The Survival of Armenia: Dangers and Opportunities

This article is an edited version of a presentation given by Boyajian before Massachusetts Armenian Americans in December 2014.

Before considering the dangers and opportunities in and around Armenia and Artsakh (Karabagh), let’s think about just how far they’ve come.

Take Artsakh’s war against Azerbaijan. Armenians defeated a country three times larger with twice the population.

Armenians took nearly all of pre-independence Artsakh plus historically Armenian land from the Iranian border to just 25 miles east of Lake Sevan. That’s about 4,000 square miles and includes water resources vital to Artsakh and Armenia. The two are now geographically reattached.

Their borders with Azerbaijan are actually shorter and, therefore, more easily defended than before the war.

A critical highway from northern Artsakh to Lake Sevan is under construction.

Imagine, instead, if Armenians had lost not only Artsakh but also part of Armenia itself. Indeed, in 1993, Turkey planned to invade Armenia during an attempted coup against Russian President Boris Yeltsin by Ruslan Khasbulatov, a Chechen who was speaker of the Russian Parliament.

True, the war’s cost in life, limb, and dislocation has been terrible. Armenians in those years did not have enough heat for their homes and food for their families. Many still don’t. But they have endured, with astonishing courage.

For over 20 years, Azerbaijan and Turkey have blockaded Armenia, hoping it would cave in. But Armenians haven’t.

Turkey’s blockade has actually kept destructive Turkish economic, criminal, cultural, and even demographic penetration largely out of a developing Armenia—a real threat since the Turkish economy and population are, respectively, over 50 and 30 times larger than Armenia’s.

Despite having the region’s smallest populations and GNPs, Armenia and Artsakh have the strongest, best-trained military in the Caucasus. This is despite Azerbaijan’s huge weapon purchases from Russia and Israel.

All this and more demonstrate the physical and spiritual resilience of the people of Armenia, Artsakh, and even the diaspora. This gives us inspiration and hope for the future. Yet, Armenians do live in an inhospitable region.


Western objectives


Armenia and Artsakh are landlocked, blockaded, and in a state of war.

Azerbaijan has sizeable deposits of oil and gas in the Caspian Sea. It exports these through large, U.S.-backed pipelines that cross Georgia and Turkey. Fortunately, these pipelines pass close to northern Artsakh and are vulnerable to attack. Nearly 40 percent of Israel’s oil imports come from Baku.

Across the Caspian lie four Turkic-speaking Central Asian countries: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The first two have large oil and gas deposits.

The U.S., Europe, NATO, and Turkey—“the West,” for short—have two key objectives in Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, the Caucasus, Caspian, and Central Asia.

First, export the region’s oil and gas to Europe, and wean it off Russian fuel so that Russia cannot hold Europe hostage. The U.S. and Europe also aim to build energy pipelines from Central Asia, particularly Turkmenistan, under the Caspian Sea, to Azerbaijan and eventually Europe.

Objective two: Absorb Georgia, Azerbaijan, and even Armenia into NATO, reign over the Caspian, and eventually assimilate Central Asian nations now dominated by Russia and China.

The West has partially achieved its objectives. Major pipelines from Baku have been built, more are planned, Georgia and Azerbaijan have NATO aspirations, and a decade ago the U.S. created a small naval fleet in Baku called the Caspian Guard Initiative.

In effect, the West’s plans are now the same as Turkey’s: Pan-Turkism, a coalition of Turkic-speaking countries from Turkey through Azerbaijan and into Central Asia.

Moscow’s objectives are, of course, directly opposite to Washington’s.


Russian objectives


First, Russia wants oil and gas pipelines to pass through its own territory so it can control who buys those fuels and at what price.

Second, Russia wants to keep Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Central Asia out of NATO. Russia fears that NATO will encircle and ultimately destroy it.

Distrustful of genocidal Turkey, in conflict with Azerbaijan over Artsakh, and a Russian ally, only Armenia stands in the way of the West’s objectives.

With Armenia as an ally, Russia has a toehold in the Caucasus, something it lacks with Georgia and Azerbaijan. If Russia loses Armenia, however, the West will dominate the Caucasus up to the Caspian Sea and perhaps beyond.

Artsakh also stands in the way. The U.S. desires a solution to the Artsakh issue because it would bring about the opening of Azerbaijan’s and, probably, Turkey’s borders with Armenia. Open Armenian borders would greatly facilitate NATO’s penetrating the Caucasus since the only entry point now is beleaguered Georgia.

For the same reason, Russia is inclined against an Artsakh solution at this time.

What does all this mean for Armenia?


Armenian centrality


The West wants diasporans to think that Armenia is unimportant. We know, however, that Armenia is pivotal to Washington’s and Moscow’s objectives. Armenia and Artsakh’s location give them bargaining power. Using that power requires great skill and an incorruptible dedication to the nation.

The U.S., Europe, and NATO are implicitly throwing their considerable weight behind Pan-Turkism. This means that Turkey is more dangerous than ever. Even if Turkey were to open the border, acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, and pay reparations, Pan-Turkism will remain a danger.

Armenia is walking a tightrope. On the one hand, Armenia has excellent relations with the West and NATO. However, Armenia certainly cannot look to pro-Turkish Washington and NATO for security. On the other hand, Armenia does not fully trust Russian security guarantees. But at least Russia knows that Armenians block NATO-backed Pan-Turkism. Thus, Armenia continues to balance between the West and Russia, while maintaining positive relations with Georgia and Iran (the latter, though Shia Muslim like Azerbaijan, opposes Azeri designs on Iran).

Armenia also faces several interrelated internal challenges: the economy, emigration, corruption, the oligarchs, absence of the rule of law, a discredited judiciary, and the lack of fair elections. But there are possibilities and encouraging signs internally and externally.


Possibilities and encouraging signs


Though Russia will vehemently fight it, Armenia must wean itself off near-total dependence on Russian natural gas and import much more Iranian gas. Armenia must avoid becoming a Russian puppet lest Russia take it for granted, which has actually been happening for years. Witness massive Russian weapons sales to Azerbaijan as well as the alarming growth of Russian-Turkish relations.

It is encouraging that opposition Armenian political organizations are now in a loose coalition engaging in mass protests. This is but one of several healthy signs that the populace is working for positive change.

Armenia must grow its power internally, particularly its economy, and particularly given the current economic downturn. Without a robust economy, no country can be truly independent and afford a potent military. Oligarchical power must be broken and the rule of law enforced so that Armenians can establish businesses without unreasonable interference. Otherwise, Armenia will also not attract enough outside investment, including from diasporans. With a stronger economy, the outflow of people from Armenia will slow or stop.

A country without a sufficiently high birthrate will not have a population capable of sustaining a healthy economy or a capable military. Diasporans have already established Armenian maternity and family clinics. Perhaps they can create other incentives for families in Armenia and Artsakh to have more children.

Diasporan organizations must push the Armenian government for closer relations and more consultation. Though diasporans have directed billions of dollars and other aid to Armenia, the latter’s leaders often keep them at arm’s length. That must change. Most countries would love to have such an active diaspora. The Armenian Diaspora is undervalued and underutilized. It must speak more forcefully, more often, and with a united voice. Armenia’s Minister of Diasporan Affairs should be a diasporan.

The diaspora must insist that Armenian ambassadors, embassies, and consulates maintain closer contact with diasporans and actually perform work, rather than act like they are on vacation. Diasporan organizations should reject officials, such as the current ambassador to the U.S., suspected of corruption back home.

Despite Azeri threats to shoot down planes, Artsakh’s spectacular new airport must open to tourist and commercial traffic. The overland route of several hours is too long and inconvenient. Artsakh needs hundreds of thousands more visitors and business persons to arrive by air.

Artsakh and the diaspora must together create a more robust campaign that makes the case in media and government for Artsakh’s rights and independence.

More diasporans should be encouraged to vacation in Armenia and Artsakh, establish second homes, and even consider permanent relocation. This would pump money into their economies, slow down depopulation, and save diasporans who may otherwise assimilate abroad.

Let us be sure to pass on to future generations an Armenia, Artsakh, and Armenian Diaspora that are stronger than what we have inherited.


David Boyajian is an Armenian-American freelance journalist. Many of his articles are archived at

David Boyajian
David Boyajian is an Armenian American freelance journalist.


  1. Very good article, balanced and well written, with a clear appreciation of the political situation and sensible objectives to follow. A must for all Armenians to read and hold close to heart. Hopefully the Republic and Diaspora leaders will include it in their political agenda. For a minute I thought someone had got into my brain and read my inner thoughts. Well done David.

  2. Good analysis of the geopolitics of the region. And appropriate advisories by Boyajian. Even if ROA continues to drag its heels regarding dual citizenship to Diasporans for fear of their voting power, that need not stop them from visiting and/or relocating to Armenia.

  3. Turkey has not imposed a blockade on Armenia. The writer should comprehend the difference between an embargo and blockade rather than misrepresenting the truth.

    An embargo is the prerogative of any nation. Whether deemed right or wrong policy, any nation can choose to use or restrict use of its territory to trade with other nations. This is what is happening with Armenia due its presence in N.Karabagh. The US has imposed one on Cuba since 1960. The Turkish Cypriots in Northern Cyprus have faced a similar reality from the EU and have done so since 1974.

    A blockade is totally different. It involves stopping international trade by military force around the borders of another country. A blockade prevents third parties from undertaking normal commercial activity. A blockade is an act of war rather than merely exercising a nations own prerogatives. This is not what is happening between Turkey and Armenia. Armenia can freely trade and traverse through its borders with Georgia and Iran.

    • {“ The writer should comprehend the difference between an embargo and blockade…”}
      {“An embargo is the prerogative of any nation. Whether deemed right or wrong policy, any nation can choose to use or restrict use of its territory to trade with other nations.”}

      Apparently you are the one who does no comprehend.

      If you read Mr. Janbazian’s article [Land-Locked: The Necessity of Open Borders in Armenia] in this same issue of AW, you will find numerous references therein to relevant International laws and agreements which clearly prove Turkey is violating International law.

      {“The US has imposed one on Cuba since 1960.”}

      The US has imposed a trade, investment, and travel embargo since 1960 for US companies and citizens: countries other than US had no such restrictions. US did not surround Cuba with US Navy ships and blockade commerce or travel by Cubans to 3rd counties.

      “The Turkish Cypriots in Northern Cyprus…”
      Same as Cuba.

      Clearly, by citing the two examples of island nations, which have unrestricted access to the world’s oceans, you show your lack of comprehension about the issue.
      No doubt due to your well known Anti-Armenian bias, you have to go through hoops to find some lame justification for your beloved Türkiye’s criminal behaviour.

      Read up on what International law says about blockading a _landlocked_ country before you accuse the author of not comprehending.

  4. A great article Mr. Boyajian.
    So many of my own ideas on the subject lucidly crystallized in elegant prose.
    And kudos to ArmenianWeekly for publishing this: similar opinions expressed by like-minded readers/posters @AW do not have the same impact.

  5. Just as an embargo or blockade is the prerogative of any nation, it is also the perogative of any nation to defend its life and liberty, in this case, ancient Armenian Artsakh.

  6. When is it legal or illegal to impose a blockade or embargo?

    Seems to me that the legality depends on how hegemonic a country is and how much international support it has.

  7. Sober and succinct piece. But more could be made of how to position ourselves vis-a-vis Iran besides just diversify gas supplies through them. We actually occupy a uniquely un-adversarial role between Iran and the west which we could capitalize on if we were a little bit bolder. The author might be making too much of Russo-Turkish relations. Turkey is just trying to be clever by wheeling and dealing with Russia (like when it made eyes with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization) in order to scare the US who is currently beating it back into submission in the Middle East. What Putin is doing is actually good for Armenians because he is competing with Azeri gas and oil in Turkey and trying to make Turkey dependent on Russian energy long-term so it can break Tayyip’s back with it in Syria. Geo-politically Turkey is now neatly ensconced between a rock and hard place. Russian pipelines through Russia are actually an admission of failure of Turkey’s gulf-sponsored grand pipeline designs.

    So Armenia should be further strengthening alliances within Russia’s alignment: Egypt, Syria, Mercosur, China, India in addition to Iran. Undermining pan-Turanism is tricky but not impossible. The Eurasian Union is actually very important in this regard. In reality Armenia has more in common with the stans than Turkey does. We should not just take for granted that Turkey and Azerbaijan can turn Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan against us. Plus there’s always Tajikstan. Sometimes I think Armenians are more credulous as regards pan-Turanism than Turkic speakers are themselves.

    • Turkey has been using airports in northern Cyprus, which no country recognizes, for 40 years with no problem.

      Turks can use Cypriot airports but Armenians can’t use the Artsakh airport?

      The latter is already being used sometimes.

      I am sure many other separatist regions around the world use airports with flights originating elsewhere with little problem.

      Civilians have long been ferried from Armenia into Artsakh by helicopter. Why not planes?

      Artsakh desperately needs the tourists. A several hour trip by car or bus over winding, mountainous, often poorly surfaced roads from Yerevan to Artsakh is not practical for bringing in the people and investments that Artsakh needs.

      Why must Armenians give in to Azeri threats? They have not done so before. The issue of the airport is no different. Ways must be found.

    • Taline,

      Did Greece or the Cypriot government threaten to shoot down Turkish civilian flights to Nicosia? The partition of Cyprus has reached a certain state of normalcy that the Karabakh conflict has not. The former is thoroughly frozen, with a UN-administered buzzer zone. The latter is for our intents and purposes still an active war-zone.

      If we could be confident that these were empty Aliyev threats I would say ignore them. But they just shot down a helicopter. Of course we are well within our rights to open Stepanakert to much-needed commercial air traffic. But at the moment this would be seen as a provocation to which Baku would feel obliged to respond. I don’t think we should be wittingly escalating the conflict right now, whatever moral imperatives we have for doing so. At the end of the day these are military and political calculations which you and I cannot comment on with sufficient authority because we are not privy to the military and diplomatic intelligence. But from my snail’s-eye-view, beginning flights would senselessly imperil civilians.

  8. Thanks for the succinct and well presented article. The question I have however is what benefit would Armenia have in buying gas from Iran when it is about 30% more expensive than the deal they have with Gazprom. The other question I have is if the flights were to begin between Yerevan and Stepankert, and in the process a civilian airplane was shot down with many causalties, much like the helicopter, what would be Armenia’s next step. Are we prepared to go to full scale war over that or will be be happy crying to the congress and the united nations, and then get happy when so and so congressman says bad things about Azerbaijan, then we all go on like nothing happened. This is a serious question and we need to debate the answer before we pressure the opening of that flight.

    • I am certainly not an expert but I assume that having an alternative major energy supplier will keep gazprom honest and act as a check against economic blackmail and price gouging. Having a land border with Iran should contribute to price stability because transit fees will fluctuate less. Plus, import of Iranian gas is partially contingent on export of hydroelectricity along the Arax as far as I understand it. The symbiotic nature of this development should not be overlooked and may be a more sustainable model for controlling energy costs long-term. Also, in a post-sanctions world, Iran will be producing much more energy for export, which will drive down the price of oil and gas over the long haul. So making Iran a part of Armenia’s long-term energy strategy seems prudent.

      Your point about the airport is apt. I doubt that we would be prepared to resume hostilities in full in the event a civilian plane is shot down, nor should we be. In which case we shouldn’t be playing games with people’s lives just to score points with countries that have already proven disinterested and blatantly unwilling to take any concrete punitive measures against Azerbaijan. It also does not seem wise to take any action in contravention of the ICAO, which regulates civil aviation and legalistically considers the airport to be in Azerbaijan. The feat of the airport’s existence should be enough for now.

  9. A well thought and researched article. Most of the comments posted were constructive, some were even enlightening and instructive, and as usual some comments should not be dignified with a response. I have suspicions that these Anti-Armenian comments full of venom and hatred are posted by Turkish and Azeri paid agents.
    I have no intention to make any specific remarks about the thoughts, suggestions or opinions expressed. But I would like to emphasize three very critical factors.
    1- The President and his Republican party have 69 seats in the Armenian Parliament. The opposition combined has a total of 62 seats.
    The President Serzh Sargzyan has full and total control of the Legislation and is able to set policies, establish priorities and budgets, conduct foreign policy, and has the ultimate responsibility to protect the nation and its citizens.
    In view of many factors i.e. being landlocked, having borders with enemy states, lack of natural resources, being caught and squeezed by Russia and NATO, an economy controlled by oligarchs, the President has a formidable and difficult task. However, he sets the policy as he sees the best course for the nation. Strategies take a long time to implement and be effective. There are no overnight solutions. And as we are not privy to the realities on the ground, we can run wild with our imaginary solutions that from the point of view of the Government of the RoA might not be practical or feasible.
    And even though the opposition parties ( I have no idea why we have 6 of them) have started to have a dialogue with each other, they have a long way to go to reaching consensus and agreement on some of the major issues confronting the country.
    2- I agree that the Diaspora can play a bigger role, make a much more meaningful contribution, be a major source of support, not necessarily merely financial, but in many other fields that the country sorely needs.
    But alas, the Diaspora is also fragmented and does not have a unified purpose or objective.
    3- To improve and enlarge the Diaspora’s active participation, the RoA has to play a more significant role in establishing the necessary channels of communication to tap the wealth of talent and expertise that is found in the Diaspora, and find the means of organizing it to a major source of ideas and project development and implementation.
    The Minister of the Diaspora, Ms Hranush Hakobyan has been in office since October 1 2008. Sadly, I have not seen or read about any major accomplishment she has achieved in the past six years. Other than public relations, more political in nature, I have no idea what she has successfully accomplished. It is her primary role the build the bridge between the Homeland and the Diaspora and establish a real effective working relationship. Visits and speeches are inadequate and not enough. She has to walk the talk. Until that happens, the Diaspora will not be an effective contributor.
    Vart Adjemian

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