Before we start discussing the threats and challenges the Armenian nation faces, we need to speak of the basic ides the national security is based on. As people, we have not decided upon what we understand by saying Armenian statehood and identity, the Armenian people and the Diaspora in the 21st century. Unlike other we cannot ignore the Armenian Diaspora, as up to 80% of Armenians live outside Armenia. The Armenian public and state must officially declare that they assume the responsibility for the security of the Diaspora Armenian too. We should understand that the uncertainty and half-word in this issue not just sparks debates, it is a vital problem. After having determined the basic ideas and determinations, we can speak of the challenges and threats to the national security and rank direct and long-term, domestic and foreign, regional and global, military and economic ones.
Armenia’s authorities like to repeat that Armenia is the guarantor of Artsakh security. How do you see this situation from the point of view of national security problems?
I think that one of the key problems in relations between the two Armenian states is that these relations have not been legalized in the framework of political agreement. The question is not about the recognition of Artsakh independence as this is a secondary issue, but about of indefiniteness of relations between the two Armenian states. Of course, in day-to-day social and state life these relations have been formed. We have common system of national security, the parliaments, governmental structures and other institutions cooperating with each other, but there is no basic interstate agreement legitimizing the existing relations. In 21st century Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh de facto are a common state organism, and “Miatsum” (“Unity”) movement, which raised the Armenian people in the end of 1980s, was a success. If by force of exclusively external factors we are not able to unite Artsakh and Armenia de-jure in a common state, we should regulate the relations not only de-facto but de-jure too. In other case it is impossible to speak about rights, obligations and responsibility of the sides. What responsibility do Artsakh Armenians bear when holding elections and forming state government authorities and what responsibility do the Armenia’s people and the authorities have?
Thus, artificial break-up and as a result vulnerability and threats appear in common cultural, military-political and social-economic space of the two Armenian states. One of the most dangerous threats of such kind is “blurring” of responsibility of Yerevan and Stepanakert’s authorities in decision-making process. This is the nature of political life and that is why a concrete legislative framework is needed, which will force the politicians to bear responsibility for the made decisions. The problem of bearing responsibility seems not so important in peaceful times, while it during domestic and external crisis. Of course, Armenia is the guarantor of Artaskh security and it would be naïve to suppose that Artsakh is able to ensure military security of the Armenian states. However, in conditions when relations are not legalized, , Armenia’s political authorities stating their rights to be guarantors of Artsakh security may refuse from doing it.
Do you think that absence of a clear legislative framework in the relations between Yerevan and Stepanakert creates conditions for Armenia’s authorities to refuse to take responsibility for Artsakh security?
It appears to be impossible now, but the last decades of the world history show that sometimes even most incredible scenarios come true. It would be right to waive even a theoretical possibility that a concurrence of objective and subjective factors may result in collective irresponsibility of Armenian political figures. Armenia’s new history contains examples of such behavior. Today, we cannot name the politicians whose decisions resulted in ceding Northern Artsakh or did not let Armenia’s troops reach Kura in 1994. There are weighty opinions that the last decision was the personal mistake of Levon Ter-Petrosyan who yielded to Moscow’s pressure. Yet I am sure there is no document confirming and legitimizing his steps. Therefore, we need to take all the necessary steps to avoid repetition of such uncertainty and irresponsibility in future and understand that legal regulation of the relations of the two Armenian states is an important element of their national security.
Do you think that with the help of Constitutional amendments Armenia’s authorities “blur” the responsibility turning it into collective irresponsibility?
Constitutional amendments in Armenia will create new threats, many of which Armenia has not comprehended yet. For example, how the political and military decisions will be made in Armenia and Artsakh, if one is a parliamentary republic the other is a presidential one? What problems will arise in this case, how will they be handled? And what institutions will solve them? Impossibility to forecast how the new parliament system in Armenia will function is another more serious threat. It will take time to adjust Armenia’s government system and in particular national security system to these changes. National security system by virtue of its rigidity is rather inertial and involves not only normative framework and organizational structures but also people, staff that will have to adapt to new conditions of decision-making and implementation. This would not be so critical if the Armenian countries were not in a state of war and in the explosive region. For Armenia time is a critically important resource, which is not under our control. It is managed by the regional and geopolitical centers of power. Such a deep reformation of the government system in these conditions is too great a risk in my opinion. We will not go deep into the problem of sustainability of the parliamentary system of governance in crisis or emergency situation. Western philosophical and political schools examined this issue in details. We can refer to the Carl Schmitt or Giorgio Agamben’s studies. More likely parliamentary system becomes paralyzed when facing unknown or exclusive situations. And it is quite possible that Armenia will not escape this fate. Besides, we forget about Artsakh’s experience of parliamentary form of government. During the first years of its existence Artsakh was a parliamentary republic. We do not like to remember about this, but during wartime serious problems arose, because the factions of the parliament were not able to come to an agreement. The main share of blame for the catastrophic losses in 1992, when up to 60% of Artsakh territories was lost, lies on the main political body the parliament, which was unable to make prompt decisions and take the responsibility for the consequences. Ultimately, Artsakh overcame deep political and military crisis by establishing wartime institute “State Committee of Defense”, headed by Robert Kocharyan and by appearance of Samvel Babayan, Commander of Defense Army, who was able to take the responsibility for the results of the war operations. A wartime dictatorship was formed in Artsakh and this was objective as without consolidation of all the powers of authority and readiness to take personal responsibility it is impossible to win the war.
As far as I understood, Serzh Sargsyan’s intention to become “Party Secretary General” demonstrates his claims for dictatorship, about which you have mentioned.
I am not sure that Serzh Sargsyan and the Republican Party will be able to maintain control over the process of Constitutional amendments, which may have its own dynamics and logics. I think it is to early to try to forecast the political space in Armenia after the reforms. To put it mildly, it is early speak of a institution of “secretary general” or a dominating party a la CPSU, even it we forget that if history repeats, it does it by the way of farce.
Nevertheless, a question arouses as to whether the present national security system fails to protect our republics against both the domestic and foreign challenges?
It does not counteract the challenges and treats to Armenia fundamentally. It is an operating and full-fledged system. The state agencies involved in the national security system and their staffs have learned to implement their functions and responsibilities during the last 20 years. It is impossible to say how they will cope with the new, not yet formed tasks and responsibilities. Besides, no one can guarantee that we will not face an external or internal blow in the very period of the state governance reforms. I’d like to see such threats being discussed now, not after the system is reformed. For instance, very complicate destructive processes are happening in the Middle East, not so far from us, now. The latest attacks in Europe showed that these destructive processes are expanding and turning global.
Sure, but between Armenia and the territories seized by ISIL’s terror there are Iran and Turkey…
Well, Iran is a powerful restraining factor, indeed. However, the former ambassador of Iran to Russia has written in his blog lately referring to Iran’s reconnaissance that Saudi Arabia is training 5,000 ISIL militants to attack Iran, China and Central Asia. Besides, Turkey’s close ties with ISIL can be considered as an acknowledged fact. There are no guarantees that Turkey will not let terrorists to the north via its territory. Recently, Hulusi Akar, Head of Turkey’s Armed Forces General Staff, said Turkey will help Azerbaijan return “the occupied territories,” which is quite possible. Let’s not forget about the Kurdish problem. Although Turkey is a NATO member, there are no guarantees that it will cope with the problems and temptations emerging from the war-torn Middle East. So far, Turkey manages to remain stable, but no one can guarantee that this stability will be maintained for long. This means that the Armenian statehood must comprehend that the processes in the Middle East, the problem of ISIL may become an Armenian problem too.
Turkey supports Azerbaijan, who supports Armenia?
We have only the people of Armenia. We have no natural allies, and we should be ready to meet the situation, in which we will be face to face with the challenges and threats to Armenia. When nation decides that it intends to live and is ready to struggle for its future the external world and centers of power have to take this reality into account.
What is the role of Russia’s military base in the natural security system of Armenia?
The 102nd Russian military base ensures Russia’s geopolitical presence in the South Caucasus. It is an important element of the regional security system. It is an instrument that helps to prevent a large-scale war in the Caucasus, nothing else. The defense of the territories of the two Armenian republics must be considered as the task of the Armenian army only. The Caucasus is under Russia’s security umbrella now. These are the regional and geopolitical realities, which Armenia can influence slightly in peacetime. One should understand that misplaced hopes in the national security issues are at least inappropriate. At present, the United States as NATO’s leading power has an ally in the region – Turkey, and consequently, Azerbaijan. Ilham Aliyev was invited to G20 Summit in Turkey, and this symbolic gesture should be interpreted adequately. In addition, Armenia is not able to undertake any new functions that would make geopolitical centers re-orientate to Armenia as a major ally in the region. As country we cannot offer the greater world anything new, innovative. How will we present ourselves in the greater world? What is our place in it? If we avoid such questions, our leap to the West or North will turn to be a leap to nowhere. This may result in a disaster for our country.
We must learn lessons from Ukraone crisis…
Sure, Ukraine is a bright example of not weighted behavior. Such a rich country with big capacities lost Crimea and plunged into a civil war having settled none of its problems. Playing on discrepancies of Big Powers is risky and dangerous for the countries that occur in a geopolitical split, as they do not have full information on the processes on the geopolitical arena. I think for the people of Armenia and the statehood of Armenia it is important to avoid the traps similar to the ones Ukraine was caught in. We must be realists when it comes to our capacity in the region and our ability to influence any factor or element of the geopolitical game such as, for instance, the Russian military base. On the other hand, “a small nation” must avoid pessimism and fatalism too. We must believe in our future and then it will start materializing. Anyway, policy and its integral part – war – are not only the wisdom and calculation, but also a political will, an ability to made decisions and answer for them. The world history and our own experience of the late 20th century have proved that a big army is not yet a guarantee for victory. Firmness, confidence in ones beliefs, and ability to fight till the end are what leads to victory.