Sunday, February 10, 2013

Armenia on the eve of elections: foreign policy

Armenia is located in a hostile regional context. On the eve of the presidential election, it’s worthy to look back at Armenia five years ago and now. Armenian Security 2013 is even more precarious than in 2008.

A few months after his troubled inauguration at the presidency Serzh Sargsyan found himself confronted with the least desirable scenario: the country on which Armenia is dependent for most of its imports at war against its key ally: in August 2008, the war broke out between Georgia and its breakaway regions backed by Russia. As a consequence, Russo-Georgian borders were closed. Surely if the Armenian diplomacy in the last past five years scored a success it is the reopening of the crossing point of Verkhnij-Lars in 2010, that actually had been closed before the war, in 2006. The opening - obtained by Armenian and Swiss mediation - marked one of the rare moments of post-war detente and ensured an almost continuous transit of goods and people to and from Armenia.  

The unresolved issue of Nagorno Karabakh
On the other hand, the main regional issue for Armenia is for sure not what’s going on in its North West. The major crisis is represented by the protracted conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh. Because of conflict, the borders are closed with both Azerbaijan and Turkey, the country is permanently under threat, its perception of safety and quality of political debate are far under their potential developments.
Public opinion is strongly radicalized on the issue. Armenians have emerged victorious from the war, and so its willingness to compromise - the only way to a peaceful resolution of the dispute around Nagorno-Karabakh - is very limited, if not absent. Any politician who would dare to pace the path of compromise should be ready to take very unpopular steps.

It is therefore understandable that at the very beginning of his mandate, after the unrests that had marked his inauguration, Sargsyan was very cautious. However as his mandate strengthened and his presidency consolidated, he could have tried to take advantage of a number of benefits he enjoys, compared to other politicians. Firstly, Sargsyan is a Karabakhi. Then, he took part in the war. Last but not least, he was a man of the institutions, in Karabakh, having held key positions in the defense sector. Therefore he’s the kind of politician whose faith in the Karabakhi cause can not be questioned, a person who has a wider margin of action. He has strong links in and with Karabakh, including its social network. He’s one of the few who could have tabled some pragmatic issues, such as the one of the “security belt”, those regions surrounding Karabakh that are occupied primarily for strategic reasons, but which are less connected with the territorialisation of identity and are less perceived as historical Armenian lands.
Now an open debate about these lands sounds futuristic, but until 2010 it could have been at least discussed.

Since 2010 violations of the ceasefire are reported on daily basis, including along the borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Alongside this gradual thawing of the conflict there has been a resurgence of the war rhetoric on both sides. Negotiations continue both within the Minsk Group, and upon the initiatives of the Russian presidency, the latter being clearly concerned about a possible eruption of a war in the Caucasus before/during Sochi Olympic Games. But the results are disappointing.
On the occasion of the recent celebration of the twenty-first anniversary of the Armenian Army Sargsyan noted that Armenia will not be the one to declare war ( Still, especially in 2012, the President has repeatedly stated that the country will be ready, in case of attack. The times of the Joint Declaration, signed immediately after the war in Georgia when images of bombings were still vivid, seem gone forever. From crisis to crisis, the mediation over the past five years had to regress from the topic of a peaceful solution to the one of conflict prevention.

The Turkish front
Also with regard to relations with Turkey the last five years are a missed chance. The increasingly maximalist positions of the Erdoğan Government in foreign policy haven’t certainly facilitated a dialogue. However, they were chances which were not optimized. The year 2009, with the Protocols and the football diplomacy, looks like a century ago.
The reconciliation is stalling after the crisis of the ratification of the protocols, and no new channels, perhaps less ambitious, are being opened.

While the debate surrounding the G-word progresses in Turkey, undoubtedly, although more in connection with a domestic need for a serene historical memory, the proximity to the Armenian cause and the debates of civilization and democracy associated with as they emerged when Hrant Dink was killed (http :/ / collide with a growing nationalism. This becomes particularly visible, in terms of anti-Armenian attitudes, on the anniversary of the controversial massacre of Khojali.. In 2012, the year of the twentieth anniversary of the massacre, Istanbul hosted a Turkish-Azerbaijani commemoration with a significant number of participants (

In such a difficult regional context, lost opportunities weigh significantly. And that’s – with shared responsibility of all the parties involved - what seems to have happened in the last five years.