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Ömer Engin LÜTEM, Retired Ambassador
03 January 2008 - ERAREN
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The 2007 parliamentary elections in the Republic of Armenia resulted in the governing Armenian Republic Party (ARP) gaining the majority of votes and the formation of a coalition government together with the Prosperous Armenia Party (a staunch supporter of President Kocharian) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. As such, the election results did not entail a change neither in terms of domestic nor foreign policy orientations. 

The most significant development taking place in 2007 was the rise of National Defense Minister Sergei Sarkissian. Deemed the most influential individual in the government due to his control over both the army and the police force, Sarkissian assumed leadership of the ARP after the death of Prime Minister Andranik Margarian. In addition, the ARP’s success in gaining a majority of votes in the Armenian National Assembly has established Sarkissian as the front runner in the upcoming presidential elections to be held on February 19, 2008. 

Another significant development vis-a-vis domestic policy, has been Armenia’s first President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s return to politics and announcing his candidacy for the presidency. In his presidential campaign he mainly criticizes the corruption prevalent during Kocharian’s term in office and the deficient polices pursued towards Turkey and Azerbaijan. Judging by public opinion polls, Ter-Petrosian’s chances of winning appear dim. Nonetheless the elections will not take place until one and a half months and a lot could change till then.
In 2007 Armenia continued to witness a steady increase in economic growth, once again attaining a rate exceeding ten percent (%13.6). It would be in place to attribute the victory of the ARP in the parliamentary elections to this economic success. It appears that the two major trump cards in the hands of Sarkissian in the upcoming presidential elections are political stability alongside economic growth.

On the issue of foreign politics, although Foreign Minister Oskanian defends the policy of complementary (that is, developing good relations and cooperating with the U.S. and the E.U.; Russia and other strong countries), Armenia appears to be leaning specifically towards Russia.   Meanwhile, Russia, by way of procurements, has dominated the country’s energy and transportation sectors. It should not be forgotten that Russia has a primordial role with respect to the defense of the country and the only Russian military base in the Southern Caucuses is situated in Armenia.  In addition to these occurrences, 2007 has witnessed important developments in Armenia’s relations with Iran.

On the other hand, no success was attained on the issue of Karabakh. The main reason accounting for this has been disagreement over what status should be afforded to this region. While Armenia is of the view that Karabakh should become an independent state, Azerbaijan defends that the region should be granted wide-scoped autonomy but is to remain in Azeri territories. On the other hand, the joint presidency of the Minsk Group maintains that the status of this region should be left to a further date, but that other related issues should be resolved without delay. Armenia seems not to be in a hurry to solve the Karabakh issue. This stems in part due the continuation of the status quo granting the Karabakh administration a kind of quasi independence and in part due to disregarding Azerbaijan’s ever-increasing calls for freeing the occupied territories through the use of force.

In addition to the aforementioned, 2007 has witnessed serious drawbacks regarding Armenia’s policy vis- a- vis Turkey.

Despite all efforts, the U.S. House of Representatives did not adopt a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide claims. As long as the belief that Turkish reactions to such a resolution will bear a negative impact upon the security of U.S. troops in Iraq and in Afghanistan, it appears unlikely that a resolution on that subject shall be passed. Although the French National Assembly adopted a draft bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide allegations, this bill still has not been brought to the Senate floor. It appears that France, focused on keeping Turkey away from the gates of the EU, does not want to additionally deal with the “genocide” issue at present.

On another note, the Kars-Ahalkelek railway line is soon to materialize, despite Armenia’s support from the U.S. and the E.U.  This project has generated apprehension in Armenia out of concern that its realization would lead to the country’s isolation. It is probable that Turkey and Azerbaijan will not want to include Armenia in future projects as they do not want to cooperate with this country unless outstanding issues are resolved.

During Kocharian’s term in office, no serious effort was displayed to resolve Armenia’s outstanding issues with Turkey and Azerbaijan, in which a status quo born of a deadlock was embraced as a viable solution. However it would seem that this policy has outrun its course. Thus it appears likely that the president to be elected in February this year may try, albeit unwillingly, to develop constructive relations with both its neighbors.

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