Armenia: Off Balance and In Peril

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Horizon Armenian Magazine
Quebec, Canada
December, 2003

Armenia: Off Balance and In Peril
By David Boyajian

The rising tide of American power surging across the face of Asia since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 is dangerously eroding the regional balance of power between Russia and the West on which Armenia relies.

Why is that balance crucial to Armenia, and what forces are eroding it?

While Armenia values its Russian neighbor as a strategic ally against Turkey, it also maintains excellent relations with the West, particularly the United States, for economic, political, cultural, and historical reasons.

Yerevan recognizes, however, that over reliance on Moscow risks the latter's taking it for granted, even selling it out to Turkey and Azerbaijan, as when Soviet Russia ceded Armenian land to those countries in the 1920's. rmenia knows that it must never again let itself become a bargaining chip to be traded away.

Similarly, were Armenia to fall into the American orbit, the interests of Turkey - a NATO member with many links to the West - would likely always supersede those of its much smaller and poorer neighbor. Yerevan is also painfully aware that the "Christian" West has blood on its hands for historically having broken every pledge to shield Armenians from Turkish brutality. More recently, the West left Karabagh to fend for itself and is quite content to let Turkey blockade Armenia.

Russia in Retreat

Its infrastructure rotting and its military in tatters, Russia is yielding, even in its own backyard - the Caucasus and Central Asia - to the United States.

The endless, internal war in Chechnya is also sapping Russia's strength.

Even before 9/11, the US was using economic, political, and military assistance to gain toeholds in the eight former Soviet republics along Russia's southern rim: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Washington's goals were, and remain, to tap the region's sizeable oil and gas resources and to prevent Russia from re-dominating its former territories.

Then along came 9/11 and the "war on terrorism" (WOT). These provided Washington the perfect excuse to accelerate its penetration of the region.

Using the WOT as a cover, the US positioned troops or bases in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, and Iraq, with more on the way.

Incidentally, were the WOT really about terrorism, the US State Department would be lavishing praise on Armenia, which is the only - yes, only - country within a wide radius whose territory, citizens, and government have had no links whatsoever to al-Qaeda.


9/11 was also a windfall for the Bush administration's so-called neo-conservatives, a group of hard-line Jewish Americans that includes the Pentagon's Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and Abram Shulsky. Their unspoken plan, which is at odds with American interests and values, is for the US to defeat Israel's enemies.

Neo-conservatives were behind President Bush's decision to invade Iraq, and have now pushed Iran and Syria into the White House's gun sights. But whether for the WOT, oil and gas, the containment of Russia, or Israel, the fact is that the US is driving harder than ever into the Middle East, Caucasus, and Central Asia.

As for the lovers' quarrel between Ankara and Washington over the former's refusal to help invade Iraq, our amusement at that may be short-lived. Turkey, particularly its eastern half, is still the only land route into the energy-rich Caspian basin from the west that bypasses Russia and Iran. Turkey knows, therefore, that it still figures prominently in Washington's plans.

Armenia Surrounded

As US power grows and that of Russia recedes, Armenia's room to maneuver shrinks.

On three points of the compass, Armenia is surrounded by the US-led, anti-Russian bloc of Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

The latter countries' Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which makes little economic sense but is under construction regardless, is an obvious cover for American, Turkish, and British geo-political ambitions.

In addition, Georgia and Azerbaijan, in search of refuge from the Russian bear, seek membership in NATO alongside Turkey. Georgia exercises leverage over Armenia because it controls the latter's routes to the Black Sea and Russia, which exports natural gas to Armenia. Georgian leaders continue to be angry over the possibility of Armenian separatism in the southwest province of Javakh.

Washington's romance with Tbilisi is due to the fact that Georgia is the only western entry point into the Caucasus, given Turkey's closure of its border with Armenia. If dominated by the US, Tbilisi will exert considerable pressure on Yerevan, Russian protests notwithstanding.

To the south lies friendly but troubled Iran, Armenia's only other link to the outside world. Iran, say Washington and some others, is developing nuclear weapons and may be sheltering al-Qaeda terrorists.

The US is not only openly targeting Iran for destabilization and "regime change" but also encouraging Azeri separatists in the northwest Iranian provinces that border Armenia's Meghri region.

American Empire

It is quite possible that Iran, Syria, and Iraq - the latter now under American occupation - will fall under the sway of the US and also eventually sign accords with Israel. (Recall that Tehran under Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was a friend of Washington and Tel Aviv.)

With its newfound hegemony, the US would then use Iran as a southern route into Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea, and Turkmenistan. This would reduce, though not eliminate, the importance of the present route from eastern Turkey into Georgia.

Turkey, in this scenario, would lose much of its present leverage over the US. The Israeli-Turkish partnership, now held together mainly by mutual hostility toward Syria, Iraq, and Iran, would weaken, leading the powerful Jewish diaspora to be less supportive of Turkey.

Anything that diminishes Turkish influence and prestige is, of course, good for Armenia. On the other hand, US sway over Syria, Iraq, Iran, and beyond would come at the expense of Russian regional clout. In the end, Ankara, as Washington's NATO ally, would benefit. Yerevan, as Moscow's ally, would not.

Might Armenia then come under American or NATO "protection"? Perhaps, but history tells us that when it comes to supporting Armenians against Turks, the West is all talk, and no action.

Even the Russians cannot be fully relied on. Indeed, it is likely that the US will ultimately bribe or force Russia to remove its troops and bases from Armenia.

If eastern Turkey lost its value as Washington's sole land bridge into the Caucasus, a side effect could be lessened US resistance to the creation of a Kurdish state. While perhaps serving as a buffer between Armenia and Turkey, such a Kurdistan would, unfortunately, incorporate most of historic Armenia.

Admittedly, much of this is speculation since total American domination of the Middle East is by no means assured, especially as the human and dollar costs of the US occupation of Iraq mount. Even so, with big, red bull's-eyes on their chests, Iran and Syria will come under increasing pressure from Washington, especially if President George Bush wins a second term.

The Armenian Future

Armenia's people have been enormously courageous, most notably in their sacrifices for Karabagh. But the way things are headed, externally and internally, Armenia can barely hope to defend its national rights and territory, never mind aspire to be a Swiss-like, regional middleman.

Indeed, some of the "reconciliation" folks would have Armenia and the Diaspora forsake the Genocide and, in effect, forever avoid anything that might annoy Turkey, lest it inflict another "1915" on us. These Armenians believe, in essence, that Armenia must surrender to the onrushing tide of history.

Avoiding such a dismal future will, however, require a transformation, not grand rhetoric. Armenia can afford neither the luxury of corruption, plodding Soviet-style leadership that demoralizes its own people and the Diaspora, nor the continuing Russian takeover of vital industries.

Armenia has, of course, made strides. For example, to break out of its regional straightjacket, Armenia has secured membership in the Council of Europe, World Trade Organization, and NATO's Partnership for Peace. It has established good relations with Arab countries, China, India, Central Asian nations such as Turkmenistan, and many others.

Still, Armenia's leaders have not made maximum use of certain strengths, such as Karabagh and the Diaspora.

The US and Europe yearn for a Karabagh peace agreement because its effect will be to open up the entire Caucasus to full-scale political and economic penetration.

Yerevan needs to be imaginative to receive things of equal value in return, such as a secure route to the Black Sea, guaranteed access to energy resources, rehabilitation of its all-important nuclear power plant, and progress on the Genocide issue.

Though the Diaspora is not being used effectively enough due to Armenia's ineptness, it has its own faults. Armenian American lobbying groups, for example, need a shake-up and massive fundraising in order to hire full-time field workers who will light a fire under thousands of the politically apathetic.

If Armenia and the Diaspora fail to revitalize themselves with dedicated, imaginative leaders who will fight with every ounce of energy we can muster, the homeland and our hopes are headed into the abyss.

Article used with authors permission.