to save their lives, as the Turks had given enough warnings by bombarding the city for a long time. To this day, there is scant evidence about the fate of the emperor; some believe he was killed during fighting while other witnesses vouch for his suicide.

Continuing with the deviation from our own topic, it is interesting to remember how the Ottoman army succeeded in breaking the defenses of the city. A Hungarian engineer called Urban or Orban, perhaps one of the ancestors of Hungary’s current Prime Minister Victor Orban, who delivered Azeri murderer Ramil Safarov into the loving arms of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev to a hero’s welcome in Baku, had designed a new and powerful cannon and had offered it to the Byzantine ruler, who refused to buy it because of a lack of funding. Engineer Orban then sold his invention to the Ottoman army, where it played a fateful part in its victory.

Returning to our metaphor, while Armenia is furtively engaged in minutiae, the world around it is becoming more ominous. A rapid succession of events does not favor the country at the moment.

The Russian-Turkish rapprochement is at Armenia’s expense inter alia. It has global ramifications. Turkey, as a major power, can play a balancing act. Its membership in NATO is a valuable asset for the West, which cannot afford to sever its ties no matter how strained they may become. And using that situation as a point of leverage, Turkey can move towards the West’s adversaries, namely Russia and Iran, with impunity.

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Eli Lake, in an opinion piece in Bloomberg, warns Turkey that “the US should make clear to ersatz allies that betrayal has consequences,” to no avail.

On the other hand, Russia, which is suffering from the NATO squeeze and Western sanctions, would compromise many issues just to draw a wedge in the ranks of NATO members. Among the compromises may be Armenia’s fate. Developments are indicating that it may be the case even as an unintended consequence.

After Aliyev’s threatening speech staking his claim on Yerevan and Sevan, Azerbaijan is engaged in war games on Armenia’s borders. To quell suspicions, Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov has announced that after the elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan, more concrete and substantive negotiations will be conducted. Pundits are wondering if this is a war strategy or whether Baku has finally realized that there may not be a military solution to this thorny issue.

Armenia’s Maj. Gen. Asdvadzadour Petrosyan is wondering what is behind Azerbaijan’s war games. “Under the guise of war games, a concentration of forces may take place. The second state is the formation of those forces in preparation of an eventual war. We should leave no stone unturned and be ready,” he said.

On the heels of Aliyev’s war rhetoric and actual military buildup, an announcement from Moscow renders the situation more alarming. Indeed, Russian Colonel-General Anatoly Sidorov, who is the chief of the allied Staff of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), made a stern announcement to, that Nagorno Karabakh or Artsakh is not a member state of CSTO; hence that body does not have the authority to offer any aid to that country in case of renewed military operations.

Why was this announcement made at this particular moment? Is it a coincidence or does it indicate a confluence of factors towards the development of a dangerous situation down the road?

As Armenia leans towards Europe to the chagrin of Moscow, this may serve as a message to Yerevan.

Turkey has the leverage to carry its balancing act between the two antagonistic camps but Armenia has limited choices to emulate that policy.

The general also made some remarks regarding Russia’s arms sales to Azerbaijan, bordering on cynicism. Addressing the issue of Russian-Azerbaijan arms trade, Sidorov said that he is confident that Azerbaijan will purchase weaponry from another state should Russia suspend sales. That being true, whether Moscow sells arms to Azerbaijan or not is a policy statement. And that policy is very clear for everyone to see.

President Serzh Sargsyan declared the Protocols drawn up between Armenia and Turkey in 2009 null and void. It is a significant question whether that move was coordinated with Moscow or not in light of Russian-Turkish cooperation in the region on many critical issues. The answer can cut both ways. If it was coordinated, then Moscow would have one extra political asset to deal with Turkey. If it was not, then that move would aggravate the situation more and thus lead General Sidorov to make his announcements at this point in time.

The upcoming Francophonie conference in Yerevan and Armenia’s intensifying relations with the European Union and individual European countries may be developing at the expense of Moscow’s patience with Armenia, which it considers a vassal state. At what point would Moscow’s patience run out and thus give the green light to Baku to another skirmish with Armenia?

Sidorov’s message has political connotations. Why make a statement on an obvious situation? And the statement sounds hollow within the context of the Armenia-Azerbaijan standoff. It is obvious that if war breaks out, it will start from Karabakh and it will be because of Karabakh. Excluding that potential in the strategic partnership between Armenia and Russia is a very ominous development which casts a dark pall over the Russian military presence in Armenia.




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