Armenia is not blameless in this situation. Let it be clear that the Armenian administrations since the independence in 1991 have failed capitally to create a stable domestic atmosphere that could ease the economic sanctions. While the joint Turkish-Azeri blockade does play a major role, not all shortcomings in Armenia can be blamed on external hostile forces. The constant high level of corruption and the post-Soviet oligarchy, quite symptomatic in other post-Soviet non-Baltic states, reigns supreme in Armenia and are the main impediments for the country becoming more attractive and strategic to invest in, economically, and politically. The failure of three consecutive administrations to remedy these issues is also evident in the apathy which is now being seen in Armenia, but also in diaspora. While consecutive alarming reports show the exodus of the Armenian population in search of jobs, social security, and welfare, neither the government nor the opposition has done much tangible to remedy it.

However, the current apathy of the people, inside as well as outside Armenia, could also be an ominous sign of rupture. Rather being a sign of concession and approval, the silence could very well be due to the sense of conceived helplessness and perplexity just before the crackdown: the discontented population boils down to a critical mass when those who were able to emigrate have left the country and the people have been reduced to those who were not able to leave as well as those who stayed due to their principal stand and patriotism. The stage will be set for a revolution of some color. Whether it would be orange, purple, or red will depend on the boiling point.

The second sign of the unsustainability of the EU’s current policy towards the Caucasus is the process and the outcome of the much criticized Azerbaijani presidential election and the apparent cover-up attempts made by the EU to conceal the backward movement of Azerbaijan in regard to democracy and human rights. While the increasing authoritarian rule in Azerbaijan should be viewed from its apparent negative impacts on the Azerbaijani society in general, it has even more perilous prospects for the Karabakh population, who are currently subjected to the Azeri policy of submission by economical humiliation. Needless to say, given that the Baku policy succeeds, the subsequent Azeri-Karabakh relations will be neither sincere nor lasting, and thus the stage will be set for a new reenactment of the entire conflict.

Criticizing the democratic shortcomings of Azerbaijan does not imply the imperfection of the same institutes in Armenia. Even if the Armenian presidential election last February were judged as “improved conduct,” one should not rejoice too eagerly for the positive assessments, remembering the low bar set by the events in March 2008.[25] Nevertheless, it would be incorrect to keep Armenia and Azerbaijan in parity, especially when approaching the issue of Karabakh. The EU and the OSCE should criticize where needed and praise where it is deserved. The non-nuanced and watered down statements by these institutions have started to lose whatever shred of credibility and authority they had. Nowadays, the media releases the OSCE statements almost verbatim days prior to their official release simply because they are a carbon copy of the toothless and insignificant policy of the past 20 years.

The European indifference and inefficiency has also enticed Baku to start testing the limits. One such provocation was the extradition of the Azerbaijani officer Ramil Safarov, convicted to life in prison in Hungary for murdering his sleeping Armenian colleague with an axe during a NATO course in Budapest. Upon Safarov’s return to Baku, he was elevated to a national hero and praised for his actions.[26] The boasting about having an annual military budget greater than the entire GDP of Armenia[27] was a goal set by President Aliyev and confirmed by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), ranking Azerbaijan as the number one country in the world in terms of the growth of country’s military spending.[28] The arm race does not bode well. While the previous clashes, which killed about 30,000 people and made almost a million refugees back in the 1990s, was fought with outdated Soviet weapons, an armed encounter today between armies equipped with the latest weapons would have much more destructive power. Thus, the warring rhetoric of Baku in combination with the escalation of fatal incidents on the line of contact during the past 2-3 years is highly worrying. Aside from refusing to withdraw its snipers from the line of contact,[29] Azerbaijan has started testing the Armenian reaction and combat readiness, even extending this by shelling Armenian territory and civilian targets far away from Karabakh.[30]

The signs of the unsustainability of the European appeasement policy towards South Caucasus are gathering fast, and unless the OSCE and the other involved parties make a radical change, the situation in the region will deteriorate rapidly, with potentially disastrous consequences. Yerevan must choose reforms and rapid firm measures to halt the exodus, infuse confidence into the diaspora and make the country attractive for foreign economic and political investments. The current situation reminds too well of the process leading to the loss of sovereignty in 1920, when an Armenia jammed between Moscow and Ankara and abandoned by Europe and the US, ironically for the sake of securing their share of the oil resources in Middle East, was forced to choose the less perilous path of Sovietization by the Red Army over the certain annihilation by the advancing Turkish army; the Armenian leadership should not be keen on repeating this history. The EU, the US, and the OSCE should differentiate between Armenia and Azerbaijan based on the real facts at hand in order to bring an end to the Karabakh conflict; that is, if they really want the conflict to end based on the values heralded in their respective charters. Russia has long been Armenia’s closest ally and vice versa. Having antagonized a NATO-aspiring Georgia while holding Azerbaijan in check using the Karabakh card, Armenia is the only reliable Russian ally left in the Caucasus; assuming that Moscow is not building the new union in the very same manner as the previous time, i.e., by annexing sovereign states, willing and reluctant alike. No one would benefit from a Soviet Union 2.0 or a renewed Karabakh war. History is said to teach us lessons. However, it has also been said that the only lesson learned is that we don’t learn anything from history.

References

[1] Kristin Deasy, Azerbaijan’s Aliyev wins third presidential term: Exit poll, Global Post, 9 October, 2013; www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/131009/azerbaijans-aliyev-wins-third-presidential-term-exit-poll

[2] E.g. see International Election Observation Mission: Republic of Armenia — Presidential Election, 18 February 2013 Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, 19 February 2013; www.osce.org/odihr/elections/99675

[3] Election in Azerbaijan undermined by limitations on fundamental freedoms, lack of level playing field and significant problems on election day, international observers say, OSCE, 9 October, 2013; www.osce.org/odihr/elections/106908

[4] Presidential election in Azerbaijan: joint statement by PACE and EP delegations, PACE, 10 October 2013; www.assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/News/News-View-EN.asp?newsid=4699&lang=2&cat=31

[5] Henrik Sundbom, Lågvatten i Azerbajdzjan – och i Europarådet, Frivärld Magasin, 22 October 2013; www.frivarld.se/magasin/lagvatten-i-azerbajdzjan-och-i-europaradet

[6] For the Vilnius Summit see The third Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania, 2013; www.eu2013.lt/en/vilnius-summit

[7] The Eurasian Economic Union is usually described as the grand plan of Vladimir Putin as a competitor and alternative to the European Union and is planned to be implemented in 2015. The Customs Union, initiated in 2010, is a preliminary stage of the project and consists of the member states Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. For a analysis of the viability of the Eurasian Union see Steven Blockmans, Hrant Kostanyan, Ievgen Vorobiov, Eurasian Economic Union: Less than favourable outcome for economic integration, EurActiv.com, 18 December 2012; www.euractiv.com/europes-east/eurasian-economic-union-favourab-analysis-516738

[8] Serzh Sargsyan announce aobut Armenia’s decision to join Customs Union, Armenpress, 3 September 2013; www.armenpress.am/eng/news/731583

[9] E.g. see On Agenda: Upcoming Sargsyan-Putin meeting likely to focus on Armenia’s EU integration plans, ArmeniaNow.com, 2 September 2013; armenianow.com/commentary/analysis/48105/armenia_president_serzh_sargsyan_moscow_putin

[10] E.g. see the dismissal of an Armenian Customs Union membership by the senior member Galust Sahakyan in U-Turn: Official Yerevan’s ‘desire’ to join Russia-led Customs Union comes as ‘big surprise’ for many in Armenia, ArmeniaNow.com, 4 September 2013; armenianow.com/commentary/analysis/48191/armenia_eurasian_union_customs_eu_russia

[11] Yerevan says, ‘Russia is our military choice, EU our economic’, Panorama.am, 13 August 2013; www.panorama.am/en/popular/2013/08/13/armenia-russia-eu