By Grigor Hakobyan
Many political observers from Armenia and abroad give mixed reviews of Pashinyan’s government performance in 2019, one year after popular “Velvet Revolution” of 2018. Some think that not enough has been accomplished or that very few superficial changes have been observed while some find many accomplishments in various areas of Armenia’s life ranging from defense to foreign policy, and from economy to higher social-political awareness among the populace in general. In fact, despite all the naysayers and pessimists, ardent critiques of the present government and cynics in general, Armenia made a lot of progress in a number of areas, particularly in the spheres of economy, defense and foreign policy. Increasing its defense budget, opening new embassies and consulates in Middle East, sending a humanitarian mission to Syria, developing friendly relations with Georgia and improving relations with the U.S. and European countries were among its many highlights in 2019. Now, as the new year is fast approaching, what will be the security outlook for Armenia in 2020 and what should Armenia’s security establishment focus on for the next few years?
Since the ascend of David Tonoyan as Armenia’s new Minister of Defense, Armenia has changed its military doctrine from passive defense to active defense and began resorting to preventive security measures to deter Azerbaijani military from establishing new positions or reinforcing present ones on the line of contact. Furthermore, Armenia’s Ministry of Defense has organized unprecedented number of military drills throughout the year which have improved the knowledge and skills of every soldier and reservists that participated. Additionally, Armenian military has acquired new and improved air defense systems, improved communication stations and electronic warfare units, new combat aerial platforms and other defense systems, most of them produced in Armenia, which has significantly reduced the chances of any victory for Azerbaijan in case of a renewed conflict with Armenia.
In foreign policy Armenia has finally moved away from dreadful Madrid Principles and infamous Lavrov Plan pursued by the previous government which led to a Four Day War in April of 2016. The implementation of Madrid Principles and/or Lavrov Plan would have severely undermined the essence of Armenia’s national security architecture established since 1994 thus jeopardizing the very existence of Armenia from mid-term to long-term. Expanding Armenia’s diplomatic presence in the Middle East and taking proactive steps in PACE and U.N. to minimize the influence of Azerbaijani propaganda were among many gains that Armenia made in 2019 along with many improvements in economic indicators and budgeting for public needs.
In 2020, Azerbaijani’s aggressive foreign policy and warmongering will remain the main threat to Armenia’s national security closely followed by Turkish warmongering in Middle East which threatens the security of Armenian communities in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Furthermore, Turkish military activity in Nakhijevan and its continued support of Azerbaijani war machine will continue to remain a security threat to republics of Armenia and Artsakh. Recent revelations by Nordic Monitor that Turkey had devised a contingency plan for attacking Armenia indicates that Turkey never stopped being a threat to Armenia’s national security. Furthermore, the revelations showed that Turkey’s membership in NATO and the presence of Russian military base in Armenia do not necessarily neutralize the Turkish threat to Armenia but minimize it, at the same time these factors do not deter Turkey from launching attacks against Armenia at any point in the future regardless if it is a member of NATO or not, and regardless if Russian military bases are present in Armenia or not.
Consequently, a number of asymmetric counter-measures need to be devised to mitigate those threats. One such example will be to continue keeping Azerbaijan and Turkey away from joining EEU and furthermore, prevent Azerbaijan from joining CSTO. Furthermore, Armenia should file a dispute with the WTO regarding the Turkish imposed blockade of Armenia as it is a direct violation of WTO rules and considered to be an act of war against Armenia according to international norms. Additionally, Armenia must continue to undertake diplomatic steps to deter CSTO members from selling offensive weapons systems to Turkey and Azerbaijan by engaging in active diplomatic initiatives within the CSTO and outside of CSTO. Every time such a transfer of weapons occurs Armenia should activate its European and American vectors by seeking closer political interactions with the EU and USA to the point of signing bilateral and multilateral security treaties with them.
Additionally, on a diplomatic front Armenia should find direct means of communicating with people in Azerbaijan and Turkey by launching internet-based radio and tv stations that will air Armenian views of the conflict in Turkish language and the Armenian approach to resolving these conflicts with both countries. It must be stressed that people of Turkey and Azerbaijan are not the enemies of Armenia and the Armenian people but it is their governments and government policies that undermine peaceful coexistence between the people of three countries. The people of Turkey and Azerbaijan need to learn the truth about the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, the Armenian Genocide and Armenian massacres of 1988-1990 that took place in Baku, Sumgait and Kirovabad region. Once people realize that they were brainwashed by their own governments from childhood to hate and kill Armenians they will take a stand against such policies and seek reconciliation with Armenia and the Armenian people. Consequently, when people in Azerbaijan and Turkey realize that they don’t have to fight Armenians and that peaceful coexistence between the three nations is possible we may get closer to peaceful resolutions of Armenian-Azerbaijani and Armenian-Turkish conflicts. The people will demand from their governments to do so.
A special attention needs to be given to threats emanating from the direction of Nakhijevan also. There is a high probability of Azerbaijan utilizing Nakhijevan for launching attacks against Armenia next time they decide to resume war in Artsakh. Considering that there is no peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and given that Turkey continues to threaten the security of Armenia, it is important for Armenia to militarize its population by adopting Swiss and Israeli defense models to make sure that all men and women, especially those in border regions, receive military training to minimize its loses and to shorten the duration of war next time it happens again. In fact, resumption of war with Azerbaijan can happen at any time within the next few years if Azerbaijan’s foreign policy doesn’t undergo significant changes to end the present state of war with republics of Armenia and Artsakh, and therefore everyone must be ready when it happens. Investing heavily in developing Armenia’s military industrial complex and raising military preparedness of its citizens should be among the strategic security priorities for Armenia in 2020 and the years that will follow.
Armenia is situated in a tough neighborhood where nearly ninety percent of its historical territories are occupied while its cultural heritage is being appropriated by Turkey and Azerbaijan. Moreover, the two countries present a direct threat to Armenia’s national security and foment rampant Armenophobia among their populace. Erdogan’s foreign policy of Pan-Turkism and Neo-Ottomanism includes persecution of Armenians and other Christian minorities in the Middle East and therefore it is a direct threat not only to Armenia but also to Russia, Europe and different Arab states such as Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and others. Its aggressive posturing in the Aegean Sea and hostile actions towards Greece and Cyprus are no different. As such, Armenia should consider measures to evacuate Armenian communities from Middle East by developing a well-thought out repatriation policy. Furthermore, a state strategy of dealing with Islamized Armenians in Turkey and other parts of Middle East needs to be developed to help them connect with their Armenian identity without jeopardizing their security.
Additionally, the 2020 will present a different type of threats to Armenian national security, threats presented by international terrorist organizations such as ISIS which are present in Turkey and Azerbaijan. Armenia needs to develop means to neutralize them before they reach Armenian soil or the LOC (line of contact) in Artsakh, Nakhijevan and north-eastern provinces of Armenia. As a result of security lapses in the past a number of Turkish Gray Wolves were able to come to Armenia undetected and leave the country without getting arrested a few years ago. If last time Armenia got lucky and was able to avoid any acts of terrorism that could have happened on its soil, the next time they manage to do so their presence on Armenian soil may not be so quick and peaceful as before. Consequently, some improvements must take place in the National Security Service of Armenia to prevent such security lapses from happening again.