Commentary: May Armenia and Russia Remain Inseparable


By Hagop Vartivarian

The member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) — Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Ukraine — convened an unofficial consultative meeting in Yerevan in the middle of August, attended by the presidents of the aforementioned former Soviet republics, headed, of course, by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Armenia’s president, who has faced various difficulties on both the domestic and external fronts, received his counterparts with presidential decorum and treated them most hospitably.

Let me say a priori that the agreement with CSTO will undoubtedly be recorded as a success for President Serge Sargisian in the pages of our history. This is particularly so in these days when Baku, relying on the strength of its oil, is trying to shape public opinion in its favor with regard to the Karabagh conflict; it is wooing the West, on one hand, and Russia, Ukraine and Israel, on the other.

On August 20, at the conclusion of the negotiations that took place between the presidents of Armenia and Russia, Serge Sargisian and Dmitry Medvedev, an agreement was signed, extending the length of operation of the Russian military base in Armenia and expanding its responsibility.

As far as the military bases mentioned in the document signed by the defense ministers of the two friendly countries, Seyran Ohanyan and Anatoly Serdyukov, are concerned, the dispositions of the treaty signed on March 16, 1995 by Levon Ter-Petrosian and Boris Yeltsin underwent certain changes, which serve the interests of Armenia as much as, if not more than, those of Russia. According to Article 25 of the treaty, the Russian military base in Armenia shall remain for at least 49 years, instead of the previous period of 25 years. In addition, it was noted that besides protecting Russia’s interests, the military base must also protect Armenia’s security.

In the first instance, the Armeno-Russian accords extend the presence of Russian military bases in Armenia by 34 years, despite the fact that this might make relations difficult between the government in Yerevan and the West, and particularly NATO. However, on the other hand, Armenia will be able to purchase modern Russian ammunition until 2044 at the very least. Furthermore, if an unprovoked Turkish attack should occur, Russia will be able to centuple its 4,000-man army to defend the border along the Arax River.

Thus, once again, Russia becomes the only real power in the Southern Caucasus, as Ruben Safrastian, director of the Oriental Studies Institute of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences, would say. While the United States, with the help of Georgia, had scored certain successes in its military structures prior to 2008, Russia again has become the master of this region through this agreement. It was important in the post-Soviet years for Russia to reestablish its position in the region containing Armenia, because that would be of great benefit to our homeland, considering its blockade by Turkish-speaking peoples.

If we go back in history, we will see that there were already Russian soldiers in Armenia 182 years ago, based on the Treaty of Turkmenchai signed in 1828 between imperial Russia and Persia. Since then, Armenia’s security has always been entrusted to the Russian army.

Laudable, of course, was Medvedev’s visit to Tsitsernakaberd, where he paid respect to the memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide and expressed his rapture at the glorious sight of Mt. Ararat. These are two characteristic images, which tell a whole story, and it is those genuine friendly feelings of Russia’s president, which are being recorded these days in the pages of our history.

It is important to single out one of Medvedev’s statements made during that three-day visit, to the effect that Russia treats its confederative obligations and commitments “very seriously.” The amicable president continued, “Russia is ready to continue the mission of mediation in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict, to assist in the process of finding a political solution based on mutual understandings, within the framework of the Minsk Group as well as through bilateral meetings between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan.” In this way, the security of Artsakh’s population will be guaranteed.

In this sense, Gen.-Col. Leonid Ivashov, president of Russia’s Academy on Geopolitical Affairs, considers the Armeno-Russian agreement on the extension of the term of the presence of military bases as a victory of military realism for the two countries. On the other hand, however, he stressed that it is very important to find such a diplomatic path, whereby the treaty with Armenia will not harm the relations between Russia and Azerbaijan. Of course, President Medvedev was aware of the consequences of the step he had taken, and will certainly be ready to offer explanations to Aliyev’s government during his impending visit to Baku.

Also significant is the viewpoint of the friendly republics, expressed during those few days in Yerevan, that there exists a state of “neither peace, nor war” in the region because it will be the Minsk Group’s role to see to it that the “no war” position is finally secured through peace. The existence of an atmosphere of mutual trust was wholly evident during the days of their meeting because the importance of widening cooperation among the presidents of the CSTO countries was generally palpable, based on the national interests of each of them. Russia, however, takes on an additional obligation, based on that spirit: first, to maintain that harmony among the former Soviet republics, and further, to ensure the sovereignty of each domestically.

The interests of the Armenian people are very clear — and not just today but going back to the days of tsarist Russia: having permanent physical security within the borders of Armenia. Clear too are the interests of our great friend to the north, spelled out ever since the days of Peter the Great: to descend via the Armenian Plateau to the warm waters of the south, and, in this case, the oil wells.

Previously, the functions of the military bases were limited just to the external borders of the former Soviet Union (Turkey and Iran). However, now that limitation has been lifted, and Russia has assumed responsibility for Armenia’s military security, as well as cooperation with armed forces, along the internal borders of the Soviet Union (Georgia and Azerbaijan), by securing modern armaments. That is to say, Russia is also committed to the defense of our northern and eastern borders, contrary to the fact that rumors are spreading these days about the delivery of C-300-type missiles to Azerbaijan.

Besides this military agreement, it is important to stress that the amount of business with Russia has increased by 20 percent in this critical period for the world’s economy. Russia is the largest foreign investor in Armenia’s economy; i.e., Russia makes 60 percent of the foreign investments in Armenia. There are 1,250 firms with Russian capital officially registered in Armenia. Furthermore, the willingness to build a railway complex and especially the construction of a new nuclear power plant will guarantee the economic progress of our homeland.

A visit to Gumri’s “Patvo Blur” (Hill of Honor) is as significant as a visit by an American president to Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, DC, which is the final resting place for the American soldiers who died on various battlefronts. That hill is where the bodies of the Russian soldiers who lost their lives in the various Russo-Turkish wars are buried. The “Hill of Honor,” which is a military cemetery, was created in 1856 in then-Alexandropol by Nikolay Muravyov, Russian commander in the Caucasus. The remains of 156 officers in the Russian army, who were killed during the Russo-Turkish wars of 1855 and 1878-1879, are buried there. Located there also is a Russian Orthodox chapel, which was closed following the establishment of Soviet rule and remained so until the 1980s.

In the eyes of the US State Department, the signing of a treaty concerning Russian military centers in Gumri wasn’t all that surprising because that issue pertained to two former allied republics, which have signed an agreement dictated by their national interests. But how did the Armenian Diaspora react to this treaty?

The Hunchak (SD) press greeted it with optimism, as we read Vahan Shirkhanian’s statement in the party’s official organ, Ararat: “I unequivocally consider as positive the extension of the term of the military base and the inclusion of changes in the treaty. Not only was the base set up during the period when I was deputy minister but also I personally presented the agreement involving that base and all its addenda for the approval of the National Assembly.”

The Ramgavar (ADL) press expressed cautious optimism. To wit: Edmond Azadian wrote in Azg daily of Armenia that in the final analysis, all the developments serve to weaken Turkey’s pan-Turanian plans, which, in turn, contrary to the wishes of Russia, the European Union and the United States, can spur the improvement of Iran’s strategic position in the region.

The Tashnag (ARF) press considers it a positive development too. Armen Rustamian, representative of the Supreme Bureau of Armenia’s ARF, put it this way: “The treaty elevates the guarantees of our security to a new level of quality, compared with the old, and that is one of the most important criteria.” According to this ARF spokesman, the party’s attitude toward the aforementioned agreement is favorable since there still doesn’t exist another new system ensuring Armenia’s security. According to him, this developed due to the process of establishing Armeno-Turkish relations. The Tashnag press in the diaspora, in turn, also viewed this treaty with optimism in its editorials. For example, Hairenik weekly of Boston concluded the editorial, “Voch Abazinyal…haches abavinyal” (Not Disarmed…for Security’s Sake) in its August 27 issue as follows: “…the Russian military base, as long as it exists within the territory of the Republic of Armenia, and together with Armenia’s armed forces, will ensure the latter’s security, as well as protect Russia’s interests.”

However, the ARF press saw fit, of course, to pass on another point of view. Thus, on the next page of the same issue, it carried the article by Raffi K. Hovannisian, the first foreign minister of Republic of Armenia and currently leader of the Heritage Party, which reflects a psychological state harking back to the days of the Cold War when it persists in saying The disproportionality in Russo-Armenian relations is revealed especially in the fundamental lack of mutually respectful cooperation with equal rights.” Skepticism still prevails not so much among current ARF leaders, fortunately, as among the likes of Hovannisian who, in the past, were among the ranks of youth belonging to that organization.

Finally, in conclusion, it must be said that all this is already being recorded as an important juncture in our contemporary history. So, the Turk still remains our common enemy, the same Turk, whether the erstwhile Ottoman, Ittihadist or Kemalist, or the present-day successor. On the other hand, our common friend continues to remain the Russian; like the tsarist Russian of yesteryear and the Soviet Russian, so too is today’s Russian of the Russian Federation our friend, starting with the Treaty of Turkmenchai and continuing up to today’s treaty signed in Yerevan.

And laudable in all of this is the fact that today our three traditional political parties have issued similar statements regarding Russia being Armenia’s only friend. So different from the likes of Dro just yesterday…and so consonant with the likes of Kersam Aharonian, more recently!

History shows that today, as well, we should continue our fraternal relations with Russia.

(Hagop Vartivarian is the chairman of the ADL Press Committee. This article was translated by Aris G. Sevag)