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Satenik Baghdasaryan

Armenia: 2012 Between the East and the West

The year 2012 was marked by many global political developments that have a definite impact on Armenia’s current political and economic reality. Such important events as presidential elections in the Minsk group co-chairing states, parliamentary elections in Georgia, the development of nuclear programmes and the threat of war in Iran, the war in Syria, the law in French Senate which was criminalizing the denial of Genocide, extradition of the Azerbaijani assassin Ramil Safarov, the negotiations on DCFTA, have each changed the political agenda in Armenia.

City at twilight - Yerevan, Armenia, author: Zhirayr Nersessian, source: Flickr

City at twilight – Yerevan, Armenia, author: Zhirayr Nersessian, source: Flickr

Global perspective…

The US presidential elections and Obama’s re-election – and also the change in Cabinet – promoted the debate over the new policy of the US in the Black Sea region. Although the US does not have any clearly defined policy in the region and the relations here are mainly influenced by the US-Russia relations, the Cold War logic is in the past and cooperation becomes more common. The contradiction policy rarely prevails. In this context the new term of Putin’s presidency will also have an influence on the region in terms of having him as a strong acting figure whose personal decisions can be transferred into political actions.

In the third co-chairing state of the Minsk Group, France, a bill on criminalizing the denial of Genocide was passed by the Senate in 2012 and presented in the Constitutional Court, where it was denied. Because of this bill, the diplomatic and military cooperation between Turkey and France was suspended. Later on everything was set between the two countries, however, after the election of left-wing presidential candidate Francois Hollande and his meeting with Armenian community in France the issue of having a new bill on the same issue was raised again.

In the neighbourhood…

In Armenia’s neighbouring state new Prime Minister Ivanishvili’s attempts to normalize Georgian-Russian relations will affect Armenia’s relations with both countries. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Ezerum gas pipeline and Tbilisi-Kars-Akhalkalak railroad did not include Armenia and set negative impression, making the lack of intraregional cooperation apparent. Taking into account the importance of Georgia as the main route for Armenia to Europe and Armenia’s denial to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia despite the pressure from Russia, it is obvious that the two states have the potential and willingness for more cooperation and partnership.

Iran as an alternative access route to abroad for Armenia holds a key role for Yerevan. In addition, Armenia has amicable relations with Iran, therefore might take an important role as a regional mediator. Having in mind that Iran’s nuclear projects have sparked Western attention and taking into account that there will be presidential elections in Iran in 2013, the regional situation may change. The threat of war against Iran from Israel and also Armenia’s lack of preparedness to react to that situation will create new challenges in the field.

… and domestic affairs

The war in Syria that erupted in 2012 obviously created new challenges for Armenia. Nearly 200,000 Armenians have been living in Syria. Thus far, as official data states, 40,000 people have been killed in Syria, including 40 Armenians. The Armenian Embassy in Syria has been giving Armenian passports issued by the Armenian Government to Syrian Armenians to facilitate their entrance to Armenia. Nearly 6,000 Armenians have already moved migrated. They got education opportunity and help to set up a business but the business environment, bad investment climate, high taxes, the small size of the market, monopolies and language barrier create huge obstacles for the newcomers. Some experts argue that Armenian-Turkish borders should be opened to let Syrian Armenians to enter Armenia easily. There was even a claim created on the Obama Administration website asking US Government to discuss that issue and call on Turkey to open the border. At the same time, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of settling Syrian Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

As for other developments in Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, in fact there was a setback because of the extradition of Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani military officer who killed his colleague Gurgen Margaryan with an axe while the latter was sleeping. The problem was not in the extradition itself but in the reward and his glorification as a hero. The outcome, if any, that after the meetings of the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Sochi in January, and Ministers of Foreign affairs in Paris in June were equaled to zero, or even worse. However, the Armenian side did not pull out from the peaceful negotiations proving its commitment to act according to the norms and principles of the International law. Another meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs took place in October in Paris, though it still did not have any tangible result except for proving that the negotiation process regarding Nagorno-Karabakh is still alive.

The future between the East and the West

During 2012, Armenia could also strengthen its position as a balancing power between the CSTO and NATO, Iran and the West, EU and yet not described idea of the Eurasian Union. Armenia joined the CIS free trade area without having any border with it and at the same time started the negotiations on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with EU. Having the balance between the “two parties” gives a chance to have a proper compatibility.

In short, 2012 has been a year of both achievements and losses. The coming presidential elections will bring a new phase of developments, regardless of the results of elections. Hopefully, the high expectations of the voters, concerning both the internal and external politics, will pressure the next president and the government to improve. Right now, the civil society acts much more efficiently and reacts to any steps of the government, all the time pressuring to become more responsible and accountable for their decisions.

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Satenik is a research analyst at Regional Studies Center, an independent think tank based in Yerevan, Armenia. She holds a bachelor degree in Political Science from Yerevan State University and Master’s degree in European studies from the same University. Her research topics are conflict resolution in the Wider Black Sea region and European Integration in this context.

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