Recently, the precarious position of Armenia in its own region and on the global stage came to a fore when a prominent Armenian politician revealed the stark truth about Armenia’s economic weakness, compared with the strength of adversary, Azerbaijan. The U.S., its policymakers and, in particular, Congress should take notice.
Speaking with the Vestnik Kavkaza website this month, lawmaker Aram Manukyan of the Armenian National Congress party admits that Armenia “plays almost no role” when it comes to interstate economic ties in Eurasia.
“We are bypassed by all regional and international routes — transport, railway, oil, gas, any others…we simply do not exist in the Caucasus, and this situation has not changed in last 20 years,” Manukyan says. “Over the years, we have been bypassed by a lot of projects, including the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars road, which were built through Georgia instead of Armenia, and now these are the North-South International Transport Corridor and China’s Silk Road.”
Manukyan is lamenting Yerevan’s crucial absence from the “New Silk Road” pioneered by Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia, which last year launched the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) rail line connecting their countries, establishing a freight and passenger link between Europe and China — and bypassing Russia and its all-too-loyal ally, Armenia.
Concurrently, Azerbaijan will deliver its first natural gas to Turkey this year and then to Europe in 2019 from the Shah Deniz 2 field, in a key element of the broader vision to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. Once complete, the Southern Gas Corridor will span nearly 2,200 miles across seven countries and three pipelines — South Caucasus Pipeline in Azerbaijan and Georgia; Trans Anatolian Pipeline in Turkey; and Trans Adriatic Pipeline in Greece, Albania, and Italy. As is the case with the BTK rail link, Russia and Armenia will be left out in the cold.
“We seem to be out of the region….We are at an economic impasse, and therefore no one invests in Armenia,” says Manukyan. “If before we received at least $3 to $4 billion of investments a year, then last year the republic received only $120 million of investments…The situation is complicated by corruption, because of which any normal person will not risk investing money in Armenia.”
The economic trends in the Caucasus are no coincidence. Azerbaijan and Georgia have Western-oriented values, advanced economies and are deeply supportive of the U.S. and Europe. Armenia has a backward economy that remains heavily dependent on agriculture and is plagued by skyrocketing inflation and a severe brain drain. Additionally, Armenia is a de facto vassal of Russia that is filled with Russian military bases and shamelessly coordinates its foreign policy with the Kremlin. By hitching its wagon to Moscow, rather than cultivating allies in Western Europe or working to modernize its own economy, Yerevan should not be surprised that it is increasingly ignored in the global economy.
Acknowledging what few Armenians in the U.S. or Armenia will, Manukyan asserts that “Armenia’s very first problem and the biggest challenge is the settlement of the Karabakh conflict,” referring to the decades-long territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
“We can’t go on like this….It wears peoples and states out, prevents countries from developing. We must get out of this hole, this situation,” Manukyan states.
“If we could resolve the Karabakh conflict, then the issue of unblocking of our borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey will be resolved,” adds the Armenian legislator, claiming that his party “stands for good relations with all its neighbors, especially economic ones, since it will ensure the development of our country.”
Manukyan is right—but likely not for the reason he intended. Armenia should escape the “hole” created by its conflict with Azerbaijan, as Yerevan could only stand to benefit by rapprochement with a neighbor that is clearly superior economically. But to achieve this goal, Armenia would need to abandon its occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that multiple U.N. Security Council and U.N. General Assembly resolutions affirm as Azerbaijani territory.
Can Armenia choose prosperity and integration over ethnic expansionism? With Armenia’s economy floundering, and its regional and global relevance continuously decreasing, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is essentially the only item that keeps its militaristic government in power. Still, the Armenian people deserve a better deal than the current state of abdicated sovereignty and failed economy. Armenia shouldn’t miss its historic chance to build a prosperous nation at peace with all its neighbors.
The U.S., meanwhile, should be keeping score in the Caucasus. Amid its competition with Russia for global influence, it is pure common sense for America to align itself with Azerbaijan and Georgia, the rising pro-Western economic stars of their region, rather than with the economically struggling Russian vassal of Armenia. The U.S. doesn’t even need to take Azerbaijan’s or Georgia’s own words for it. America can look to frank comments of an Armenian politician, Aram Manukyan.
Jacob Kamaras is a journalist who is noted for his work on the Middle East, Eurasia, and American politics.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.