Hello and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong. In this Conversations on Groong episode we’re going to discuss with our guests Armenia’s foreign policy prospects in the new geopolitical context in the aftermath of the 2020 Artsakh War.
This episode was recorded on Wednesday, July 21, 2021.
On June 20th Armenia’s election resulted in the re-election of Nikol Pashinyan and his Civil Contract party. Meanwhile, tension in foreign affairs continues between Moscow and Ankara. What are the foreign policy prospects for Armenia and Artsakh in the new geopolitical context?
To help us unpack the current situation and the broader regional context, we are joined by:
Dr. Pietro Shakarian, who is a lecturer in Armenian History at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan. His focus is the Soviet era of Armenian history, especially the era of de-Stalinization and Nikita Khrushchev’s Thaw. He has written analyses on Russia and the post-Soviet space for various publications, including The Nation, Hetq, and more.
Yeghia Tashjian, who is a regional analyst and researcher based in Beirut, with expertise in China, Iran, and the Persian Gulf. Tashjian is the Regional Officer of Women in War, a gender-based think tank, a columnist for the Armenian Weekly and hosts a monthly radio program called “Turkey Today”.
Let’s start with a more global context for understanding where the conflict in the South Caucasus sits, in the larger regional and super-power geopolitical shuffling.
The entire southern flank of the former Soviet Union has become one long conflict zone for Russia. So if we think that Russia has been somewhat passive in helping its ally Armenia in 2020, look at all the trouble it has: from Kiev to Kabul there are NATO-supported conflicts, and in most of these theaters of conflict you can also find Turkey selling its drones to Russia’s opponents.
As the US pulled out of Afghanistan, it handed the Kabul airport control over to Turkey. What are the implications for Russia and Iran?
● Afghanistan has long been a part of the cultural world of “Greater Iran.” So by filling in for NATO, is Turkey joining the US-led effort to “contain Iran”? Is Ankara provoking Tehran in its backyard?
● What has been the reaction from the Gulf states and Israel to Turkey’s latest move?
● What has been the reaction from Moscow?
● Is this a new theater for Russo-Iranian alliance?
It’s almost become a cliché to say that Erdogan is pursuing neo-Ottoman imperial dreams in the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.
● Sure, Erdogan is emboldened by the success of Turkish drones in Libya and Artsakh, but how realistic is a new Ottoman Empire from Tripoli to Tajikistan?
● And what of Ankara’s continued use of Syrian mercenaries?
● Turkey’s economic woes, domestic crackdown on dissent
● Is Afghanistan a new “Turkish delight” or “Turkish nightmare”? Will Ankara become a “Prisoner of Afghanistan”?
Let’s talk a little about Armenia’s diplomatic woes. Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan resigned on May 31st, and in the week following, his deputy foreign ministers and ministry spokeswoman Anna Naghdalyan all resigned. Only one deputy’s resignation was rejected, as well as Naghdalyan’s, so the ministry has enough manpower to turn the lights on and off during business hours.
Most diplomatic decisions now go through the Prime Minister. We’re not aware of deeper processes in reaction to Armenia’s foreign policy needs.
● Why did FM Ayvazyan and all his deputies resign at the end of May? Remember that this was 3 weeks after the May 12th incursion of Azeri forces into Armenia proper. And the Foreign Minister alluded to policy disagreements with the Prime Minister.
● What are your thoughts about how the Prime Minister has been handling the Foreign Ministry?
○ There was a lot of criticism of the MFA upon the resignation of the FM and his deputies. What are your thoughts about how the Foreign Ministry handled the Prime Minister?
● Has the June 20 election strengthened the Prime Minister, or prolonged Armenia’s political crisis?
● Does the Prime Minister have a strategy for navigating through the current state of affairs?
○ Does Civil Contract have the depth and skills to staff an experienced diplomatic corp? There have been rumors that NSC chair Armen Grigorian is slated to become the next FM, yet he has no diplomatic experience at all.
● Is Armenia making wise use of its alliances with Russia, and with the CSTO?
● What is the future of the CSTO and how is Armenia using this organization?
Sevan, Yerevan, and Syunik, which he now calls “west Zangezur”, and probably most of the rest of Armenia are on the Caspian Khan’s latest “wish list” of territorial demands. These claims are backed up by constant, and we mean daily, threats of force and Turkish declarations of support.
● Is this mere Bakuvian bluster, or is the “Kuwait on the Caspian” setting its sights on snatching a slice of Armenia proper, in addition to the remainder of Artsakh?
Baku’s latest provocations:
○ In Artsakh, Aliyev seeks to fortify his position and strengthen control over Shushi, Hadrut, and other Azerbaijani-controlled areas of Artsakh.
○ In Yeraskh: Baku is escalating tensions in this area immediately north of Nakhijevan and 68 km from Yerevan and close to Armenia’s north-south highway.
○ There is daily cross-border fire along the eastern borders of Syunik and Gegharkunik.
● What has been the reaction from Armenia’s Prime Minister and Foreign Ministry?
● Are Azerbaijan and Turkey preparing for a new war against Armenia and Artsakh?
○ What is Pashinyan’s plan to defend Armenia and Artsakh?
○ Can Pashinyan defend Artsakh? Can he even visit Artsakh?
○ Will Artsakh coordinate with Moscow directly if Yerevan is unwilling or unable to defend it against Baku and Ankara?
○ What is the Turkish endgame in Artsakh? How will Russia respond?
That concludes this week’s Conversation On Groong on Armenian foreign policy and its geopolitical contexts. We’ll continue following this discussion and keep you abreast of the latest developments.
We hope this Conversation has helped your understanding of some of the issues involved. We look forward to your feedback, including your suggestions for Conversation topics in the future. Contact us on our website, at groong.org, or on our Facebook Page “ANN - Groong”, or in our Facebook Group “Groong - Armenian News Network”.
Special thanks to Laura Osborn for providing the music for our podcast. I’m Hovik Manucharyan, and on behalf of everyone in this episode, I wish you a good week. Thank you for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
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Yeghia Tashjian, Pietro Shakarian, Armenia, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Foreign Policy, Yerevan, Moscow, Kremlin, Ankara, Tehran, Baku, Nagorno Karabakh, Artsakh, Shushi, Yeraskh, Nakhijevan, Caucasus, Black Sea, Middle East, Central Asia, Afghanistan, NATO, CSTO