Armenia: Caught In Its Own Trap?

Ivan Sascha Sheehan

Posted: Oct 23, 2020 12:01 AM

Armenians are renowned the world over as a resourceful and skillful people. For a small nation, they have produced a remarkable number of impressive and original minds, and Kardashians too.

But Armenians’ fabled ingenuity notwithstanding, the country of Armenia has fallen into a sophisticated trap of its own making – bankrupting its intellectually wealthy but economically fragile nation and stifling its own advancement.

The trap – initially designed as a ploy to secure the permanent, internationally condoned transfer of a large swath of sovereign territory in neighboring Azerbaijan – now appears to have backfired.

The stage was set by 1994, following a brutal war with Armenia, who then controlled Nagorno Karabakh, an enclave within Azerbaijan with an ethnic Armenian population and seven surrounding ethnic Azerbaijani districts. Seven hundred thousand Azerbaijanis were evicted from Karabakh, becoming Internally Displaced Persons, with an additional 300,000 from Armenia becoming refugees. The outcome was the occupation of territory – approximately 25 percent of Azerbaijan – and ethnic cleansing in all but name.

United Nations Security Council, General Assembly, Council of Europe, and European Parliament resolutions followed – all demanding the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan be restored. But Armenia leveraged a sham independence referendum, held in Nagorno-Karabakh, which even they did not recognize.

With a synchronized troupe of skilled diplomats from a trio of Great Powers treading water, Armenia’s answer was not to comply with international law but to buy time and stay afloat.

Thanks to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group – co-chaired by negotiators from the United States, Russia, and France – repeated talks took place, with near breakthroughs but little demonstrable progress, for close to three decades. During this time, Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven other occupied regions remained under Armenia’s control.

Cut off from the sea – its nearest coast in Azerbaijan – and lacking the oil wealth and natural resources of its neighbors had stunted Armenia’s growth for decades. The steep costs associated with funding the occupied territories for almost thirty years had proven a further burden. Enter Nikol Pashinyan. A former journalist and opposition politician, Pashinyan was raised to power from the streets by a “velvet revolution” of mass protest against endemic corruption and economic failure in Armenia.

Pashinyan seemed Western, and more reasonable at first. Ascending to power with calls for freedoms and rights ringing in his ears, he could have, perhaps, negotiated a settlement that may have advanced Armenia economically – returning occupied lands in exchange for jobs and investment. But instead, the offensive posture that facilitated his rise led him to demand that Minsk Group co-chairs, as well as Azerbaijan, include leaders from the unrecognized and illegal “Republic” in a naked attempt to force the issue of legal independence for the occupied territories onto the agenda.