Since its establishment twenty-five years ago, the Republic of Armenia has not been able to ease the Russian hegemony that was imposed on it since Armenia became the Soviet Republic in 1920.
We could argue that twenty-five years is not enough to undo what Soviet Russia did for over seventy years. We could also argue that at least some progress could have been made towards more of horizontal cooperation between two friendly sovereign countries, rather than the continuation of the vertical hegemony by Russia.
Armenian dependence on Russia has a centuries-old history and has always been in the context of better to trust Russians, who are mostly Orthodox Christians like Armenians, against the Turks, who apart from being Muslim, also have a centuries-old history of bloody rule over Armenians. It is important to note that, unlike Russia, Turkey has a long border with Armenia.
Credit must be given to all the three administrations that have ruled Armenia in the past twenty-five years for trying to improve Armenia’s relationship with the European Union. It has been like “balancing two melons on one hand” that produced little results while the Russian hegemony continues to increase rather than decrease.
Currently, the main reason Armenia relies on Russia is the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Turkey is actively helping Azerbaijan and has closed its border with Armenia, while Russia pretending to be a friend of Armenia, while openly selling weapons to both Armenia and Azerbaijan and thus not only benefiting financially but also is in a good position to broker, or rather dictate, a peace settlement that is beneficiary to Russia.
Until there is a peace settlement for the Artsakh/Armenia war with Azerbaijan, Armenia seems to be destined to remain like a “vassal” state of Russia and its oligarchic dictator Putin. The peace settlement is not only beneficial for both Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s security and economic development but more so for Armenia to be able to start the process of freeing itself from Russian hegemony and live relatively in peace with its neighbors.
Since 1994 there is a fragile cease-fire that according to the Artsakh authorities is violated every day. (News.am almost every day prints a report released by Artsakh authorities listing how many shots were fired from the Azerbaijani side, and from what areas. Probably this is done intentionally to keep Armenians alarmed and rally around the government authorities both in Armenia and in Artsakh).
Currently, the noisy Armenian nationalist’ slogan is “not an inch of land must be given back” while most of the occupied lands outside Artsakh not only remain empty but according to some media reports, there is even an out-migration from Artsakh itself.
The irony is that Artsakh is hailed as a bastion of democracy with fair and transparent elections even by foreign observers, while most of the Artsakh war veterans live in Yerevan and beyond.
Apart from thousands of humble Artsakh war veterans that live in Yerevan, the list also includes Artsakh war veterans like President Serge Sargsyan, ex-president Kocharyan, and an ex-defense minister of Armenia Seyran Ohanyan, and almost all ex high ranking Artsakh military and civilian leaders.
The other side of the coin is that, Azerbaijan and its arrogant and ignorant president probably in an effort to divert Azerbaijani citizens’ attention from his dictatorial and corrupt administration is belligerently boasting to recapture every inch of this land including the Artsakh itself that was called Nagorno Karabagh during Soviet times and was under Azerbaijani control before it was liberated twenty-five years ago.
The independence and security of Artsakh are the two existential issues that Armenians cannot afford to compromise. Everything else that does not jeopardize these two existential issues could be negotiable including many of the empty lands that are not part of Artsakh.
I am talking about some of the ruined towns and villages like Aghdam that stand like a monument for the human capacity to commit such massive destruction, to say the least. Moreover, talking about these issues should not be considered to be compromising the security of Artsakh. This seems to be the “norm” that has been well-capitalized by all governments of Armenia.
It is necessary and helpful to have an open and honest public discussion about these issues led by knowledgeable and brave intellectuals, political scientists, human rights advocates, etc. that will help the government authorities of Armenia and Artsakh, to negotiate with Azerbaijan and make decisions based on the principle of mutual consent.
This approach should not be considered to be weak, especially by Azerbaijan and its ignorant and arrogant president and they should not have any delusions that they can win the war as long as Artsakh is populated with Armenians who are willing to defend their country at any cost.
Apart from a strong Army, the best defense for Artsakh is to start a well-organized resettlement program with the support of all Armenians. To be able to do this Armenia needs a credible and legitimate government and an equally credible and legitimate opposition to hold it accountable.
Let us hope that, the next parliamentary election on April 2. 2017, will be fair and transparent enough to not only legitimize the election results but also for the winner to have the trust of not only the electorate but also the Diaspora(s) to initiate such a massive undertaking. It is long overdue.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian.