Serzh Sarkisian’s Catalogue of Failures: A Brief Foreign Policy Survey

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian speaks at a summit of the European People's Party. March 7, 2014.

From The Armenian Weekly

Writing after the first year of Serzh Sarkisian’s presidency, I half-jokingly suggested that Armenia’s leader may have come under the influence of Buddhist “third way” philosophy, trying to find a balanced compromise path that would take him clear of the confrontational approaches of his two predecessors. Now, some years later, the third president’s years in power are likely to be remembered for three major failures in achieving compromise breakthroughs: the Turkish-Armenian protocols (officially declared dead of “exhaustion” in 2010), the EU association and free trade negotiations (killed last September), and the Custom’s Union/Eurasian integration process (fatally wounded by the Ukrainian crisis).

Through each of these initiatives—dragged out over years—the president managed to annoy key constituencies: many in the Armenian Diaspora, Russia’s leadership and, most recently, the European bureaucrats and the pro-reform minded activists in Armenia. In all three cases, the initiatives came from Sarkisian—under varying degrees of duress—but were killed by circumstances that he could not really influence.

But even outside the realm of big politics, Sarkisian’s credibility has long been shot, his eloquently prepared speeches contrasting greatly with actual policies. Here is a listing of some of the more memorable foreign policy blunders of recent years that serve to illustrate Sarkisian-style policies in the Karabakh conflict—a subject in which Armenia has a greater say:

— In August 2012, several Armenian NGO groups circulated a letter warning that the Hungarian government had struck a deal with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and was about to transfer (read: release) the murderer of Armenian officer Gurgen Margaryan to Azerbaijan. Nothing is known to have been done by Armenia to prevent the extradition. Following the extradition, release, and hero-like treatment given to the murderer, Armenia severed diplomatic ties with Hungary and launched a legal complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. Sarkisian said that Armenia’s relations with third countries will henceforth depend on their attitude to the Budapest scandal. After many tough words, there was no accounting on what was, in fact, done. On the one-year anniversary of the extradition, the issue could have been completely ignored if Margaryan’s father had not attempted a suicide. In the meantime, Sarkisian went back to negotiating with Aliyev and even said that the latter’s “re-election” was good for Armenia.

— In June 2010, four Armenian soldiers were killed and as many were wounded in one of the single bloodiest episodes for the Armenian Army since the cease-fire on the Line of Contact with Azerbaijan. Sarkisian continued on his trip to Russia and Germany, and visited the wounded only two weeks later. Armenia initially refused to return the body of an Azerbaijani army serviceman who launched the kamikaze-style attack resulting in the deaths. Then, after Armenian civilian Manvel Saribekian was captured on the border and died in Azerbaijani prison, his body was exchanged for the one of the psycho, who was already declared a national hero. The “extradition” was brokered by the Russian Patriarch and Armenian Catholicos. Talks with Aliyev continued.

— Also in 2010, a new Stepanakert airport was built in Karabakh, the Armenian leadership declared its determination to begin direct passenger flights from Yerevan, and Sarkisian promised to become one of the first passengers. Now, more than three years later, with Azerbaijani threats to kill passengers mid-air and requests from the American, French and Russian Minsk Group diplomats to hold off, flights have yet to materialize. In effect, Armenia and Karabakh have surrendered full sovereignty over their airspace.

— On the matter of Karabakh’s status, Armenia’s official line has also undergone an unpleasant transformation. Under former president Robert Kocharian, Armenia ruled out any subordination of Karabakh to Azerbaijan and reserved the right for unilateral recognition of Karabakh in the absence of progress in negotiations. Today, the so-called Madrid Principles accepted by Sarkisian are a muddle of both self-determination and territorial integrity principles. With no resolution in sight, Armenia has made recognition of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR) conditional on fresh Azerbaijani military aggression. Remarkably, Sarkisian even described calls for recognition of NKR by some of his political opponents as “foolishness and treason.”

To be fair to Sarkisian, his domestic policies are a substantial improvement on both of his predecessors’. The political opponents are mostly left alone and the activists have enjoyed greater room to campaign. If one is to generalize, following Levon Ter-Petrossian’s tough-at-home, soft-abroad approach and Kocharian’s tough-at-home and tough-abroad approaches, Sarkisian is proving to be soft in both.

Armenia remains adrift and in dangerous waters. Vladimir Putin’s move into Crimea is a calamity that—unless it is somehow reversed—will lead to Western efforts to isolate Russia, with consequences for its remaining allies, Armenia among them. While Armenia may have few options when dealing with the world’s top players—Washington, Brussels and Moscow—the country should do better when it comes to defining objectives and following through on core security issues.

An earlier version of this article appeared in Armenian and Russian in the September 2013 issue of Analyticon, a Stepanakert-based magazine.

Emil Sanamyan is the editor of the Armenian Reporter. Sanamyan studied at the University of Arizona in Tucson and George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He is based in Washington, D.C.


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  1. Art said:

    Armenia has lost credibility on the world stage. The current administration’s beneficiaries are only the oligarchs. Armenia’s decision to scuttle the EU/West will ensure that the status quo remains. The robber barons will continue to thrive, while the average Armenian either emigrates in search of better job opportunities abroad, or remains in the country subsisting on a meager $300 monthly income, which is nearly not enough to heat up a home during the cold winter months.

    • Armenian said:

      Right on point. Tell that to the Russophiles who have been terrified to submission and are too afraid of trying to bring about change, insisting that the status quo is the best path even though it’s slowly chipping away at us by the minute. If we keep going down this path, there will be nothing left of us in about 50 years, all because 20 or so people wanted to plunder the nation of its wealth and well-being so that the Kremlin maintains control of us.

      • steve said:

        Better Kremlin controls of us .Then your west.Look what happens to SYRIA
        Please wake up from your dreams [Question the west,don’t be blind ]

        • Armenian said:

          How about better nobody controls us? Armenia could have been in a much better position right now, especially with people from Europe and the West looking to invest in it; nobody wants to invest in a crumbling Armenian society where gays are the number one “threat” and corruption and deception are overlooked and laws are enforced subjectively. Armenia would be a much better country, even if blockaded, if it snapped out of its Russia-minded malaise.

          • Avetis said:

            How about you get lost and leave us Armenian alone?

          • Armenian said:

            This is coming from the same person who was begging Putin to come to Armenia with his troops? I think it’s you who needs to get lost.

    • Armanen said:

      No, Armenia will continue to grow particularly in the geopolitical realm. All the armchair strategists here though can continue to fret and act as if they are doing something to advance Armenia,

      Meanwhile the EU is the entity which will see an increase in disparity between the haves and have nots and rising calls for certain members to leave or be kicked out. The EU is a sinking ship, and more citizens of EU states are waking up to this reality.

      • Armenian said:

        “Continue to grow”? A 40% decrease in foreign investments in Armenia was registered over the past two years; 39% of people are now living in poverty, half of which are below the poverty line. We’re at the worst economic shape we’ve been in a very long time, and the lines at the “departures” terminal are growing by the year. How can you even dare claim that Armenia is “growing” let alone “continuing to grow”? Get real!

      • Armenian said:

        Nowhere is the gap between rich and poor more evident than in Russia, and especially now in Armenia. You claim Armenia is “growing”, yet the gap between rich and poor is atrocious and is at the widest it’s ever been in this history of RA. The EU’s overall gap is skewed because of the newly-admitted and poorer states of Eastern Europe whose economies have not yet adjusted to the specifics of EU standards, and that will naturally cause a tilt in that chart. In the longer term, even the poorer EU states will be much better off than the Russian oblast your camp has created in Armenia.

        Longer-term EU members are much more economically stable with a greater distribution of wealth. Living standards in the EU are much higher than in “prospering” Russia– just ask any of the Armenians who go to Europe, forgetting about everything they left behind in Armenia and planning on never looking back.

        • Armanen said:

          I don’t know what Armenians you are referring to. All Armenians that I speak with would move back to Armenia if they could make as much as they were making in EU or US, even Russia. However, given the geopolitical realities this is not realistic. The 40% decrease you speak of is false, Armenia’s FDI is set to increase and it certainly did not drop by 40%. Compare the continued poor FDI index of neighboring Georgia, which is the darling of the west in the Caucasus, with Armenia’s FDI index. SInce 2008 you will see that Armenia has out performed Georgia.

          You can remain in the post modernist cesspool known as the political West, those of us who care about our heritage and traditional Armenian values are making any and all efforts to return to our Homeland.

          • Sarkis said:

            Of course it will remain in the west, Armenian society would forcefully reject anyone spreading as much poisonous self-hatred as this one poster tries to do on several diasporan publications. Besides, he stated in an earlier comment that he is of partial jewish ancestry and his home is in the west.

    • Vahram said:

      Art the old Western arguments don’t work any more. These stupid things that you keep spewing are nonsense. The only thing the old lines from the West are good for is to put them up on the wall as propaganda art ( pun intended )

      Armenia has lost nothing in the West, Armenia never had anything from the West to begin with. Your stupid propaganda is not working any more sorry Art.

  2. Mihran said:

    I do not agree with his last view.

    Putin’s move was the right move as the west was trying for the past 20 years through NATO and its European chapter EU to encircle Russia.

    The west has not been sincere in its dealings with Russia.

    Also, there is no mention of the treacherous protocols which are still on the table to please USA.

    Not to mention his failed domestic policies where by Armenians are immigrating on an average of 60000 per year.The rampant corruption,injustices on a daily basis,poverty,fraudulent elections at all levels,promoting relatives in lucrative positions,offshore accounts,sadly the list is endless.

    • said:

      Immigrating, emigrating – all the same for Mihran…

      How many Irish have emigrated since the crash of the Celtic Tiger economy?

      What about rampant corruption in Greece? Want to talk about nepotism in Washington?

  3. Armenian said:

    Well put. This is what happens when you have a spineless leader, and a bunch of equally spineless and brain-dead individuals who are making decisions on the country’s behalf.

  4. Armenian said:

    “Failure” is an understatement. There will be no Armenia in a very short period of time thanks to the actions of this pathetic excuse for a human being. Armenia has never lost so much of its sovereignty as it has under this pathetic excuse for a statesman and politician. It’s like the Red Army take over of Armenia in the early 1900’s, except more embarrassing because we sold ourselves and our country without any resistance at all.

  5. Gurgen said:

    Perhaps they should resume the commercial flights to Stepanakert airport like you suggest. That way you can volunteer yourself and your family members to take that dangerous and risky flight.

    Nothing personal but your entire commentary indicates a very superficial understanding of Armenian regional politics. You sir have become a mouthpiece of the Washington DC establishment and their global agenda.

  6. Harutik said:

    Our Americanized zombies need to wake up from their EUrotic dreams and recognize that Armenia’s only hope for a better and more secure future is Russia. For Armenia, independence from Russia means dependence on Turkey. No Russia in the south Caucasus means no Armenia in the south Caucasus. There are no viable alternatives to the above calculus. The Russian nation is providing Armenia today with an opportunity Armenians have not had in well over one thousand years. Instead of doing the work of Western reptiles by disseminating anti-Russian propaganda throughout Armenian society, we Armenians need to wake up and use our God given talents to take full advantage of being a strategic partner of a superpower like Russia. Armenians can be in Russia what Jews are in the US. Western civilization is in decline. The East is rising. Wake up!

    • Armenian said:

      Russia will never let you have the advantage in any way, shape or form. Armenia will never prosper under Russia, especially when Russia’s “bilateral relationship” with Armenia depends on isolating Armenia as much as possible from the rest of the world so that Russia’s position in our country is never questioned. I think it is you who needs to “wake up”.

      • Avetis said:

        Says Washington’s Turkish cyber warrior who also goes by the name of Vahagn…

      • Norin Radd said:

        Sarkis, Harutik, you both are spot on. “Armenian” back to the drawing board for you.

    • Sarkis said:

      And your analysis is spot on. I think after the recent Kessab Massacre, carried out by NATO-member turkey using NATO-backed, NATO-trained, NATO-funded, NATO-armed islamic terrorists in Syria has woken many slumbering Armenians up. Not to mention the fact that the US and EU play games regarding Genocide recognition. The US and EU are the ones that build the BTC pipeline which turned azerbaijan into a country with a large military budget spent on israeli weapons to kill Armenians in Artsakh. – the west does not care as long as it gets a cut of the oil and gas profits. NATO allowed the murder of Armenian soldier Gurgen Margaryan by the azeri axe killer in NATO-member Hungary in 2004, and then NATO quietly released the azeri murderer in exchange for a few oil and gas kickbacks and some bribes from the azeris. The west looks the other way as their puppet state Georgia violates the religious, linguistic and ethnic identity rights of Armenians in Georgia and instead pressures Georgia to import more Turks and Meshketian Turks into Georgia and settle them into Armenian Javakhk. The west pressured the Armenian government into the recent, unpopular pension reform plan based on the EU model. And of course the west wants to push anti-Orthodox Christian policies, religious cults, militant feminism, civil society dedicated to Azeri Film Festivals in Yerevan, abortions, and gay rights in Armenia.

      Besides the S-300s and other free weapons, and the very low-interest loans Armenia gets from Russia, Armenia gets protection from the countless threats that western imperialism, loan sharks and NGO’s pose in Armenia. So yes, I am very happy to see Armenia making the rights moves and looking to a prosperous and secure future under Russian protection.

  7. Short said:

    This character that goes by the name Armenian , insulting the intelligence of Armenia’s government , should pack his bags, move to the homeland and postulate himself as president in the land of the brain dead. Let’s see Armenian putting his braggadocio and hyperbolic statements into action. The homeland would be enriched by the cultural and intellectual acumen of someone like Armenian.

  8. Aram said:

    —— Serzh Sarkisian is the best leader Armenia ever had. Only Russia can be trusted as a friend . The west is with the turks.The NGO’s have their emissaries sent to destabilize Armenia like Ukraine. article is pure propaganda.

  9. Ashot Armenian Christian said:

    The only future Armenians have is under the protection of christian orthodoxy in the middle east
    Wether that be with Russia Serbia Greece there are a few others maybe the lezgis in azeri occupied armenia soon the time for leaving comments will be over…and the time to go back to our homeland and fight for what is ours is coming
    Well see how many of us leave our creature comforts behind and go to fight for the mother land…. Im ready to go Ive had a hard time staying away this long as it is
    I dont need nice cars or skanky Mexican girls
    I want to establish wilsonian Armenia
    God give me strength to send the mongols back into the mountains