By Paul Goble
Armenian Defense Minister Vagarshak Arutyunyan has told Russia’s Novosti news agency that Yerevan would welcome an expansion of the Russian military base at Gyumri in Armenia because that would increase Armenia’s security (ria.ru/20210222/baza-1598535542.html).
The base exists on the basis of a 1995 Moscow-Yerevan agreement, one that was extended in 2010 allowing Russian forces to remain there until 2044. At present, officials say, there are some 4,000 Russian military personnel on the base which is located in Armenia’s second largest city in the northwestern portion of the country.
In the past, many Armenians have opposed the continued existence of the Russian base at Gyumri, let alone its enlargement because of the extraterritorial status Russian soldiers have claimed and received whenever they have been charged with crimes against Armenians, including a series of murders.
Thirteen months ago, a group of Armenians led by director and European Party member Tigran Khzmalyan and head of the Armenian National Press Club Narina Mkrtchyan called for the Russian army to shut down its base in Gyumri for that reason following a December 2019 murder (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/01/russian-army-get-out-of-armenia-gyumri.html).
Khzmalyan, who writes regularly on regional security issues, said that by holding this protest, “we are not making any political declarations because today is the fourth anniversary of another killing. This is not a political action but a simple desire to say several things” (aravot-ru.am/2019/01/13/295200/).
“For the first time since February 1921, Armenia has protested against its seizure by the Red Army. Murders and occupiers cannot be the defenders of the nation,” Khzmalyan says. “Armenia’s security can be guaranteed only by the Armenian army; only the Armenian soldier is the guarantee of our security, independence and freedom.”
“Let us not deceive ourselves,” he continues. “Our country is colonized, and we stand along the advance post of this colonial force. They are the advance guard of colonialism in Armenia, a country which wants to be independent, which wants to b economically, politically, and in a humanistic way part of the civilized world.”
It remains uncertain how attitudes among Armenians about the base have changed in the wake of Azerbaijan’s military victories last fall. But there is a very real risk that if Yerevan calls for more Russian troops at Gyumri and Russian commanders don’t punish soldiers who attack Armenians, the base will remain a source of tension.