Why is Armenia joining the Eurasian Customs Union, and not the EU?
Is Yerevan’s decision driven primarily by security considerations?
Or are security issues simply a pretext for the government in Yerevan to manipulate nationalist moods in the country in order to stay in power? After September 3rd, 2013, when Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan announced Armenia’s U-turn away from signing the Association Agreement with the EU in favour of joining the Eurasian Customs Union (whose members also include Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan), security issues have been front and centre in most explanations of Yerevan’s behaviour.
Of course, Armenia’s current strategic and political realities are directly connected to the last century of its history.
To this very day, Armenia remains highly exercised by the Armenian genocide of 1915 and the imperative of securing Armenians against any aggression by the country’s closest neighbours.
The genocide has been recognized by 21 states and a host of international organizations, including the UN General Assembly and the European Parliament.
However, for a variety of reasons, Armenia’s immediate neighbours – Georgia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran – have not recognized the genocide.
As the centenary of the genocide approaches, discourses and debates around it intensify – both by dint of government strategy and through nationalist groups.
These discourses and debates are commonly rooted in a distrust of Turkey, including as evidenced by the recently signed and failed protocols on the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations, as well as by the role of Turkey in Syria and Iraq – as perceived by Armenia, at least.
Armenia believes that Turkey is supporting ISIS, and that Turkey constitutes not only a threat to Armenians in ISIS-occupied lands but ultimately to Armenia itself.
It follows that there are today only a few NGOs and individuals in Armenia who still think that normalization of relations with Turkey and the opening of the border between the two countries are serious possibilities in the near future.
Another major Armenian security concern relates to the frozen Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Since the ceasefire agreement of 1994, the OSCE Minsk Group, which includes the US, Russia and France, has been mediating between Yerevan and Baku without any essential or decisive success.
Sniper shootings and small attacks continue to this day, resulting in a small but regular stream of casualties on both sides. Last August, for instance, saw fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh that was the most significant escalation of the conflict since the ceasefire, causing many analysts to predict that ‘hot’ war would recommence.