Blunders All Around

Editorial, 22 September 2013

September 3, 2013 will go in history books as a day when Armenia was publicly humiliated by Russia. Why did the protagonists of Yerevan’s attempt to get close to the west—Armenia’s Serge Sarkissian and senior European Union (EU) officials–not foresee the train wreck speeding their way?

Seeing no future in aligning with a “backward”, dictatorial, domineering, dead-end and business-as-usual Russia, Sarkissian wanted to align—politically, commercially and culturally—with the west. He incredibly believed that he could do so while retaining Armenia’s military alliance (meaning protection) with the east. Meanwhile, the EU bureaucrats nonchalantly and incomprehensibly assumed the Russia bear would play dead as Armenia tried to drift from Moscow’s sphere of influence.

Editorial, 22 September 2013

September 3, 2013 will go in history books as a day when Armenia was publicly humiliated by Russia. Why did the protagonists of Yerevan’s attempt to get close to the west—Armenia’s Serge Sarkissian and senior European Union (EU) officials–not foresee the train wreck speeding their way?

Seeing no future in aligning with a “backward”, dictatorial, domineering, dead-end and business-as-usual Russia, Sarkissian wanted to align—politically, commercially and culturally—with the west. He incredibly believed that he could do so while retaining Armenia’s military alliance (meaning protection) with the east. Meanwhile, the EU bureaucrats nonchalantly and incomprehensibly assumed the Russia bear would play dead as Armenia tried to drift from Moscow’s sphere of influence.

It’s no secret that since the end of the Second World War the west has been encircling the USSR/Russia. With the demise of the Soviet Union, the western borders of Russia was shut tight and an opening in the Caucasus and the Central Asian “stans” became even more important to Russia’s geopolitical interests. Russia “loss” of Georgia further increased Armenia’s importance to Russia, especially since Azerbaijan (“one people two nations” with NATO-member Turkey) is eager to send the Russians packing.

There was no way Russia would have allowed Armenia to slip into Europe’s embrace. To make Armenia even more vulnerable to Russia’s suffocating hug, several realities about the Armenian condition should be considered: blockaded by two hostile Turkic republics—one of them incessantly threatening Armenia—Yerevan needs Moscow. It would take Turkey’s huge army a mere few hours to swallow Armenia lock, stock and Medzamor. Meanwhile, petrostate Azerbaijan is flexing its muscles, thanks to nonstop weapons imports from at least 18 countries.

Armenia is also vulnerable to Russian economic pressure. Russia is, by far, Armenia’s biggest export market. Russia owns most of Armenia’s economic assets…and hundreds of thousand Armenians, who work in Russia, send billions of dollars in remittances to their homeland.

Still with economics: While Armenia was sending love notes to EU and Russia was putting on the economic screws on Yerevan, Brussels didn’t hint at any economic aid to alleviate Armenia’s economic crisis.

Despite the above unpromising scenario, Panglossian Sarkissian continued his courtship of the EU. (He also wouldn’t make public the text of Armenia’s agreement with the EU. Critics said he didn’t want to reveal EU’s negative stance toward liberated Artsakh).

After sending messages—through Russian think tanks and Russophile Armenian journalists—Putin pulled out the big stick. Sarkissian had to be brought to his senses before Armenia signed the EU Eastern Partnership Agreement in mid-November in Vilnius, Lithuania.  

Despite serving as a secret agent (1974 to 1991), Putin is not a subtle man. He promptly sold $4 billion worth of weapons to Baku—his “ally’s” belligerent foe. Then his foreign minister–Sergey Lavrov–dropped hints which could be interpreted as Moscow’s support for Azerbaijan sovereignty over Nagorno-Karapagh. And for good measure, Putin increased the price of fuel he sells to Armenia. Perhaps the Siberian Tiger-Whisperer was hoping the resulting price rises would create political turmoil which would topple Sarkissian.

Pollyanna Sarkissian got the message. In early September he ate humble pie and announced Armenia would join Putin’s Eurasia club. Goodbye to Eurofication.

Sarkissian was the creative “brain” of this farce or Greek tragedy—depending on one’s view. He ignored facts which are known even high school students in Armenia. Armenia’s geopolitical situation is such that it can’t survive without Russia. Armenia’s northern neighbor—Georgia—is unreliable. Its southern neighbor—Iran—is considered a pariah by the west and is under western economic and political lockdown.

But Sarkissian is not the only party who miscalculated grievously. What were the EU officials thinking when they began their courtship of Armenia? Did they think Armenia would be allowed to slip out of Russia’s shadow? And as the signing of the Partnership Agreement got closer, why didn’t the EU make confidence-building political and economic gestures to Armenia? While there were reports that Armenian products were not up to scratch for the EU markets, there was no encouraging word from Brussels.

After Armenia’s house of cards collapsed, to save face Sarkissian kept mumbling that Armenia’s European Dream was not over. Meanwhile, a senior EU official promised: “We definitely have not given up on Armenia and the Armenian people.” The EU would not abandon Armenia. When—and how many times–have Armenians heard similar empty and hypocritical words, from the west?

In what must be the understatement of the year, the secretary general of the European Friends of Armenia said that he believed Armenia’s decision to join the Customs Union “was not a free choice.” Ahem.

Finally, there’s Putin. While his country depends dangerously on the export of a single product, Putin has unrealistic ambitions of reviving the truncated remains of the Soviet Union into a super political-economic-military bloc. To realize his feeble dream, he has dragged in two states (Kazakhstan where 24% of the population is Russian) and Belarus to his bloc: the latter through blackmail.

Russia is in disarray. Corruption, rampant alcoholism, declining birthrate, and a sharp drop in longevity have sent Russia to the sick bay. To fend off further decline in population, Putin has offered enticements to the citizens of some former Soviet republics to settle in Russia.

The lumbering bear wants Armenia. And whether Armenia likes it or not, sickly Russia is the only game in town.

Putin might have opened a Stolichnaya Elit to celebrate Sarkissian’s U-turn, but the former KGB agent should know that a forced marriage doesn’t bode well for the future of the relationship. Perhaps he doesn’t realize that his loveless wedding not only humiliated Sarkissian, but it also humiliated Armenians everywhere. His brutal tactics will leave a permanent scar on Armenian-Russian relations. One can’t force love. Unfortunately, Vlad the Impaler is no debonair Casanova.


  1. Naive President

    That was very naive of the Armenian President and Government to play tricks against Russia. The fact remains, as the article clearly demonstrates, Armenia needs Russia and cannot survive without it. If I know that, and you know that, and any high school student in Armenia knows that, how come the Armenian Government did not realize that? This was a lesson to Armenia to stick to the nation that is defending Armenia's borders with Turkey.

  2. Birds of a Feather

    In the old poetic English adage, "birds of a feather fly together", means birds which have the same kind of feathers congregate with birds of their own species. So, why are we so surprised [by Serge Sarkissian's decision]? Besides socio-economic factors and historical realities bringing us closer to our Russian brothers in the north, we, Armenians, are more similar to Russians than to Europeans. Armenia is a mismanaged nation with rampant corruption and a dictatorial state run by oligarchs as in Russia. Wouldn't anyone assume that we can form a closer bond with our Russian friends than our Western distant friends, with no similarity to Armenians in every respect?

    In retrospect, as many say in Armenia, "Armenians in Armenia lived better during the Soviet era than today"…think about that.

  3. Blunders All Around

    This is a well-written and thoughtful article.

    The impossible situation Armenia is facing is that it is between a rock and a hard place. Blockaded by two enemy states (Azerbaijan and Turkey), a less-than-friendly Georgia to the north and a pariah Iran to the south, there isn't much room for Armenia to maneuver.

  4. Blunder, You Say?

    Did Russia need to pull all the leverages it has to bring Armenia-a geographically deadlocked, economically insignificant, dare not invade a country without Russian blessing–into the Eurasian fold? Or did Russia consent Armenia joining Eurasian front because there was the possibility of the other alternative, the EU?

    I have difficulty accepting that President Serge Sarkissian does not know what the rest of us know. The oligarchs who run the country do not really care much for the masses in Armenia, but they have proven to be astute foreign policy players. Could this have been not a blunder but a calculated venture to secure the best possible terms?

  5. Playing the EU

    As the article states, all that Armenia received from the Europeans, and friends, was lip service. Now for all those that badge Armenians as naive, I would like to cite an old adage: "Put up or shut up." Did anyone expect more from the west? Maybe an apology from the Hungarians or a trickle from the BTC pipeline? Nah!

    So who's being naive?

  6. One Can’t Force Love

    Are we getting married, in love, or are we in a dependence relationship? Armenia has more than 1,001 reasons to be dependent on Russia. The price we pay, again and again, is in BEING TAKEN FOR GRANTED. Russia, as always, needs to do nothing to appease Armenia and Armenians. We simply have no other choice, for which Russia owes nothing to Armenians. BTW, it's the same for the West: Corporate West needs millions upon millions of Turkish/Azeri/Moslem consumers. Once and for all, let's realize: We are too little to be needed as economic markets. Let's stop building castles in the air. Reality sucks, whether you are the first to adopt Christianity, or never had. But it never ceases to be the reality.

  7. Let’s Not Oversimplify It

    Of course Sarkissian and his gang knew what they were doing (assuming otherwise would mean that we are really in deep trouble, that is deeper than one would ever imagine). One would assume they were trying to get the best of both worlds or that they were trying to "pressure" Russia for better deals or concessions. However, something (s) went wrong and it seems that we got the worst of both worlds. We could not leverage Armenia's geopolitical situation to gain something from either side. My guess is we are not astute politicians and negotiators (probably have never been). What do you expect from a bunch who thinks about its pockets.

  8. More Armenians in Russia

    There are more Armenians in Russia than in Armenia. So who's more president of Armenians, Putin or Sarkissian? For me a known devil is better than an unknown angel.

  9. No Time for Blunders

    I am surprised that centuries of history have not taught us (Armenians) that big powers, including the wannabe big powers, have their own agendas. No world power will protect or help Armenia if it is not in their national interest. It is for Armenians to align with the least dangerous entity.

  10. Let Us Not Forget

    Russia's affinity toward Armenia goes back centuries. From Peter the Great and Catherine right up until the revolution that ended the rule of the Romanovs, Armenia's cause was backed by Mother Russia. Had the Russian Revolution not occurred, Armenia's western lands would have been brought into the fold. Just who chased the Persians out of Armenia? Was Russian concern always humanitarian? Not necessarily, but it was Russia and only Russia that stood up for the Armenians.

    So you may ask just what has the west brought to the table? Not even a hamburger, croissant, or even a bratwurst.

    Can we count on Secretary Clinton's effort to get Armenia to sign the Turkish protocols a step in the right direction? I guess it depends on whose interests were at stake.

  11. Naive President?

    Guys, I don`t think so. It's politics that everyone is playing. Serge can`t do anything without his oligarchs' approval. As you've said, we have no choice. As we all know, everyone looks after his needs. Who cares about Armenia? We have nothing to give back. Why don`t we learn anything from history? We should think in smarter ways.

    Most of the comments are very useful and true. Good luck.

  12. Accept the Consequences

    Five fraudulent elections later, you are still blaming Serge Sarkissian? If you do something five times, I say you are enjoying it. Although the country faces many issues, following several fraudulent elections, only a handful of people protest the most recent fraudulent elections? The rest all go their way as if nothing had happened.

    When will Armenians take responsibility for their fate? We are blaming Sarkissian, Putin, the EU. When will we assume responsibility and state that we made a mistake when we didn't protest and close down everything to stop the fraudulent elections from being considered as legitimate.

    With our behavioral patterns, I'll bet there is a long queue of oligarchs, waiting in line to cheat us. I do agree with Sarkissian's decision to join the Customs Union. Obviously, he thinks and acts like a dictator, but wasn't it also media's responsibility to bring to fore the Customs Union issue and inform the nation about its pluses and minuses?

    If this president is the bad guy, where were all the good guys? I suspect they were all waiting on the sidelines to make noise after a decision was made. In the coming years Sarkissian will make a lot of other decisions which we will protest. This is what happens when we let fraudulent elections pass us by. Now we are suffering the consequences.

  13. Letter to Serge Sarkissian

    With all due respect, Mr. President, now that we have a new ambassador in the UK, I can perfectly understand your position. In retrospect, I would like to ask you which group of idiots gave you that stupid advice? Was it the physicist-ambassador of ours?

    There is nobody to blame but yourself for this fiasco. You have alienated yourself and have driven us to shame. We DO NOT like the Russians a lot, but we tried and tested other alternatives. To refresh your memory: the Franks in the Siege of Urfa; the French in Cappadocia and in Cilicia, and other promises, and the lip service you have just received from a delightful bundle of Sarkozites and Masonites.

    There is nobody to blame Mr. President but you and your corrupt circles. You have driven the population to madness, and have no sense of direction. Indeed, Putin is the president of Armenia and not you. So for goodness sake, explain to us what are trying to sell in the EU? Apricots of Armenian corruption?

    Levon was a novice. We can understand that. But at least he put forward the All Armenian Fund.
    Robert Kocharian was a murderer and pure Putin Puppy, but at least he provided stability. You, my friend, are not very smart. You are a "hayvan". You have driven the country to such extremes that the damage that you are inflicting is irreparable.

    Mr, President, please, for the love of God and our country, stop experimenting.

    May God help us from our leaders.

  14. Blunders or Hidden from the Public?

    If President Serge Sarkissian got lower gas prices and special customs duties for Armenian goods  exported to Russia, then he is smart. Otherwise, if as  many opine here, he was coerced into the deal. Armenia and its huge, slumbering Diaspora should be alerted if the latter has occurred. If he has, we have to find  new way out. In November, in Vilnius, Lithuania, Armenia may still have a chance to sort things out with the EU, bringing as many excuses as possible for having made that sudden U-turn…and then wheel and deal.

    The latest fiasco of Sarkissian occurred at the European Parliament right after he delivered his speech and Q and A began. The Azeri delegate shot at him his venomous question about occupying 20% of Axerbaijan and then whether Armenia had territorial demands from Turkey. To which, nonchalantly, and perhaps not prepared, he answered ¨NO, ARMENIA DOES NOT HAVE ANY TERRITORIAL CLAIMS FROM TURKEY." I thought what an error! He could have countered with "Are you here as an Axeri delegate or as that of Turkey?¨ or ¨Do you have territorial claims from Iran Aderpatakan province?"

    Gaydzag Palandjian

  15. Այպանում

    Դուք պարզապէս զզուելի էք ձեր ստոր վերլուծումներուն մէջ. ոչ մէկդ Հայաստան կ'ապրիք և օգտկար էք ձեր հայրենիքին և ոչ մէկդ ձանձրոյթը ստանձպած էք ՀԱՅԵՐԷՆ գրելու: Այս պայմաններուն մէջ անշուշտ ամէն բան ՍԵՒ պիտի տեսնէք, որպէսզի արդարացնէք ձեր ստոր դիրքերը:

    1. Այ քո ցաւդ տանեմ …

      … վստահ եղիր,  շատ  շատեր, ես ներառեալ,  օգնած ենք եւ կ'օգնենք Հայրենիքին:

      Հայերէն լեզուն, ցաւօք, որոշ չափով քիչ  կը գործածուի, սակայն մեր առաւելութիւններէն մին՝ մի քանի լեզուներ  գրել-կարդալ գիտնալն  է: Դուն քանի՞սը  գիտես …

      Տարիներ  առաջ Փարիզի Յառաջ օրաթերթը կը գրէր  թէ  հարիւր քսան Թուրք  սպաներ Անգարայի  Հայագիտական ամբիօնին մէջ Հայերէն  կը սորվէին ……հասկնալի է անշուշտ ուր  պիտի  ղրկէին եւ կը ղրկեն  նման հայալեզու գործակալներ  եւ  ինչ առաքելութեամբ…

      … ամօթ  քեզ եթէ Հայ ես: կը կասկածիմ մեկնելով արտայայտութիւններէդ: Միայն հայախօս թուրք-թաթարը այդպիսի  լեզու կը գործածէ  մեր  մէջ անհանգստութիւն-ահհամաձայնութիւն  ստեղծելու համար:

      Կայծակ  Փալանճեան

  16. Լեզուական

    Չեմ հասկնար, թէ ինչո՞ւ այստեղ արտայայտուողները միայն անգլերէն կը գրեն: Անգլիացիները հայերէն կը գրե՞ն. անշուշտ՝ ո՛չ. ուրեմն, ինչպէ՞ս հաւատամ ձեր անկեղծութեան, երբ ձեր մայրենի լեզուն յարգել չէք ուզեր:


  17. Writing in Armenian

    Parev Armenag,

    You are wrong and unfair when you accuse people who comment in English as being less Armenians. Some of us, living far away from Armenia, and without the benefit of your Armenian education in an Armenian school in Lebanon, can't write in Armenian or don't have adequate command of it. Despite living in foreign lands, and very far from Armenia, we maintain our commitment to Armenia and the Armenian nation.

    Saroyan, Yousuf Karsh, Nubar Gulbenkian and many other couldn't write in Armenian, but they were Armenians who contributed to our nation. Consider yourself privileged that you can read/write in Armenian, and please don't make unfriendly and unreasonable accusations.   

    1. Armenag’s Criticism


      Armenag’s criticism is directed, I believe, to people like me. I am a former student of his at St. Nshan Armenian School in Lebanon, where he taught us science. He later quit teaching and studied dentistry. He is known for his love of the Armenian language and is adamant of its use among Armenians.

      Not a single day passes that I do not read in Armenian, yet I have difficulty typing in Armenian. I have downloaded virtual Armenian keyboards, but typing them takes inordinately long time. They also do not have spell check. The most I have posted in Armenian is a short paragraph, after much effort.

      Then there is the issue of communicating with you–Vahakn–our much beloved sons and daughters who do not read and write in Armenian for reasons you articulate so well.

      As to Armenag and others likes him, who safeguard and have always safeguarded our language pure and unadulterated, we will always remain grateful for they give us a sense of security by doing what we cannot. But վայ մեզի: damned we are if you give up on communicating in this medium in English, because we have difficulty doing so in Armenian.

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