By Arye Gut, political analyst
There are several countries and territories, whose future is highly questionable for and raises resinous concerns of the world community. The reason is quite clear - the vacuum observed in problematic areas threatens to turn them into a zone of increased risks.
In order to prevent undesirable trends for general security, international institutions initiate an active search with the participation of venerable scientists and specialists in political science, economics, sociology, demography and other spheres.
There are many countries of concern, and the Republic of Armenia, a country in the South Caucasus, is among them. Judging by decreasing number of population in Armenia, this country has an alarming prospect to rank with such countries, as Rwanda, Haiti, or Western Sahara. Moreover, if all the misfortunes in these states are caused by internecine strife, natural disasters and other troubles, in Armenia there is a latent genocide against its own people.
Armenia is self-isolated country in the South Caucasus region due to its unreasonable territorial claims against neighboring states Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia. Mainly because of the occupation of Azerbaijani lands and the ongoing military aggression, Armenia has remained largely outside the main geopolitical, geo-economic, transport and other projects, associated with the gas and oil resources of the Caspian Sea, as well as the Great Silk Road, a great trade route originating in China.
At the present stage, Armenia is the most backward and dependent country in the South Caucasus. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia has been completely dependent on Russia's foreign policy and foreign economic ambitions, as well as on the vagaries of the world Armenian diaspora. Geopolitically Armenia is Russia’s outpost in the South Caucasus. However, Armenia has no way out: this country has made its own enemies, so it is forced to cooperate with Russia. The Armenian economy is in a deplorable state, it determines and will be determined by the fact that Armenia is slowly becoming a full satellite of Russia. Moscow is Armenia's main foreign trade partner and in fact the only guarantor of its security. Although the security guarantee is a controversial concept, not all can trust it in Armenia. But at the same time, Russia ranks first among the investors in the Armenian economy.
The Armenian mass media writes: “Armenia was forced to submit to the dictates of Russia regarding the construction of the Iran-Armenia main gas pipeline, the railroad along a similar route, the road to the Black Sea. Russia aims to isolate Iran from Western Europe, and Armenia, in fact, has become an accomplice in this large-scale adventure.”
Armenia, a small country with a population of three million, has been in the position of geopolitical isolation in recent years. Armenia survives thanks to the rich Armenian diaspora (private transfers account for two billion dollars a year) and sponsorship of the US Congress. However, nowadays even the diaspora no longer helps Armenia, as it is dissatisfied with the way President Serzh Sargsyan is robbing the Armenian people, and with the country's mafia clans and corrupt officials’ rule. Armenia's great dependence on the outside world, which has overstepped all permissible norms, can seriously impede the realization of opportunities in the future. There is nothing personal, just a business.
Over the past eight years, during the presidency of Sargsyan, Armenia's external debt has grown by more than 300 percent and now accounts for more than 50 percent of GDP. With the increasing external debt in comparison with the real income, Armenia is likely to face a full default. International financial institutions have repeatedly expressed their concern about this. Despite the fact that the country indicates the poverty level at 32 percent, in reality this figure exceeds 60 percent. Despite the funds raised from abroad, there is no sustainable development in the country, an economic base and structure have not been created.
According to the head of the sociological research center of Armenia Gevorg Pogosyan, the cause of the mass "suitcase mood" is the deplorable state of the Armenian economy. The population perceives the economic policy implemented in the country negatively, choosing an emigration as the only solution.
If you take into account that any economy is a concentrated expression of the implemented policy, the main reason for all Armenian misfortunes becomes obvious. The country is torn apart by uncompromising strife within the power elite. Regardless of budget, how it is formed in the government and how it is justified, the country’s population can get only crumbs. It is impossible to patch a gap in the budget owing to the lack of means, and mainly due to a total embezzlement and irrational profiling of the proceeds.
The lawlessness and impunity, initiated by the authorities of the country, brought the situation to the point that non-professionals and incompetent amateurs took the country's destiny into their hands. They were those to whom the former field commander of the Karabakh separatists and terrorists Serzh Sargsyan pays tribute for their "combat merits". And this circle of so-called personalities, mainly, is formed by people from Nagorno-Karabakh, through which President Sargsyan has built his "military political column".
The presidential term of Serzh Sargsyan expires in 2018. He has initiated an amendment to the constitution, which was adopted as a result of a widely-criticized referendum in December 2015. The amendment provides for the transformation of Armenia from the presidential to a parliamentary republic. Critics argue that Sargsyan's goal is to preserve both his own power and the power of his allies after 2018. There had not been serious public discussion of the amendment before it was taken to a referendum, but the position of its critics was reflected in public protests and in social media. Representatives of various civil organizations and political opposition, the economic and political elite, including Robert Kocharyan, argued against the amendment fearing that the ruling party will manipulate the forthcoming elections for its own benefit – as it has already happened in the past.
Nowadays the real state of the Armenian economy is extremely difficult, Prime Minister of Armenia Karen Karapetyan has recently said addressing the Parliament. According to him, taking into account this fact, the government will present a program within the planned timeframe, which will include all the necessary changes for the development of economy. In particular, he pointed out that the program will target the economic development and will be implemented in two stages - the first will include those possible rapid changes that can somehow instill confidence in the program, and the second stage is a long-term vision of the country's development.
"We have no expectations that we will be able to change the situation in the economy quickly, but we give impulses, in which direction it will develop," Karapetyan said.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of strategy and tactics, due to Sargsyan's unreasoned political and economic policy, the people of Armenia are suffering and their number is gradually decreasing. It is not excluded that neighboring countries also suffer from such a policy.
The official average salary in Armenia is 185,000 drams (340 dollars), but apart from oligarchs, the majority earns slightly more than half of this amount. The statistics show that 18 percent of people are unemployed (anti-record of the post-Soviet republics), and 29.8 percent of Armenians live below the poverty line, which is not surprising considering the local pension of 41,000 drams (about $80). At the same time, for the gas alone, Yerevan residents have to pay up to 60,000 drams (about $116) in winter and up to 20,000 drams (about $40) in summer. It is necessary to ask Sargsyan how the Armenian people should survive at all. Of course, at the expense of relatives living in foreign countries, but not everyone has such relatives.
In a sense, regular aid is not only a salvation, but also a curse of the republic. Despite the fact that remittances in rubles, dollars and euros allow people to survive, they also deprive them of the motivation to grow. The average Armenian permanently residing in the country prefers to send his child abroad to earn money rather than build his own career. And the young people who move abroad and taste a better life and freedom, don’t want to return to Armenia and don’t want to die in the occupied foreign territory (Nagorno-Karabakh). And this factor hits the demography of Armenia, both in quantitative and in age ratio. It turns out that Armenia can gradually become empty, and in the future even the destiny of this state will be unknown – it can disappear.
I would like to make a small digression and uncover the roots of all the hardships that struck the Armenian people and the country itself. The bad luck of Armenia started with the occupation of 20 percent of the Azerbaijani territories. After this, Armenia went into the complete geopolitical and geo-economic isolation. Armenia is a small country, therefore, it does not have a capacious market. This country cannot compete with Kazakhstan, Russia, China or even with Ukraine. Accordingly, foreign business will not be interested in 3 million Armenian consumers. If Armenia had several billion cubic meters of gas or oil, then everything could be different, but Armenia is not Saudi Arabia or Azerbaijan. In addition, Armenia has problems with its neighbors: Turkey and Azerbaijan are blocking Armenia because of its aggression against Azerbaijan (in turn, Armenia is blocking part of Azerbaijan - Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic), and Georgia and Iran have a difficult relationship with Russia and the United States. Armenia has friendly relations only with Iran, but these relations raise a lot of questions.
For example, the Armenian website Lragir.am writes: "For a long time, Iran tried to influence Armenia, establishing relations with various political parties, financing groups and individual actions of political groups, there were also attempts to establish branches of the Lebanese Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah in Yerevan and in Stepanakert, recruit more or less trained people for the terrorists of Hezbollah”. Thus, Iran tried to create a branch of the Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah in the occupied territory of Azerbaijan – Nagorno-Karabakh – and may already have created it, because two years have passed since the article was released.
And here comes the question: Why does Shiite Iran support Christian Armenia against Azerbaijan? Where are the Islamic values and religious solidarity, which was always loudly declared?
The ruling mullahs pursue a policy contradicting the peaceful coexistence of all neighboring states and the people of Iran, but they assert their commitment to peace. It turns out that Islam (in this case for Iran) is only a shield, and quite strong.For years, the official Tehran has been advocating ‘the destitute and oppressed Muslims’. The occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia has continued for more than 25 years. As a result of this aggression, there are one million refugees in the country. Armenia has occupied 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory. However, Iran, which has a 600 km-long border with Shiite Azerbaijan, supports Armenia in this conflict.
So a question that has to be answered is: Where is your Shia Muslim pride? Where is your religious solidarity? Why haven’t spiritual leader of Iran Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned Armenia, which occupied 20% of the territory of brotherly Shia Azerbaijan and does not comply with the four resolutions of the UN Security Council that require Armenia to leave the occupied Azerbaijani territories?
British prime minister, Lord Palmerston in the middle of the 19th century said: "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow." Unfortunately, this is today the brutal reality of international relations and Azerbaijan must understand and realize it.
The April battles in Karabakh have significantly changed the status quo in favor of Azerbaijan, and immediately attracted the attention of world actors - the United States, Russia, the EU countries, which unanimously urged the parties to solve the problem by peace. Official Baku has repeatedly stated and warned Armenia that it will never agree with the existing status quo. In response to the military provocations of Armenia and in order to prevent diversion and ensure the security of its citizens, the Azerbaijani army carried out a crushing military blow to the Armenian armed forces in early April 2016 and forced them to withdraw. Today, Azerbaijan is the country with the strongest and most powerful army in the South Caucasus, which has responded to the provocation from Armenia and demonstrated the strength and power of its army.
Soon after the incident, former Prime Minister of Armenia, Hrant Bagratyan, made a daring statement that Armenia has nuclear weapon. Later, one of the influential representatives of the Armenian military elite, Arkady Ter-Tadevosyan, said that Armenia is ready to use a dirty bomb against civilians of Azerbaijan. Thus, Armenia challenged not only Azerbaijan and regional security, but also the whole of mankind.
At the same time, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan recently said that the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant operating in Armenia is important not only for the country's economy, but also is very important from the political point of view. He pointed out that this is the only tool forcing all the states of the region to reckon with Armenia. Sargsyan’s speech once again showed that Armenia, which has chosen the policy of terror and occupation, opens a new front against Azerbaijan and Turkey: nuclear terrorism.
These threats were not unfounded; they were made against a backdrop of the operation conducted by Georgian State Security Service agents who have detained three Armenians for the attempt to illegally smuggle and sell nuclear material. According to the official information of the State Security Service of Georgia, Armenian citizens tried to sell uranium (U238) for $200 million.
Unfortunately, in the same period none of the leading countries of the world reacted to the statements made by the representatives of Armenia, as well as incidents with nuclear smuggling, which testify to the nuclear ambitions of a certain part of the political elite of this country.
Who could help the backward Armenia in the nuclear field? There is no need to go far beyond for the answer: of course, neighboring Iran. In this case, the lack of necessary reaction from the international community and international organizations actually turns into indulging aggression and terrorism.
Do they in Armenia understand that the collapse of the economy and the mass outflow of the population are only consequences, and not the cause of the troubles? Armenia needs to fight not only consequences, but the underlying causes of problems. Armenia today is like a sick person. This is equivalent to a doctor treating the consequences of the disease, and not the cause. And the reason lies in Armenia's aggressive foreign policy and in the unsettled Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. After all, these factors led to the economic isolation of Armenia in the region: today the borders of Armenia are closed not only with Azerbaijan, but also with such a large market as Turkey that supports Azerbaijan's position in its conflict with Armenia.
The level of migration in Armenia is off scale. According to official data cited by the Armenian media, due to a massive outflow of people from the country, by January 1, 2016, the population of Armenia had decreased by 12,000 in comparison with the previous year and amounted to about 2.9 million people. At the end of 2015, the negative balance of migration in Armenia was 7.2%, that is, between 210,000 and 220,000 people.
People just did not want to die at a whim of national chauvinists from the Dashnaktsutyun party, who wanted to seize the territory of a neighboring state and create a "Great Armenia" in the future. In recent years, people are leaving the country due to the difficult social conditions, unemployment, court injustice, high corruption, oligarchy and monopolization, the Armenian journalist Liya Khodzhoyan said in her article on the EurAsia Daily website.
Armenian demographers believe that over the years of independence, Armenia has become the country of an aging nation, since the number of people beyond the age of 63 currently accounts for 12.6% of the total population. According to the forecasts, until 2050 the number of Armenians beyond 65 will rise to 25-27% of the total population, and this will become a serious challenge for the state in terms of social security. If this policy continues in the same vein after 2018, Armenia will gradually reach the point of self-destruction, the very edge of the cliff, from which there will be no return.
Armenia should stop making territorial claims against neighboring states, should liberate the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, look at the model of the development of the Baltic countries, which have integrated into the EU, NATO and other international organizations thanks to cooperation and friendship. Unlike Armenia, they look forward, not backward. Armenia also should stop pursuing Turkey because of the events of 1915.
Armenia should also take a look at the EU countries, which have also been fighting with each other, but created a common home - the European Union. If Armenia overcomes all these ambitions and challenges that have brought the country to such a state, it can save its position, and no longer play the role of appendicitis on the body of the South Caucasus.
This article was originally published in The Jerusalem Post