In Facing Its Adversaries, America’s Got a Hidden Lever: Armenia

Soldiers from various countries including Armenia

BY DANIEL GAYNOR
From The Truman Project

Most Americans wouldn’t be shocked to learn that the largest American embassy in the world is in Baghdad, Iraq. But the second-largest is in a surprising place: Armenia. It begs the question: why?

The best explanation is a real estate mantra: location, location, location. Armenia, a landlocked country with just three million people, might be in the roughest neighborhood in the world. But in America’s eyes, it might be in the most important position of any US ally to advance President Obama’s foreign policy agenda.

What it lacks in natural resources–it has little oil, gas or jewels–it makes up for in geography. Few countries are in better position to shape US foreign policy than Armenia.

Armenia borders Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Iran. As a part of the former Soviet Union, it relies on nearby Russia extensively for trade and military backing. The US has a significant stake in all five countries, and Armenia is now coming into view as a potentially potent lever to advance American aims.

That is, if the Armenians can be won over.

As the US tries to woo Armenia to become a stronger ally in the region, the term “geostrategic” has never been more apt. Armenia is literally at the center of a number of countries that Washington considers among its top priorities. As President Obama tries to accomplish key foreign policy objectives–like preventing Iran from attaining nuclear bombs or seeing democracy flourish in Russia–he’s got to encourage Armenia to play along.

To Armenia’s south, one such issue is unfolding in Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. Last  week, a media skirmish between the US and Israel boiled over when Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stated publicly that America had no “moral right” to say whether or not Israel could bomb Iran to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon. President Obama reportedly called Netanyahu at 3AM to quell tensions.

America is racing to develop every diplomatic pressure point it can on Iran, lest Israel launch a preemptive attack and embroil America in a third Middle East war in ten years. One of those pressure points goes straight through Armenia.

While the US has cut off formal relations with Iran–Washington talks through Switzerland’s embassy there–it’s no secret that it employs a variety of foreign policy crowbars to influence and destabilize Iran’s ruling regime. Some, like President Obama’s latest round of economic sanctions, are well known. Partnering with Armenia is not, but could have a major impact. Through economic and diplomatic incentives, the US is actively trying to shape Armenia into an ally. As President Obama seeks to economically isolate Iran–his sanctions have cut the value of Iran currency in half–he is trying to regionally isolate the regime, as well. Armenia is key to that strategy.

For Armenia, the game is far less simple. Partnering with the US–with whom it has a good, but not great, relationship–could alienate the few friends Armenia has left in the South Caucasus region. It wants military cooperation with Russia, but economic access to the west.

While it has tried to deepen relations with the European Union and the US, Armenia’s two best friends at the moment are arguably the US’s most challenging adversaries: Russia and Iran. That’s not necessarily because of shared ideologies, or even shared interests; it’s because Armenia doesn’t have many friends to pick from.

Of its four neighbors, two–Turkey and Azerbaijan– have have closed off their borders to Armenia. To go on a road trip, every Armenian must pass through either Tbilisi, Georgia or Tehran, Iran.

Why the frosty reception? Turkey, which the New York Times recently called “the historic nemesis of the Armenians,” is still steaming mad over the negative PR associated with Armenian Genocide. The Turks claim rogue military elements are responsible; Armenians believe the Turkish government is reluctant to take the blame.

In either interpretation, the facts are stark: about 1.5 million Armenians perished in a war with Turkey between 1915 and 1918. The Turks closed off its border in 1993, and with it, a significant chunk of Armenia’s economy disappeared. In the decades since, Armenia has pressed for international recognition of the genocide–and rightfully so–but that has only stoked the fire with the Turks.

But, while one would think that the genocide rift is what led Turkey to close off its border, it’s not. Instead, Turkey is standing in solidarity with another neighbor over a contested territory.

Azerbaijan, another fromer Soviet republic, shut its borders with Armenia after the two battled over an Armenian-populated enclave in Azerbaijan, called Nagorno-Karabakh, in the 1990′s. Today, the territory remains a “semi-autonomous” area; meaning that the Azeris want it back, the Armenians believe they control it, and the Karabakhtis has declared independence (which no country has formally recognized).

Meanwhile, the relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan is sliding downhill. Last week, Azerbaijan made a deal with Hungary to extradite a convicted Azeri murderer. (The man, eight years ago, nearly decapitated a sleeping Armenian serviceman with an axe at a NATO-sponsored English class.) He was returned under the condition that he would serve at least 25 more years in jail.

Instead, as the New York Times put it, he received “a new apartment, eight years of back pay, a promotion to the rank of major and the status of a national hero.” Uproar in Armenia ensued. Armenia’s President released a statement warning, “The Armenians must not be underestimated. We don’t want a war, but if we have to, we will fight and win.”

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan is enjoying the windfall from oil exports. Israel, in particular, has strengthened relations with the Azeris, purchasing 30 percent of their oil from them, as well as selling them over $1.5 billion in military supplies. The US is also a buyer of Azeri oil. As the New York Times points out, Azerbaijan invested more money in its military than Armenia’s entire state budget last year. Hardly the sign of harmonious relations to come.

So far, Armenia’s walked a diplomatic tightrope with skill. As my Lonely Planet travel book explains, “Despite its limited resources, Armenia has become a master at geopolitics. What other country in the world can say it maintains good relations with the US, Russia and Iran?”

Given the cards they’re dealt, Armenia has been a remarkable success story. If America hopes to engender greater cooperation, it’s got to sweeten the deal–through trade agreements, offering economic reforms and encouraging private sector development in Armenia.

Armenia became independent in 1991. Two decades later, it’s still trying to find its footing in the region. It may not have gold, oil, gas or jewels to give to the US. But, instead, it may have something more useful: a strategic position in the most critical—and potentially most dangerous—region in the world.

Daniel Gaynor is Truman’s Writer and Digital Strategist. He can be followed on Twitter @DannyGaynor

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28 Comments

  1. David Davidian said:

    In Facing Its Adversaries, America’s Got a Hidden Lever: Armenia Truman National Security Project’s, Daniel Gaynor, in In Facing Its Adversaries, America’s Got a Hidden Lever: Armenia, left his readership with a set of suggestions with no basis in logic or reality. A response is being posed here due to the lack of reader commentary on Gaynor’s blog.

    First, there was no war between Armenians and Turks in 1915 to have resulted in the genocide of a million and half Armenians, as Gaynor claims, and further, he uses a NY Times quote as evidence of Turkey being “the historic nemesis of the Armenians”. Gaynor could have simply taken a second to research the topic, but clearly didn’t. The International Association of Genocide Scholars states:

    “ In three previous statements of the International Association of Genocide Scholars—first, a unanimous resolution declaring that the Turkish massacres of Armenians in 1915-1918 constituted genocide; second, an Open Letter to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan calling upon him to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide; and third, an Open Letter concerning scholars who deny the Armenian Genocide—we have made our position clear: the historical record on the Armenian Genocide is unambiguous and documented by overwhelming evidence. It is proven by foreign office records of the United States, France, Great Britain, Russia, and perhaps most importantly, of Turkey’s World War I allies, Germany and Austria-Hungary, as well as by the records of the Ottoman Courts-Martial of 1918-1920, and by decades of scholarship.”

    On this single issue alone Gaynor’s post should be dismissed. However, he further claims that Armenia’s geopolitical position provides a unique platform with which the US can advance its foreign policy goals. Gaynor fails to provide any evidence of how Armenia could advance US policy interests. Armenia has been in the same geographic area since declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In two decades what has the US done to persuade Armenia that much of its strategic interests coincide or at least parallel those of the US? Apparently little or the US was simply not persuasive enough. Perhaps, Armenia does not provide any Hidden Lever for the US at all. Gaynor never states what Armenian interests the US could promote?

    Unfortunately, Armenia is viewed as little more than a nuisance to US foreign policy interests, even if has positioned itself at a functional median political position between Iran, Russia, and NATO. Is the US going to provide the political clout necessary to extract genocide reparations from the Republic of Turkey including the return of land (with significant borders changes) and monetary reparations? Is Armenia going to unilaterally declare itself mortal enemies of Iran, Russia or both, which might in passing, be in the temporal interest of the US? Gaynor does not tell us. What Armenian interest would be served and replaced by US influence that would not radically upset the tenable regional balance? Again, Gaynor is silent.

    It is not clear what the Truman National Security Project is engaged in, but basing political projection on erroneous history and proposing national interest void of content does not fit the Project’s mission, “to provide the skills, knowledge, and network to create an influential force of leaders across the country who advance strong progressive national security policy through advocacy initiatives, media appearances, and public service in elected and appointed office.”

    • Avery said:

      David:

      great analysis and shootdown of Anti-Armenian disinformation piece posing as pro-Armenian praise. .

    • Ararat said:

      The author of this article claims Turkey closed borders with Armenia in solidarity with another neighbor over a contested territory. The neighbor being the artificial state of Azerbaijan and the contested territory being the liberated territory of Artsakh, Karabakh, an ancient piece of the Armenian homeland.

      I strongly believe that is a misconception. The so-called fraternity between Turkey and Azerbaijan is a bunch of nonsense. Azerbaijan has been an an unknown to the Turkish public for decades and it still is. The frequent thing I hear from the Turks is the proverbial phrase: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

      In my opinion, the cunning, double-talking and opportunistic Turkish leaders closed borders with Armenia, not because of their fake love for the Azerbaijanis, but rather for the following two reasons:

      1) To do economically what they failed to do militarily through their proxy Azerbaijan. In a period of an accelerated acceptance and recognition of Armenian grievances against Turkey around the world, this tactic is being used to weaken Armenia in attempts to make Armenia give up on her genocide and territorial demands from Turkey. It is a form of blackmail.

      2) To convince and falsely claim their alliance with Azerbaijan in return for cheap Azerbaijani oil flow into Turkey and beyond. This false alliance is also used to satisfy their American and Western masters to isolate Iran economically by cutting back, if not eliminating, their energy purchases from Iran.

      This fake love affair between Turkey and Azerbaijan is nothing but a marriage of convenience. They are using each other to weaken Armenia, their common enemy.

  2. Arto said:

    “Despite its limited resources, Armenia has become a master at geopolitics. What other country in the world can say it maintains good relations with the US, Russia and Iran?”

    Finally someone praising the work of the Armenian government instead of the usual criticisms and insults we see from the editors of this website and its readers.

  3. www.Voskanapat.info said:

    “about 1.5 million Armenians perished in a war with Turkey between 1915 and 1918.”

    Why does this site need to reprint every bogus propaganda piece? These Armenian women, children and elderly massacred by Turks were not in a war with Turkey. They were citizens of it, paying taxes, sending their men to serve in the Turkish army, etc.

    And “the Soldiers from various countries including Armenia” on the picture… The soldier next to the Armenian one – it’s an Azeri Turk soldier (with a Ukrainian in between them) – easily recognizable by the axe he’s always hiding to kill an Armenian when he falls asleep. Did this “digital strategist” from the “Truman Center” get it from the NATO training program archives in Budapest?

    Did you have to publish this rubbish on the day when another 19 y.o. Armenian soldier was killed in Artsakh by an Azeri Turk sniper? Who armed and trained these Sultan Aliyev snipers? Where do they get sophisticated high caliber rifles with night vision equipment?

    • Avery said:

      I think we can view Asbarez bringing this rubbish to our attention as educational: let our people see what is being cooked up to cause trouble for RoA and NKR by Western Neocons, presumably bearing gifts.

      Clearly a primitive Neocon attempt to puff up a couple of Armenians with inferiority complexes to induce them to volunteers their services (in the open, as so-called NGOs).

      American Neocons have been trying to cause death, destruction, discord and disruption in South Caucasus against Armenians since her independence. US authorities looked the other way while (Ret) Gen Secord and his buddies were supplying weapons and expertise to Baku during the NKR war. And it hasn’t stopped since then.

    • Alex said:

      if they didn’t we would know how these supposed allies stab us in the back with needles in this case, where giving good criticism with distorted history like Mr. Davidian mentions. We need this propaganda pieces and the unbiased pieces as well.

  4. Վարդան said:

    Too many grammar mistakes, someone should check this things before publishing.

  5. Vasken said:

    Ահա թէ Ինչու՞ Նախագահ Օբաման կը տապլտկի թուրքիոյ “քաղաքական” անկողինին մէջ. որպէսզի ճնշում բանեցնէ Հայաստանի վրայ՝ և իրանի դեմ…նաեւ Ղարաբաղը որպէս “Սդեպղին” մինջեւ որ մենք Հիւծուինք:
    Պտերազմը անխուսափելի է. Ամերիկայի խաղաքարտը պետք է աւրուի. որչափ շուտ՛ այնչափ լաւ.

  6. Kevork said:

    “about 1.5 million Armenians perished in a war with Turkey between 1915 and 1918″ – Is this a typo or are these the new subtle techniques used to marginalize and undermine the Armenian Genocide recognition process?

    In 1915 to 1918 Armenia was not yet independent, and the Turkish genocidal government turned against its own unarmed citizens and invented the act of genocide, murdering in cold blood more than 2 million Christians, 1.5 million of whom were Armenians.

    The Armenian Genocide is more than history – it is pure politics whether anyone likes it or not – and so long as the present criminal state of Turkey is not punished for its crimes, and restitution given to the descendants of the victims, then the Armenian Genocide is an ongoing process.

  7. Alex Postallian said:

    A very good article,I noticed the author affilates himself with a very honorable name; Truman,our best president.

    • Kevork said:

      I’m not sure I agree about Truman… In fact I think his policies opened the door to the opposition we face today for genocide recognition.

  8. ARA said:

    We produce some the worlds best aviation designers (warrior aircraft), energy sources and educated people that contribute to the good of the world. We have been there longer than anyone-I know- i was there and saw all the borders- the neighbors are uncivilized except for Iran which has a developed and educated society-though we too need to be careful- they closed our schools and did other things-the turks are the danger as we know- they eat …….

  9. Zohrab said:

    Shame on the big powers nearly 20 years of blockade and usa or uk or Europe does not and cannot say a word to the turks there must be a good business deal between themselves so they can’t say anything about the blockade if u mention it they will quickly say we are waiting for protocol to be resolved best not to get involved,well I hope soon Iran will close with turkey Iraq same Syria will also close let’s see if turkey will cry wolf

  10. Fredrick said:

    I am afraid, this is the same optimistic view that has cost Armenians life and land. My interpretation, which is validated by all the US actions and inaction, is that they are preparing for the future. For the day that Azeris will unite with their Turkish brethren and Us will have the second biggest Embassy in their land. When are we going to wake up?

  11. Shant Kirmizian said:

    Armenia is actually quite rich in gold and other natural resources such as uranium. I bit more research should have been done.

  12. phillip said:

    The only other country in as bad a spot as armenia is in, is israel. I still cant figue out which is the worst
    spot, but its for sure a real close call either way maybe we should share the patron saint of lost causes

    • Avetis said:

      Israel has open sea access, not to mention a enormous nuclear weapons stockpile, unconditional American support, billions of no-strings-attached dollars and a enemy that is disunited, disorganized and stupid. They are in much better position than you think.

      • Edward Demian said:

        Yeah, but they sit on a dry sand pile and they roast for most of the year. Armenia is a four season paradise.

    • Alex said:

      Wow, really. Israel gets so much help from US government since the piece treaty in 1969 or was ’67, w/e. Israel is an aggressor, sells weapons to our enemies, Jew been lobbying for Turks. How do we compare, and ohh ya they are envious of Armenia’s ancient culture too, just tell a Jew, before you called yourself Hebrew or Jew, your ancestors came from us, see how their eyes turn red. If we sold weapons to Palestine, they would of been crying all over the world Armenians are antisemitic since we sold weapons to their enemies. They are self-victimizing peoples to keep their evil, Zionist agenda going. Nothing good came out of US and EU making Israeli state, just death and more death, and Nazi-Commie like WALL.

      • Edward Demian said:

        Let it all out. Don’t hold back. Look Alex, sure the Jews as a distinct people have faults which some of us find distasteful; Two thousand years of looking over your shoulders, and then WW2. How would you turn out? How have we turned out? In fact In parts of Southern California, some people feel the same way about Armenians. Sad. The Anglo Armenian competition in India, hundreds of years ago, has shaped an ongoing anti Armenian slant in English politics. Just as the cooperation and pro Armenian slant of the French people and government, go back to the Crusades. Turns out, that the Jews are Hurrian, hense related to us through that common linguistic and perhaps genetic bond? I never thought that I would live long enough to get the answers that DNA technology results have provided to history.

    • Avery said:

      Long term, Israel’s prospects do not look too bright. It cannot sustain its massive defense budget without US aid. Without its military superiority, it will be vulnerable to slow-bleed by asymmetric adversaries (e.g. Hezbollah, Hamas) against which its nuclear arsenal is useless.

      US has US$16 Trillion of debt and it is growing every year. AIPAC or not, some time in the future, there will be no American money to give to Israel. Israel’s existence has no do-or-die value to US. If it becomes too expensive to support, US will walk away. Number 2: The Jewish state is being eaten from inside: no nukes can stop that.

      Armenia is in much better situation long term than commonly believed.
      Armenia’s strategic value to Orthodox Christian Russia is crucial.
      However, we ourselves have to do everything we can to remain united and strengthen both RoA and NKR: militarily, economically, and demographically – all interrelated.

  13. Lusik said:

    Չեմ խառնեկ մեզ ձեր վայրի արջի ցեղերի հետ
    We will win all the wars against Armenia and Armenians. Reading the comments strengthens my belief, that we will win all the wars against Armenia and Armenians. Just read the comments and see yourself. There is no single false spot in the article that is left unattended. Even there are comments on bad grammar.

    The negligence of the author in preparation of the paragraphs – the manipulation of historical facts (to satisfy both sides) and how they sound in the current world, gives us clear message that we, Armenians, are still not taken seriously in the aggressors’ projects. But we can live with that. The problem these sick people have is that they continue thinking that people who don’t have oil, gold and such are happy to find out that somebody decided to give an importance to the place where they live. They give to this appraisal a $-sign named “geopolitics”. And expect that the road is ready for stepping on with their boots.

    The very first day Armenia “offers” its “geopolitical” jewel, the “jewel” will be taken, used and Armenia erased from the map. It is so transparent, that seems to be the only message brought by Daniel Gaynor.

    We have only few friends. And we keep them. We have only few jewels, but they are ours and will stay ours.
    Չեմ խառնեկ մեզ ձեր վայրի արջի ցեղերի հետ

  14. Lusik said:

    Մի խառնեք մեզ ձեր վայրի արջի ցեղերի հետ:

    We will win all the wars against Armenia and Armenians. Reading the comments strengthens my belief, that we will win all the wars against Armenia and Armenians. Just read the comments and see yourself. There is no single false spot of the article left unattended. Even there are comments on bad grammar.

    The negligence of the author in preparation of the paragraphs – the manipulation of historical facts (to satisfy both sides) and the distortion of the way they sound in the modern world, gives us clear message that we, Armenians, are still not taken seriously in the aggressors’ projects. But we can live with that. The problem these sick people have is that they continue thinking that small nations that don’t have oil, gold and such, are happy to find out that somebody decided to give an importance to the place where they live. This strange people give to their appraisal a $-sign name “geopolitics”. And expect that the road is ready for stepping on with their boots.

    The very first day Armenia “offers” its “geopolitical” jewel, the “jewel” will be taken, used and Armenia erased from the map. It is so transparent, that seems to be the only message brought by Daniel Gaynor.

    We have only few friends. And we keep them. Not for sale.

    Մի խառնեք մեզ ձեր վայրի արջի ցեղերի հետ:

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