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Why Armenia is neutral on the war in Ukraine

The Russo-Ukrainian War has left Armenia in a difficult situation. The state’s attempt to adopt a low-profile neutrality on the issue has been met with criticism at home and abroad. Given the country’s circumstances, however, it appears that this may be the best option currently available.

April 12, 2022 - Tatevik Hovhannisyan - Articles and Commentary

Demonstration in solidarity with Ukraine on March 10th, 2022, near the statue of Taras Shevchenko, Yerevan, Armenia. Photo: Seda Grigoryan

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine showed that the world is willing to stand up against wars and human suffering. In perhaps the most crucial moment in its history, Ukraine is receiving unprecedented support from the West in the form of diplomacy, weapons, financial and humanitarian aid, experts and joint information war. Moreover, governments have enthusiastically supported Ukraine by introducing severe sanctions against Russia. Despite this, Ukraine has not received its most requested form of support. This is namely the closure of Ukrainian airspace. For major western leaders, this would lead to a Third World War that they want to avoid at all costs.

In addition, the war against Ukraine mobilised societies in different countries. Protests are being organised in support of Ukraine and Ukrainians in various countries, such as the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, Georgia, Poland and even in Russia. The world has perhaps never seen such unity regarding a war. This is despite the fact that wars happen everywhere in the world, resulting in human casualties and destruction.

Where does Armenia stand on this issue? Some have suddenly remembered this small country in the current circumstances and have started to question the country’s actions. Despite this, these provocative statements have failed to take into account the issues that Armenia is currently facing and how information is being manipulated.

The Armenian approach to the Russo-Ukrainian War can be viewed from different perspectives. Although certain groups on social media are making enormous efforts to present Armenia as a supporter of Russia in this war, this is absolutely not the case.
Of course, there was a small rally in support of Russia organised by Armenian communists and several self-declared politicians, who have zero impact on Armenian politics and do not represent the society at all. Similar small-scale demonstrations have been organised also in Serbia, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Italy and probably other countries where communists want to promote their existence. These videos have been utilised by Russian propaganda to show that the country is not alone in its war. The video about Armenia’s alleged support has been circulated on mass media in a manipulative way and is usually titled “Armenia supports Russia”. In reality, this fake support has failed as an anti-Russian mood can be seen in the society. This is especially true after the Second Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) War.

Several rallies were organised in support of Ukraine in Yerevan. One was led by the pro-western European Party of Armenia, which still has little influence in the political arena. This protest marched to the Russian embassy to show the party and its supporters’ condemnation of Moscow’s actions. In addition, together with the Armenian civil society, Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians in the country organised rallies and marches in Yerevan to show their solidarity with Ukraine. They condemned all wars, chanting the slogan “Nyet Voyne” (No to war).

Another side of the story is that the country’s “silent majority” is still upset about the fact that Armenians were left to fight the disastrous war in 2020 alone. For them, the world shows double standards towards human suffering. People who feel this way may say things such as “Where were you when we were fighting a war for freedom and human rights?” They may also bring up examples of other wars in Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia, etc. The most emotional part of the society remembers Ukraine’s support for Azerbaijan during the war against the Armenians in Artsakh in 2020․

Many Armenians became upset and vocal about an (already) deleted Twitter post, where the Ukrainian parliament celebrated the advancement of Azerbaijani troops in Artsakh. These soldiers violated the ceasefire, resulting in casualties and wounded. Another statement made by the Secretary of the Security Council of Ukraine Aleksey Danilov, which stated that opening new fronts against Russia in places such as Kaliningrad, Kuril Islands and Nagorno-Karabakh would be good for Ukraine, was yet another disappointment. Naturally, from the perspective of Ukraine, it is entirely understandable that they want to weaken Russia by any means. However, it is very difficult to expect that all Armenians will support these statements, as well as Ukraine as a state. But Armenians do support Ukrainians wherever they are, as there is something shared beyond politics. This is the human factor and the pain felt by both Armenians and Ukrainians as a result of conflict.

Armenia’s official approach is quite remarkable, as it has managed to maintain its neutrality on this issue. This is despite the fact that it is facing an extremely fragile situation both militarily and strategically. Whilst the country is still effectively at war with Azerbaijan, Russia remains its only strategic partner and is supposed to help against security threats. At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the Armenian foreign ministry released a statement announcing that “Recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk is not in our agenda”. Armenia has also shown its concern over the issue between the lines speaking about humanitarian support.

Armenia’s neutrality was also clearly illustrated by its recent abstention from the historical UN General Assembly vote against Russia on March 2, 2022. Of course, Armenia subsequently received intense criticism and even calls to be sanctioned together with Russia and Belarus. The voting process was anxiously followed in Armenian society, as people feared that the wrong voting (voting against) would only further restrict the country. Moreover, Armenia did not take part in the voting for suspension of Russia’s membership from the UN Human Rights Council on April 8th, 2022, reaffirming its position. In this critical situation, it is extremely hard to predict if Armenia is forced to choose a clear stance in case the balance of power change, but as for now the abstention / no participation were both courageous and precarious, as it was the only possible action that Armenia could take given its current security issues in relation to the Nagorno-Karabakhand Armenia. Security and foreign policy consultant Sossi Tatikyan perfectly described the country’s approach, stating that “Armenia mirrored the contradiction between professed values of democracy and human rights on one side and geopolitical economic and security interests on the other, which it witnessed among the international community during the 2020 Artsakh War.”

I stand with the Ukrainian people and anyone else who faces a war, as I have seen two wars in my life since my childhood and I know how it feels.

Tatevik Hovhannisyan is a political scientist specialising in political communications and civil society affairs. She is a graduate of the College of Europe in Natolin and Yerevan State University. Her areas of interest include EU-Neighbourhood relations, civic participation in developing countries and advocacy.

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