The restoration of Armenian sovereignty in 1991 prompts us to contemplate the future of Armenia and its position in the international order. This invitation is all the more pressing when we consider that the Armenian state has never been thoroughly examined through the lens of international relations theories. Considering the philosophy of international relations enables us to grasp the initial challenges of sovereignty: how and where does it fit within the international order?
Due to the lack of a state tradition in Armenian history, it is not easy to establish a connection between the theory of international relations and sovereignty. As a result of this significant disadvantage, the main Armenian actors – churches, traditional parties, and large organizations – missed the opportunity in 1991. They are now desperately trying to catch up in the political arena, which is associated with masculinity, encompassing concepts such as rules, order, institutions, and the exercise of power –– in other words, the state. On the other hand, feminine politics are often associated with action, tactic, and strategy.
However, the concept of the state implies adherence to the international system, unless it is marginalized or falls behind global issues. Due to this historical delay, the main Armenian actors find themselves out of sync with the reality of the international system. The churches prioritize religion over politics, keeping the state in the background, as spirituality takes precedence over temporal matters. The political parties (ARF, SDHP, Armenian Democratic Liberal Party, Communist Party) focus more on ideology than practical politics, causing the state to be either absent from their considerations or merely viewed as a tool to further their own partisan dogma. As for large organizations (AGBU, Armenian Relief Society, patriotic organizations), their emphasis is on culture (language, schools, culture) rather than politics. Consequently, the state becomes unattainable within this approach, which also turns its back on the realm of politics.
This absence of the state in religious, ideological, or cultural approaches reflects the traditional model of development, left as a legacy to Armenian society in 1991 when it regained its sovereignty.
What does this mean? There are two main points: first, there is no political empowerment for Armenians, specifically within the current state as it is. When the young Armenian state established itself in 1991, there was a need to create a political system from scratch, but this never happened. Additionally, due to the lack of a tradition of sovereignty, and therefore politics, the theoretical model chosen by the young elite, namely realism, which is the oldest current in international relations, does not resonate in Armenia because there is a need for innovation. The young state tries different approaches without fully understanding the consequences and with a certain arrogance. This situation is all the more concerning as it occurs during a time of war for Armenia. As a result, because of the historical legacy, the necessary ruptures and crucial changes have not been made and the Republic of Armenia is still seen as the successor of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia. Post-Soviet Armenia is, therefore, an unidentified political entity.
With the lack of theoretical benchmarks, the basis of realism, the Armenian authorities transitioned in 1998 during the resignation of first President Levon Ter-Petrosyan in a mixed approach between realism and constructivism. What does this approach entail? Who are the actors involved? And what are the risks associated with it? The establishment of coalition governments, first with Robert Kocharyan and the ARF, and then Serzh Sargsyan and the ARF, represents a combination of realism and constructivism. Realism, the oldest current in international relations, focuses exclusively on the state. According to this perspective, nothing else exists except for institutional power, and as the world is inherently dangerous (peace is located between two wars), it is essential to strengthen military capabilities and prepare for the next war. However, despite this, the Kocharyan and Sargsyan regimes never believed in the possibility of war resuming. They considered the war to be already won and believed that Russia would prevent any attacks from Baku. This raises the question of where the realism of the Kocharyan-Sargsyan duo lies.
Constructivism is a theoretical current that argues that the international system is a subjective construct. According to constructivists, the system excludes certain identities and values that are not considered norms and rules but for constructivists (ARF), these identities and values are no less legitimate. Constructivism questions the international order, and aims to integrate excluded identities and values into the normative space. However, it is important to note that constructivism has the particularity that it allows us to better analyze the international system in its strengths and limits, but it is not necessarily constructive and can even lead to conflict.
Armenia, under the Kocharyan-Sarsyan-ARF regime, exemplifies a realist-constructivist approach. While the first two regimes lean more towards realism, they have also been influenced by the constructivist approach of the ARF. Why is the latter constructivist? The ARF’s constructivist approach is evident in the pursuit of a Greater Armenia, which is not recognized within the international system. This started after the death of Christapor Mikayelian in 1905, when the ARF adopted in 1907 the principle of a single Armenia (historical Armenia) to the detriment of Ottoman Armenia and Russian Armenia. However, by playing the only card of a single Armenia, the ARF is leaving the international system because no actor recognizes the identity and value of this Greater Armenia. No power! So much so that by banking on Greater Armenia, the ARF leaves the international system, comes up against its reality and considers that there is a source of its revolutionary approach. Making a revolution means bringing the idea of Greater Armenia (Wilsonian Armenia, a stillborn project) into the international system on the basis of values and identities that don’t have their place. And hence, since 1907, then 1919-1920, the ARF has been fighting to bring the ingredients of Greater Armenia into the normative game, whether in principle or in its agenda (advance in stages, first, Artsakh, then Javakh, then Nakhichevan, etc.)
Another aspect of the ARF’s constructivism is its attempt to place Armenia and the diaspora on equal terms, as if it were possible to put a state and a sociological concept on the same level. No other state in the world with a diaspora envisages such a pairing. None at all! In the context of globalization, it is more feasible to build a relationship between a state (center of gravity) and a transnational diasporic network (periphery) rather than an encompassing pan-communitarian approach.
It is important to question whether this constructivist anchoring is truly constructive. Not only does it challenge the international system, but it also creates tensions with major regional powers such as Russia, Turkey, and Iran, who are not supportive of this approach and also operate within the international system.
Hence by transitioning from a post-Levon regime to the Kocharyan-Sargsyan-ARF regime, Armenia has shifted from a post-Soviet approach to a dangerous realist-constructivist approach. Why is it dangerous? Because Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan were not realists in the sense that they did not choose the path of power, but rather submission to Russia. By incorporating the constructivism of the ARF, post-Ter-Petrosyan Armenia has become either a memorial state or a monstrous state, fallen from heaven, and isolated from the international system and its norms. This was evident when the Azerbaijani-Turkish-Pakistani-Russian-Israeli coalition mobilized in September 2020, to the indifference of the West. In this situation, Armenia not only faced these countries, but also, to some extent, the forces of the international system. These forces were accomplices of Baku or spectators of the catastrophe.
In 2018, however, the Velvet Revolution erupted, accelerating the idea of a reunified Armenia rather than a break with it. In addition to fighting corruption and affirming the state against the outgoing regime, Nikol Pashinyan’s policy extended the realist-constructivist doctrine by only changing the strategy. The goal for the young power was to transition from a Russophile sovereignty that weakened the Armenian state in favor of a corrupt regime, to an autonomous sovereignty that strengthened the state against the regime of thieves or the “Armenian Cartel”. Unfortunately, the result was a military defeat in November 2020.
Since the turning point in the fall of 2020, the Pashinyan regime has shifted from a realist-constructivist approach to embracing a realist-liberal Armenia. This means that Armenia’s foundations now rest on the international system and its rules. By recognizing the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, including Artsakh, the regime of Nikol Pashinyan is aligning itself with the international system, accepting its reality, and promoting the three pillars of the liberal school of international relations: democracy, market economy and cooperation. This is why democracy has taken root in Armenia in 2021: there is a process of normalization with Turkey, a more global and innovative approach toward the diaspora, and incentive measures aimed at wresting control of the Armenian market from oligarchs to establish a transparent and stable economy.
The transition from a realist-constructivist Armenia to a realist-liberal Armenia is not favored by traditional forces who only identify with Russophile, constructivist, and memorial Armenia. It is crucial for Armenia to embrace a realistic and pragmatic approach for the future. Simply praying for “our lands, our lands” is not enough to establish legitimacy and achieve victory. When Armenia is weak, dependent on foreign powers, and experiencing population decline, what is the use of looking elsewhere when the Armenian house is not built from the inside and becomes an abandoned house? Exclusively constructivist territorial Haytadism (The Armenian Cause) is dangerous, as it has resulted in territorial loss and its men have left the country. Social Haytadism breaks away from the delusional project of Greater Armenia, as it prioritizes professionalism and the common good to ensure the preservation of Armenians in their own lands. It is high time to normalize Armenia’s position in the international system, free from fatalism or excess.
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