Serzh Sargsyan has been re-elected as Armenia’s Prime Minister with a fairly comfortable win in the polls. This is fairly unsurprising given that Sargsyan effectively sidelined most of his opponents with intimidation tactics and legal manipulation before the election itself. With one presidential candidate wounded in an assassination attempt, another on hunger strike and a third refusing to take part in the vote, it is clear that faith in democratic procedure is at a low ebb in Armenia.
Regardless of who their leader is, Armenia’s people face a number of challenges. Economic growth has stagnated, unemployment is at 16% and 30% live below the poverty line. Armenia has become a victim of its recent history. Landlocked between several countries, it does not enjoy the strongest of relations with its neighbours.
Firstly, there is Turkey, widely held as responsible for the 1915 Armenian Genocide, in which at least 600,000 ethnic Armenians were killed by the Young Turks in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire. Relations have never been fully restored, with Turkey refusing to acknowledge that a genocide took place. The Armenians understandably demand a sincere apology and acceptance of responsibility by the Turkish state before relations can be restored. A country the size of Turkey should be an important trading partner for Armenia, yet it accounts for less than 5% of imports and exports.
Secondly, there is Azerbaijan, an oil-fuelled economy on the Caspian Sea. Ever since the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was completed in 2005, Azerbaijan has been able to transport crude oil to the Mediterranean Sea with relative ease, creating an economic boom. Turkey is, incidentally, now Azerbaijan’s biggest import partner. The pipeline should by rights, and geography, pass through Armenia yet it has been re-routed via Georgia. This is because Azerbaijan retains a trade embargo on Armenia, a phenomenon Turkey largely shares.
Between 1988 and 1994, the Nagorno-Karabakh War was fought. Nagorno-Karabakh was an enclave in southwestern Azerbaijan with a majority of ethnic Armenians. Demanding cession to Armenia, the restive province attempted to break away. Azerbaijan’s determination to prevent this from happening brought it into direct conflict with Armenia. The Armenians won the war with a lot of the responsibility lying with the then Defence Minister, Serzh Sargsyan.
Nagorno-Karabakh, although still officially recognised worldwide as part of Azerbaijan, is a a de facto republic affiliated with Armenia. Periodic peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the province continually break down and diplomatic relations between the neighbours are almost non-existent. With Sargsyan now confirmed once more as Prime Minister, a diplomatic breakthrough appears unlikely given his role in the War. The Armenians and their economy, however, could badly use some oil revenue which the absence of a pipeline prohibits.
Unlike many states that remain pariahs in their own region, the Armenians have not brought it all upon themselves. The Armenian Genocide was an horrific offence against the nation and yet Armenia is being made to pay for its legacy. Similarly, whilst accusations abound that Nagorno-Karabakh was encouraged to break free by the Armenian government, its people are mostly Armenians and deserve the opportunity, or at least the means to negotiate, to decide their own future.
But with a weak political climate domestically and internationally, and neighbours unwilling to compromise, Armenia’s future looks fairly bleak and one dependent upon the benevolence of its former Russian overlords. It is hard to believe that this state was once the heartland of the great Kingdom of Armenia.