by BARÇIN YİNANÇ
“This is bad news for Armenia,” a member of the Armenian opposition told me, in the first days following Ukraine’s surprise refusal to sign an association deal with the European Union.
After Armenia, Ukraine appeared to be another country to succumb to Moscow’s pressure to turn its back to the West and join a customs union with Russia.
Ukraine has been on the international news agenda for days as thousands pro-EU demonstrators took to the street. U.S. senators John McCain and Chris Murphy were in Kiev on Sunday to address the crowds.
Nothing of that sort happened when Armenia surprised the EU by announcing last September that it will join a customs union with Russia, a move incompatible with the free trade agreement the EU was preparing to sign with Yerevan.
Why is that? Aren’t there any pro-EU Armenians living in Armenia? Do they all support closer, much closer, relations with Russia? Or are they less courageous than Ukrainians in that there is such a reign of terror that they are afraid of taking to the streets?
Why is the international community so indifferent to Armenia? Is Armenia less important than Ukraine? With Russian soldiers protecting its frontiers, is it seen as a lost cause anyway?
How about the Armenian diaspora in the West? How can they be so indifferent to Armenia’s democratic deficit? How come they are unmoved by Armenia’s slide to growing authoritarianism? How come they are not concerned about Armenia remaining in the Russian orbit?
As Aybars Görgülü, an expert on the issue put it, the Armenian diaspora is so preoccupied by Turkey and securing recognition of the 1915 tragedy that it seems they are completely blind of the fact that Armenia will be destined to be in a pathetic state for as long as it does not endorse democracy and get out of the Russian zone of influence.
Actually, it seems that Turkey has also contributed to the deepening of ties between Russia and Armenia. Fearful of the possibility of a true reconciliation between Ankara and Yerevan, Russia has weighed in much more forcefully in Armenian affairs following the failure of the 2009 initiative to normalize relations, according to Armenian opposition members.
Yet the problem is that they are not even sure about what is really happening. “We don’t hear (foreign minister Edward) Nalbandian. I can’t recall when it was the last time he made a statement,” one of them told me. “On issues of reconciliation with Azerbaijan or Turkey, it is not Armenians but it is Russians who decide,” added the same person.
But the thinking in Moscow dictates that Armenia’s reconciliation with either Turkey or Azerbaijan will not suit the Russia’s national interests. However, there could be ways to convince Russia that a tripartite reconciliation might not run against Moscow. But for that Yerevan should become less dependent on Russia and the focus of key players like the US and European states turn to the Caucasus. This is where the Armenian diaspora can play a role.
But of course they have two choices: encouraged by 2015 approaching, they might prefer to spend their money and energy on activities that they think will put pressure on Turkey to recognize the 1915 tragedy as genocide. It is naïve to expect this to happen in the absence of comprehensive peace that would include Baku. Yet even if this were to happen it wouldn’t solve Armenia’s problems given a lack of progress on relations with Baku and as a result of borders with Turkey remaining closed.
But of course the real question lies on whether the Armenian diaspora is interested to see a democratic and prosperous Armenia or not.