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Articles

A NEW ERA IN ARMENIA

Ömer Engin LÜTEM, Retired Ambassador
15 April 2008 - ERAREN
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!à‡`="justify">The new president of Armenia Sezh Sarkisyan officially assumed presidency. The strict controls of the security forces in the square that the presidential ceremony took place were the result of bloody incidents after the presidential elections and reflected the fear of an orange revolution in Armenia.

‰ of Kocharian, opening of Armenia to the world, maintenance of rapid economic development, and lack of governmental crisis except for a few occurrences in his first presidential years resulted in a considerable degree of stability in Armenia. When looked from outside, Armenia was seen as governed by a freely elected parliament and a government with an independent media; however, in reality, Armenia was administered by a small clique convened around Kocharian and Sarkisyan, which has been quite intolerant to criticisms and which developed closer relations with business circles.

Indeed, it has persistently been argued that in the Armenian foreign policy, the principle of “complementarity” has been pursued, meaning that Armenia should develop its relations with the US and the EU as well as with Russia. However, during Kocharian’s presidency Armenian dependence to Russia became more evident. Russia, which has enriched as a result of increase in oil prices during the last three years, benefited from privatization in Armenia and bought many facilities particularly in the field of energy; therefore, it gained a significant supremacy in Armenian economy. Therefore, in any important initiative or decision the consent of Russia is required. Being aware of this fact, Ter Petrosyan tried to convince Russia in supporting his presidential candidacy; however, Moscow clearly expressed its preference of Sarkisyan.

The US and the EU, on the other hand, tried to attract Armenia to the Western world, as they have been doing for Georgia and Ukraine. Although Armenia joined American Millennium Challenge aid program, NATO’s Partnership Action Plan and EU’s European Neighborhood Policy Action Plan in accordance with the principle of “complementarity”, there has been no significant change in the orientation of Armenian foreign policy, and as mentioned above, its relations with Russia have even consolidated more.

During the presidency of Kocharian, there has not been a major change in the Armenian foreign policy towards resolution of its conflicts with Azerbaijan and Turkey. The most important reason of this is that Kocharian has been supported by the extreme nationalists of Armenia, particularly by the Tashnaks. What is more, unlike Ter Petrosyan, Kocharian has developed close relations with the Armenian Diaspora, in which extreme nationalist movements dominate. Any solution of the problems with Turkey and Azerbaijan is dependent on Armenia’s abandonment of its irreconcilable attitude; however, since extreme nationalists have been against any kind of concession, Kocharian has avoided from resolving its foreign policy disputes. However, this resulted in isolation of Armenia in the Southern Caucasus.

Indeed, new president Sarkisyan gave the indication before the elections that he would particularly work for the resolution of Karabagh conflict; however, the incidents that occurred on March 1, the suppression of opposition through use of force, which resulted in 8 casualties and almost 70 injuries, and continuation of demonstrations despite subsequent declaration of state of emergency have weakened his position. Therefore, probably the new president would give primacy to the provision of domestic security and order and then he would possibly focus on foreign policy issues.

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