With Turkey In Mind, Armenia Ratifies Base Agreement with Russia
Armenia's parliament has ratified an agreement with Russia to extend Moscow's access to its military base in Gyumri until 2044. The vote, while controversial among some opposition members, passed easily, with only one vote against.
The crux of the debate is whether it cedes too much power to Russia in exchange for protection against Turkey or, to a lesser extent, Azerbaijan. Russia played an ambiguous role in Armenia's war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh, and there are big questions about what role Russia would play if war broke out again. But the base at Gyumri is right on Armenia's border with Turkey, and acts as a reassurance for Armenians, who recall how Russia helped protect at least some Armenians from the World War I genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. When I was in Gyumri a few years ago I talked to people about the Russian base, and they were generally supportive. One told me: “No matter how strong our army is there are ten Turks for every Armenian. If the Turks come then the Russians are here right away, we don’t have to wait.” A cynic might argue that this attitude is just the fruit of Russian propaganda promoted by Armenian politicians who profit from deals with Russia, but I don't know.
The one parliamentarian to vote against ratification, Tigran Torosian, argued that it gave too much control to Moscow:
Torosian said Armenia will gain "absolutely nothing" from the deal and has only "greatly narrowed its room for maneuver on issues vital for the country.
"Unfortunately, from now on, many people in the West and the international community in general will think that Armenia has finally opted for a Russian orientation," Torosian told RFE/RL.
ArmeniaNow suggested that parliamentarians only ratified the agreement grudgingly:
The absence of statements from parliamentary factions during the ratification vote appeared to show the concern and absence of positive arguments among lawmakers rather than their confidence in the correctness of the step.
But other parliamentarians, speaking to RFE/RL, endorsed the agreement, saying it would protect them against their potentially hostile neighbors:
"After all, we have Turkey next door and we are able to protect our borders," Galust Sahakian, from the Republican Party that is led by President Serzh Sarkisian, said.
"As long as the Russian-Armenian military partnership exists, we will be able to say for certain that Armenia is protected against external threats," Aram Safarian of the Prosperous Armenia Party, a junior partner in Sarkisian's coalition government, said.
Or, to put it in Donald Rumsfeld's formulation, Armenia has "chosen" Russia.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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