Maidan And Armenian Political Perspectives

MAIDAN AND ARMENIAN POLITICAL PERSPECTIVES

TransConflict
May 8 2014

May 8, 2014 8:44 am
By Edgar Khachatryan

Armenia has gone from negotiating an Association Agreement with
the EU to expressing a desire to join the Customs Union of Belarus,
Kazakhstan and Russia; a decision that threatens to fundamentally
undermine the country’s reform prospects, particularly following
recent developments in Ukraine.

“Those who think there will be another Maidan in Armenia may have
such a Maidan in their own backyard”, stated Galust Sahakyan, leader
of the governing Republican Faction of the Armenian National Assembly,
suggesting Armenian opposition parties should not be too excited about
events taking place elsewhere. In order to understand how Ukrainian
developments are viewed in Armenia, we first need to understand the
political situation of a country that shared over seventy years of
Soviet history, but which has currently chosen a different political
path to Ukraine.

Not so long ago when negotiating an Association Agreement with the
EU, Yerevan officials used to speak from high platforms about their
commitment to signing the Agreement at any cost. The enthusiasm and
convincing speeches of the Armenian authorities suddenly disappeared
on September 3rd 2013 during a meeting with Vladimir Putin, when
president Serzh Sargsyan suddenly announced Armenia’s “overwhelming
desire” to join the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.

Nobody in Armenia could understand precisely whose wish Sargsyan
expressed during the meeting, since neither political nor public
discussions had been held in Armenia on the subject.

Whilst people searched for an answer, the authorities immediately
put their “independent and impartial” media into action to help
people understand the situation better and orientate themselves
“easily”. For days and nights the media kept reminding people about
the advantages of having a powerful strategic partner in the region,
about Russia’s role and importance in resisting military aggression
from Azerbaijan and Turkey, and about Armenia’s happy and “fat” years
in the Soviet Union. These beautiful images were occasionally followed
by scenes of citizens on Maidan expressing their dissatisfaction with
the Ukrainian authorities.

The footage, mainly made up from scenes broadcast by Russian channels,
exclusively showed clashes between activists and ‘Berkut’ troops, and
the daunting number of police and civilians injured as a result. The
videos aired on TV were followed by interviews with analysts, political
scientists and politicians who were diligently trying to prove that
Armenia is not Ukraine, and that we Armenians cannot allow bloodshed
in our country, a country that has already seen so many tragedies.

As events in Ukraine unfolded, Russia increased its activities in
Armenia, aimed to promote the interests of its “brother-country”
in more and more visible ways. Russia reduced by 30% the price of
natural gas for Armenia (a prices difference that is not, however,
passed on to the consumer). According to the authorities, the gas
price has been constantly changing since 2011; however, consumer
prices in Armenia have been $180 per 1000 m3 over this period. As
a result, a debt of $300m accumulated over two years; half of which
Russia promised to pay, whereas the other half is supposed to be paid
by Armenia. During negotiations on the issue, the Armenian government
sold the remaining 20% of shares in gas company HayRusGazard to Russia
in order to pay the debt.

The gas deal concerned not only the gas price, but also stated that:

The Armenian party guarantees that until December 31, 2043, the rights
and interests of Gazprom OJSC, HayRusgazard CJSC and their respective
successors arising out of or in connection with the Agreement are
not subject to change, amendment, withdrawal or reduction without
Russia’s consent as of the date of signing the agreement.

The Armenian party guarantees that until December 31, 2043 no laws,
decisions, decrees or other legal acts will be changed, cancelled or
in any way violate the legal rights and interests of Gazprom OJSC,
HayRusgazard CJSC and their respective successors as of the date of
signing the agreement.

In reality, the gas deal conceals a different kind of agreement between
Armenia and Russia: up to December 2043, Russia ensures unrestricted
falsified elections and impunity towards such exercises.

That is to say, Russia ensures that it will not allow changes of
power in Armenia until December 2043, as this would contradict
Russian interests. Thus it appears that, in order to protect its
own interests, Putin’s regime protects the position and interests of
Armenia’s ruling elite.

At the Forum of Russian Compatriots in Yerevan, Russian ambassador to
Armenia Ivan Volinkin announced that Russia will halt any attempts at
“aggressive intervention of other countries in the domestic affairs
of its friendly states in an effort to instill ideas alien to our
mind and soul”. In other words, Moscow simply declares its rights to
intervene in Armenia’s internal affairs, or announces that any coup
attempts in Armenia “initiated” or supported by a third country will
be crushed by Russia.

Crimea

The reaction from the majority of Armenian citizens to developments
in the Autonomous Region of Crimea is of particular interest. The
announcement of a referendum on Crimea’s status aroused strong
feelings of empathy among Armenians towards the ethnic Russian
population of the autonomous region. It was clear that the phrase
“right to self-determination”, formulated by the Russians and
repeated by the Armenian propaganda machine, could not leave
people in Armenia indifferent. There is hardly any Armenian who
would argue with or question the importance and predominance of the
principle of self-determination. Since the Armenian viewpoint on the
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is that the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh
also have the right to self-determination, immediately Crimea was
referred to as a “Russian Karabakh”. The stream of articles produced
about illegal and violent activities by extremists and Bandera-adepts
against the Russian population in Crimea stirred more and more
compassion among Armenians towards a people who, as most would see it,
were now “sharing the bitter fate of the Armenians”.

During the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)
plenary session on Crimea, the Armenian delegation voted against
the resolution that called for sanctions against Russia. “If the
point is that territorial integrity should prevail while the right
to self-determination will rely only on the consent of the central
authorities, then, in this case, regardless of whether our relations
with Russia are friendly or not, our position is clear and it is
in our national and state interests”, commented David Harutyunyan,
Head of Armenian Delegation to PACE. The few civil society groups in
Armenia that considered Russia’s actions towards Crimea as annexation
that should not go unpunished were once more labelled traitors and
secret agents prepared by the West, trying to undermine the foundation
of the Armenian state with their actions.

Russia’s role in Armenia

According to David Shahnazaryan, head of the “Concord” Center
and former head of the National Security Ministry, the Armenian
authorities, parliament (with the exception of some MPs), analysts,
certain civil groups, criminal elements and oligarchs all together
make up a system that is fully-governed by the Kremlin, and this
system is actually responsible for the current situation in Armenia,
with little possibility for change. “The Armenian government is formed
in Russia. Armenian foreign policy is shaped in Russia. The Republic’s
security system is formed in Russia. This is accepted by everyone”,
says Mr. Shahnazaryan.

Russia is always seen as a protector of Armenia. So, what do we gain
from the Russian military presence that is so valued by many? From
the point of view of security, the gain may be more psychological
than practical. Many think that the presence of Russian troops
is a restrictive, preventive factor for Turkey or Azerbaijan. It
may guarantee security from possible attack, since attacks on a
Collective Security Treaty Organization [1] member would be viewed
as an attack on Russia. For Russia, meanwhile, this is a warrant to
restore its former dominant position in the South Caucasus. Thus, the
kind of policy Russia is implementing towards Armenia (for instance,
when it continues to selling arms to Azerbaijan, or when it uses and
will continue to use Armenia as a tool to destabilize the region when
necessary), is almost not being discussed.

Economy

Today, many objects of great significance and strategic importance for
Armenia are under Russian control: HayRusgazard, Electric Networks of
Armenia, Hrazdan Thermal Power Plant, Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant,
the Armenian Railways, telephone company Armente etc. It is important
to understand that Russia has enormous leverage to influence both
the internal and external policies of Armenia and make it even more
dependent on Russia. The relations between Russia and Armenia are
similar to a “forced friendship”, with the potential to turn into
a lord-vassal relationship at any moment; and the characterization
“strategic alliance” may lose its relevance at any time. After the
Ukrainian events, it should be clear to everyone what the combined
authorities of Putin and Sargsyan are capable of in case there is an
attempt of a power change in Armenia.

Touching upon the current political discourse in Armenia, it must be
noted that Maidan and the Ukrainian developments are presented as an
anti-Russian processes initiated by Western countries. This is the
sign of an old conflict between Russia (the Soviet Union) and the
West, and this is the reason why the Armenian society is forced to
view anyone with a different mentality as an enemy. Armenian society
considers joining the Customs Union in order to join Russia’s efforts
to resist Western pressure and aggression. Armenia is promised a number
of benefits if it joins the Customs Union: solutions to unemployment,
custom free import of goods from Customs Union countries; upgraded
roads and railways, and even economic stabilization of Nagorno
Karabakh.

It seems that nobody in Armenia is able to critically analyze the
situation and to ask very logical questions, such as how Russia will
develop Armenia’s economy if all the Russian economy is based on its
energy resources? In fact Russia has few other industries except for
the arms industry. There is hardly any other sphere that Russia can
develop in Armenia, because all other spheres of great importance are
already under Russian control. There has been no public discussion
that would raise questions such as whether Armenia imports anything
from Belarus or Kazakhstan, or what is the percentage of imports from
Russia compared with imports from other countries? It seems nobody
really asks such questions.

Georgia

For some unknown reasons, many Armenians believe that Russia or
integration in the Customs Union will take Armenia out of the blockade,
and will open its roads and railways. It is unclear how Russia will do
that if the closest neighbour of Armenia is Georgia, with whom Russia
has almost no affairs. Armenia and Russia do not have common borders,
thus any communication will be interrelated with Armenia’s neighbouring
countries. In addition, Georgia chose to join the Association Agreement
with the EU, so very soon the custom policies and legislations will be
incompatible. This fact creates even more obstacles and challenges for
Armenia’s collaboration and cooperation with its closest neighbours.

How can Russia take Armenia out of the blockade if one of the reasons
for such a blockade is Russia and its relations with Armenia’s
neighbours? Armenia’s railway to Russia is blocked because, besides
going through Georgia, the railway passes through Abkhazia. With the
issue over Abkhazia unsolved, the promise of railway development is
unrealistic. It seems like a political mockery that a country involved
in the Minsk group process as an independent mediator helping the
Nagorno Karabakh conflict parties solve the issue in a peaceful way
promises economic development for Nagorno Karabakh in case Armenia
joins the Customs Union.

Armenians do not pay attention to the fact how the human rights
issues will be solved in the Customs Union. If one looks at any
human rights-related report, it is clear that Russia and Belarus
are in the lowest positions in terms of human rights protection,
freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc. And now Armenia has
chosen to join these countries. Only a small number of people are
interested what will happen as a result of a so called “friendship”
and realize that this risks the existence of civil society and the
participation of citizens in the decision-making processes.

Thus, in case Armenia joins the Customs Union it makes no sense to
even talk about democracy in Armenia. Unfortunately, the Armenian
government and – through propaganda – now also Armenian society seems
to be ready to pay with its sovereignty, freedom and democratic values
for some promises of pseudo-economic development and security. This
is the nearest future of Armenia in case there is no protest from
broader segments of society. Unfortunately these painful realities are
hidden behind romantic memories of Soviet Union, and, unfortunately,
the younger generation is mainly indifferent towards such romantic
memories. The only hope that there will be a change in Armenia is
that it will come with the new generation, who hopefully have the
potential and desire.

Edgar Khachatryan is the director of Peace Dialogue, a member of
the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation. He specializes in
international peacebuilding trainings, consultancy and expertise
in gender and peace processes, violence prevention, and post-war
stabilization and recovery.

Footnotes

1) In 1992, six post-Soviet states belonging to the Commonwealth
of Independent States–Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan–signed the Collective Security Treaty.

Three other post- Soviet states–Azerbaijan, Belarus,
and Georgia–signed the next year and the treaty took effect in
1994. Five years later, six of the nine–all but Azerbaijan, Georgia,
and Uzbekistan–agreed to renew the treaty for five more years, and
in 2002 those six formally agreed to create the Collective Security
Treaty Organization as a military alliance.

http://www.transconflict.com/2014/05/maidan-armenian-political-perspectives-085/

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