Gwynne Dyer: Armenia in Trouble— USA to the Rescue??

Why it’s unlikely the US will help Armenia

The Armenians are a people of great antiquity — the first Armenian kingdom was in the 8th century B.C. — but they grew up in a tough neighborhood, and they have been in retreat for a very long time.

They lost their independence to the Persians, then to Alexander the Great, then to the Romans and the Byzantine empire and the Seljuk Turks and the Ottoman empire and the Russians, bleeding territory at almost every step.

Armenia’s borders stabilized under the Russian empire and the Soviet Union, but after the Soviet collapse in 1991 the Armenians got their independence back and the border problems started again. They held their own against the neighbors for a while, but now they are making a bad mistake.

Armenia and Azerbaijan both got their independence from Russia in 1991. However, there was an enclave of 150,000 Armenians inside Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabakh and a similar-sized exclave of half a million Azeris on the far side of Armenia proper. So there was an immediate war, of course (1991-1994), and the Armenians won it.

Russia, as the former imperial power, helped negotiate the ceasefire and guaranteed it. The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh kept all the land they had in Soviet times plus about as much again around it, and a road corridor to Armenia proper guarded by Russian troops.

There were several opportunities in the following years to make a peace deal that left all the existing borders in place, but turbulent Armenian domestic politics sabotaged them. By 2020 Azerbaijan had used its oil wealth to build up its army and buy attack drones from Turkey, and it reopened the war.

The drones carried the day. The Armenian troops in Nagorno-Karabakh, which was effectively being run by Armenia, were decimated, and by the time of the ceasefire (mediated by Vladimir Putin) even much of the core territory of the enclave had been captured. So had the road leading west to Armenia proper, but Russian troops kept it open.

Photo of purported wreckage of Azeri attack drones.

It might have stayed like that for many more years, but last year Putin invaded Ukraine. By December, the Azerbaijanis had figured out that the Russians were too distracted by that war to worry about Armenia, so they imposed a blockade on that single road to Nagorno-Karabakh — and the Russian troops did nothing.

There are now dire food shortages in Nagorno-Karabakh, and in desperation, Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, has turned to the United States for help. There are still Russian military bases in Armenia, but the first joint exercise between Armenian and American troops recently got underway.

The Armenians’ anger is understandable, as the Russians have been their only useful ally for decades, but they should remember that Russia has no strategic or economic interests in Armenia. It only supports the country out of imperial nostalgia and Christian solidarity. Both are quite fragile motivations.

It is therefore foolish for Pashinyan to imagine that the United States can or would take Russia’s place. Seen from Washington, Armenia is an opportunity to embarrass the Russians, but it’s too far away, too inaccessible, too poor and too unimportant to waste much American time or money on, let alone American lives.

Gwynne Dyer

If there was ever a chance to make Nagorno-Karabakh part of Armenia, it was lost many years ago. Cutting a good deal for the Armenian minority in Azerbaijan is still possible — and if the Armenian government doesn’t believe that, then all the more it needs the Russians.

Putin was always awful and now he’s abandoned them, but for Armenians Russia is still the only game in town. Before they bet the farm on the Americans, they should have a chat with the Kurds.

One thought on “Gwynne Dyer: Armenia in Trouble— USA to the Rescue??”

  1. Chuck, you and I and probably many of the readers of these articles are of an age to remember the Cuban missile crisis. Remember how the US was poised to make war on Cuba over USSR’s attempt to place missiles 90 miles off our shore? And still, the US continues economic war via the embargo.
    There are many, including Ukrainian anti-war activists, who see the US role as interested in the Ukrainian war and the foreign policy initiatives leading to it. Instead they see a renewal of the Cold War as part of the continued strategy of the US to lead the West and the world.
    Sending more weapons and reinforcing the war, rather than an all-out diplomatic effort for first a ceasefire and then a fair treaty to end the war may be the last hope of preventing a wider conflagration that Dyer hints at considering the situation in Armenia.
    And while the captain of the ship should be responsible for everything that happens, both Putin and US presidents have had whole administrations and backers of war as their advisors and enablers.
    Nor is the US a dependable defender of democracy. I do not believe that democracy and war can coexist in a healthy way. It’s time to reclaim the Quaker testimony for peace, and continue to propose and follow the ways that lead to peace.

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