A. Kubilius. Transcaucasia: the Armenian dilemma

The second war of Nagorno-Karabakh has ended and there are many opinions on the exact winner. Some claim that it is Azerbaijan whereas others claim that Putin gained the most profit there. Meanwhile, me and some experts believe that Erdogan is the real winner, as he enforced Russia to give up their long-running geopolitical monopoly in Transcaucasia. And Turkey has undoubtedly benefited from it.

This year it was the 3rd conflict already where Russia had to admit the advantage of Turkey regarding military technologies (Libya and Idlib in Syria were another 2 cases). Therefore, it may even seem that the Kremlin did not dare to help Armenia in defending Nagorno-Karabakh. When Moscow is afraid of losing against the Turks for the 3rd time in a row, keeping whispering that Putin wanted revenge on Pasinyan sounds like a decent idea. After all, the latter came to power through the ‘velvet revolution’, and Putin simply hates them.

Can the results of the 2nd major Nagorno-Karabakh war become a valid proof that the Kremlin influence keeps diminishing not only in Belarus, Moldova or Khabarovsk, but also in Transcaucasia? It is a topic worth deeper analysis, and I expect to develop this point further in a separate text in the future.

It is probably difficult to find the right answer, what attitude and goals across Moscow and Istanbul caused the outcome of the 2nd Nagorno-Karabakh war. However, it is obvious that the geopolitical earthquake has occurred in Transcaucasia, and its consequences will be noticeable for at least a few upcoming decades. These consequences will be primarily experienced by the smallest participants of this armed conflict, namely Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Therefore, I would like to dedicate this text to the participant in this conflict, who is unanimously considered as the greatest loser in this war. It is Armenia.

It is hard to imagine how the Armenian society all over the world is feeling after such a loss. Anger, pain, anxiety regarding the long-term prospects are probably the most significant emotions there. So is the harsh criticism towards the incumbent government, and it is absolutely understandable given the tragic history of Armenia in recent centuries. The most prominent details here are the genocide towards the Armenian nation and the location leading to dangerous geopolitical neighbourhood.

Therefore, in this text, I want to discuss the long-term future alternatives for Armenia rather than why this country lost the war or what it did wrong geopolitically (even though I have a couple of remarks on these).

I appreciate that the advice from Lithuania, which is quite distant in this context, is not the subject to consider rationally in light of such a national crisis. Therefore, I am listing the following ideas for myself so I can better understand how the EU can be more beneficial in helping this suffering nation.

Armenia is not the first nation to experience a massive and even tragic challenge through a painful defeat. For some nations, these tragedies led to the complete collapse. Yet the world history provides a number of convincing examples how painful defeats became a drastic encouragement to reconsider their further path and thus regenerate.

In his last book “Upheaval: How Nations Cope with Crisis and Change“ (2019; https://www.amazon.com/Upheaval-Turning-Points-Nations-Crisis/dp/0316409138), Jeremy Diamond focuses exactly on the regeneration of some nations after massive tragedies. Amongst the examples, this author lists Finland, Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Germany, Australia and the US. Diamond is convincingly developing the theory that during the state crisis, the nations should act similarly as people experiencing deep personal difficulties. Psychologists distinguish 12 essential actions and factors which determine the recovery of such people. These ones start from the confession of such a person to themselves that they are in a deep crisis and only they can take action to get over it. Diamond transforms these principles into 12 rules for the nations experiencing crisis. In this case, the action list should begin with the national consensus and recognition that the nation and the state are in the crisis. As a result, the nation should find a new recovery way itself. This can be completed through analysing the experiences of other nations, the rejection of established geopolitical limitations and the acceptance of support from other states (https://blog.12min.com/upheaval-pdf-summary/).

So, what exactly the book of Diamond can teach Armenia?

First of all, Armenia should seek the national consensus and understanding that the state and the nation is in a deep crisis at the moment. Therefore, there is the necessity to find new strategies by these actors themselves. It is not easy to reach the mentioned consensus as there are numerous temptations to accuse the incumbent government of the loss in the war. Subsequently, the current leaders will always find various ways to blame former leaders for not preparing enough for such an armed conflict. Such a festival of accusations is not the way recommended by Diamond; neither is it the way chosen by other nations which overcame the crisis in the past. On the contrary, they managed to avoid mutual accusations while digging deeper into the deeper analysis of their problems and causes. Such an approach is the only one allowing to find new strategic solutions which allow the nation to recover and defeat the crisis.

I do not know much about the exact answers Armenia would find in this discussion of self-reflection. However, I would like to hear the answers to these main questions which are interconnected.

The first question: was it reasonable for Armenia to maintain the status quo only all the time since the first Nagorno-Karabakh war in 1990s? Even though Armenia won, this state did not seek any long-term peace agreement and gave up the territories which remained occupied by Armenians, yet did not belong to the Armenian part of Nagorno-Karabakh in fact.

The maintenance of territory-based status quo has become the primary national idea for all Armenians worldwide for many years. However, it was also the only idea which distinguished Armenia in the global community. Therefore, it may seem that Armenians lacked not only physical but also intellectual or emotional power for anything else. The belief that the Russian military forces would help to maintain such a status quo eventually turned out to be false. Moreover, it was the main cause for the military tragedy this year. Additionally, it is obvious that the result of war loss is basically the return to the situation which had existed up until 1992, when the first military conflict took place.

The second question: was it strategically right to associate the geopolitical security with Russia only, given the fact that the Kremlin opposed any attempt to become closer to the West and the EU?

Finally, it came to light that the security guarantees from Moscow were not efficient (especially regarding the context of recent clashes between Russia and Turkey and their outcomes). The maintenance of status quo, supported by the Kremlin, turned out to be deceptive too. Also, the economic association with the markets of Russia and Eurasia did not allow Armenia to adapt to the Western markets fully and thus create the long-term success story. Meanwhile, the EU-Armenia relations remained ambivalent only.

Looking from the perspective of Vilnius, all these details and events are the strategy of Armenia during the last three decades which led to the current national tragedy of Armenians.

For the record, these thoughts are simply my subjective answers to the questions of Armenian self-reflection, based on the book of Diamond. Only Armenians themselves can provide deeper and more accurate answers, yet they have to find courage to search for such answers first.

The answers formulated by myself may give me a clue how the brand new and recovering strategy of Armenia could look like.

I would see two essential things which could be related to the EU-Armenia relations.

First of all, the EU should take initiative and establish the international security mechanism for the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh. This step should be implemented with the help of other Western partners (the new US administration).  Of course, such a mechanism should not rely on the so-called Kremlin peacekeepers only. Not so long ago, the West had to take care of the Albanians in Kosovo; the international guarantees of security had been successfully created then. I do not imply that the West should copy the model of Kosovo in Nagorno-Karabakh. Yet it is obvious that the Western countries should take up a more proactive role in order to avoid the new Middle East. If the security in Transcaucasia is left for the supervision of Russia and Turkey only, this region, holding a lot of strategic resources of oil and gas, will always remain the zone of unrest and manipulation of the Kremlin. It is crucially important in the context of the closer EU-Armenia relations.

The international security guarantees, aimed at the Armenian community in Nagorno-Karabakh, would allow Armenia to listen to one more important advice by Diamond: to review established geopolitical constraints.

Secondly, Armenia will never feel safe if the amount of weapons remains the only determinant of state security there. As this state is surrounded by such geopolitical players as Turkey and its main satellite Azerbaijan or even Russia and Iran, the only reasonable way to ensure security is to focus on the economic and social prosperity of Armenia. Let’s take the example of Israel in the Middle East. Even though this state is experiencing many great challenges of international security for decades, it remains safe. It happens exactly because of the strong economy established, not due to the large base of weapons. All in all, Armenia has no other way than concentrating on the creation of the economic miracle in Transcaucasia. To realize that, Armenians had to shift their national strategy priorities from military to development, investment and modernisation. Having not much natural resources, Armenia will be able to strengthen its economy only through the integration towards the West and the partnership with the EU as these regions are particularly strong regarding their economies.

Armenia will hardly realize such a strategic change itself. Therefore, the EU could take up an important role there. According to Diamond, the support from other countries is vital when it comes to the recovery from any national crisis. However, the suffering nation must understand the causes of that crisis and reach a consensus regarding their new national strategy first.

The stable situation in Transcaucasia should be an important priority for the EU. The EU itself should also learn to create and develop such stability. It is crucial to know that the passive observation of how Armenians and Azeris are failing to reach the agreement or the hope that Russia will create such stability is a short-sighted self-deception.  The Kremlin cares only about the long-term instability in the former Soviet space, as it will prevent the Western integration there. Meanwhile, the EU would rather benefit from the export of stability, because otherwise, the import of instability remains the only option available.

The administration of Trump has recently demonstrated a great example of how to create stability in the zones of long-term instability. The US encouraged a few Arab states to sign the peace agreement with Israel. As the exchange, generous packages of economic support were offered. Such deals have a major historical meaning. It is not surprising that these peace agreements were officially titled the Abraham Accords, recalling the biblical story of the origins of the Jewish and Arab people.

The EU could follow the example of the US and offer similar agreements to Armenians and Azeris. They could be also supported by the plans of extensive economic support and the long-term peace agreements, including the international mechanism guaranteeing security to the Armenian community in Nagorno-Karabakh. Such deals would be especially important to Armenia, as they would open the door to long-term success, based on the strength of the economy rather than the amount of weapons.

The international community should help Armenia to expand its geopolitical agenda, which should also become more ambitious. This means that it should include not only security but also economic growth, investment attraction, reforms, social welfare, corruption prevention, more attention towards human rights and democracy. As a result, Armenia could return to both local and international politics with refreshed power, expectations and prospects. The international community, and the European Union in particular, could offer Armenia a new agreement on further strategic goals. This could involve international donors (G7) and financial institutions (International Monetary Fund, World Bank, European Investment Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development). Finally, the national investment institutions from the EU member states could contribute as well.

Given another biblical story, related to Armenia and Mount Ararat, such agreements, proposed by the European Union to Armenia and Azerbaijan with the particular focus on the future prospects of Armenia, could have the historic name of the Noah’s Ark Accords.

The Bible says: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. It is also a common formula for peace between neighbours. Finally, this is advice for the European Union to appreciate its Eastern partners as itself, since it is the only way to guarantee peace in Transcaucasia.