"The past year has resulted in losses and brought Armenia back to square one." Opinion

Jan 3 2024
  • Armine Martirosyan
  • Yerevan

2023 turned out to be difficult and even tragic for Armenia. Armenians left Nagorno-Karabakh, seeing no possibility for themselves to live as part of the Azerbaijani state. Baku seemed to have achieved the desired result, but there is still no peace treaty.

Armenia believes that peace is not beneficial to Baku “as long as there is something to take from Armenia”. Russia does not consider the affair finished, so it is withdrawing its troops from the territory. And in this difficult situation, according to some analysts, Armenia risks being completely isolated economically and becoming a “backward Russian exclave”.

Political observer Armen Baghdasaryan talks about the situation in which, in his opinion, Armenia found itself at the end of last year and what to expect.

  • 2023 in Armenia: dramatic, disappointing and hopeful developments
  • “It is necessary to negotiate with Baku on Nagorno-Karabakh’s autonomy” – Samvel Babayan
  • “2023 was quite successful for Armenia” – Finance Minister’s assessment

“There is a global geopolitical clash in the world, and hotbeds of tension have appeared in different regions. Among them are Ukraine, the Middle East (Israeli-Palestinian conflict). These are links in the same process. The South Caucasus is the most explosive region, where the situation can sharply deteriorate.

Armenia cannot maneuver for long between two geopolitical poles – Russia and the West. Moreover, both Russia and the West set a condition for Armenia: to finally determine the vector of its foreign policy and not to maneuver from now on.

It is impossible from the economic point of view to be under the influence of Russia and at the same time look for security guarantees in the West. It does not work that way.

Trying to sit on two chairs at the same time can lead to very dangerous consequences. Nikol Pashinyan’s jumping from one to the other today is not only belated and senseless, but also very dangerous.

His visit to St. Petersburg for the EAEU and CIS summit answered all these questions. Armenia has no more room for maneuvers. And if a peace treaty with Azerbaijan is indeed to be signed in the near future, it is very important to understand already now who should be the guarantor of its realization.

This is a very important issue, and we can already see the first signs of establishment of Armenian-Russian relations.”

Analyzing the political situation

“Armenia has tried to maneuver between Russia and the West in the past. Let us recall the former President Serzh Sargsyan when he sought to settle relations with Turkey. He tried to move westward by joining the Eastern Partnership project, but overnight became a member of the Russian-led Customs Union.

This maneuvering was unwise. We had no opportunity to choose.

Such an opportunity may come if we can mend our relations with our neighbors. But for that to happen, we are being asked to pay too high a price. We are being asked to give up our territory, to forget the past of the Armenian genocide, and to ban the activities of such parties on our territory.

If we pay such a price, if we make all these concessions, we can turn to the West. But what will remain after such concessions from Armenia and Armenian identity in general? Will there be anything left after that for integration with the West?”

“Nevertheless, we cannot say unequivocally that Armenia has made its choice of foreign policy vector.

Armenia has realized that signing a peace treaty alone does not solve the issue, it is necessary that these agreements do not remain on paper, that the treaty should have guarantors.

And, apparently, the authorities have come to the conclusion that the best guarantor of the implementation of the provisions of the peace treaty is Russia, that Moscow has more levers than the West.

Another question is what Russia will demand for such a guarantee. And this question should be one of the key issues in the new Armenian-Russian dialog that has begun. Most likely, it will be about the “Crossroads of Peace” project and control over Armenian communications.

When Armenia presented the “Peace Crossroads” project, Russia said that it stems from its interests. This means that Russia has certain expectations in terms of control over communications, and a dialogue is underway in this direction.”

Analyzing the political situation

“In a global sense, Russia does not need long-term peace in our region. It needs continued but controlled tensions through which Moscow can maintain leverage over both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

When we talk about the future of Artsakh or the possible return of the Artsakh people, Azerbaijan links it to the issue of the return of its refugees of the 1990s to Armenia. Russia is not against such a solution, because in this case Russia would have a chance to become a guarantor of security both for Armenians in Artsakh and for Azerbaijanis in Armenia. Again, retaining its leverage.

Therefore, although there are no Armenians in Artsakh anymore, Russian troops allegedly continue to ensure peace and security of civilians for the third month. The Russian Federation still has certain plans in this regard.

Russia does not consider the game to be over and hopes to get such a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan, in which its role and leverage on both countries will increase.”

“The issue of Artsakh and Azerbaijani refugees of the 1990s from Armenia are absolutely incomparable neither from the legal point of view, nor from the humanitarian point of view, much less from the status point of view.

Azerbaijanis from Armenia left non-violently – unlike Armenians from Soviet Azerbaijan. Besides, back in Soviet times Armenia paid material compensation to the Azerbaijan SSR, while Azerbaijan paid nothing to Armenia. This is only a purely social aspect.

As for the legal aspect. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, even if unrecognized, was a state entity, and in the Soviet years Nagorno-Karabakh was an autonomous region. An autonomous region is not an administrative unit, but a political one, while Azerbaijanis in Armenia did not have any autonomous formation. Hence, from a legal standpoint these issues are incomparable to each other.

Another issue is that Azerbaijan wants to draw parallels. And if these issues are to be discussed, Armenia’s task is to make sure that they are not considered on the same plane.”

“If Armenians are to return to Artsakh, they must return under international guarantees. It is clear that no one will return under Azerbaijani guarantees, in the status of an ethnic minority.

And international guarantees are not rights written on a piece of paper. It is someone who can ensure the implementation of agreements. International guarantors can be both UN peacekeepers (Blue Helmets) and Russian peacekeepers themselves.

Russian peacekeepers could have ensured the security of the Artsakh people if they wanted to. However, they did not do so, because they did not get Armenia’s consent to the FSB’s control over all raods and the renunciation of its pro-Western orientation.

Russia did not get what it wanted from Armenia and decided to punish Armenians by allowing military action in NK.

Thus Armenians lost Artsakh. Today Armenia goes to Moscow and gives its consent to everything, but Artsakh has already been lost.

Soon Nikol Pashinyan will say that he could have made these concessions two years ago and we would have had the same result, but without the exodus of Armenians from Artsakh. As it was after the 44-day war, when he said that he could have stopped the war earlier, we would have had the same result, but without casualties.”

“Having gained control over roads, Russia’s ambitions with regard to Armenia will end, but the issue is that Azerbaijan and Turkey do not agree with this.

We are talking about the median corridor [serving to increase the flow of cargo from China to Turkey and to European countries, as well as in the opposite direction], through which Russia must ensure its access from Central Asia to the West. If Russia controls the Armenian part of the corridor, the West will oppose it and the corridor will not function.

Azerbaijan and Turkey will then demand an extraterritorial corridor through Syunik [southern Armenia] or abandon the project. Armenia will continue to remain under blockade and will turn into a backward Russian exclave.

It will turn out that we have sacrificed everything, but gotten neither peace, nor “crossroads”, nor unblocking, which the Armenian authorities constantly talk about.

Turkey and Azerbaijan are against the presence of Russia’s FSB on the roads. They want their own presence. In the initial period, they may agree to joint Russian-Turkish control, similar to the Russian-Turkish monitoring center in Aghdam. In time, they will want full control over the roads.

“The West will not leave the region so easily, but the effectiveness of its actions will depend on the situation in Ukraine and the Middle East. If this geopolitical clash should continue, the West will create many problems for Moscow on different fronts, and the most convenient option here is the South Caucasus.

If there is a pause in Ukraine and Palestine, we will have a corresponding situation without any progress.

During this period Armenia will get weaker, being in economic hardship.”

Analyzing the political situation

“It is difficult to predict the situation in the coming year, we do not know what document the sides may sign. Will it be a document in the form of a first step towards peace or will it be a document legitimizing Azerbaijan’s right to new aggression against Armenia?

I think Azerbaijan in reality does not want peace. Aliyev believes that Armenia is weak, has no real allies, and the geopolitical situation is favorable to take everything possible from it.

Azerbaijan will want peace with Armenia when it sees that Armenia is getting back on its feet and can strengthen its negotiating positions and its army.”