By Erik Davtyan (11/11/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On October 9-10, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan paid a working visit to Minsk to take part in a session of the Council of Heads of the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). After the CIS summit, Sargsyan participated in a session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, during which he signed the agreement on Armenia’s accession to the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Thanking the heads of states for their political support in this process, the Armenian president assured that Armenia “will show a high sense of responsibility towards its membership in the Eurasian Economic Union” and expressed the hope that the heads of the EEU member countries will facilitate the ratification of the agreement in their national parliaments till the end of this year. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin expressed his deep conviction that “Armenia is ready to work equally with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus in the framework of the EEU.”
The process of Armenia’s accession to the EEU started more than a year ago, after it was declared as a foreign policy objective in Sargsyan’s statement on “Armenia’s desire to get accessed to the Customs Union,” made on September 3, 2013. Considering that the statement was made on the threshold of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, where Armenia was expected to initial an Association Agreement with the EU, it represented a turning point of Armenian foreign policy.
The post-soviet direction of Armenian foreign policy and especially Armenian-Russian relations is one of the most debated topics in Armenian politics and Armenia’s accession to the EEU was given highly diverse verdicts from different observers. According to Aram Safarian, president of the NGO Integration and Development, Armenia’s “accession to the EEU will reinforce the security of Armenia and will present Armenia’s stance in the region in a more favorable way.” The same view was shared by economist Ashot Tavadian, a member of the Scientific Council of the Eurasian Bank. In an interview to Armenian daily Hayots Ashkharh, Tavadian said that if it would have remained outside the EEU, Armenia would have faced serious challenges in the spheres of energy, direct investments and export.
The agreement, signed on October 10, was closely scrutinized by Armenia’s political parties. According to the deputy of the Prosperous Armenia (PA) party’s faction of the National Assembly, Stepan Margaryan, PA favors any integration process that Armenia can join. In an interview to Zhoghovurd daily, Shirak Torosyan, a member of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Relations, emphasized that there are currently no beneficial alternatives to the Eurasian market, and believed that especially the customs regulations that will be introduced in the EEU members will be economically beneficial for Armenia.
In contrast, the Heritage party is the only political party that strongly disapproves of the Eurasian vector in Armenia’s foreign policy. Expressing their viewpoint to Tert.am, members of the Heritage Faction in the National Assembly, Tevan Poghosyan and Alexander Arzoumanian said their faction is against Armenia’s participation in Eurasian integration processes and will vote against the ratification of the agreement.
The former head of the Armenia’s National Security Service Davit Shahnazaryan stated in an interview to Aravot that since Armenia has little economic cooperation and actually shares no common borders with the other members of the EEU, Armenia will face economic challenges that could lead to a significant economic decline and a deterioration in living conditions. Moreover, some experts insist that the October 10 agreement was unconstitutional. Artak Zeynalyan and Daniel Ioannisyan, respectively representing the NGOs Rule of Right and Union of Informed Citizens, claim that certain clauses of Armenia’s Constitution do not allow the partial delegation of state sovereignty to other institutions.
Commenting on the possible effects of Armenia’s EEU membership on regional geopolitics, the founding director of the Regional Studies Center (RSC), Richard Giragosian, said that Armenia’s accession to the EEU may have a negative impact on Armenian-Georgian relations, as well as on the prospect for opening the border between Turkey and Armenia. According to political scientist Levon Shirinyan, Armenia should take advantage of its EEU membership and avoid the challenges. The expert believes that “Armenia can become a scientific-industrial unit which will serve the economic, scientific and technical market of the Eurasian Union.”
By Erik Davtyan (15/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On September 16, Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian received James Warlick, the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. The last meeting with co-chairs in Armenia took place on May 16, 2014 in the framework of a regional visit to the South Caucasus. Nalbandian and Warlick exchanged views on issues raised at the September 4 meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Newport, on the initiative of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. They also emphasized the importance of the upcoming Paris meeting between Presidents Sargsyan and Aliyev, due to take place in October on the initiative of French President François Hollande.
Presenting the aim of the visit at his press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Armenia, Warlick said it “aims at continuing the discussions which took place during the trilateral meeting in Wales between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.” Characterizing the Wales meeting as “fruitful and sincere,” the U.S. co-chair stated that the actual negotiations should be held at some other level. Instead of organizing random meetings between the presidents or ministers of foreign affairs of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the parties should launch an official negotiating process which will surely be welcomed by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.
Warlick’s visit to Armenia was also remarkable for his exclusive interview to Yerkir Media TV on September 16. Presenting his viewpoint on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, the U.S. co-chair said that “the voice of the de facto authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh should be heard and that is why the co-chairs travel there on a regular basis and meet with the de facto authorities.” This was in fact a rare statement coming from a co-chair, because it emphasized the role of the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities in the resolution process.
Commenting on the current activity of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, Kayts Minasyan, an analyst at the Center of Strategic Studies of France, underlined the fact that Warlick came to the South Caucasus without his French and Russian counterparts, a move stipulated by the tense relations between Russia and the West. During a press conference, the head of the “Modus Vivendi” center Ara Papian said that Warlick’s statement on the upcoming regulation of the Karabakh negotiation process was merely “a diplomatic wish, rather than reality,” because the parties are far from resolving the conflict. The vice-president of the Caucasus Institute, Sergey Minasyan, shared the view that the format of meetings between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan may yield some progress not in the negotiating process per se, but in “setting some mechanisms of influence along the line of contact.” Likewise, Armenian MP Sukias Avetisyan stressed the importance of organizing regular meetings at the presidential level.
According to a public opinion poll organized by the Z-PR poll center, 64 percent of the population in Yerevan believes that the visit of the U.S.co-chair will only contribute to initiating new meetings at the presidential level, while 21 percent think the recent activation of the regulation process is a consequence of the increasing international tension. The remaining 15 percent believes that the U.S. is seeking to keep the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiation process very active, even causing unexpected developments.
The intense activity of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs in September was also a consequence of recent negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers, which took place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s 69th session in New York. The ministers had an extended meeting with Warlick and his Russian and French colleagues, Igor Popov and Pierre Andrieu, along with Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, the personal representative of the OSCE chairperson-in-office. After discussing the details of the upcoming meeting between Sargsyan and Aliyev, foreign ministers Nalbandian and Mammadyarov held talks in a tête-à-tête format, concerning predominantly the regulation process of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Nalbandian-Mammadyarov talks, as the U.S. co-chair emphasized, “were conducted in a constructive atmosphere.” Later, the co-chairs had a meeting with the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office (CiO), Didier Burkhalter, and discussed the latest developments in the peace process, hoping that the presidential meeting in Paris will be productive.
By Armen Grigoryan (10/15/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had his way as Belarus and Kazakhstan ratified the treaty on establishing the Eurasian Union, as well as agreed to admit Armenia. An agreement on the main controversy concerning Armenia’s admission into the Eurasian Union – the likely establishment of customs controls on the border with Nagorno-Karabakh – has supposedly been reached. Meanwhile, Armenia’s parliamentary opposition announced the beginning of a long-term protest movement but refused to criticize Russia’s expansionist policies.
By Erik Davtyan (10/01/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
In late August and early September, Armenia and Turkey entered a short period of activated bilateral relations that was generally stipulated by Armenia’s participation in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s inauguration and an exchange of messages between foreign ministries of the two countries.
On August 28, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian attended Erdoğan’s inauguration in Ankara. During his meeting with representatives of Armenia’s youth on August 24, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan had already announced the official invitation from the Turkish side, adding that “the participation will probably be at the level of Foreign Minister.” The last meeting between Armenian and Turkish Foreign Ministers took place on December 12, 2013, in Yerevan within the framework of the 29th meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. The Armenian delegation’s presence during the Ankara event received considerable attention and public scrutiny in Armenia. Nalbandian’s visit to Turkey took place on the eve of preparatory works for the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
During a meeting with students of Yerevan State University on September 1, Nalbandian described the visit as an opportunity to hand Erdoğan an official invitation from President Sargsyan to attend the commemoration ceremony of the Armenian Genocide Centennial, which will take place on April 24, 2015 in Yerevan. In an article published in the French newspaper Le Figaro, Nalbandian stated that “Turkey should reconcile with its own past,” hoping that Armenia’s official invitation “will not be a missed opportunity and that Turkey’s President will be in Yerevan on that day.” Armenian authorities perceive the visit to Ankara as a necessary step towards establishing a firm dialogue between the two states.
Nalbandian’s was highly controversial in Armenia, demonstrating that Armenian-Turkish relations constitute one of the most debated issues in Armenia’s foreign policy. The Prosperous Armenia party argues that since Armenia has no diplomatic relations with Turkey, the country should not send representation at the level of the Foreign Minister. Speaking on behalf of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Giro Manoyan stated that Nalbandian’s visit to Ankara was unwarranted due to Erdoğan’s strictly anti-Armenian statements during his recent electoral campaign in Turkey. Sharing the same view, the vice-president of the Armenian National Congress party, Levon Zurabyan, stated that “this gesture is intended to start a diplomatic process with Turkey,” leading to the implementation of the Zurich protocols signed by the Armenian and Turkish Foreign Ministers in 2009.
Nevertheless, some Armenian analysts believe that the visit was a positive step. The vice-president of the Caucasus Institute, Sergey Minasyan, says the visit indicated that the “Armenian side proved that Armenia is ready to launch initiatives in Armenian-Turkish relations.” Commenting on Armenia’s participation in Erdoğan’s inauguration, turkologist Vahram Ter-Matevosyan shares the viewpoint that Armenia needs to open its border with Turkey, hence any steps that do not damage Armenia’s national interests and national security should be taken to change the situation.
The reactivation of relations between Armenia and Turkey was also stipulated by statements given by Turkey’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, shortly after the formation of the new government headed by Ahmet Davutoğlu. On September 1, in an interview to Azerbaijan Press Agency (APA), Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey and Azerbaijan “will unite their efforts and forces in all issues,” underlining that Turkey “will fight together with fraternal Azerbaijan against the so-called Armenian Genocide.” Shortly after the appointment, the Turkish Foreign Minister blamed Armenia for the failure to reestablish Armenian-Turkish relations, which obtained a corresponding reaction from Armenian officials. Appearing on Arajin News in Armenian Public Television on September 10, Armenia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharyan stated that “Turkey consistently implements a policy of denial regarding the Armenian Genocide and continuously makes failed attempts to deny and falsify historical facts. This very approach of the Turkish side continues to be an obstacle to the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations”.
By Erik Davtyan (09/17/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On August 21, Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili paid a two-day official visit to Armenia. Accepting the official invitation from the Armenian side, Garibashvili had meetings with his counterpart Hovik Abrahamyan, discussing a wide range of issues in the fields of trade relations, infrastructure, education and culture. The Georgian PM was also received by Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan. The interlocutors discussed some aspects of Armenian-Georgian relations, as well as the agreements reached by the two states during Sargsyan’s official visit to Georgia on June 18, 2014.
The August meetings were Garibashvili’s first visit to Yerevan as Georgia’s PM, therefore there were some expectations in Armenia from the official visit. After the “Georgian Dream” coalition’s victory in Georgia’s 2012 parliamentary elections, Garibashvili’s visit became the second by a Georgian chief executive after Bidzina Ivanishvili’s visit in 2013.
Armenia is dependent on Georgia for communication with the outer world, and Georgia serves as a transit corridor for export and import. Since Georgia has recalibrated its foreign policy toward promoting trilateral comprehensive cooperation with Turkey and Azerbaijan, many in Armenia pay close attention to developments in Georgia’s foreign affairs and its attitude towards Armenia and Armenian-Georgian relations. In this context, the outcomes of Garibashvili’s visit and the high-level meetings potentially have significant implications for Armenia’s geopolitical situation.
Another matter of concern for Armenia is the future of bilateral relations with Georgia in light of the different paths of regional integration the two countries have chosen. After signing an Association Agreement with the EU on June 27, Georgia has considerably deepened its integration process with the EU. Meanwhile, Armenia continues its route towards membership in the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union. The possibility that these divergent integration processes may damage relations between Armenia and Georgia is nevertheless officially downplayed by both sides. During the meeting, Abrahamyan stressed that “Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union will not affect the existing economic relations with Georgia”, and added that “Armenia and Georgia could benefit from adhering to different integration units”. Garibashvili reaffirmed his counterpart’s assessment and added that it “might set a good example for the international community.” However, these viewpoints were criticized by some observers. Tatul Hakobyan, an analyst of the Civilitas foundation, stated that the different directions of integration will damage both Armenian-Iranian and Armenian-Georgian relations, “leading Armenia to economic, political and regional isolation”.
Aside from economic issues, the visit was also important in the context of national security and military affairs. A problematic development from Armenia’s perspective is that the defense ministers of Georgia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan held trilateral meetings on August 18 in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic shortly before Garibashvili’s official visit to Yerevan. During the visit, the three states decided to develop their defense cooperation, and especially the prospect of increased Georgian-Azerbaijani military cooperation caused concern in Armenia. The trilateral meeting was perceived in some circles as a step toward creating a trilateral alliance against Armenia. However, Johnny Melikyan, an expert on Georgian affairs, downplayed the importance of the Nakhchivan meeting, stating that its agenda did not go beyond that of a series of similar meetings that have periodically been organized between Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan since 2011, and does not have any specific importance for Armenian-Georgian relations. According to Melikyan, Georgia is interested in sustaining the balance in the South Caucasus, not in undermining Armenia’s national security.
Other analysts expressed disappointment regarding the lack of output from Garibashvili’s visit. Arnold Stepanyan, leader of the civil initiative Multinational Georgia, stated that “Garibashvili’s visit to Armenia was perceived as an ordinary visit, as another meeting: nothing special was said or written.” Stepanyan thinks the state-level discussion of bilateral relations delivered less than expected and the lack of new agreements mark limited progress in broadening bilateral relations.
According to bestnews.am, “Garibashvili paid ‘a get-to-know-you visit’ to Armenia,” based on which increasing cooperation can evolve between Garibashvili’s and Abrahamyan’s cabinets. Despite the variety in opinions, the visit of the Georgian Prime Minister was generally perceived as a positive step towards an intensification of Armenian-Georgian relations.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.