Part I of this article appeared on February 7, 2024 and examined the pressing questions on the Armenian diplomatic agenda following the military defeat in 2020 and the ethnic cleansing of Artsakh in 2023.
In precarious conditions, where power, based on democratic foundations, must stay on course despite external storms (Azerbaijan) and internal challenges (revanchist parliamentary opposition willing to collaborate with a foreign power), what are the challenges that Armenia is facing?
This third question relates to several factors. Firstly, the challenge is geopolitical. As the world transitions from a West no longer solely shaping the history of humanity to a Global South seeking reparations under the influence of China and Russia, Armenia, like most states, is navigating troubled waters. It is true that not all Western powers support Armenia, and conversely, not all Global South powers are against Armenia. It is incumbent upon all governing authorities, starting with Armenia, to find their place in this fragmented world.
Secondly, the strategic challenge places Armenia between two fronts: how can its stability be enhanced while a war rages in Ukraine, and tensions between Israel and Iran threaten to open a second front south of Yerevan? It would be shortsighted to overlook Iran’s role in the origins of Israel’s military assistance to Azerbaijan against Armenia. It’s difficult to imagine Armenia significantly shifting towards the West while relinquishing its partnership with Iran, the only state that concretely guarantees its territorial integrity. Many argue that this would be difficult or even suicidal. On the other hand, disregarding the developments on the Ukrainian front and crafting a national diplomacy without considering the impact of external processes would also be detrimental to Armenia’s future.
This is the third challenge. Diplomatic relations with Armenia’s neighbors, such as Russia, Turkey, and Georgia, carry significant weight. Relations with these three neighbors are also undergoing a significant shift. Distancing from Russia does not necessarily mean aligning against Moscow. In Yerevan, the government exhibits caution towards Russia. Yerevan no longer participates in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) meetings, given the organization turned its back on Armenians and abandoned its responsibilities as a guarantor of Armenia’s security. However, Yerevan assumed the presidency of the Eurasian Economic Union, because its development is partly reliant on investments in post-Soviet markets and reduced-tariff trade among these countries. Nevertheless, it is essential to convey to Moscow that Armenia’s sovereignty is non-negotiable. This stance might irritate Vladimir Putin, especially if Kyiv loses the 2024 battle against the Russian army, galvanized by its military successes in Eastern Europe.
Is Armenia’s move toward the West contingent on normalizing relations with Turkey? The answer is not always obvious unless one distinguishes between normalization and reconciliation. If these two processes are separated, and Armenia pursues normalization with Ankara, the shift towards the West can and should hinge on restoring relations with Turkey. However, if the process broadens to include the question of reconciliation without distinction, progress becomes more difficult. While normalization depends on states, reconciliation involves civil societies. Currently, neither Armenian nor Turkish civil societies are prepared to begin this conversation. If Western nations, especially the United States, can prioritize Armenia’s security in their dealings with Turkey and Azerbaijan, there is room for cautious advancement. However, achieving this goal remains a distant prospect.
Georgia, as the third regional actor, undoubtedly holds one of the direct keys to Armenia’s stability. This is particularly important since Tbilisi has achieved candidate status for EU accession from Brussels, despite being perceived as pro-Russian by Europeans. The prospect of closer economic and political cooperation between Tbilisi and Yerevan gains new significance under these circumstances. The pooling of resources between the two markets furthers the prospect of opening a North-South corridor between Europe, broadly speaking, and the Indo-Pacific via Georgia, Armenia, and Iran. Moreover, as Georgia continues to align with EU standards, the European aspirations of Armenia become increasingly relevant.
One of the crucial challenges for Armenia is the future of democracy in a country transitioning from over two decades of authoritarian rule. This challenge cannot be understated, as democracy is primarily tested in domestic life, especially in Parliament, where the opposition can be vindictive and violent.
Two risks are apparent: first the excessive personalization of power in the hands of Nikol Pashinyan, refusing any power-sharing or collegiality; second, a drastic, radical shift, that could potentially lead to a coup d’état orchestrated by forces of the former regime, possibly sponsored by Russia.
However, there seems to be no immediate cause for concern. In response to the risk of power monopolization by Nikol Pashinyan, alignment with Western powers is happening in the spirit of upholding democracy and human rights. If any significant violations occur, Brussels can reconsider its partnership with Yerevan and set conditions accordingly.
As for the risk of bloodshed, this option seems unlikely, primarily because the opposition is completely discredited and unpopular, and secondly, because the forces of the former regime are now aware of Russia’s duplicity. Given these factors, the parties of the former regime are currently in a state of utter confusion.
A key issue to address is the future relationship between the current regime and the Armenian Church, as well as between Armenia and its diaspora. The significant shift initiated by Armenia also impacts the traditional-modern divide. In this historical context, the New Armenia aims to show both the church and diaspora organizations that the state takes precedence over other institutions. It suggests that the state is now the gravitational center of the Armenian world. The church or diaspora organizations should not impose their obsolete agenda, practices, or a dangerous and exaggerated, memorial-focused message that is disconnected from reality.
Instead, it is up to the Armenian state to consolidate its foundation. While the world is changing and Armenia has been undergoing a Velvet Revolution since 2018, it is essential to recognize that the traditional diaspora model is obsolete, dangerous, and inappropriate for a member state of the international community. This model, based on memory, the sanctification of the territory, and the influence of old institutions, and an exaggerated message, needs a rehaul.
A new diaspora model should be outlined. It should not rely on serious representation but should focus on the individual, interconnectivity, deterritorialization, and economic progress. The significant shift, in which Armenia is both the subject and object, also affects the diaspora, which cannot behave like a spoiled child as if it is on par with the state.
All institutions should align under the authority of the state to uphold social haytadism (the principle of sustaining Armenians’ presence locally within a free, sovereign, prosperous Armenia integrated into its regional environment). The state should not be swayed by proponents of the territorial haytadism tradition (which involves claiming territories and risks permanent conflict that threatens Armenia’s existence and foundations).
So, what should be done under these circumstances? Predictions are difficult to make, but this moment serves as a reminder of certain things:
First, Armenia has extended assurances to the West, but what reciprocation has it received from the Americans and Europeans? The most skeptical, or even those nostalgic for Russo-Armenian friendship, might argue that Armenia has gained nothing from the West and cannot anticipate anything, as it is not a reliable partner. While this backward-looking discourse has some merit, it should be acknowledged while keeping it at a distance.
Second, peace with Azerbaijan depends on addressing all of these challenges. If the stars align for a peace founded on justice, Armenia can look forward to a future of tranquility and prosperity. However, if they do not align, and Azerbaijan’s punitive peace prevails over the just peace sought by the West, Armenia will face new storms.
Armenia is currently focusing on three key pillars: security, education, and economic growth. This triad, based on reestablishing state authority, and not on self-proclaimed “elites” that led Armenia to its current state, urges Armenians worldwide to recognize the unity of the state and the importance of respecting human life. These three pillars are set to strengthen the connection between the republic and diaspora networks. Diaspora networks contribute to security (through drones, cybersecurity, and manpower), education (by sharing global knowledge and expertise), and economic growth (by promoting business, investments, and the commercial acumen of transnational networks).
The Armenia of tomorrow also involves establishing a government of national unity with the non-parliamentary opposition. This could be achieved through early legislative elections. The fate of Armenia should not depend on a single party or individual. Rather, it requires breaking free from destructive mentalities, including a territorial haytadism that turns every dream into a nightmare and pushes Armenians to the brink. It is the responsibility of present and future Armenian decision-makers to embrace this triad as a fundamental value to (re)construct the republic of the future.
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