Armenia – The Unexpected Revelations of the Long Summer of 2013

By Lusine Petrosyan

The year 2013 started pretty dull in Armenia despite the scheduled Presidential elections in February. The four of the six parliamentary parties didn’t nominate own candidates and left the duel arena mainly to Heritage Party leader Raffi K. Hovannisian and the Republican leader, President-in-office Serzh Sargsyan. On February 18 the elections took place, the incumbent President was declared the winner of the race. Mr. Hovannisian didn’t acknowledge the announced results and rallied his supporters in the Liberty Square of capital Yerevan. Hovannisian’s rallies, tours around the country, hunger-strike, etc. lasted for almost two months but didn’t change much. The incumbent President entered the office for the second term on April 9 and the political landscape even without any noticeable regroupings arrived to a new election race for the seats at Yerevan Council. This endless election marathon reached to closure at the end of May and since then some notable events began to unfold.

May 28 – Prince Charles arrives to Armenia

The Armenia’s history counts more than three thousand years, the first Armenian Kingdom called Ararat or Urartu came into being more than three millenniums ago and the last Armenian Kingdom – the Armenian Cilicia fell down almost half a millennium ago. In the beginning of the 20th century Armenia regained independence establishing The First Republic (1918-1920) but since the fall of the last kingdom Armenia hadn’t hosted a member from British Royal family. Prince Charles arrived to Armenia on a very special day – May 28, 2013 – the 95th anniversary of the First Republic’s independence declaration and therefore the visit willingly or not carried much symbolism.
The UK and France are closely tied to the rebirth of the Armenian national state. They were the first that internationally recognized the right of the Armenians after centuries of discontinuance to reestablish the Armenian national state covering most of the Armenian Plateau and possessing a territory some 6 -7 times larger than today’s Armenia. That vision of the Prime Ministers David Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau and the UK and French governments of the day was defined in the Sykes-Picot agreement concluded in 1916 and further embodied in the Sevres Treaties signed in 1920.

Simply two other nations – the Turks and the Russians pretty frightened by the vision of an independent Armenia in the Sevres Treaty boundaries, politically adjoined to Europe that inevitably would become a citadel of European presence in Asia Minor – prevented the implementation of the Treaty. These two nations jointly occupied the Armenian territories and signed a separate bilateral agreement in 1921 brutally violating the international Treaties of Sevres. But the Russian-Turkish tandem also actually prevented the 1915 Armenian genocide survivors from returning to motherland and surrendered the lands – belonged to Armenians for millenniums – to Turkish control. Turkey never did this alone – but in bold partnership with Russia. This is the truth – intentionally falsified and distorted by the Russian-Soviet historiography in a way that many even in Armenia think of Russians to be almost saviors – while they were the actual destroyers next to Turks.

Prince Charles‘ visit on that very special day – the anniversary of the First Republic – carried the symbolism of the events of 95 years age and the Russia’s notorious role in the history of Armenia and particularly the First Republic. Still in May 2013 one couldn’t imagine that official Yerevan will move that further on the path of historical truth that nearly a month later the Prosecutor General of Armenia will talk before a broad lawyers audience about the Sevres Treaties, particularly emphasizing that it keeps to be a valid document – at least in its part referring to Armenia – as it wasn’t reviewed or annihilated by international signatories ever after signing in 1920 at Versailles Peace Conference.

July 5 – Unfolding zigzags in relations with Russia

It happened so that the Prince Charles visit to Armenia coincided with a CIS leaders’ summit somewhere in Central Asia. The Armenian president didn’t attend it, just participated in May 28 celebrations round the country and also received Prince Charles. Nothing special was there but all the Russophiles in Armenian press and politics – not that large but a rather noisy community – came together to tell in one way or another that the President Sargsyan’s non-attendance of CIS summit was a clear anti-Russian step and promised harsh responses from Moscow. They were too angry to persuade.

However, almost a fortnight later came the news that Russia had sold some strategic attacking weaponry to Azerbaijan – for the sum of approximately 1 billion dollars (Azerbaijan is in state of ceasefire with Nagorno-Karabakh – an Armenian self-declared state, not recognized internationally that fought and won the war with Azerbaijan in 1990-94). Hardly this was the first weapon deal between the two countries or the last – simply this time it was done explicitly. The Armenian authorities publicly didn’t react to the news, but nearly a month later came news that Armenia had purchased more advanced weapons from China. Still the broad public reaction in Armenia wasn’t that calm – the anti-Russian sentiments began to prevail in social networks, press, everyday talks revealing more hatred that anything else.

Surprisingly in mid-July an Armenian lorry driver fell into an accident in Russia. His vehicle hurtled to a bus carrying almost hundred people. Many of these people regrettably died, the others got heavy injuries and the driver himself was hospitalized. Several days later he was taken from hospital to a court hearing in a woman’s housecoat. This piece of information and the photo with housecoat originated an astonishing public reaction in Armenia. For almost a week and even longer the civil activists demonstrated against the Russian Embassy, the media and NGO sector erupted with insults and blasphemy towards Russia. The Armenian Foreign Ministry was obliged to engage with the issue of driver, the Ombudsman left to Moscow, still the public anger didn’t calm down.

The Russian Ambassador to Armenia seemed pretty confused and finally arrived to accusing the hostile forces for nourishing and fostering anti-Russian moods in Armenia. That was the luck of this diplomat that he isn’t a sociologist otherwise he’d apprehend that the anti-Russian sentiments in Armenia are pretty spread and none needs to stimulate specially – any casual incident may reveal it.

All this developments unveiled the Armenian public mood that Russia couldn’t ignore. Still the most notable turn in Armenian-Russian relations unexpectedly came from the authorities. On the Day of Constitution – July 5 – the Prosecutor General of Armenia officially talked about the Sevres Treaties and the Armenian rights in that framework. Reviving the theme of Sevres Treaty and the Armenian rights could mean nothing else but condemnation of those who blocked its implementation – first and foremost that was Russia. Whether the Sevres Treaty regulations mean something in today politics or not – the knowledge and statement of truth that at the end of day equates the Russians with the Turks inevitably leads to a crash of Armenian-Russian friendship stereotypes.
Several days later Armenia and EU stated that the negotiations on EU Association Agreement are successfully concluded and Armenia is ready to sign the documents at Vilnius Summit of Eastern Partnership in November.

September 3 – Moscow declaration about Armenia’s U-turn

Most of the August both the President and the Foreign Minister of Armenia seemed to be on vacation and the back-benchers of the ruling Republican Party chatted about the Association Agreement with the EU. On September 3 the Armenian president paid a working visit to Moscow and there announced about Armenia’s intention to join Putin’s Customs Union. For the public the news broke as a thunder in blue sky.

It’s understandable to everyone that Russia achieved that declaration through pressure and blackmail. But the Russian methods have been the same for centuries – so the Russian behavior could be an explanation, still not a surprise or justification. It’s difficult to believe that either Armenia or the EU leaders were that naive not to calculate the malfeasance from Russia when there’s the frozen conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh and Russia may easily destabilize the situation in the region.

That perspective had to be clear and kept before eye along all 3.5 years while the EU and Armenia were negotiating the Association Agreement and DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement). The contra-measures had to be considered as well.

Anyway exactly on the next day Armenia stated that signing of agreements in Vilnius later this year are in agenda and the EU officially stated: “We look forward to understanding better from Armenia what their intentions are and how they wish to ensure compatibility between these and the commitments undertaken through the Association Agreement and DCFTA. Once this consultation has been completed, we will draw our conclusions on the way forward. We want to underline once again that AA/DCFTA is a blueprint for reforms beneficial for all and not a zero-sum game and could be compatible with economic cooperation with the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States”.

On September 5 the Armenian Foreign Minister left for Brussels then to Vilnius meeting the Enlargement Commissioner and the Foreign Minister of the EU presiding country – Lithuania. To this moment it’s told that the Armenian involvement in Eastern Partnership shall continue and the intensive consultations must go on between Armenia and the EU to get the thorough picture of the situation and consider the solutions. On September 11-13 Commissioner Fule is arriving to Yerevan for a Eastern Partnership Foreign Ministers’ informal meeting that has to prepare the Vilnius summit of November 28-29. Hopefully something more will be known then.

Anyway everyone understands that Russia creates obstacles not for Armenia alone but for the Eastern Partnership in whole trying to prevent all those four countries – Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – from integrating with the EU. The pressures, methods and reactions are different in case of each participant but the Russia’s hopeless attempts to delay indivertible integration of these countries with EU are apparent everywhere. Therefore the best response can be a common one.

The statement released after EU Foreign Ministers September 7 meeting came to affirm this: “The member states express their solidarity with the countries of the Eastern Partnership programme that have chosen the European path and strongly support them. Russia’s pressure on Ukraine and other Eastern Partnership countries will increase, so it is important to keep this item on the EU agenda. We must consider ways to help the countries withstand such pressure”.

Meanwhile Armenian civil activists conduct some memorable protests before the Presidential office and the Republican Party office calling the Armenian President Sargsyan “cheburashka” (famous Soviet cartoon personage) for the statements he made in Moscow. Hopefully he’ll succeed to prove to be something different.

Lusine_Petrosyan_130909_Jarangutyun 2
Lusine Petrosyan is an Armenian journalist. In 2012 she was nominated for UNESCO Guillermo Cano Prize by Thomson Foundation (UK). In February 2012 she moved into politics and joined the oppositional Heritage party – also an observer in European Peoples’ Party. Since June 2012 she is a Heritage Board member and the Coordinator of Party Headquarters.

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