By Hrachya Arzumanian
Preparations for early elections in Armenia have entered the stage of forming political blocs. We can talk about three blocks representing oligarchic groups and a scattered patriotic field. Given the nature of the confrontation, it is impossible to exclude the emergence of a “joker” – an actor capable of radically changing the balance of power in the election campaign.
The geopolitical blitzkrieg of Russia and Turkey on the division of spheres of influence in the South Caucasus fails when other power centers are drawn into the confrontation. The pressure of the victor countries based on military logic is no longer enough to force Armenia to cede part of its state sovereignty over Syunik. In the current situation, Armenia has the opportunity to wait for qualitative changes in the region while maintaining the status of a democratic country.
Preparations for early elections in Armenia have entered the stage of formalizing the political blocks of the upcoming election campaign, which is unfolding within the framework of the oligarchic system of government that has developed in Armenia. The formed pre-election blocs represent certain oligarchic groups preparing for the redistribution of power and spheres of influence, but not intending to solve the complex problems of overcoming the national crisis, ensuring the security and development of the Armenian state, and society.
The reluctance of the oligarchic system to solve the problems of state-building and security is well studied in the academic literature. From this point of view, the situation in Armenia is not unique. The oligarch will not set the task of systemic/revolutionary reforms designed to transform the nature of power and economy, contribute to the restoration of Armenian statehood, and construct a new Armenia. From this point of view, the formed pre-election blocs do not differ from each other, and early elections in Armenia, as expected, will not have a political nature. The election campaign will be based on a negative PR campaign and a confrontation between the images of the leaders of the blocs.
The process of forming three pre-election blocs around the leaders can be considered completed today: the current government headed by Nikol Pashinyan; Robert Kocharian; and political forces representing the interests of Serzh Sargsyan and Mikael Minasyan.
The first two blocks remain in the focus of attention of experts and the public, and the expected steps and predicted behavior are well represented in the information field; however, the third block remains primarily hidden due to the non-public form of participation in the election processes and the struggle chosen at this stage. Serzh Sargsyan and Mikael Minasyan play a more complex game. Based on the information available in the public space, it is extremely difficult to conclude whether they are playing within the same team with a common goal and strategy or whether we are talking about two different political forces.
Within the framework of this work, Serzh Sargsyan and Mikael Minasyan are considered as one block. The chosen form of the power struggle is a consequence of the restrictions imposed on the election campaign by the security environment of Armenia after the war. The results of the war are directly associated with the name of Serzh Sargsyan and only indirectly with Robert Kocharian, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, and other politicians at the national level.
To date, there are no apparent signs that patriotic forces are managing to overcome problems and move from scattered socio-political groups and parties to a nationwide initiative and a bloc capable of participating in the election race as an independent socio-political force. The patriotic field remains incoherent and, on the whole, under the strict control of oligarchic groups or external centers of power that impede the formation of an independent bloc. This is a natural state and a phase of political struggle where political forces not interested in forming a new Armenia impede the formation of an alternative capable of implementing systemic/revolutionary reforms that will allow for the transformation of the oligarchic system.
It is not possible to say today whether the patriotic forces will be able to form a national bloc. The situation is complicated by the state of the patriotic field, weakened by the results of the war, the loss of a significant part of potential and resources, including human resources. We can talk about the urgent need for candidates with the potential to become national political leaders.
Nevertheless, the nature of the confrontation, which includes the human factor, does not exclude the possibility of the formation of a patriotic bloc or a force capable of taking part in the election race. Considering the nature of the unfolding election campaign from which its political component is absent, the opposing blocs are attempting to preserve/ take power using negative information campaigns against each other. Under such conditions, one cannot exclude the appearance of a “joker” – an actor capable of radically changing the balance of power in the election campaign.
The very nature of such an actor excludes the possibility of assessing the likelihood of its appearance. Such an actor can be a new or little-known party in the socio-political arena, or even an individual person capable of forming a patriotic bloc with his will and energy, capable of making changes in the scenario of the future election campaign built by external centers of power and the oligarchic system.
Regional aspects of domestic political life
The formed blocs of the upcoming pre-election struggle have no differences in foreign policy. They intend to fulfill the obligations undertaken by Armenia following the results of the Artsakh war in 2020. Both Nikol Pashinyan and Robert Kocharian talk about the support they have from Moscow, viewing such statements as a factor strengthening their positions in the election campaign.
Considering that the Armenian authorities have transferred the tasks of ensuring military security to the Russian troops, such an assessment of Russia’s role in the internal political life of Armenia has a right to life. Residents of Armenia, especially in the eastern regions, perceive the military presence of Russia as an established reality in the conditions of the paralysis of the Armenian statehood. The dominant control of the political field by Russia makes it extremely difficult to form alternative political forces capable of offering a different strategy for overcoming the national crisis.
However, the changes taking place in the regional security environment and the geopolitical arena are forcing the Armenian authorities and society to adapt, even though the formed political blocs do not notice these changes. By now, it can be stated that the geopolitical blitzkrieg of Russia and Turkey for the division of spheres of influence in the South Caucasus has failed because the confrontation in the region is taking the form of a viscous positional struggle, into which other regional and geopolitical centers of power have also been drawn.
During the Artsakh war, Iran spoke about the impossibility of dividing the South Caucasus between Russia and Turkey and firmly declared that it was unacceptable to change the state borders in the region. The inability of Russia and Turkey to “put the squeeze” on Armenia, forcing them to take practical steps to create communication corridors in Syunik already in the spring of 2021, as planned in November 2020, makes it doubtful whether this scenario can be implemented on the terms formulated in the ceasefire statement. The pressure from Russia and the bellicose statements of Turkey / Azerbaijan is no longer enough to force Armenia to cede part of its state sovereignty over Syunik.
The ceasefire declaration implicitly implied a closer integration of Turkey / Azerbaijan into the Russian Eurasian space. However, apart from everything else, such integration conflicts with the interests of many regional and geopolitical centers of power, primarily Western ones, which have clearly stated the undesirability of this scenario.
President Biden’s statement on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire (Metz Yegern) by the United States contains the following statement: “We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated”. This wording places Turkey and its allies under severe diplomatic restrictions for conducting an aggressive military campaign against Armenia. Erdogan’s public statements about the need to complete what his grandfathers started with the mention of Enver Pasha, one of the architects of Mets Yeghern, after the next wave of recognition of the Armenian Genocide becomes quite difficult to implement, given the difficult internal political situation in Turkey and the financial crisis.
During a telephone conversation last week between the President of Russia and France, the parties agreed on the need to resume the work of the OSCE Minsk Group. The US Secretary of State, in a telephone call to President Aliyev, “noted the importance of continuing the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to find a lasting political settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for the benefit of all people in the region.”
Thus, the political part of the November 2020 ceasefire statement, within which Artsakh’s status was considered closed by the winning countries, can be considered revised. Azerbaijan’s reluctance to fulfill its obligations on prisoners of war nullifies another point of the statement. This allows Armenia to raise the issue of the inability of Azerbaijan and Russia to fulfill their obligations and stress the need to revise the statement regarding the communication corridor through Meghri.
Today, Russia and Turkey / Azerbaijan seek to put pressure on Armenia by appealing to military threats and the possibility of unleashing the next hot phase of the conflict in the South Caucasus. However, given that the Western centers of power have firmly and unequivocally expressed their position, it seems quite problematic for them to substantiate the right to initiate a new war.
The implementation of the proposed policy requires on the part of the Armenian authorities the ability and will to resist pressure from Russia and Turkey, intending to complete the process of creating a communication corridor bypassing Georgia through Armenia on their own terms. In the current conditions, Armenia can set its own conditions for creating a corridor, taking into account the Armenian statehood’s sovereign rights and economic interests. However, there is no such will today, and there is also no political force participating in the pre-election struggle that can win and change the game. Such a policy of resistance could be declared within the framework of the future election campaign by the “Joker” after receiving the unconditional support of the Armenian people and a number of centers of power.
The escalation of military tensions around Ukraine on the part of Russia, the deepening socio-economic and political crisis in Turkey, the beginning of the withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan, the advancing negotiations between Iran and the United States are changing the regional security environment and the game in the geopolitical arena. Russia and even more so Turkey are unable to wage a full-fledged military confrontation in all theaters of military operations on the geopolitical arena because of limited resources.
In the current situation, Armenia has a chance to gain a foothold in its existing positions and not make new concessions, waiting for qualitative changes in the region and the world and preserving the status of a democratic country and civil society. A political force capable of articulating and starting to implement this strategy will begin to shape the stage of Armenian political life following the early elections.
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.
 Arzumanian, Hrachya. “Early Elections in Armenia: Challenges and Opportunities,” Ararat Institute for Near Eastern Studies, 12 April 2021. On-line access 29 April 2021. <https://araratinstitute.org/2021/04/12/early-elections-in-armenia-challenges-and-opportunities/>
 Arzumanian, Hrachya. “The Strategic Context of Relations Between Russia and Turkey in the South Caucasus and Eurasia,” Ararat Institute for Near Eastern Studies, 10 December 2020. On-line access 29 April 2021. <https://araratinstitute.org/2020/12/10/the-strategic-context-of-relations-between-russia-and-turkey-in-the-south-caucasus-and-eurasia/>