Maxim Shevchenko: "Rupture of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations is tragedy for Armenian people"
The attitude of the Armenian population toward Russia is deteriorating, according to the Caucasus Barometer survey carried out by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers: if in 2013, 84% of the respondents called Russia the most friendly country for Armenia, in 2015 their number was already 74%, and last year - only 64%, with the simultaneous growth of positive assessments of Western countries. A member of the Russian Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations, member of the Izborsk club Maxim Shevchenko, told Vestnik Kavkaza why this is happening and how the unsettled Nagorno-Karabakh conflict affects Armenian citizens.
- Maxim Leonardovich, why is there a stable decline in the Armenian population's support for Russia?
- The fact is that there are 2-3 times more Armenians living in Russia than in Armenia, which makes the republic feel that Russia should constantly "caress" Armenia as a state and humble itself before it. Russia, of course, does not intend to do it, it has its own understanding of the strategy and prospects for the development of the Caucasus. It is worth noting that Russian Armenians are great citizens who serve in the army, defend Russia's interests, and at the same time love Armenia. The Armenian issue itself is not an issue of linear relations, but complex and indirect ones, and I am sure that Russia should stop constantly asserting publicly that it has only one ally in the Caucasus - Armenia. It would be nice to reconcile with Georgia, an Orthodox country. Improving relations with it is a very important prospect for us. Azerbaijan is not a foreign country to us at all. It is good that the 1990s propaganda which positioned Armenia and the group of Ossetians as Russia's only allies in the Caucasus, and all the rest as opponents, is a thing of the past. Russian policy has become more rational in recent years, and certain forces in Yerevan do not like this.
- What is the role of Armenia's difficult economic situation and low living standards of citizens, which Yerevan could not improve over the years of integration into Russian projects, in its discontent with Russia?
- Armenia depends on the millions of Armenians living in Russia very much, and the residents of the republic should appeal to them, rather than to the Russian state. Ara Abrahamyan and other Russian billionaires who live in Moscow and care about Armenia, should be asked about Armenia's bad economic situation because they - the respected and worthy people - are the lobbyists of the Armenian policy. As for the Russian state, it has a military base in Armenia, delivers energy resources to the country, supports the Armenian nuclear power plant - at the same time, the republic mainly lives at the expense of Iran and Turkish transit through Georgia. In addition, financially Armenia is more dependent on the West than on Russia, for example, the Armenian diaspora in the United States pays grants to Armenians living in Karabakh. So Moscow is not to blame by the Armenian citizens. Yes, Armenia, as they say, is suspended on the Russian economy, but it seems to me that Moscow demonstrates a fairly balanced approach.
- How do Turkophobic moods in Armenia, caused, inter alia, by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the blockade of the Turkish border, and the import of goods from Turkey fit together?
- No matter what Turkophobic moods Armenia has, imports from Turkey are many times greater than the flow of goods from Russia. Despite the fact that formally the Armenian-Turkish border is blocked, there is a continuous flow of goods from Turkey through Georgian Javakhetia. This is one of the misconceptions that Armenia and Armenians are more dependent on Russia. Cilician Armenians in Turkey prosper, live like lords. Izmir, for example, is predominantly an Armenian city. Turkish Armenians are much richer and, perhaps, have more influence over Armenia than Russian Armenians.
- How do you assess the impact of the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on Armenia's social and economic situation?
"With the help of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Yerevan can pump out money from Western sponsors, from Western Armenian diasporas and secure its political and economic support, as if defending Karabakh as an outpost of the Armenian cause. At the same time, the rupture of the Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, the termination of the transit of energy resources and the disappearance of Armenians from the Caspian region are a tragedy for the Armenian people. For millennia Armenians lived in Baku, Sumgait, in other prosperous and rich Azerbaijani cities. They carried out a very important trading function in the territory of the former Iranian empire, they had full rights there. For the first time in millennia, Armenians lost this Caspian region during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It did not make things better for sure.
- Will Armenia be able to improve the social and economic situation in the country without resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
- There are no such options. There are no prospects in the situation of the ongoing war with Azerbaijan and the blockade of borders. There is only one way out: withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied Azerbaijani regions, restoration of normal economic relations with Azerbaijan, mutual return of refugees and direct discussion of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. After the return of refugees, the unfreezing of the Armenian-Turkish border and the restoration of normal, ancient trade routes that have always passed through the Caucasus, Armenia will be able to improve its internal situation. In the situation of continuation of the conflict, the country will continue to live on grants and gifts from various billionaires who will render humanitarian aid to it, playing the Armenian card in their own interests.
- How should Russia act in that case?
- Russia has been on the right track from the standpoint of Dmitry Medvedev's platform, which was signed by Serzh Sargsyan and Ilham Aliyev, other approaches would be incorrect. The fact is that Azerbaijan is a reliable and good partner of Russia, with which we have a huge border in Dagestan, with a solid bilateral movement of goods and Iranian transit. We are developing Caspian cooperation, in which Armenia does not participate, while Azerbaijan is a key part of it, it provides access to the huge Iranian plateau. And the more Armenia persists, the more it loses its geopolitical significance for Russia. If Russia agrees with Georgia and Azerbaijan, which is very likely, what will Armenia do then? There's no way to predict it. But Yerevan cannot but persist in its unwillingness to resolve the conflict, because it will lose abundant grants from the Armenian Diaspora in the US and France.