By Hrachya Arzumanian
The deepening systemic crisis led to the armed forces’ involvement in Armenia’s socio-political processes, despite the fact that they were not ready to participate in this step. The army’s erroneous tactics allowed the Prime Minister to initiate the resignation process of the Chief of the General Staff, creating a regime of dual power that Armenia did not wholly overcome.
The fact that the Armenian society is in a state of psychological breakdown does not allow it to organize itself to influence the authorities’ political steps. The crisis is further aggravated by the Armenian state’s inability to control its borders and the victorious countries’ policy meant to weaken Armenia as much as possible by not allowing it to conduct an independent policy and participate in regional processes. The Third Republic’s critical weakness confronts the Armenian people with the choice of deciding to build a new state or abandoning the idea of reviving the Armenian statehood.
The main event of the past weeks in Armenian public life was the political statement of the General Staff and the corps commanders of the Armed Forces of Armenia demanding the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and early elections, which deepened the systemic crisis of the Armenian statehood. If after the signing of the armistice declaration on November 11, 2020, and the capitulation of Armenia, the confrontation between the society and the Armenian government unfolded in the public and political arenas, then the statement of Armenia’s General Staff transferred the conflict into the depths of the state apparatus.
On the part of the army, which is the country’s national security system’s fundamental element, this step was a rather risky one and not thoroughly thought out. As a state institution, the armed forces had minimal capabilities to respond to a deep state crisis after the end of large-scale hostilities in Artsakh. During these months, the army was solving the problems of restoring troops’ controllability, at least partial combat effectiveness after significant losses in officers and personnel, military equipment, etc. Under such conditions, the armed forces were unable to fulfill their functions to ensure Armenia’s national security fully.
The top military leadership was undoubtedly aware of their limitations in intervening in social and political processes. Previously, involving the military’s in the political processes by former authorities in 2008 turned out to be extremely painful for Armenian society. Consequently, while focused on ensuring military security against external threats, the army turned out to be ill-equipped to counter the Armenian society’s internal threats.
Additionally, almost all generals and senior officers studied at Russian military academies. As a result, the Armenian military establishment approaches military-political relations too narrowly, often perceived as rigidly hierarchical and one-sided. The Armenian officers are trained in a military culture that excludes the military’s interference in social and political processes—an approach that was fundamental within the USSR and the post-Soviet period in Russia and Armenia. The Armenian military was not ready and did not know how and in what form they can, and in some cases must intervene in internal political processes when threats to the society, political institutions, national security, and statehood arise.
The consequence of their unwillingness to participate in social and political life due to their desire to postpone the moment of direct involvement in the processes after the conclusion of the armistice led to an erroneous step on their behalf. The army could not find an adequate response to the dilemma created by Armenia’s political leadership in power. On the one hand, the army could no longer stand aside and was obliged to enter the socio-political processes; on the other hand, direct entry through a military coup would have led to the final collapse of the already semi-paralyzed political system of the state.
As a result, the army chose a compromise solution to the political statement without any active actions that could be regarded as an attempted military coup—qualifying their actions as such would have inflicted unacceptable damage on Armenia’s international image, pushing it further towards becoming a failing state. Awareness of the threat to become a trigger for the state’s collapse led to the army’s choice for a compromise which turned out to be an erroneous tactic of action.
After the political authorities realized that the army would not resort to active steps and forceful methods, the Prime Minister sent a petition to the President of Armenia to dismiss the Chief of the General Staff, General Onik Gasparyan. Armenia’s President Armen Sarkissian’s attempts to find a compromise and a way out of the political and state impasse did not succeed. The President twice did not sign the corresponding decree and decided to appeal to the Constitutional Court requesting clarification of several provisions of the law on military service.
Nevertheless, on March 10, the Prime Minister, within the framework of his constitutional powers, announced that the Chief of the General Staff was relieved of his post. However, the president twice refused to sign the prime minister’s proposal to appoint General Artak Davtyan as the head of the army’s General Staff. The duties of the Chief of the General Staff, at least until March 20, will be temporarily performed by the Deputy Chief of the General Staff, General Stepan Galstyan.
Thus, the initiation of the resignation process of the Chief of the General Staff, General Onik Gasparyan, paralyzed the army for some time, created a regime of dual power in the country, which has not been completely overcome yet. From this point of view, it can be stated that the ill-conceived action of the army was used against it to paralyze the last government institution that was capable of influencing Armenia’s political leadership.
As a result, at this point, there is not a single government institution or public force left in Armenia that would be capable of influencing the steps of the Prime Minister within the framework of constitutional methods of counteraction. Society does not have the ability to influence the decisions of its political leadership because the Armenian government is under the influence of exclusively external centers of power.
The so-called opposition and the 17+ political bloc used the crisis to intensify street protests by blocking the government avenue and erecting tents. Steps that cannot have an impact on the deepening crisis and are tactical in nature. The organizers used street fighting methods to set impossible conditions and unattainable goals. Consequently, the 17+ political bloc’s actions created a context that reinforced the prime minister’s precarious position of power.
The unsuccessful entry of the army into the political process has led to a situation where the society has only methods of civil disobedience or revolt at its disposal remaining to influence the steps of the Prime Minister of Armenia. However, the Armenian society continues to be in a state of psychological breakdown when the process of identification and burial of the dead soldiers is not completed yet. Furthermore, the final list of the dead, missing, and prisoners of war has not been formed either. Society is denied the opportunity to close the page of the war and come to its senses.
The Armenian government and the centers of power guiding its steps are interested in prolonging the state of paralysis and harsh psychological impact on the Armenian society, which can be described as nothing else but a psi-terror. In such a situation, society turns out to be unable to self-organize within the framework of an all-Armenian socio-political initiative to influence the actions undertaken by Armenia’s authorities. At present, self-organization processes have led to the creation of numerous but small groups of active citizens, who have to go through a difficult path of consolidation and formation of an all-Armenian initiative. This process requires a lot of time and resources.
The crisis is exacerbated by the Armenian state’s inability to control and protect its borders, and the political attacks against the army have further complicated the problem. Today, the Armenian borders are formed by the victorious countries, Russia and Turkey (on behalf of Azerbaijan), with the initiative being on the Turkish side that aims to capture Armenia’s strategic heights along its borders and various sections of roads that have a strategic value. Understanding the logic of Russia’s surrender of control over elements of the theater of future military operations to Turkey requires a separate analysis.
Within the framework of this work, it can be stated that the implementation of this policy by the winning countries is aimed at weakening Armenia at the maximum, which will excluding the conduct of an independent policy and its participation in regional processes. One of the few assets and achievements of the change of power in 2018 that allow Armenia to keep itself from turning into a failed state is the functioning of the political system within the constitution’s framework and democratic procedures.
Thus, Armenia is approaching the symbolic centenary of the Moscow Treaty with a paralyzed state apparatus and political power under the control of external power centers. The present state of Armenia is not accidental. There is an opinion in the mass media and among some political experts in Armenia that the Moscow Treaty has secret clauses defining the borders of Armenia and other states of the South Caucasus and the possibility of terminating them if Russia and Turkey refuse to renew it. From this point of view, the victorious countries’ behavior seems to be politically and strategically understandable and logical. From this perspective, Armenia should not be able to talk about borders if they cease to be formalized within the Moscow Treaty framework.
From this point of view, we can talk about an interesting consequence of the possible termination of the Moscow Treaty, when Armenia within the framework of international treaties is within the boundaries, de jure and de facto fixed by the decisions of the League of Nations. Russia and Turkey’s actions can lead to a status quo ante when Armenia finds itself within the framework of international treaties and the First Republic’s borders, thereby closing the Soviet and post-Soviet periods of its history. In the 21st century, Armenia may find itself symbolically at point zero of the revival of Armenia’s independent statehood of the early 20th century, having received the opportunity to initiate a new cycle of state creation against the background of the practically completed death of the Third Republic. Armenia gets a rare situation of a blank slate and an opportunity to build an Armenian state of the 21st century paid for with an Armenian soldier’s blood.
The dismantling of the Third Republic and Artsakh by Russia and Turkey presents the Armenian people with a choice to build a new state or abandon their efforts to revive the Armenian statehood. The Artsakh war of 2020 leaves no room for less rigid options for the Armenian state’s evolution or transformation. Suppose the Armenian people show the will for such construction. In that case, the only thing they have at their disposal is the state’s sovereignty, the flag of Armenia protected by the Armenian soldiers, and the people united around them, as was demonstrated during the war.
Armenian society is aware of the criticality of the moment and the available choice. It is impossible to call the flags that appeared on the fallen soldiers’ graves in Erablur and other cities and villages of Armenia as random. The Armenian people and the fallen soldiers’ families realize that their sons in the uniform of the Armenian army fought for the future of Armenia. Thanks to the Armenian soldiers and people’s feats during the war, the flags on soldier’s graves do not allow one to interpret the above-said phenomenon in any other way. The Armenian people and their warriors fought for Armenia, which gives them the right and obliges them to show their will to build a new Armenian state, a new Armenia.
The end of the psi-terror and the overcoming of the war’s consequences by the Armenian society at the psychological level will create the preconditions for the emergence of a nationwide initiative to build a new Armenia involving the potential and capabilities of all Armenians around the world. Of course, elements of the state institutions that will remain from the Third Republic can and should be used to build the new state, just as the old church’s stones are used to build a new cathedral in its place – the new Armenia of the new millennium.
Author’s Bio: Hrachya Arzumanian, Doctor of Political Science, PhD 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 preparation of work of Security Council of Artsakh (2006-2008). The Chief of IT Service of Artsakh Defense Army from 1995-2001.