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Kosciuszko Chair hosts discussion of “Armenia: Past, Present, and Future”

The history, present, and future of the ancient South Caucasian nation-state of Armenia was the topic of Ms. Anna Akopyan’s lecture on Wednesday, 14 November.  Ms. Akopyan, who is a student at the Institute of World Politics, combined her native perspective with research on the post-Soviet zone to deliver the lecture.

Medieval Armenia

Armenia’s present and future cannot possibly be appreciated without understanding the country’s very long history.  It existed as a polity to the north of the ancient empires of the Middle East – including Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia – and became the first state officially to convert to Christianity at the beginning of the fourth century AD, followed by neighboring Georgia and far-off Ethiopia.  Historically, Armenia has struggled to safeguard its independence and culture by attempting to balance between the numerous regional powers attempting to dominate her-including the Romans, Byzantines, Persians, Turks, Russians, Soviets, and Azeris – and, in addition, suffered many invasions.  During the final years of the Ottoman Empire, its people were also subjected to Turkish massacres and, in 1915, a full-scale genocide claiming anywhere from 600,000 – 1,500,000 Armenians, a large portion of the world’s Armenian population.  The Genocide (Aghet, or “the Catastrophe”) has become as much of a defining experience for modern Armenians as the Holocaust has for the Jews and the Terror-Famine for Ukrainians.  The fact that, for almost a century now, the Turks have expended great energy and resources on continuing to deny that a genocide ever took place has generated bitterness and anger, thereby spoiling relations between Ankara and Yerevan.  The fact that the modern West – which considers the condemnation of genocides one of its main post-Holocaust pillars – seems to value Turkey’s geostrategic assets over ethics and truth only exacerbates the situation and pushes Armenia into the arms of Russia and Iran.

ArmeniaModern Armenia’s geopolitics, as Ms. Akopyan clarified, are primarily a function of Yerevan’s relations with Ankara and Baku.  The country is sandwiched between two hostile and much wealthier and populous powers, Turkey and Azerbaijan. The conflict had turned hot before, as in 1988-1994, when the Armenians fought off an Azeri attempt to subjugate the contested but Armenian-majority region of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh in Armenian), and the threat of another war continues to loom large. Many Armenians were concerned by the hero’s welcome received in his home country by Ramil Safarov – an Azeri officer promoted from the rank of Lieutenant to Major, in spite (or perhaps because of) of the fact that he butchered a fellow Armenian officer in cold blood with an axe in Hungary in 2004 – following his extradition by Budapest in 2012.  Further, both Turkic states maintain a blockade against Armenia. As the speaker pointed out, Turkey and Azerbaijan reinforce each other’s anti-Armenian stance. To counter-balance the danger of being wiped off the map by Baku and Ankara, Yerevan cultivates a firm alliance with Moscow (much to the chagrin of neighboring Tbilisi) and friendly relations with Tehran.  So far, it appears that little can be done to change this complicated situation.

Decades of communist terror, murder, and pathologies, as well as the fallout resulting from the implosion of the Soviet Empire, have left Armenia with a plethora of difficult political, social, and economic problems.  In spite of this, the country seems to be recovering, but Armenia nevertheless requires peace.  

Anna Akopyan