By Erik Davtyan (06/10/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Ahead of the EU’s Eastern Partnership summit in Riga, possible perspectives of Armenia’s relations with the EU became one of the most discussed issues on Armenia’s foreign policy agenda. After Armenia decision in 2013 to decline initialing an Association Agreement with the EU, instead opting to join the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the two parties have decided to promote bilateral cooperation in a new format matching the new realities in the South Caucasus.
On May 11, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian received the political directors of Poland’s and Sweden’s Foreign Ministries, Yaroslav Bratkevich and Torbjörn Sohlström, who reportedly arrived in Yerevan to hold consultations in the lead-up to the Riga Summit. The interlocutors discussed issues relating to preparations for the Riga Summit. Nalbandian reaffirmed that Armenia aims to develop and deepen cooperation with the EU in different fields, given Armenia’s obligations under other international integration formats. Bratkevich and Sohlström represent the two EU member states that have played a key role in defining the EU’s new policy towards neighboring post-Soviet states. In 2008, the Swedish and Polish foreign ministers, Carl Bildt and Radoslaw Sikorski, presented the idea of creating an Eastern Partnership (EaP) between on the one hand the EU, and on the other Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Simultaneously, on May 11, Armenia’s permanent representative to the EU, Tatoul Margarian, met with the EU Commissioner for the European Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn, discussing the bilateral preparations on the eve of the EaP Riga Summit. Towards the summit, politologist Narek Galstyan expressed the view that the EU has changed its attitude towards the six post-Soviet republics and has adjusted its policy to follow a bilateral, rather than regional track. In other words, the EU has decided to take an individual approach towards all six states, including Armenia.
On May 21, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan paid a working visit to Latvia to take part in the summits of the European People’s Party and the EU’s Eastern Partnership. During the visit, President Sargsyan met with Latvia’s President Andris Bērziņš. The presidents praised the political dialogue between Armenia and Latvia, which has been developing in the spirit of mutual understanding, and the dynamics of interstate relations, and stressed the importance of boosting these dynamics. Bērziņš also considered Armenia’s decision to join the EEU pragmatic and welcomed Armenia’s balanced multilateral approach.
Sargsyan also met Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both Sargsyan and Merkel emphasized the fact that Armenia and Germany have significantly enlarged and enriched their cooperation agenda through around six dozen cooperation agreements. They also commented security issues in the South Caucasus, especially in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs.
The Riga Summit, held on May 21-22, resulted in the signing of a declaration which touched upon a myriad of issues. In relation to Armenia, the declaration states that “Participants welcome the common understanding reached on the scope for a future agreement between the EU and Armenia aimed at further developing and strengthening their comprehensive cooperation in all areas of mutual interest.” The parties welcomed “the progress to date in the implementation of the Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements (VFA/RA) with Armenia” and expressed hope that the EU and Armenia will promote a visa dialogue, provided that “Armenia continues to ensure sustained progress in the full implementation of the VFA/RA.” The signing parties also underlined that “they look forward to the launching of negotiations on an EU-Armenia Aviation Agreement at the earliest opportunity.” The declaration also mentioned the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, reiterating “full support to the mediation efforts by the co-chairs of the Minsk Group on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, including at the level of Presidents and their statements since 2009”.
Reacting to the Summit, EU Commissioner Hahn expressed his confidence in obtaining a mandate to start negotiations. The European Commission has issued a positive report on Armenia which stresses that “the EU and Armenia have reached an understanding on the scope of their future contractual relations that take into account the other international commitments of Armenia, in particular its decision to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).”
By Erik Davtyan (05/27/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On May 17, Armenia’s Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan paid a working visit to Batumi, Georgia and met his counterpart Irakli Gharibashvili. The interlocutors discussed the current level of bilateral relations, as well as issues of future economic cooperation. Georgia’s PM also met with Armenia’s Minister of Transport and Communications, Gagik Beglaryan, and the Chair of the Standing Committee on Economic Affairs of Armenia’s National Assembly, Vardan Ayvazyan. The one-day visit was of strategic importance for the future of Armenian-Georgian relations due to a recent diplomatic scandal that engaged the two neighboring countries.
On May 3, the Speaker of Armenia’s National Assembly, Galust Sahakyan, met with Anatoliy Bibilov, the Chairman of South Ossetia’s Parliament who arrived in Stepanakert to attend the parliamentary elections in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) as the head of South Ossetia’s observing group. Though the Armenian authorities emphasized that the meeting had a private, rather than political character, high Georgian officials expressed strong reservations against it. Georgia’s ambassador to Armenia Tengiz Sharmanashvili conveyed this message to Armenia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Manasaryan, who confirmed Armenia’s support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Moreover, Armenia’s ambassador to Georgia Yuri Vardanyan was summoned to Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on May 4. Deputy Foreign Minister Gigi Gigiadze noted that the Sahakyan-Bibilov meeting was detrimental to the friendly relationship between Georgia and Armenia. Gigiadze said that Georgia “does not accept any kind of meeting between officials of an allied republic and the occupation administration.” In turn, Prime Minister Abrahamyan called his colleague and reaffirmed Armenia’s recognition of Georgia's territorial integrity. At a joint session of some standing committees of Georgia’s Parliament, Georgia’s Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili expressed her firm belief that the Sahakyan-Bibilov meeting must have been organized by “forces that have serious and far-reaching plans.”
Simultaneously, on May 4 Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement, according to which the ministry “reaffirms its support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and does not recognize the so-called ‘Parliamentary Elections’ held in Nagorno-Karabakh.” Although Georgia, along with other states traditionally does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state, this statement was a unique response to Sahakyan’s meeting with a high representative of Georgia’s breakaway region. Generally, Armenia’s political parties have not criticized Sahakyan for his informal ties with Bibilov. Moreover, the head of the Heritage Faction, Rubik Hakobyan, stated that Georgia’s reluctance to recognize the elections in Stepanakert and its support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity indicates that Armenia should adjust its position towards Georgia to resemble that of Georgian authorities.
However, Prime Minister Abrahamyan’s short visit to Batumi and the outcomes of the diplomatic negotiations clearly show that the two governments have quickly overcome the tensions caused by the meeting. Armenia and Georgia are currently developing their relations especially in the energy field, and the visit of the Minister of Transport and Communications served to further enhance bilateral cooperation. In December 2014, Minister Beglaryan and Georgia’s Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili signed an agreement on the construction of a new border bridge, the Friendship Bridge, which will bolster bilateral commercial ties.
The two states are also planning to build a fourth high-voltage transmission line connecting their power grids. This estimated US$ 105 million project is projected to enhance mutual electricity supplies. Similarly, trade turnover between Armenia and Georgia is increasing. In 2014, Armenian foreign direct investments (FDI) in Georgia grew by 139 percent, compared to 2013.
Experts believe that Abrahamyan’s recent working visit signaled continuity in cordial relations and high level cooperation between Georgia and Armenia. Johnny Melikian, an expert on Georgian studies, stressed that “this visit was a message to all states that thought there was serious crisis between the two countries.” The expert explained that these kind of incidents always take place in interstate relations, but this one could not affect Georgia-Armenia relations for the worse.
During the working visit, the Prime Ministers agreed to hold the next meeting in Javakheti in order to discuss the problems that exist in the region.
By Emil Souleimanov (05/13/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
April 24th marked the centennial of what many have referred to as the first genocide of the 20th century. The anniversary of the tragic events in eastern Armenia that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of predominantly ethnic-Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire sparked renewed interest in the historical circumstances of the massacres which the Turkish authorities have refused to acknowledge as an act of genocide. Consequently, the political context of the genocide recognition has again come to the forefront of international reflections on the 1915 events.
By Erik Davtyan (05/13/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On April 24, the Presidents of France, Russia, Cyprus and Serbia arrived in Yerevan upon the official invitation of Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan to commemorate the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan. The event was attended by a myriad of representatives of states, international organizations and Christian churches. During his speech at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Complex, President Sargsyan expressed his gratitude to the four heads of state for attending the event and emphasized that “the Armenian people will always remain standing by the side of those who suffered from crimes against humanity” and that “the unyielding international struggle against crimes of genocide will remain an integral part of our foreign policy”.
Following Sargsyan, the visiting presidents used the occasion to reiterate the official position of their states on the issue. Cyprus’ President Nicos Anastasiades stressed that both Armenia and Cyprus are “victims of impunity,” referring to Turkey’s policy of denying the Armenian Genocide and its occupation of a part of Cyprus. France’s President Francois Hollande underlined that Christians are endangered in the Middle East and even in France, and called for “the defense of all minorities and especially Christians of the East.” Russia’s President Vladimir Putin emphasized that nowadays “neo-fascism rises in many regions of the world” and that “radical nationalists come to power.” In referring to new expressions of russophobia, Putin undoubtedly implied the Euromaidan, the new authorities in Ukraine, and the current crisis between Russia and Ukraine over the fate of Ukraine’s southeastern parts. Thus, all present heads of state issued specific messages to the international community about various current problems in international relations.
After the official commemoration ceremony, Sargsyan held separate meetings with the Presidents of France and Russia. Another meeting took place between Hollande and Putin, who discussed various issues of common concern including the Ukrainian crisis. Putin mentioned that a regress in bilateral relations is already noticeable and highlighted the importance of restoring Russo-French ties and improving the deteriorating trade turnover. The Presidents also discussed the €1.2 billion contract on the delivery of French Mistral warships to Russia. In November 2014, France suspended the contract due to Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, therefore the problem is considered to be one of the key issues of the bilateral political agenda. However, the meeting in Yerevan yielded no results.
The fact that Putin termed the 1915 events a “genocide” received a very tough response in Turkey. On April 24, Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying “taking into account the mass atrocities and exiles in the Caucasus, in Central Asia and Eastern Europe committed by Russia for a century; collective punishment methods such as the Holodomor as well as inhumane practices especially against Turkish and Muslim people in Russia’s own history, we consider that Russia is best-suited to know what exactly ‘genocide’ and its legal dimension are.” On April 25, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitri Peskov responded by saying that he sees no reason for Turkey to make a negative evaluation and called on Turkish officials to read Putin’s speech carefully.
Turkey also reacted strongly to the part taken by Germany in the international recognition process, after President Joachim Gauck referred to the 1915 events as a genocide. The German president’s speech at a memorial service at the Berlin Cathedral provoked an extremely negative response in Ankara. According to the statement issued by Turkey’s foreign ministry, “contrary to law and historical facts, President Gauck has no right to attribute to the Turkish people a crime which they have not committed … the Turkish nation will not forget and forgive President Gauck’s statements.” Germany is Turkey’s largest trade partner in Europe, with 3.5 million Turkish residents.
On April 24, Turkey organized events dedicated to the commemoration of the Centennial of the battle of Gallipoli, one of the most famous battles of WWI. The ceremony was attended by the presidents of Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Mali, Pakistan, Senegal, Ireland, and others. Russia was represented by Sergey Naryshkin, the Chairman of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly.
By Erik Davtyan (04/29/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On April 9, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan paid an official visit to Italy and the Vatican City, which was remarkable not only in the context of Armenia-Italy or Armenia-EU relations, but also for Armenia’s policy towards the Armenian Genocide Centennial. During the visit, Sargsyan met with his counterpart Sergio Mattarella and discussed a wide range of issues concerning Armenian-Italian relations. Armenia’s President expressed confidence that his busy official visit will give new impetus to the friendly relationship between Armenia and Italy. The Presidents stressed that in recent years cooperation between the two countries has intensified, both bilaterally and in the frame of the EU, and underlined that the history of nearly 20 years of diplomatic relations have already resulted in more than 30 legal documents, signed at different levels. The Italian President welcomed the fact that “after joining the EEU, Armenia continues to take steps aimed at developing relations with the European Union and added that the membership also opens up new horizons for the development of Armenia-Italy relations”.
Sargsyan also met with Pietro Grasso, President of Italy’s Senate, and Laura Boldrini, President of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, as well as Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti. Sargsyan and Pinotti mentioned that Armenia and Italy successfully cooperate in the military field, especially in peacekeeping operations. In November 2014, more than 30 Armenian soldiers were engaged in the mission of maintaining the military base in Shama, Lebanon, which was carried out under the Italian command of the UN Peacekeeping Forces. Furthermore, the two states successfully collaborate in the area of military education. In his interview to Corriere Della Sera, President Sargsyan mentioned that Italian merchants have since the middle ages used Armenian commercial networks, therefore Armenia and Italy will currently seek to “re-operate that ancient habit,” and concluded that the bilateral trade turnover will definitely increase quickly.
At the end of the visit, Sargsyan visited the Vatican on April 12 and took part in a liturgy devoted to the Armenian Genocide Centennial, performed personally by Pope Francis at the Saint Peter’s Basilica. The ceremony was also attended by Garegin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, and Aram I, the Catholicos of Cilicia of the Armenians, as well as Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard Nalbandian. During his speech, Pope Francis termed the Armenian Genocide the “first genocide of the XX century.” The Pope’s speech received considerable attention in Armenia, Turkey, and many other countries. In his interview to the Italian website Adnkronos.com, Foreign Minister Nalbandian stated that Pope Francis’ speech “was an important message of solidarity with the Armenian people, it was also a message of support to the efforts of the international community for the prevention of new crimes against humanity, new genocides.”
The Mass service in the Vatican and Pope Francis’ speech were widely commented both in Armenia and Turkey and in international media. The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Executive Director Aram Hamparian said that “Turkey underestimates, at its own risk, the power of the Armenian worldwide movement – a profoundly moral movement inspired by truth and driven by shared hope for a fair and enduring peace based on a just international resolution of the Armenian Genocide.” As to the Turkish reaction, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated that “an evil front is being formed before Turkey … now the Pope has joined it and these plots.” Reacting to Davutoglu’s comment, Foreign Minister Nalbandian mentioned that Pope Francis is the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion people, so if Turkey does not agree with that approach, then it opposes the position of many countries. On April 12, immediately after the Mass service, Turkey recalled its ambassador to the Vatican for consultations.
The Pope’s speech served as a unique message to the entire world, and the event drew diverse reactions. On April 15, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution condemning the Armenian Genocide and urging Turkey to recognize it. A week later, on April 22, the Genocide was officially recognized by the Austrian Parliament. Above all, it can be inferred that President Sargsyan’s visit to Italy and especially the Holy See may serve as a new impetus for a wider recognition of the Armenian Genocide, one of Armenia’s most important foreign policy objectives.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.