By Grigor Hakobyan
November 9th, 2020 was not only the end of the active stage of hostilities between Armenian and Azerbaijani-Turkish armed forces on Artsakh’s territory but also the end of Armenia’s third republic, something that the present government doesn’t appear to realize. Presently, Armenia’s government doesn’t have the same public support that it had a few years ago and symbolizes Armenia’s defeat not only on the battlefield but also in the diplomatic arena. Armenia’s present political and geopolitical situation is similar to a drowning person with hands handcuffed behind his back on his way to hit the bottom of the pool. Attempting to break the handcuffs at this point and try to swim up to the surface will do more harm than good and become the cause of his eventual drowning. The solution to the present situation is to wait until it hits the bottom and then spring up towards the surface while breaking the handcuffs in the process. To accomplish that, the Armenian people must take their future into their own hands and through grassroots efforts, rebuild Armenia from the bottom up, shaking away its upper echelons of power who no longer represent the Armenian people and pursue foreign and false agendas to the detriment of Armenian people and the security of the Armenian state. The sooner Armenian people wake up, the more time they will have to change its present trajectory leading the country and the nation to its final demise.
The defeat in Forty-Four Day War provided Armenia and the Armenians around the world the opportunity to reflect and reevaluate their previous beliefs, thoughts, and actions, put aside false impressions about its ally and the world community at large, understand its limited capabilities and the geopolitical volatility that surrounds the fundamentals of Armenian statehood, and focus on self-improvement not only on an individual level but also as a country and a nation at large. To recover from the present knockdown, Armenia must become relevant again within the regional and global contexts. For that purpose, it must have something of great value to offer its regional and international partners. Another goal that Armenia must accomplish is to reimagine its future, formulate a new vision and mission that will strengthen Armenia’s military capabilities, and propel its economic development towards sustainable growth. Armenia must reevaluate its priorities and develop a dynamic foreign and domestic policy that will strengthen Armenia’s national sovereignty, unify its people and restore public trust in government institutions. Armenian people must believe in themselves once again. Otherwise, its end will be near. For Armenia to survive and prosper, it must unify itself not only territorially but also unite its people because its power lies within its unity.
The Forty-Four Day War of 2020 resulted in more than five thousand Armenian casualties. Nearly ten thousand wounded, loss of more than nine thousand square kilometers of territory, an extension of the frontline along the border of the Republic of Armenia and Artsakh by more than five hundred kilometers, and a financial loss of more than three billion dollars’ worth of weapons, ammunition, and fortifications that took decades to build. Furthermore, Artsakh’s economy and civil infrastructure have suffered losses of more than a billion dollars. Additionally, the illegal ceasefire agreement signed under the guise of a trilateral ceasefire declaration caused a deep political crisis in Armenia, which has paralyzed the government’s functioning in the Republic of Armenia and created numerous tensions within the Armenian society. In the meantime, the political status of Artsakh has not been determined. As a nation-state, Armenia is on the brink of losing its sovereignty. A significant portion of its security functions is being outsourced to Russia, whose national interests are often in contradiction to Armenia’s national interests.
Activation of the political opposition in Armenia failed to get much traction simply because it is made up of political forces discredited a long time ago by their past actions. The previous governments became widely known for a culture of widespread corruption, nepotism, neglect, and political incompetence, which later contributed to Armenia’s defeat in the Forty-Four Day War. On the other hand, new political forces are being formed at the grassroots level. They will need more time to establish themselves and wield any political influence in the country. At this point, they lack a unifying ideology, financial resources, and most of all time. The society is divided from within as a result of many factors, among them:
*More than twenty political parties in a nation of fewer than three million people.
*Divided church with two Cathogikoses (an Armenian equivalent of Catholic Pop).
*Divided territory-Republic of Armenia and Republic of Artsakh.
*The physical separation between those who reside in the Republic of Armenia and those outside of the Republic of Armenia.
For the Armenian people to overcome one of its lowest points in millennial history, the nation must unite over a common ideology and belief system that envisions a strong Armenia. This vision of a strong Armenia must unify the two parts of the Armenian church into one and create a unified political platform for the emergence of two political parties in Armenia: a conservative party and a liberal party because one cannot be without the other. The plethora of political parties in Armenia serves no other purpose but to divide the Armenian people from within to keep them weak. Armenian people’s strength is found within its unity, and it was this unity that allowed them to win the first phase of the Artsakh Liberation War between 1988-1994. However, instead of working hard to improve its military capabilities and strengthen its national sovereignty, all those who came to power after 1996 did everything in their power to weaken Armenia and reduce its potential of becoming a viable, sovereign state able to stand on its own feet and provide security not only to itself but beyond its borders.
Among many factors that lead to Armenia’s failure during the Forty-Four Day were its numerous divisions and false agendas that were imposed upon Armenian people by political elites serving foreign interests, while its national victory in the first Artsakh Liberation War was gradually degraded, eventually returning Armenia to its initial starting point, just like it was back in 1988: insecure borders, no reliable land connection between the Republic of Armenia and Artsakh, land blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan, which continues to this day, and weak economy where less than fifty families control most of Armenia’s wealth. The main difference between Armenia of 1988 and Armenia of 2021 is the lack of a unifying national vision articulated back in 1988, with the ideology of Miatsum (“unification” in Armenian), which was part of the pan-Armenian ideology of Hye Dat (The Armenian Cause) which strives to restore justice to Armenian people.
The ideology of Miatsum was transcribed into Armenia’s Declaration of Independence in 1991. Later on, despite achieving the de-facto unification of the Republic of Armenia with the Republic of Artsakh, the political elite in Armenia refused to fulfill its original purpose even when Azerbaijan crossed the red line once established by Pashinyan himself, who claimed earlier that the resumption of war against Artsakh would trigger the recognition of the independence of Artsakh. The present political opposition made up of sixteen political parties and a few others that sprung up recently constitute a fake opposition and do not offer a genuine alternative to present authorities and their policies. They are meant to mislead the Armenian people just like they have done so for the past twenty-five years. They lack national vision and bear no credibility in the eyes of the ordinary citizens. They represent the past, not the future. A new government must be formed with a new flag, a new national anthem, and a new national emblem. Armenia needs new leaders.
In 1988, the Armenian people became the Armenian nation that pursued a national goal materialized in 1994 at the cost of nearly six thousand martyrs who laid their lives for Armenia’s independence and unification. At the end of 2020, the Armenian nation reverted to being Armenian people led by an incompetent political establishment that bears full responsibility for Armenia’s defeat in the war together with those who preceded them since 1996. A new political force must come to power and correct the wrongs of the last thirty years because the present political parties have expired people’s trust and do not possess any potential to pull Armenia out of the current crisis no matter how hard it may try. The present government in Armenia must change; the sooner, the better. Concurrently, a new political movement must emerge comprised of people who have not been in power before, deeply unhappy with the present situation, and care about Armenia’s future. The third Armenian republic has ended. It is time for the fourth Armenian republic to take shape.
Reforming Armenia’s Education System
Armenia’s education system needs to reform. Specifically, a bigger emphasis must be placed on developing and implementing various STEM programs, including software development and programming being taught at a high school level. Providing and increasing public funding for ARMAT Labs will be the right step forward. Furthermore, aircraft modeling classes and robotic classes should be taught as electives for those students who would like to further their knowledge and skills in the IT field. Additionally, lessons of Armenian History, culture, customs, and traditions, including church history and art, need to be taught in schools to build and reinforce national identity and national consciousness among the new generations of Armenians growing up. By doing so, society’s moral fabric will improve. The nation itself will get back on the path of self-realization, thus reducing corruption within the society at large. More time and funding need to be dedicated to retraining teachers to incorporate research-based, effective instructional strategies that focus on teaching and developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills instead of relying mostly on basic memorization and recall skills. Additional subjects such as Logic and Philosophy should become part of core subjects taught in schools from grades six to twelve. Education is one of the most essential areas of Armenia’s economy and social development that cannot be ignored.
Reforming Armenian’s Foreign Policy
Armenian foreign policy must be based on the following principles: first, the only permanent and natural ally that Armenia has in the world is the Armenian diaspora. Therefore, restoring the trust of the Armenian diaspora towards the government in Armenia must become a priority. Second, there are no permanent allies, and there are no permanent enemies. There are potential regional allies, potential extra-regional allies, and potential global allies. Iran, Georgia, and Russia are Armenia’s potential regional allies. Israel, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Lebanon are Armenia’s potential extra-regional allies. India, China, the EU, and the West are Armenia’s potential global allies. For these countries to transition from being potential allies to relatively reliable allies, Armenia must offer them something of value. For example, if Armenia had developed cures for covid-19, cancer, and many other illnesses or if Armenia had developed some cutting-edge technologies that could have solved many world problems such as global warming, food scarcity, water scarcity, recycling of oil byproducts, acidification of soil, etc. then everyone would have wanted to be Armenia’s ally because Armenia would have something to offer to everyone, a solution to a problem that the abovementioned countries presently experience or will experience in the near future.
Additionally, Armenia’s foreign policy must carve a role for itself in the region. For example, strong Armenia practicing dynamic foreign policy can become a bridge for bringing together conflicting parties and facilitate a peaceful resolution of regional problems such as those that exist between Palestinians and Israelis, between Iran and Israel, and between Shias and Sunnis, as well as those that exist between India and Pakistan, and between China and India. However, before it takes on such a role, it must find ways to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and Armenian-Turkish conflict that benefits not only Azerbaijan and Turkey, as it is doing presently, but benefits Armenia also and not solely at Armenia’s expense. Armenia must attain sufficient political, military, and economic strength that will allow itself to negotiate its problems with Turkey and Azerbaijan on its own and not via intermediaries who pursue their own interests at Armenia’s expense. A nation’s sovereignty is determined not only by its ability to control a piece of territory and enforce its laws militarily but also by its ability to register diplomatic victories.
Wars occur when diplomacy fails. The recent Armenian-Turkish war resulted from Armenia’s failed diplomacy followed by a failure of efficient governance due to corruption, nepotism, and incompetence among its political and military leaders. The fact that Russia allowed Turkish troops to intervene in the Armenian-Azerbaijani war and the fact that Georgia and Iran closed their borders with Armenia in the middle of the war while keeping Turkish-Azerbaijani communications open were the consequences of the failed Armenian foreign policy towards its neighbors in the region. Consequently, Armenia’s foreign policy must undergo significant changes. It must restore clarity in its relations with Russia and acquire additional security guarantees from the U.S. and E.U. Specifically, the United States and France must regain their role and influence in the OSCE Minsk Group by recognizing Artsakh’s independence or unification with Armenia. Furthermore, Armenia must declare itself to be the inheritor of the 1918-1920 Republic of Armenia and formulate its foreign policy based on Sevres’ Treaty (1918). Accordingly, Armenia’s territorial integrity must be restored, and international security guarantees must be acquired.
Reforming Armenia’s Military and Security Apparatus
Armenia’s military and security apparatus must undergo significant changes. First of all, everyone in power from the lower to upper echelons of the military establishment must undergo vetting to root out foreign spies and saboteurs who have contributed to Armenian defeat in the Forty-Four Day War. Second of all, Armenia’s military structure must change by adopting NATO’s military philosophy that focuses on effective teamwork, allows lower-ranking officers to make most of the tactical and operational decisions on the ground, and uses the network-centric warfare methods that combine the work of special detachment units with the work of the semi-autonomous and fully autonomous weapon systems, both in the air and on the ground. Third of all, the use of big trucks to transport troops and supplies, as well as heavy tanks and armored vehicles during offensive or defensive activities, must be reduced to a minimum at the expense of hosting numerous UGVs (Unmanned Ground Vehicles) and UAVs that are smaller in size but pack greater firepower and wield greater mobility. Soldiers must be taken out from their war machines and retaught to use them from safer locations and greater distances away from the battlefield. Additionally, towed artillery should be entirely replaced by wheeled artillery batteries, providing greater mobility and higher survivability to its artillery crews.
The Armenian armed forces must be retrained and reequipped to have night vision and thermal vision equipment for every soldier on active duty. Specifically, all military personnel must undergo basic infantry training and special forces training that emphasizes fighting in mountainous areas and accomplishing major goals using smaller groups and fewer resources. Every soldier must be cross-trained to utilize several weapon systems ranging from their service issued assault rifles to Mortars, RPGs/ATGMs, and MANPADS. Soldiers should be rotated throughout the country to learn Armenia’s geography and familiarize themselves with different battlefields they will be fighting on later on. More emphasis should be placed on acquiring western military hardware, Israeli and Chinese-made drones, and cutting edge Russian electronic warfare systems. Furthermore, ground forces must be issued new types of clothing and shoes that will preserve and regulate body heat, thus making soldiers invisible to the enemy’s UAVs equipped with thermal cameras.
Moreover, Armenia should increase wages and benefits for its soldiers and war veterans by offering them not only life and health insurance but also long-term rehabilitation services to those who have PTSD as a result of war or spending time in captivity. Furthermore, soldiers returning from war must have access to vocational services that will allow them to acquire new technical skills or apply the ones they already have to find well-paying jobs. Armenia’s security services and law enforcement structures, and judicial and legislative branches of government must be legally obligated to hire a certain quota of war veterans and former military personnel that meet their various job criteria. Furthermore, inhabitants of the border villages must be armed, equipped, and frequently trained to serve their purpose as the second line of defense if the enemy ever breaks through the first line of defense on the contact line. The sooner this happens, the better.
Note: Grigor Hakobyan is an independent political, defense and security analyst residing in Phoenix, AZ. He holds a Bachelors’ degree in Political Science from Arizona State University and a Master’s degree in Education from Grand Canyon University. In the past, he has written analytical articles pertaining to Armenia and the surrounding region for the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of John Hopkins University. Grigor Hakobyan has interned at the US House of Representatives, where he researched ethnic conflicts and terrorism in Russia, Caucasus and Central Asia regions and prepared morning briefings for a congressman. Additionally, he has interned at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies at the International Center for Terrorism Studies, where he researched terrorist networks operating in Russia, Central Asia and Caucasus regions. He is the founder and chief editor of Ararat Institute for Near Eastern Studies online magazine. From time to time, he also wrote political analysis articles for ANN (Armenian News Network)/Groong.