BERLIN — In the current Cold War climate in East-West relations, exasperated by the British-Russian crisis around the Skripal affair, it has become increasingly difficult for smaller nations to maintain an independent stance in the interest of protecting friendly relations with both the West and Russia. No one knows this better than the Armenians. Thus, when Ambassador Ashot Smbatyan was invited to speak at the Lepsiushaus in Potsdam on March 22, he faced an audience of intellectuals, political figures, diplomats and members of the Armenian community, eager to hear his views on “Armenia and Europe: Taking Stock, with a View to the Future.”
To explain his country’s relations with Europe, Smbatyan posed the question, “Where does Europe begin and where does it end?” An ostensibly simple question, it actually can be addressed from different perspectives: geographically, he said, Germany belongs to Europe whereas India does not. But then perhaps “Europe” designates more a “shared value system” than a land mass; or, yet again, one may be referring to the economic dimension. The aim of his remarks was to explain “what this concretely means for a country like Armenia.”
Situating Armenia in the “geographical interface between Europe and Asia,” as a country sharing borders with Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Iran, Smbatyan said it had managed, despite centuries of conflicts, to preserve its independence, “national identity and unique culture” — also thanks to its early development of a written language culture. A brief historical overview of the last century, from its short-lived independence from 1918 to 1920, to its membership in the Soviet Union until 1991, set the parameters for his remarks on Armenian foreign policy.
“Since our independence, the aim of Armenian foreign policy has not been to act against any country, but to work together with all our immediate and proximate neighbors towards enduring peaceful coexistence for the region. On the basis of this premise,” he said, “one has to consider Armenian foreign policy as a whole, which means not only single bilateral agreements but also Armenia’s inclusion in various structures and organizations of the international community.” With this in mind, one should understand that Armenia “for historically developed reasons fosters a close strategic partnership with Russia, on the one hand, and very good relations with the West, that is the European Union and the USA, on the other.”
Europe: Neighborly Cooperation
Since the start of the new millennium, bilateral relations with the EU have progressed steadily in line with Armenia’s foreign policy guidelines. Smbatyan ticked off a number of cornerstones of this partnership, from 2004 when it was admitted into the European Neighborhood Policy to 2006 when the EU action plan entered into force; from 2009 when it joined the Eastern Partnership, together with five other former members of the USSR, to 2010 when it started association negotiations with the EU.