By Grigor Hakobyan
Past week was full of unexpected surprises for the Armenia’s foreign policy establishment and for the Armenians around the world. Attempts by the Russian Foreign Minister to resurrect his model of Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict resolution also known as Lavrov’s Plan, despite the fact that it was rejected not only by the present government of Armenia but also by the former government of Armenia soon after the Four Day War of 2016 (also known as April War) in light of militaristic statements coming from Azerbaijan and its frequent violations of the cease-fire regime on the LoC between Armenian and Azerbaijani armed forces not only in Artsakh but also on the borders of the Republic of Armenia for the past few months. Furthermore, Russia’s readiness to sell a squadron of its top combat aircrafts, Su-35S to Azerbaijan knowing fully well that they will be used directly against Armenia and potentially against the Russian troops stationed in Armenia during the next round of war in the region may imply only two things, either Russia wants Azerbaijan to defeat Armenia during next confrontation or that it is trying to make money at the expense of political and military commitments to Armenia.
Another surprise was the absence of an annual statement by the Russian President Vladimir Putin or the newly elected Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin or by any other high ranking Russian official in commemoration of the 105th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide while such statements were made by a number of western leaders such as the U.S. President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Vice President Claudia Roth and even by Turkey’s president Erdogan. In light of genocides still ongoing around the world, the importance of commemorating the Armenian Genocide and standing together with the Armenian people on the day of its remembrance has not diminished despite its historical antiquity. Perhaps to better understand the present situation, one doesn’t need to look much further but the present Russian-Turkish debacle in Syria and the upcoming hundredth anniversary of the Russian-Turkish Treaty of Moscow and Kars (1921).
In light of present geopolitical turmoil and remaking of national borders what should Armenians around the world expect and what should the government of Armenia prepare for today as it looks into the next three-to-five years?
At the end of the WW-1, the Soviet Union decided to settle its disputes with Turkey by giving away Armenian territories of Kars, Van, Ardahan, Surmalu and Mt. Ararat, while Artsakh and Nakhijevan were given away to Azerbaijan as a sign of “friendship” between Russia and Turkey despite the fact that it wasn’t necessary to do so. Furthermore, both Nakhijevan and Artsakh were recognized by the Azerbaijani government as inalienable parts of the Republic of Armenia along with Zangezoor prior to these agreements, back in 1919. The Soviet Union mistakenly believed that Republic of Turkey led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was planning to adopt Communism and align itself with the Soviet Union against the leading democracies of the west. The Soviet calculations were not only wrong but also illegal as the will of Armenian people was ignored and those who dared to speak against it were imprisoned or executed.
Recent events listed above were not the only ones that make one wonder what is exactly going on in Russia as it relates to Armenian-Russian relations, Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and Russian-Turkish relations. Another event worth nothing was the attempt by the Russian monopoly Gazprom to raise prices of natural gas for the consumers in Armenia amid COVID 19 pandemic and economic downturn experienced not only in Armenia but also around the world in light of crashing prices on fossil fuels and ongoing anti-Armenian information campaign in Russian media outlets. Combination of so many events in a very short period of time leads one to wonder what is driving this anti-Armenian hysteria despite the fact that Armenia is an allied member of Russian-led CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) and EEU (Eurasian Economic Union), and carries out a humanitarian mission in Syria while no other CSTO member state has any number of its troops present in Syria for any type of mission at all.
In light of COVID 19 pandemic and various geopolitical events that are shaping the world right now a number of geopolitical changes is expected to occur within coming years. The post-Covid 19 world will look much different than today with the emergence of two global players, United States and China followed by lesser players, E.U., Russia, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. They will be followed by smaller powers not listed above. The global, international structures such as U.N., WHO, IMF, World Bank and others are expected to lose some influence while above mentioned nation states are expected to gain more influence around the world and within their regions. The rivalry between Russia and E.U., Turkey and Iran, U.S. and China, and lesser states over the control of global resources is expected to intensify leading to direct and indirect conflicts between different states and alliances, and outbreaks of new diseases.
The ongoing turmoil and unresolved conflicts around the world will produce more refugees and internally displaced individuals which may lead to ethnocentric riots in Europe, Asia and African counties where some will turn into civil wars resembling conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Breakouts of new and/or old pandemics will occur again in addition to various states and non-state actors using or attempting to use chemical and biological weapons against each other in pursuit of political goals. Some countries will fall apart while new ones will emerge, and some will turn into god-forsaken bad lands that no one would care to meddle for very long time.
In the meantime, natural disasters will occur more frequently in light of continuous global warming and poisoning of air, water and soil due to destructive human activity on the planet. The culmination of all the mayhem around the globe will eventually lead to another global war, a WW-3 which will create a new world order meant to be more peaceful and in tune with nature. Technological and medical breakthroughs will treat or cure a multitude of illnesses and significantly extend the human lifespan, while many economic systems and social structures will change or collapse to accommodate new realities of life on this planet.
Amidst these changes, Armenia will end up in another war with Azerbaijan due to falling oil prices and growing social dissatisfaction of Azerbaijani people with their government. Aliyev’s regime will fight till the end as it tries to hold on to its power longer, even to the point of provoking another war with Armenia. This time the attacks will come from three different directions, north (Armenia’s Tavush region), east (Artsakh front) and south (Nakhijevan front) and will be accompanied by Turkish troops (a.k.a. military advisors) and foreign mercenaries. Considering the amount of devastating firepower accumulated by both sides of the conflict, the new round of war will not last longer than a year as a lot of devastation will be caused in a shorter period of time to the point where it won’t be sustainable for any of the sides to continue fighting each other for more than a year.
In most likelihood, the Russian role in the conflict will be very limited and rather symbolic. The Turkish role on the other hand will be much greater. The conflict will be further complicated with the introduction of foreign mercenaries by Azerbaijan and Turkey that will resemble Turkish meddling in Libyan and Syrian civil wars. Big role in the conflict will be played by precision-strike weapon systems such as ballistic and cruise missiles, fully autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons systems and platforms, combat aircrafts and special forces. Face-to-face fighting will occur but to much lesser degree than what was seen during 1988-1992 war. As the Four Day War of April 2016 has shown, most of the deaths and destruction will occur as a result of precision strikes by artillery and air force. Unlike the April War, the Azerbaijani attack will no longer possess an element of surprise. New methods of warfare will include cyber-attacks and advance EW (electronic warfare) systems.
Considering the history of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and the two heated phases that it went through (1988-1994 and 2016) the Aliyev’s government will fall in Azerbaijan as the Armenian side liberates additional territories in the north, north-east and in the south. Azerbaijani failure to withstand the Armenian counter-attack will cause a revolution or civil war within Azerbaijan that will bring down Aliyev’s regime and a new government will take power. At that time a peace treaty will be signed with Armenia and new political boundaries between the two countries will be established. Russian political and economic influence in the region is projected to wane as both countries resolve their disputes and attempt to formulate mutually beneficial regional structures along with Georgia and surrounding countries.
The E.U. and western organizations such as NATO will play a greater role also, as they attempt to counter-balance remaining Russian influence in the region and untangle multi-dimensional dispute between Armenia and Turkey. China will become another major player in the region as it will make attempts to gain a stronger traction via multi-billion-dollar trade deals with the countries of the region and by implementing large economic projects that will connect China with Europe. In the meantime, there will be major political changes taking place in Russia also. Considering Russia’s historical trajectory and economic complications associated with significant drop in prices for oil and gas, continued brain drain and high level of poverty and corruption in Russia the political situation in the country is going to change. However, the changes will be painful for everyone involved.
For Armenia to survive the coming changes and challenges, it must finish the political process of “Miatsum” (unification) with Artsakh, continue to liberalize its economy and significantly reduce corruption and waste in the government. The proposed constitutional amendments do not go far enough to establish checks and balances within the governing system as they are primarily targeting the judiciary. The executive and legislative branches of government must undergo changes to improve governance and the political climate in Armenia. All three branches of government must have enough constitutional power to keep each other in check thus preventing one branch of government from dominating others.
Additionally, the proposed constitutional changes must address the issue of political unification with Artsakh. The unification between Republics of Armenia and Artsakh can happen in multiple ways. One of them envisions Artsakh as one of Armenia’s provinces, another one envisions Artsakh as a confederate republic (similar to U.S. and some European countries). A third option is to conduct a public referendum where people in both republics will have an opportunity to voice their opinion on this matter of national endeavor. The ruling elites of both republics must put aside their differences which are insignificant compared to the matters of national urgency, the survival of Armenian people as a democratic, independent, sovereign, self-reliant and united country. Political unification of Artsakh with mother Armenia is part of the Armenian Cause, national pursuit to restore historical justice denied to Armenians for more than a century.
A national strategy to address issues with Turkey must be developed in collaboration with the Armenian diaspora. A lot of work must be done inside Turkey to achieve any tangible results as well. This strategy must also address the issue of populating liberated territories and integrating “hidden” Armenians of Turkey and forgotten Armenians throughout the Middle East with the future Republic of Armenia that will be very different from the one today. The concept of Armenian cultural identify and national sovereignty cannot be bound by illegally drawn borders on the map, created by others to Armenia’s own detriment for the purpose of furthering foreign agendas. The situation in the world changes quickly as new countries emerge or fall apart.
As history has shown before, nothing is permanent and cannot be forever. Consequently, the national strategy must address not only the issues that are present today but also prepare solutions for the issues that will present themselves tomorrow. Anticipating tomorrow’s challenges while thinking about them today will better prepare Armenia and the Armenian people when the time comes for new realities on the ground to take hold. Preparing for the unexpected at a time least desired should be carefully considered and thoughtfully planned out. Failing to prepare, being reactive instead of proactive could be very detrimental to the preservation and continuation of the Armenian statehood for another decade.