The U.S. waiver of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act–a section that banned direct government aid, including military and security assistance, to Azerbaijan–is having favorable consequences for both Azerbaijan and Armenia. Originally instituted against Azerbaijan a decade ago, the ban equally affected Armenia in practice, because U.S. policy could not discriminate against either of the two countries. By the same token, the lifting of Section 907 paves the way for U.S. military and security assistance to Armenia as well.
President George W. Bush obtained the waiver last December in Congress after the two main Armenian lobbies had split on the issue. The mainstream Armenian Assembly of America went along with the administration, realizing that Armenia would benefit as well. The Dashnak-affiliated Armenian National Committee of America, obstructive of U.S. policies in the South Caucasus, and apparently comfortable with Armenia’s full dependence on Russia for military and security assistance, fought for retention of 907. In the event, its removal made possible in late March the signing of a U.S.-Azerbaijan agreement on security assistance, the lifting of the embargo on arms and military equipment to both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the visit of Armenia’s top military official, Serge Sarkisian, to Washington for discussions on U.S. security assistance to Armenia. The discussions also mapped out plans for more substantive Armenian participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, and training of an Armenian peacekeeping unit with Greek assistance, for interoperable cooperation with NATO.
Sarkisian, who holds the posts of defense minister and secretary of the National Security Council concurrently, made a statement in Washington about the need for initiating U.S.-Armenia and NATO-Armenia cooperation in the military and security sphere. His remarks evidenced a concern to avoid depending too much on Russia in this sphere, so as to avoid Armenia’s isolation in the South Caucasus and to counterbalance Moscow’s clout as military supplier to Armenia.
In Yerevan on April 4, Sarkisian and Foreign Affairs Minister Vardan Oskanian expounded on what seems an adjustment of Armenia’s foreign policy to recent developments in the South Caucasus and Eurasia. Both officials spoke after emerging from a specially convened, closed-door session of the Armenian parliament, which took stock of those changes in the regional security environment. Publicly, Sarkisian and Oskanian cited:
–Turkey’s growing importance as a factor in the South Caucasus–the unstoppable momentum of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline project–emergence of the U.S. military presence in Georgia and–American leadership in antiterrorist operations in Eurasia.
From this, Sarkisian and Oskanian concluded that Yerevan’s policy requires some significant adjustments. These included, first, an active political dialogue with Turkey, including a government-to-government dialogue, not leaving it up to unofficial bodies such as the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission; second, stepping up military relations with the United States, especially after the waiver of 907; and, third, promoting goodneighborly relations with Georgia, and supporting stability there (Noyan-Tapan, Arminfo, Mediamax, April 4-7).
The chiefs of staff of Armenia’s and Georgia’s armed forces, Lieutenants-General Mikael Harutiunian and Joni Pirtskhalaishvili, held talks on April 4-6 in Yerevan on establishing bilateral military cooperation (Armenpress, Noyan-Tapan, April 8). They signed documents on establishing joint working groups to plan joint military activities. At the concluding briefing, they described Georgian-Armenian joint military activities as unprecedented, and the signing of the memorandum of understanding as a “historic moment.” While Armenia’s ally Russia accuses Georgia of aiding and abetting terrorism or of preparing to use force against breakaway regions, Yerevan is implicitly distancing itself from that propaganda and beginning to treat the Western-oriented Georgia as a legitimate and normal partner of military cooperation.
The Armenian government is now underscoring its support for stability in Georgia’s Armenian-inhabited region Javakheti as a matter of national interest for Armenia. Official Yerevan is discouraging irredentist activities in Javakheti by Armenian groups there or by political forces in Armenia and the diaspora. Sarkisian’s and Oskanian’s latest public statements maintain that Armenia cannot afford jeopardizing its lifeline to international markets via Javakheti; and that it can in any case not afford “a second Karabakh-like conflict.”
Official Yerevan’s position contradicts that of the influential Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF)-Dashnaksutiun. In both Armenia and the American diaspora, the ARF has in recent months orchestrated a campaign of demands on Georgia to give Javakheti autonomy. Although the Dashnaks are President Robert Kocharian’s political allies, the Armenian government is now moving not only to defuse that campaign, but also to work with Tbilisi with a view to stabilizing Javakheti.
The Russian military base in Javakheti, headquartered in the heavily Armenian-populated Akhalkalaki, poses special problems, not only for Georgia but potentially for Armenia as well. Until recently, the prevalent view in Yerevan tended to assume that Akhalkalaki and other Russian military bases in Georgia were there to stay indefinitely, forming some links in a (however discontinuous) military lifeline of Armenia to Russia. Javakheti Armenians, misled by Russian and Dashnak propaganda, regard the base as a guarantee of their security against Turkish or Georgian control. The Russian base in any case provides jobs and injects some cash into the local economy. If, however, Russia cannot sustain its military presence in Javakheti much longer, then Yerevan and Tbilisi have a common interest in stabilizing the situation there in advance of any withdrawal, and working together to ensure a smooth transition to the postwithdrawal period.
On April 5-7, an Armenian delegation under Stepan Markarian–a Javakheti native, top adviser (and no relation) to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian-paid a fact-finding visit to Javakheti in the company of Georgian officials. The delegation recommended to Javakheti Armenians to request not autonomy, but simply self-administration within Georgia. As a result of the visit, Georgia and Armenia have commenced preparations for a joint program to create in Akhalkalaki some 1,600 jobs–the same number that the Russian base is currently providing. Apparently referring to Russian propaganda and to the Dashnaks, Markarian stated that “forces outside the republic are the ones who want to destabilize it. The whole problem lies not in Javakheti, but outside it” (Armenpress, Noyan-Tapan, Mediamax, April 8).
Sarkisian, Oskanian and other Armenian officials underscore that Yerevan will continue practicing its policy of “complementarity,” entailing heavy reliance on the military alliance with Russia. With the adjustments just promulgated, however, it seems that complementarity is perhaps beginning to turn from a slogan, which had cloaked unilateral dependence on Russia, into a somewhat more balanced policy.
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