The resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations are not a necessary condition for Armenia’s sustainable development, according to President Serzh Sarkisian.
In a speech delivered in Yerevan late last week, Sarkisian also indicated that Armenians should not expect to have peace with Azerbaijan and Turkey in the foreseeable future. The two Turkic nations will remain an “impassable quagmire” for Armenia, he said.
“The notion that we will not prosper as long as the Karabakh problem is unresolved and the Turkish blockade [of Armenia] is not lifted is unacceptable,” Sarkisian told senior government officials, lawmakers and judges. “That is not the reason for problems with governance in our country.”
Ankara and Baku, Sarkisian stressed, have failed and will fail to clinch unilateral Armenian concessions with their long-standing pressure on Yerevan.
“We have been living in these conditions for 25 years,” he went on. “We have already grown accustomed and adapted to these conditions. We do not and will not link chances of our progress with solutions to these problems.”
The issue brought up by Sarkisian was hotly debated in Armenia in 1997-1998 during the final months of President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s rule. Ter-Petrosian publicly advocated more Armenian concessions to Azerbaijan at the time, saying that Armenia will not be able to recover from its post-Soviet economic collapse without a Karabakh settlement.
Sarkisian, then a minister of interior and national security, was among key members of Ter-Petrosian’s cabinet who openly challenged his view. The resulting government infighting culminated in Ter-Petrosian’s resignation in February 1998.
Many Western policy-makers and analysts likewise asserted throughout the 1990s that Armenia’s economic development hinges on the reopening of its borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey. They said this would make the landlocked country far more attractive to foreign investors and reduce high transportation costs incurred by Armenian exporters.
Yet despite the closed borders, economic growth in Armenia accelerated in the following years, hitting double-digit rates from 2001 until the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.
In 2006, the then head of the World Bank office in Yerevan, Roger Robinson, admitted that the rapid growth has taken Armenia’s Western donors by surprise. Over the past decade, the donors have put the emphasis on improvement of the domestic business environment in their policy recommendations made to the Armenian authorities. Economic implications of the disputes with Azerbaijan and Turkey have rarely been mentioned by them in public statements.
In his speech, Sarkisian asserted that Yerevan remains committed to continuing the difficult search for Karabakh peace. But, he said, the Karabakh Armenians’ right to self-determination -- a euphemism for international recognition of their secession from Azerbaijan -- must be the key element of a peace deal.
By contrast, Baku insists on a restoration of Azerbaijani control over Karabakh. The Turkish government backs this stance, making such a settlement a precondition for establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia and opening the Turkish-Armenian border.
“At the moment, I see no possibility of any progress in relations with Turkey,” said Sarkisian.
“We must come to the terms with the fact that we have no real partners east of [the Karabakh towns of] Martakert and Martuni and west of Gyumri and Armavir (Armenian towns close to the Turkish border) … Let us think that there is a bottomless and impassable quagmire over there,” concluded the Armenian president.