At the Brink

Editorial, 27 August 2016

To be or not to be that is the question; 
whether\’tis nobler in the mind to suffer                                              
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune                                        
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles                                              
and by opposing, end them.
HAMLET, Shakespeare

Hamlet is the favorite Shakespearean male character of Eastern Armenians. So much so that many parents have in the past century named their sons Hamlet. The mood of many Armenians these days reflects the above troubled thoughts of the Danish prince Armenians ‘adopted’ in the 19th century.

The graphic cliché “between a rock and a hard place” is inadequate to illustrate the dilemma the Armenian nation finds itself as the malodorous summer of 2016 winds down. A new metaphor is required to illustrate the current Armenian quandary. We are caught not between a rock and a hard place but between a slew of razor-edged rock shrapnel and half-a-dozen hard places.

It’s pointless to enumerate the wrongheaded, incompetent, and corrupt policies and practices—external and internal–of the Republic of Armenia, which have helped push us to this dismal corner. The urgent question is what to do to end Armenia’s sudden isolation, boost its economy, and be combat ready to crush the Azeri forces if Baku launches another war.

Putting aside the extensively covered internal tensions of Armenia, what are the sharp shrapnels and the hard places which have put us in this untenable spot?

—We have an ally which sells arms to our enemy and blithely justifies the unprecedented treacherous act by “explaining” that if it didn’t, another country would.  Nothing personal, you see; it’s just business. Words which would make a Mafia godfather proud. In recent weeks Moscow and Yerevan have announced that Kremlin has begun to deliver to Armenia the same sophisticated weapons it sold to Baku. The Kremlin might be selling the same weapons, but in what quantities? How much can our $200 million buy, compared to the 4 billion petrodollars Baku has spent to acquire mostly Russian weapons?

—Our hostile allies (the oxymoron of the month). Kazakhstan and Belarus, our Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) allies, are plainly hostile to us. They accepted Armenia into the club only because of Putin’s arm twisting. Belarus has sold arms to Baku while Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, wastes no opportunity to scorn Armenia’s president. A few weeks ago he was the fixer who brought Putin and Erdogan together.

—Iran, a friend of Armenia, has become chummy with Azerbaijan and Turkey. On August 9, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Russia signed a tripartite agreement for a North-South railway which would by-pass Armenia, further isolating Armenia. The economic integration project could encourage Iran to use Azerbaijan as corridor for its exports to Europe. The strategic reconfiguration/new alliances will intensify Armenia’s isolation.

—After some flirtation, Putin and Erdogan have begun to bromance. Putin would like Turkey in his Eurasian economic club. If Turkey joins, Azerbaijan could follow. While on paper Armenia has the right to stop such a development, in reality Yerevan will not object if Putin wants the Turkbeijan pair in the Eurasian club. Turkbeijan membership in the club would further diminish Armenia’s importance to Russia as a strategic ally.

—The Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group has become more insistent that Armenia hand over the buffer regions around Karabagh to Azerbaijan with the tacit understanding that eventually Karabagh would be ceded to Azerbaijan.

—After 25 years of negotiations about Karabagh’s future Armenia has run out of time. Aliyev has also run out of time. After years of promising his people that he would take Karabagh, Aliyev finds himself in a “put up or shut up” position. Trapped by his rhetoric, Aliyev has to attack Karabagh/Armenia unless through negotiations he gets the lands he has promised his people. The situation is similar to what Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser disastrously faced in 1967. After promising for more than a decade that his armies would conquer Israel, Nasser reluctantly got entangled in the disastrous Six-Day War.

Because of the above pressures, Sargsyan and Bako Sahakian (president of Karabagh) have softened their stand re negotiations. Both are now prepared to give some of the buffer zone to Baku.  Would Baku be agreeable to less than half the cake?

—Pressure on Sargsyan from the Armenians in Armenia and in the Diaspora. Although divided re how much of the buffer zone to give to Azerbaijan, Armenians are steadfast that Karabagh remain Armenian and be robustly protected from Azeri adventurism. This means holding on to some of the buffer areas.

—Putin and Sargsyan know Russia is the only game in town for Armenia. Yerevan can’t emulate the Ankara game of playing off Russia against the U.S.  Armenia also needs the Russian shield against Turkbeijan; Russia is the biggest market for Armenian exports; Russia owns the largest chunk of Armenia’s infrastructure; millions of Armenians—many send remittances to Armenia—live in Russia. Thus a few years ago Putin half-jokingly said that he ruled over more Armenians than Sargsyan.  The best argument Sargsyan has against a Russian diktat to cede land to Baku is that if Sargsyan gives away too much, his days as president would be numbered… and the new president may well be anti-Russian, and Armenia could sink into chaos.

—Armenians who insist that not an inch of the buffer zone be given to Azerbaijan are courting existential peril for Armenia. Do these rejectionists know something about Armenian military might that the rest of Armenians don’t? Do they have an accurate picture of the military balance of power between Armenia and Azerbaijan? Have they considered that in the last few years the Azeri military budget has been bigger than Armenia’s state budget?

Where do these Armenian hardliners get their unrealistic confidence in Armenia’s military might? Wasn’t the April mini-war debacle sufficiently instructive? For years it was an axiom in international military circles that the Armenian army was the strongest in the Caucasus. Since April those voices have been muted.  Many Armenians have become jittery about the strength of their army. We also don’t know how much secret military help Baku will receive from Turkey, Israel, and Muslim extremists if there’s war. Over-reliance solely on the professionalism and commitment of the Armenian commanders and fighters is a fool’s errand. Modern warfare is an over-sized Nintendo game where high-tech holds a huge advantage.

Armenia should avoid war primarily because if it loses the blow could be near deadly. We would lose land, our economy will hit rock bottom, Turkbeijan’s appetite for more Armenian land will be whetted, and more of citizens of Armenia and Karabagh leave. What’s left of Armenia would become a Russian oblast.

Armenia should pray for peace but prepare for war.

But a strong army is not the whole answer. There has to be demonstrable improvement at a granular level in the way Armenia is governed. Armenia—like any other country—needs a strong and capable leader. It’s ironic and a sad commentary on the quality of Armenia politicians that Sargsyan happens to be  the only politician who has the clout to bring about positive change. His “rivals” don’t have the power, toughness, resilience, experience, ability, and the organization he commands. If only he saw the light, made a 180-degree turn and became truly the leader of his people! Right now he “enjoys” a rudimentary legitimacy. To become Armenia’s “savior” Sargsyan must first earn the trust and respect of the citizenry by observing the rule of law and by crushing the oligarchs. He should reverse the economic decline, put an end to the pervasive corruption, and re-visit his “pension reforms” and the disputed constitutional referendum.

A tall order, indeed. But that’s the price of saving the 4,000-year-old motherland. We hope against hope that he will have a moment—a road to Damascus interregnum–when he will see the light. Twenty-five years ago he heeded the call of the nation and fought for the independence of Artsakh. We hope that there’s a glimmer of development in that direction: On August 19 it was announced (“Zhoghovourd”) that Sargsyan will invite all the political forces to discuss the draft new constitution. He has already said that he would like to hear the opinions of all parties on all issues.

One of the first fundamental strategies Sargsyan or whoever leads Armenia should adopt is make Armenia a more valuable ally of Russia. Armenia’s leader should make every effort to discourage Russia from looking for a “girlfriend” elsewhere. Through unity, good governance, disciplined army, economic development (partly through Diaspora participation), Armenia can demonstrate to the Kremlin that Yerevan is an indispensable ally and Moscow’s only true long-term friend in the South Caucasus. Through genuine reforms Sargsyan can also gain the moral high ground and international political leverage. As well, when he has the backing of the citizenry, he will have a stronger hand when he meets Putin and other government heads.

Still several questions hang over the effort to wrest Armenia out of the vise: Has Sargsyan the ability to change? Will the citizens of Armenia accept a new, improved Sargsyan? Is there time to get out of the systemic morass? Will Baku attack before Armenia has had the chance to catch its breath and get its act together? The next few months will be crucial.

  1. Very Bleak

    This editorial paints a very bleak portrait of the future outlook, prospects and risks that our homeland faces,

    It is imperative for the President to change course dramatically and implement and enforce the reforms needed to address the ills of the nation. The problem is that other than editorials and articles, such as this, appear only in the Diaspora. There is no real and impactful pressure on the President. The opposition in the country is disorganized and ineffective. Basically they are deaf and dumb, thinking only about themselves and how to line their own pockets. There is no authoritative figure who exudes confidence and challenges the status quo. The electorate for various reasons has not made its voice heard and its vote count.

    Sadly, the country is in trouble and in a messy situation economically, politically, militarily and diplomatically with no real friends or allies in a world with hugely conflicting geopolitical interests and hidden agendas.

    It is a sad and disheartening situation.

    Vart Adjemian

  2. Hope Not Medicine

    While I agree with much of the analysis presented in your editorial about Armenia's troubling state and the conundrum her people face, the solution you advocate is no solution at all, but merely a hand-wringing, wishful-thinking appeal to fortune. You might as well resort to prayer.

    Yes, Armenia is cornered very badly, by historic foes and fair-weather friends, and  handicapped by unwise, weak, ineffectual, and corrupt leaders whose policies and inaction have brought her where it is now. But even cornered people have options other than surrendering. And betting on President SS to see the light and turn the ship 180-degrees is tantamount to surrendering.

    Bold ideas and alternatives are needed, of the sort that cannot come from a tired and severely compromised political elite. Armenians in Armenia need to look around the country to find local movements and forces that are outside the establishment and who can find a way out of this mess. With support from within and without (Diaspora), such forces can develop a much more realistic solution than can the old guard.

    Of course, this is a tall order, too, especially the part about support from a Diaspora that has shown little or no appetite beyond acting as cheerleader to whoever manages to impose its power in Armenia. Nobody said it would be easy to get out of the corner; it's just that you need to stop relying on old hopes and illusions.

    "Yerp chi mnum yelk ou jar….":

  3. Doom vs Hope

    The editorial paints a very bleak picture of what awaits Armenia under the current leadership or quite possibly any leadership.

    Although relations with Russia are warming up with Turkey and Iran and Azerbaijan plan a railway that bypasses Armenia, this does not equate to further isolation of Armenia. Armenia is already isolated and will continue to be user corrupt leadership in the homeland and the Diaspora.

    Although Azerbaijan has been spending billions of dollars to buy military equipment, the 4 day war we had in April tells us that wars are not won by military hardware alone. As we witnessed in the early 1990's, Azerbaijan continues to not have the ability to carry out military operations as well as Armenia can. It's not how large your forces are, in the end it comes down to how fast you can think and how much you have at stake. Armenia will always have this advantage.

    If Armenia and Armenians want to turn the current situation around and create some form of stabilization in the homeland, they must do the following:

    1. Clean up the ruling regime. Serzh must go and the person to replace him must be trusted by the masses.

    2. The Diaspora leadership must be cleaned up. Those who supported the ruling regime in light of clear evidence that they were corrupt must also go.

    3. The Armenian lobby in the U.S. and other countries must push for the 1992 OSCE arms embargo against Azerbijan and Armenia to be honored. Any country that sold arms to Azerbijan (Russia, Israel and others), must be forced to create a balance by gifting to Armenia the same quantity of weapons they sold to Azerbaijan. If they don't and if they are member states of the OSCE or receive aid from member states (Israel), then they must be sanctioned and their military aid in the amount due to Armenia must be transferred to Armenia.

    I'm sure there are other things that can also be done to help fix problems Armenia and the Armenian people face, but the 3 action items noted above can be accomplished should we choose to fight rather than give up. 

    1. Question to Ara

      Dear Ara,

      Well said. You state, "Serzh must go and the person to replace him must be trusted by the masses." To which I wholeheartedly agree. 

      Can you tell who should replace him? Of course someone "trusted by the masses". So far no one has come forward to qualify what you propose. Some think that Hovhannisian came close, but we saw all what kind of fiasco his attempt ended in. The "Founding Parliament" has not been able to galvanize the populace to the point of leading the struggle effectively. Pashinyan tends to prefer an evolutionary process. Ter-Petrosyan is yesterday's man. In short, the opposition is in disarray.

      Who else?

      We like to quote Barouyr Sevag and repeat "Yerp chi menoum yelk ou jar.." It depicted well the nation's struggle at Sardarabad, but do you really think that it is a prescription for future?

      1. Creative Destruction

        Sireli Ashot,

        One answer to your question is: Varoujan Avetysyan. He is not only an accomplished military lawyer-professor, but also a soldier, and above all a Dzoor.  He is, for us, in jail.

        The Sasna Dzrer action was an act of creative destruction. This is a well-recognized phenomenon that is necessary for transformation from Banana Republic to inclusive governance. It is the springboard to modernity and to flight far ahead of the neighbourhood. Daron Acemoglu dedicates whole chapters and book sections on this concept and its historical examples.

        It is important to understand this incidence of creative destruction fully. It's one that took place inside the souls and minds of every Armenian. The destruction part and the creation part are linked. The moment we see that it IS POSSIBLE, that moment we destroy our shackles and are free. Everywhere in Armenia this is now in the hearts of man. It is the same everywhere in the Diaspora. Since we are Diasporans, let me clarify the latter:  we NO LONGER need to publicly kowtow to the empty positions taken by our so-called leaders while privately decrying them.  From this creative destruction moment on, we CAN like the Christ say YES, YES and NO, NO. We can, because the same creative destruction has taken place in all of us at the same time, and we realize all of a sudden that we are not alone in the malaise or in the hope, that we ARE FREE TO SPEAK OR MINDS.

        As an example, Armenian Renaissance is organizing a major conference in Toronto, to be broadcast around the world through the Internet, where Armenians finally freely speak their minds, and churches and parties better wake up and be part of the creation, or part of the "destructed."  For the conference, please see the article in Keghart a few pages below the latest editorial.

        You mentioned Sevak. He spoke of Gomitas' act of creative destruction as follows (translation mine):

        Ո՞վ է հասկացել քմայքը բախտի,
                 Եվ այն էլ… հայոց.
        Հանկարծ կեռմանը ազգավեր գաղթի՝
                 Կածանը վայոց,
        Դառնում է ճամփա համահավաքման,
        Խոյանք է դառնում թռիչքը անկման…

        Who can understand the whims of fortune,
                  And that… Armenians’?
        Ruinous winding roads of emigration,
                  Trails of misfortune,
        Suddenly turn into paths to union,
        Re-soars the plunging flight to destruction…

        1. They say silence in golden

          They say silence in golden. So I decided to stay silent on this forum, and let events be the proof of  how right my remarks and predictions have been here on this forum recently. But I didn’t think things will unravel this quickly.
          In the last month, we have been witnessing the start of the end for oligarchic rule in Armenia. A fantastic new Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan , and a mostly technocrat government, highly educated and experts in their respective fields and mostly with no party affiliations has taken over.  I don’t think we've ever had this quality in 25 years of Armenian independence.
          The 2017 elections will be the final stage of these reforms. The ruling party has agreed to make voter lists public. This is a first in Armenia's 25 year history. The opposition is welcome to field 6000 individuals to supervise the elections. All of the above, is exactly the reason why the new 2015 Constitution has become a true blessing for Armenia.
          So what about the “creatively destructive” Sefilian opposition? As I expected, demonstrations simply disappeared and the terrorists will be in jail for a long time. Is this the nation-wide popularity, that Berge and others have been talking about? Less than 90 people attended the "all important" Toronto conference, that’s much less than the attendance at the average Armenian baby shower. Yet the All-Armenian Fund and the traditional parties still have solid support. Because they are doing WORK. I guess the transformation from Սասնայ ծուռ to Ծուռ աճած ***** happened too quickly.
          1. You almost had me believing you…

            Although what you stated in your comment felt good to read, when you mentioned the Armenia Fund and still having solid support, I knew right away everything you stated was a fictional story. I really wish it was all true and that our war heroes who risked their lives to arouse a national awakening would sit in jail in exchange for the changes you stated. The reality is that we have yet to have the 2017 elections and until then, we don't know if the elections are going to be fair and a reflection of the desires of the people. As for the Armenia Fund's solid support, let's see what awaits them in November. I think we all know that the work the AF is doing is stuffing pockets for personal gains.

          2. “Human rights crusades”


            I know all about your human rights crusades. Not one of them has had any solid foundation or solid facts, just like the PFA and Armenian Renaissance. They’re comical, to say the least. You can go on with your hunger strikes (diet?) all you want, but I can assure you of one thing:

            You and Armenian Renaissance internet/ social media/ conference fedayees, are only harming the common people of Armenia and Artsakh by your so-called protests, and lies you spread about the AAF. I assure you that you’re not harming any oligarch. Just like the July terrorists: Their intention was supposedly to harm and overthrow Serj and the oligarchs. The only thing they accomplished, was kill three policemen on duty and leave 7 Armenian kids orphans.

            Hurray for social justice and human rights in Armenia.

          3. Personal Attack

            Wondering whether Ara Manoogian's hunger strike was a dietary requirement is uncalled for. It's a personal attack which diminishes your message. Please restrict yourself to criticizing ideas and actions.

          4. Basic civility

            I am hoping that the lack of basic civility shown will no longer be allowed in the new Keghart.

          5. When an individual organizes a protest …

            When an individual organizes a protest in front of the Armenian consulate in Glendale, where the highlight is the staged "funeral" of the President of Armenia, accompanied by cheering, dancing and singing? That's basic civility.

            When at the same protest, one of the speakers repeatedly says that Karabaghtsi-s are not Armenian and they should be kicked out of Armenia as soon as possible? That's basic civility.

            When this same individual organizes a group which tries to storm Armenian churches in the LA area, with placards and flags, during Divine Liturgy, always filming everything for the simple reason of creating a tsunami in a small cup of water? That's basic  civility.

            When most of the supporters of the July terrorists celebrate the killings of three Armenian policemen on social media calling them Turks? That's basic civility.

            The mere suggestion that an individual with obvious weight problems is doing hunger strikes as a desperate measure to lose weight? That, my friends, is NOT basic civility, and should not be allowed.

            And this attempt at censorship coming from individuals who supposedly want to establish democracy in Armenia. Is it time to repeat Einstein’s quote to describe it? “Two things are infinite: The universe and human stupidity”.

          6. Let’s meet

            Arthur, you clearly have issues with me since again, your comment has personal attacks on me as a person rather than the movement ("…who has a weight problem").

            I don't know who you are and you clearly don't know who I am. For this reason I would like to meet you via Skype so we can discuss these issues and I can also be sure you are not an instigator spreading hate to divide our people, which is currently what your comments appear to be.

      2. Name the Next Leader

        I don't know the name of the next leader or have anyone in particular in mind. If the three "items" are accomplished from the suggested list, then that means the Armenian people will be united enough to select the best leader for the country and Diaspora. BTW, I envision someone who the people trust and who will stand up for human rights, the rule-of-law and good governance. 

  4. Bleak Future of

    Make no mistake, the corner of the world in which our country is located, is a political quagmire. However, that does not mean that we are unique in our situation. Israel has lived in a similar political atmosphere for decades since its inception.
    We do not have a strong position in the American political sphere as Israel does, yet. Although, it is not as easy to change gears from Moscow to Washington, it is  imperative that we reflect on this option. We are in a strategic corner of the world, and that is our asset, especially after Turkey has recently shown its true colors to the American public.
    Learning the art of political maneuvering and thinking in novel ways, may put us in even a stronger position. Our ability to maintain and preserve our identity and language has shown who we are and what we are capable of. We need to stay united and embrace one united front. Look everywhere for new allies and possible friends for our country. Every Armenian should make friends, be an ambassador for Armenia, and engage in lobbying. Hence, considering who we are and what we are capable of, the future is not bleak, but certainly challenging and difficult.
    1. Comparisons and reality

      Every now and then, in one form or another comparisons and contrasts are drawn between Armenia and Israel or between Armenians and Jews. It's just nauseating.
      I'll limit myself only to pointing out that creation of Israel depended not only on the aspirations of the Jews but on many western factors. It was a form of expansion of imperial interests with the unique phenomenon of the expanded territory (the colony in 19th century terminology) dictates its will to the metropolitan centre.  There is no such comparison with Armenia at all.
      Western values? They are not, they are Greek in origin and the Armenians cherish them.

      The west has betrayed us time and again. If in the past it was colonialism, then imperialism, now it is the same interest driven entity euphemistically called globalization. That of course does not mean Russia is without interests and it did not sell us out. Russia's action is more visible because it involved lands.

      However, for the foreseeable future the interests of the west, particularly that of USA are aligned with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Let's not be carried away by pipe dreams that miraculously the west will champion our causes. Let's not also fall into the trap of transforming the Russian frenemy into a full blown enemy. The choice is between bad and worse.

  5. Depend on Ourselves Only

    We must trust no one. We should depend only on our own strength. Someone or some party must have the vision and courage to unite Armenia, Artsakh, and the Diaspora to do that. Serge is not that person, and his party is not that party.

  6. The future may look much brighter

    While I may agree or disagree with a plethora of ideas and opinions espoused in this commendable editorial,  I must forcefully support the following quotation:

    —"Putin and Sargsyan know Russia is the only game in town for Armenia. Yerevan can’t emulate the Ankara game of playing off Russia against the U.S.  Armenia also needs the Russian shield against Turkbeijan; Russia is the biggest market for Armenian exports; Russia owns the largest chunk of Armenia’s infrastructure; millions of Armenians—many send remittances to Armenia—live in Russia."

    If  only the Armenian intelligentsia were to inject this verity into the political psyche of the masses we could possibly elevate the cohesion and dignity  of our people to a degree high enough to produce from its ranks a ruling elite based on  meritocracy and worthy of the people. We  would then be on our way to a realistic assessment of the dire conditions  we are in and a sound understanding of issues  we are facing–precursors  to solving the problems.

    Incidentally, Armenia is not all that isolated.  Besides Russia, we have a strong Iran as a well meaning neighbor.  Armenia has  been noticeably active internationally. As a full fledged member of the EEU. Armenia is also close to China's OBOR (One Belt One Road) project.   So, even though the present looks bleak indeed, the future may look much brighter.

  7. The analysis is quite fair and objective

    Dear All,

    The analysis is quite fair and objective

    The initial article highlights the fact that how much can 200 million buy? well in my simple analysis….not much and the simple fact of the matter is history will repeat itself if we are not careful and we will be asked to hand over land by "tour de force". 

    Yet again there is nobody to blame but the political novices in Armenia who for 25 years relied on whimsical beliefs that the west would be their champion.

    In simple terms how much are you worth to Russia? Not much really.

    But there is a lot of hope in this scenario if the politicians, and I do NOT mean the Sarkissian junta play it cautiously. Iran NEEDS Armenia and is extremely cautious of its own Azeri population which numbers more than 12 million.

    The entente cordiale between Russia and Turkey will not last forever and in this case we as Armenians MUST have a role in destabilising Turkey on every front. The Kurds are not extremely reliable but they are the most effective factor against Turkbaijan.

    Then comes the issue of land and retaliation, when these Muslims attack, you MUST reply with overwhelming force, and I mean destroy communities, this is how they understand, or at least change the focus of your attack from Karabagh to Nakhichevan or Northern Armenia. Armenia has the strategic advantage of using its length in counterattacking against any soft point.

    However, having said all that, the politicians have woken up only just now after 22 years of sleep walking. Azerbaijan will NOT sit at any negotiating table until you deal a deadly blow. In this particular instance Russia will feel awkward and might not help us but we CAN defend our territory much easier than the rest of the world thinks.

    Yet having said all that, questions come up about the agility of our economy and our military infrastructure. Why are there no missile defences to wipe up Azerbaijan to oblivion, why do we not have our own missile industry, why did it take us so long to renovate and integrate our defence industry, all these mishaps and delays of 25 years were cut short with Azerbaijani petrodollars. The political morons in Armenia need to understand that the next attack could be far more severe and potentially chemical weapons can be used, what are we doing for that? 

    Dear readers,

    It is military, diplomatic (which we do not have at all) and economic power that will make Russia come to your aid. Not by abandoning your country and seeking work in Russia. It is by the reannexation of the sold institutes under the corrupt rule of Kocharyan that will make you an economic power. It is by investment in your universities and creating technology parks that will make you desirable. But yet again for 25 years the politicians pocketed the revenues of the state and ignored the plight of the people.

    The situation is bad but can be remedied if sober people are in power, NOT chess players (Sarkissian). So Mr Sarkissian, could you please answer us, where did your political chess calculations lead?…… nowhere!

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