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Reviewed by:
  • Armenia, the Regional Powers, and the West: Between History and Geopolitics
  • Michael B. Bishku (bio)
Armenia, the Regional Powers, and the West: Between History and Geopolitics, by Alla Mirzoyan . New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. $85.

This book, which evolved from a doctoral dissertation, provides an overview and analysis of the foreign policy of Armenia since that country's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 until 2005. Besides an introduction and a conclusion, it is divided into four sections: "Russia: 'The Indispensable Ally?'"; "Turkey: 'The Other'"; "Iran: 'The Permanent Alternative'"; and "The West: 'The Ambiguous Modern,'" which includes relations with both the United States and European institutions. Mirzoyan notes that "Armenia entered the post-Cold War world with a strong sense of national identity and preconceived notions about the neighbors rooted in history" (p. 6). Indeed, she contends that "Whether attempting to break away from the historical burden or to draw parallels with earlier periods, Armenian foreign policy thinking is 'handcuffed to history,' continuously engaging with the past to articulate the new national roadmap" (p. 14). Therefore, the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh — a predominantly Armenian-populated enclave incorporated into Azerbaijan during the early years of Soviet rule and the object of a war from 1988 to 1994 during which the Armenians captured additional Azerbaijani territory — is "imbedded in Armenia's geostrategic thinking" (p. 15).

Russia has traditionally been viewed as the "protector" of Armenia since the late 19th century when Armenians became engaged in nationalist activities and opposed Ottoman rule and the massacres under Sultan Abdul Hamid II in so-called Western Armenia (eastern Anatolia). This relationship continued during the following century even after the Soviet Union's forced annexation of so-called Eastern Armenia (in the South Caucasus) in 1920 following two years of independence. Such was the accepted perception as Russia guaranteed "security" against the "potential threat" of Turkey and preserved a part of the "historical homeland." A shared Orthodox Christian heritage and/or a Russophile educated elite facilitated this attitude, despite the fact that the Soviets colluded with nationalist Turkey in creating smaller boundaries for Armenia. Even discriminatory actions against Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh were never blamed on Soviet nationalist policies, while during the last few decades of Soviet rule local communists benefitted from the allowance of Armenian ethnic expression in education and popular culture. The war in Nagorno-Karabakh and Turkey's close ties with Azerbaijan necessitated Armenia's military dependence on Russia after its independence. It also allowed for Russia to increase its economic interests in Armenia, which is largely dependent on outside energy sources and excluded from the transport routes between the Caspian Sea and the West. Since 1998, Armenia has attempted to diversify its political and economic relations with Iran, the United States, and the European Union.

One of the most important factors influencing Armenia's relations with Turkey, especially for the Armenian Diaspora, is the memory of what Armenians refer to as the Genocide of the First World War, a term Turkey refuses to accept. While Nagorno-Karabakh is a separate issue from the aforementioned, "the historical context in which both these issues originated and evolved, the ethnic affinity of the Azerbaijanis and Turks, as well as the dynamics of Turkey's involvement in the conflict, molded it into one continuous and homogenous narrative through a single historical moment. In the Armenian collective memory, 'Turkey' represents everything that is opposite to the essence of 'Armenia'" (p. 57). While Armenia's first President Levon Ter-Petrosyan viewed reconciliation with Turkey as a means to lessen historical dependence on Russia, its second President Robert Kocharyan was more concerned with preserving Nagorno-Karabakh's "independence." Therefore, the former was forced to resign for his conciliatory approach toward Turkey, while the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement agreement of 2009 was signed by Kocharyan's successor, Serzh Sargsyan.

Both Armenia and Iran "see each other [End Page 507] as one of the paths leading them away from regional marginalization and isolation that results in a similar language of balance and mediation" (p. 107). While Iran does not like Armenia's relations with Israel, it tolerates those ties and serves as a "bridge" for Armenia to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-3461
Print ISSN
0026-3141
Pages
pp. 507-508
Launched on MUSE
2011-08-10
Open Access
No
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