25 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE: FROM FOREIGN AFAIRS TO SPORTS
Armenian Independence

25 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE: FROM FOREIGN AFAIRS TO SPORTS

MIKAYEL ZOLYAN: POLITICAL ANALYST ON ARMENIA'S FOREIGN POLICY

Summarizing results of the first quarter century of Armenia's independence in various spheres.

Text: Mikael Zolyan / Photos: Pan Photo


In the 25 years of its existence as an independent state Armenia has had no shortage of foreign policy challenges. Yet, with a foreign policy that has combined both pragmatism and adherence to principles, Armenia has been able to do things that might seem virtually impossible. Thus, it has maintained a security alliance with Russia and at the same time closely cooperate with USA and EU while enjoying friendly relations with Iran. It has also been able to contain the threats coming from confrontation with two of its neighbors, both of which far exceed Armenia in population, territory and resources. And, finally, despite of its troubled neighborhood and limited resources, Armenia has been able to become a respected member of international community, punching above its weight when it comes to international cooperation on global and regional issues.

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 For most post-Soviet countries probably the most vital issue is how to build relations with Russia and the West. Post-Soviet countries have normally tried to keep a certain balance between the se global forces, however the se attempts have not always been successful. Armenia, in this sense has probably been in the most complicated situation due to its geopolitical setting, exacerbated by the conflict with Azerbaijan. In case of Armenia, there is also an additional variable in the equation: Iran, a neighbor that is vital for Armenia, for decades had complicated relations with the West. Georgia, a country that Armenia has friendly relations with, has in the past found itself caught up in the middle of the complicated relations between Russia and the West. And the n there is Turkey, another regional power that has been in confrontation with Armenia. Armenia’s foreign policy has been defined by Armenia’s readiness to cooperate with all the regional and global actors present in the region. The policy of simultaneously advancing relations with major global and regional powers has been the main paradigm of Armenian foreign policy since independence. Thus, Armenia has closely cooperated with Russia, especially in such areas as security and economy. Armenia is also a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and of the Eurasian Economic Union. Armenia’s good neighborly relations with Iran are also vital from the point of view of Armenia’s economy and national security. At the same time Armenia is also striving to forge close contacts with the West. While the Armenian government has repeatedly stated that it is not planning to apply for NATO membership, it is closely cooperating with NATO, and the level of this cooperation is comparable to that of Armenia’s neighbors. Obviously, maintaining cooperation with various centers of power, who have had difficult relations between each other (to say the least) has not been an easy task, which had required immense efforts from Armenian foreign policy community.

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During periods when relations between various global and regional powers had been conflictual, Armenia found itself under pressure to choose sides. The first years after the fall of USSR could be described as a sort of “a honeymoon” between Russia and the West, so Armenia was quite comfortable in keeping its friendly relations with Russia and simultaneously building cooperation with the Euro Atlantic community. However, in the wake of NATO’s expansion eastward, the Kosovo crisis and the Colored Revolutions the relations between Russia and West were slowly deteriorating, ultimately leading to a major crisis in the context of the Russian-Georgian war in 2008. The subsequent “reset” proved unsuccessful, and the disagreements over EU association agreements with Russia’s neighbors, led to the crisis in Ukraine and a new confrontation that is often described as a “New Cold War”. Naturally, the secrises represented a major challenge for Armenian foreign policy. Of course, Armenia had suffered some serious setbacks in the context of the se confrontations, however, ultimately, it has been able to achieve a certain balance between Russia and the West in its foreign policy. Armenian diplomacy has been ableto achieve a degree of understanding for Armenia’s foreign policy position both in the North and in the West. Thus, Armenian diplomats have been able to convince Washington and Brussels that Armenia’s security alliance with Moscow is conditioned by Armenia’s strategic interests and is not aimed against the West. At the same time, in Moscow there is an understanding that while Armenia is a committed ally of Russia and a member of CSTO and EEU, Armenia’s vital interests require cooperation with both EU and NA TO.

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 When it comes to relations with the neighbors, obviously the greatest issue of Armenia’s foreign policy is the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia has been locked in a conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan for more than 25 years. Having started in February 1988 the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is the oldest among the protracted conflicts in the former Soviet space. Armenian diplomacy is aiming at peaceful resolution of the conflict, which would allow the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, who have exercised their right to self-determination by creating independent state in 1991, to enjoy peace and security. While, ultimately, the international recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is a major goal for Armenian foreign policy, currently is willing to proceed with a peaceful conflict resolution process, working together with Stepanakert, Baku and the international community. Azerbaijan, however, has chosen a different strategy, betting on the forceful resolution of the conflict in its favor. Having suffered a military defeat in the war of 1991-1994, Azerbaijani government has since the n embarked on an effort of outgunning and outspending Armenia, using its oil windfall profits to beef up its armed forces. Baku is also engaged in a large-scale lobbying effort, trying to advance its view on the Nagorno-Karabakh in various capitals and on various international fora. However, neither economic blockade, nor political pressure, nor military provocations have so far been successful in terms of bringing Baku closer to its goal. As the April 2016 events showed once again, attempts to alter the status quo using military means are doomed, and it is only through negotiations and compromise that solution to Karabakh conflict can be found.

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 Another issue, which Armenian diplomacy has been dealing with for 25years, is the problem of Armenia-Turkey relations. Though Turkey was among the first countries to recognize Armenia’s independence, it has refused to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia. The Armenia-Turkey border was sealed by Turkey in 1993 and has been locked till this day. Even though attempts to normalize Armenia-Turkey relations have failed so far, the relations between both countries have come a long way since the early 1990s. Armenian diplomacy has been able to show both the international community and the Turkish society that Armenia is ready for normalization of relations. Besides, in spite of an extremely aggressive stance of part of Turkish political and military establishment, Armenia has been successful in containing the threat of open military conflict with Turkey. While in the early 1990s various Turkish political and military figures threatened that Turkey could intervene militarily in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, today even the most hardline figures in the Turkish establishment are refraining from such rhetoric. Obviously, Armenia-Turkey relations cannot be viewed in separation from another major issue of Armenian foreign policy, the issue of Armenian Genocide recognition. However, contrary to a common misperception, Armenia does not consider genocide recognition a prerequisite for normalization of relations with Turkey: on the contrary, the Armenian position is that relations should be normalized without preconditions. At the same time, Genocide recognition remains one of the priorities of Armenia’s foreign policy. During the first years of independence Armenia refrained from actively promoting genocide recognition campaigns, in order not to complicate the process of normalization of relations with Turkey. However, as Turkish government continued its policies aimed at isolating Armenia, Yerevan reconsidered its position and started actively assisting the genocide recognition efforts of Armenian Diaspora and progressive activists all over the world.

 
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These efforts led to impressive successes: as of today 26 countries have passed official legislation recognizing the genocide, the qualification of events of 1915 as genocide has become the accepted norm in the academic community all over the world, leading international media such as New York Times have recognized the events of 1915 as genocide as part of their editorial policy. In some cases the results of these efforts have been mixed, as in the case of US: US presidents have adopted the practice of making an annual address to the Armenian community on the issue, however so far have been reluctant to pronounce word “genocide”. Andin some cases, certain achievements have been reversed, as in the case of the French law on criminalization of the Armenian Genocide denial, adopted in2012, which had been overturned byte Constitutional Council. However, overall result of the Armenian genocide recognition campaign has been quite remarkable: today Armenian genocide is no longer an obscure episode of history that it was 25 years ago, it has become a part of a global humanitarian agenda. Arguably, it is the most well-known case of genocide in 20th century after the Holocaust, and it is hardtop imagine any informed discussion of crimes against the humanity without a reference to the extermination of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Obviously, Armenian Diaspora communities played an instrumental role in the Armenian Genocide recognition campaign, however, as the experience of the pre-1991 genocide recognition campaign shows, these efforts would have hardly been so effective without the support of Armenian diplomacy. Ironically, the Turkish government has itself contributed to the success of genocide recognition campaign, since aggressive and misguided reactions of Turkish officials to genocide recognition efforts around the world have often backfired. And, of course, one also has to acknowledge the courage of many Turkish scholars and intellectuals, residing both in Turkey and in Turkish Diaspora, who have added their voices to the calls for the recognition of the tragedy.

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 Overall, looking back at the 25 years of Armenia’s foreign policy, one can say that with all its ups and downs Armenia has been able to pursue a foreign policy that has dealt successfully with the numerous challenges that the country has been facing. Today, the whole region is going through turbulent times, as conflict is brewing from Donbass to Syria, and political regimes, from Turkey to Central Asia, are facing internal instability. Against this background Armenia’s security and prosperity, may be even its survival as an independent country, depend on the ability to formulate and pursue an efficient foreign policy. Luckily, unlike 1991, when many things had to start from scratch, today Armenian diplomacy can boast of a tradition that is quarter of a century old.