By Hrachya Arzumanian
The Artsakh war continues to shape challenges and threats to the Armenian statehood. The most significant external factors of destabilization remain the policies of Russia and Turkey, which are interested in maintaining the condition of crisis instability in Armenia. Armenian politics and diplomacy must solve the problem of returning geopolitical and regional actors, pushed out by the war from the process of the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) conflict settlement. However, Armenian politics and diplomacy remain reflexive, which is a consequence of the action of not only objective and institutional but also subjective factors.
Processes of socio-political self-organization are unfolding in Armenian society, which needs a catalyst and acceleration. Given the narrow horizons of strategic forecasting, one can only talk about the basic principles of the formation of the frame of the Armenian statehood, including the revision of relations with the diaspora, inclusiveness, and the construction of the “fortress Armenia” as an element of a broader system of security and development.
Objective and subjective factors of the Armenian socio-political life
The war continues to form the main challenges and threats to the Armenian statehood when Armenia cannot close the page of the military defeat and the Artsakh catastrophe and move on to managing and overcoming its consequences. The Armenian society is unable to achieve even a minimum level of stability due to the influence of internal and external processes that reinforce each other. The most significant external factors remain the policies and strategies of Russia and Turkey, which are interested in maintaining the condition of crisis instability in Armenia. The victorious countries intend to create a new security system for the Black Sea-Caucasian region while operating within the framework of the military logic, but not the logic of the region’s economic development (1).
In the current situation, Armenia has no other option but to facilitate the return of geopolitical and regional actors who were pushed out by the war from the process of resolving the Artsakh problem and which traditionally use diplomatic, political, and other non-military elements of national power to protect their interests in the region. Armenia must adapt to a ceasefire, which by definition is a transitional stage to sustainable peace or large-scale military action. The reached truce is not a state of peace, and the Armenian statehood has no right to forget about it.
Theoretically, the ceasefire’s temporary nature leaves Armenia the opportunity to reconsider the results of the war just as Azerbaijan did after the military defeat of 1994, and the signed trilateral statements in Moscow do not have the status of international treaties. However, the Armenian statehood, being in a state of partial paralysis, is unable to develop and apply a strategy capable of operating with such categories. After the end of the first Artsakh war of 1992-94, the unresolved nature of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem allowed the Armenian statehood to use this fact as an advantage. However, the 2020 war showed that Armenia received only negative consequences of the two Armenian states’ frame and was unable to take advantage of the unrecognized and unofficial status of Artsakh. The logic and grammar of Armenian politics and diplomacy throughout the history of the Third Republic remains reflective but not active and adaptive. Today, Armenia turns out to be unable to use the possibilities of a temporary ceasefire when exclusively negative scenarios of the future are realized. This result is largely a consequence of the action of subjective factors in Armenian politics associated with the Armenian ruling elite’s motives.
Having come to power on the wave of denial of the oligarchic system and the demand for radical changes, Nikol Pashinyan never embarked on systemic/revolutionary reforms, remaining within the framework of the previous government’s logic and grammar and post-Soviet Armenia. The situation is complicated by the populism of the Armenian Prime Minister, who widely uses methods of manipulating the Armenian society to mask the unchanged nature of the Armenian government. Finding the Armenian society in a condition of crisis instability and post-war psychological shock complicates the awareness of the threats it faces. Moreover, the Armenian government prolongs the state of nervousness and depression in society, fueled by the ongoing disaster.
Three months after the end of the war, the Armenian government did not publish the data for the losses in the war. Society remains in the dark about the number of missing persons, prisoners of war, wounded and disabled people in need of rehabilitation. The Armenian society is not given the opportunity to at least psychologically close the page of the Artsakh catastrophe when most of the psychological resources are spent on overcoming anxiety and feelings of insecurity.
The state of society is aggravated by Nikol Pashinyan’s reluctance to hold early elections. The authorities easily change their minds about this critical step, not allowing the Armenian people to determine at least its nearest future horizons. Society turns out to be unable to make judgments about tomorrow, week, month, or six months, when it is extremely difficult to build a response to obvious and immediate threats, including military ones. The Armenian people are forced to closely follow the words and actions of the Prime Minister of Armenia, finding themselves in a paradoxical situation when the future of the Armenian statehood depends on one politician’s decisions and actions.
Nikol Pashinyan, focusing society’s attention on the present, does not leave the Armenian people an opportunity to deal with at least the immediate past and future. In the prevailing conditions, the development of measures to overcome the disaster becomes impossible due to the state of society, from which it will be necessary to begin the recovery process, are uncertain. Without closing the Artsakh disaster page, it is impossible to start planning steps to cope with the consequences of the war. It is also impossible to engage in the formation of a response to the challenges and threats of the qualitatively changing security environment in the South Caucasus.
Moreover, the steps taken by the Prime Minister of Armenia threaten the state sovereignty and territorial integrity of Armenia. For example, the stability and steadiness of Syunik at present is largely determined by the presence of Russian troops, whose international status remains uncertain. The state of Armenia is not something unique; there are many examples in world history when the desire of a political leader to keep power at any cost turned the country into a falling state.
The current situation is a consequence of the decisions made within the framework of the 2015 constitution, which turned Armenia into a state with a parliamentary form of government. Due to the imbalance in relations between the branches of government, the constitution created the institutional prerequisites for transforming the prime minister into an authoritarian leader, whose actions are extremely difficult to restrict within the framework of the law. The My Step party, which is a party that has formed around Nikol Pashinyan’s personality, but not an idea or political program, has a constitutional majority in parliament, which makes it unlikely that a resignation procedure will be initiated.
Under the prevailing conditions, the Armenian Constitution does not provide other methods than forcing the Prime Minister by society to go early elections or leave the post. The systemic crisis embedded in the Constitution of Armenia is deepened by the actions of one politician and the results of the war, causing a multiplicative cascade of effects and leading to the degradation of state institutions. A society insecure about its security loses the opportunity to think about the future, focusing on the sense of threat of Armenia’s collapse and transformation into a falling state.
The main trends of the Armenian social and political life
In the current conditions, we can talk about several trends that can influence the future of Armenia. The end of the US presidential campaign and the election of Joe Biden will lead to changes in the world political system. The new administration intends to overcome the devastating consequences of Donald Trump’s rule, whose policies influenced the initiation of the Artsakh war. Joe Biden intends to return the ideas of democracy and freedom to politics, making diplomatic, not military, methods of solving international problems the main ones, which can be used by Armenian diplomacy to change the situation in the South Caucasus. With due activity, the changing conditions in the geopolitical arena may force Russia and Turkey to move away from the military logic of forming a regional security system without other regional and geopolitical actors’ participation. However, Armenia needs to make efforts to preserve the democratic character of the state and society, avoiding a slide towards Eurasian authoritarianism. From this point of view, the Armenian prime minister’s propensity to authoritarian populist methods of government is becoming a serious obstacle that threatens the country’s image, which has developed after 2018.
Nevertheless, so far, the South Caucasus situation is developing within the framework of predominantly military logic. The ruling elite’s inability to feel the trends of the times, which require concentration and unity of society, rather than introducing confusion and disagreements into it, is fraught with a deepening crisis and another military disaster. The Armenian society is still spending time and energy stabilizing the situation, unable to concentrate on comprehending and operating in the rapidly changing present and developing future.
Within the Armenian society, socio-political self-organization processes gain strength, which has its own dynamics, which is difficult to accelerate. New social and political forces and ideas must mature before they become drivers of change. On the other hand, the awareness of the possibility of destabilization in Armenia and the region forces one to speak of the need to accelerate the processes. Armenian society needs a “catalyst” capable of qualitatively speeding up socio-political processes while avoiding dynamic overloads that can destroy a weak state. Additionally, the processes of the formation of new forces will meet with resistance from the authorities striving to preserve the political field of post-Soviet Armenia that is comfortable for it. The natural limits of the acceleration of socio-political processes and the need for such an acceleration in the face of opposition from the authorities form the lines of tension in the Armenian society at this stage.
The principles of forming the frame of the Armenian statehood
Under conditions of complex internal and external contexts, narrow horizons of strategic forecasting, one can speak only about the main principles based on which responses to threats to the Armenian statehood should be formed, some of which are discussed below.
Inclusiveness of the Armenian statehood:
The pressure of objective and subjective factors forces Armenia to choose an exclusive isolationist logic of survival, not development, which closes the Armenian people and its statehood to internal processes and turns into a reservation and relict reality. A response to the challenge of isolationism imposed by regional and geopolitical centers of power should be a national strategy appealing to the openness, creativity, and inclusiveness of the Armenian people and its civilization.
This challenge raises the need to find a balance between isolation and exclusivity on the one hand, and openness, creativity, and inclusiveness on the other. Maintaining such a balance in Armenia’s case is a complex and extraordinary problem, given the geopolitical position of the country and the region. In the 21st century, Armenia is a geopolitical island surrounded by an aggressive environment, when only two narrow isthmuses connect the country with Georgia and Iran. The situation deteriorated qualitatively after the war, when the preservation of the isthmuses becomes a challenge, a response to which will have to be formed in the near future.
In the current situation, it becomes necessary to turn to the metaphor and concept of “fortress Armenia” which is capable of protecting the country from military aggression. Armenia must be ready to become a “besieged fortress,” and this state must be envisaged by national projects of the country’s socio-political and socio-economic development. However, a purely defense-oriented concept is vulnerable in the long term. The fortress Armenia concept should be part of a broader security and development system that would build a competitive economy and society.
Armenia is a part of the region and the world. The Armenian statehood’s new frame should include elements and functions to overcome objective and subjective tendencies towards isolation. Fortress Armenia should provide not only defense/isolation but also become a pole on which the region’s power lines are closed. This vision of Armenia requires expanding its functions and role in the Black Sea-Caspian region and the Middle East, relying not only on the economic and political factors but also on the Armenian people’s cultural and civilizational potential. Mastering and protecting one’s ability and the right to implement new/old functions is a separate problem that requires awareness.
The relationship between the state and the diaspora:
The implementation of the concept of a fortress Armenia requires a revision of relations between the Armenian state and the Diaspora. Armenia will be able to win and defend the right to new functions that will allow it to get out of island isolation if it becomes a state of all Armenians. The Armenian people need to solve the problem of finding a balance between the diaspora’s rights and responsibilities within the framework of the Armenian statehood. This, in turn, will require a revision of the foundations of not only the Armenian statehood but also the Diaspora, which should be ready to take on broader functions. The logic of charity and support for survival, which does not imply active participation in the Armenian society and state’s economic and socio-political life, should be supplemented by a philosophy of participation and development. Armenia needs not only charity but the joint construction of a homeland, which presupposes a consensus on what Armenia should be like in the 21st century. The formation of such a vision is a complex problem; without the solution of which the Armenian people will not be able to move to another level of relations between the Diaspora and the Armenian state in the common Armenian future.
Finding a balance and restoring the integrity of the Armenian people in all its diversity will make it possible to convert the weakness of dispersion into potential, then strength and power, providing both defense capability and ways to overcome Armenia’s geopolitical isolation. In the 21st century, while remaining a critical factor, geopolitics are no longer determinants when there are opportunities to compensate for geographic isolation with potential and power in other domains of economy, social life, and culture. Nevertheless, military challenges and threats and the imperative of providing military security, which play a key role in the fortress Armenia concept, remain critical.
The development and deployment of a new frame for Armenian statehood will require intense discussions. Of course, the Armenian statehood and the Diaspora will have to reconsider the principles of organizing their life and be ready to let the Armenian state into the inner life of the communities. The imperative of restoring the integrity of the Armenian people will require changes and adaptation from both parts of it, and this will be a painful process, given the age-old inertia and the need to revise and clarify not only the form but also the content of both the Armenian statehood and the Diaspora. Both parties must be ready for qualitative changes as a result of which it will become a united reality capable of turning Armenia into a country of sustainable and breakthrough development.
The Artsakh disaster and the military defeat accelerated the awareness of the need for radical changes in the Armenian people’s perception of their statehood. Attempts to mothball Armenia within the framework of the ended post-Soviet times and authoritarian forms of government characteristic for Eurasia will lead to its disappearance from the political map. The Armenian people are facing a tough imperative to form forces capable of working out alternative ways of development and finding a catalyst that can accelerate the processes of socio-political self-organization of society.
A breakthrough into the Armenian future, to another Armenia, as an open, inclusive creative reality and a fortress on a geopolitical island, is a challenge, the formation of a response to which requires attracting the potential of the entire Armenian people. The processes of self-organization of the Armenian society and the development of a new frame of the Armenian statehood, presupposing a change in relations between Armenia and the Diaspora, are of critical importance. Achieving a consensus among the Armenian people regarding the goals of building a new Armenia will make it possible to move on to the development of a national strategy of the Armenian people, the principles of which should be developed today.
(1) Arzumanian, Hrachya. “Regional War or Economic Development: Challenges and Threats of the Moscow Summit,” Ararat Institute for Near Eastern Studies, 21 January 2021. On-line access 21 January 2020 (https://araratinstitute.org/2021/01/22/regional-war-or-economic-development-challenges-and-threats-of-the-moscow-summit/)
Author’s Bio: Hrachya Arzumanian, Doctor of Political Science, Ph.D. in Computer Sciences. Academic Fields: Complexity thinking in Policy, Strategy, National Security and Military sphere. The author of ten books and more than 300 papers, articles, and reports. Former Adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Artsakh (2006 to 2020). The chief of branch on the preparation of work of Security Council of Artsakh (2006-2008). The Chief of IT Service of Artsakh Defense Army from 1995-2001.