By Paul Goble
Approximately two dozen activists of the European Party of Armenia organized a demonstration in front of the Russian embassy in Yerevan demanding that the Russian base at Gyumri be shut down and the Russian soldier charged with murdering an Armenian woman earlier this month be handed over to the Armenian authorities.
A smaller group of activists from the Communist Party of Armenia staged a counter-demonstration in support of the continued operation of the Russian base. Tensions have been on the rise since the murder of Dzhuletta Gukasyan by a Russian soldier on December 4 and Armenia’s return of the Russian accused to the base (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/329625/).
(Yerevan officials said they had no choice given the provisions of the basing agreement with Moscow, but Armenian lawyers disagreed, asserting that the soldier should have been kept in detention in an Armenian facility before his trial and arguing that his return was an insult to Armenian sovereignty (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/329485/).)
This is not the first such case involving attacks by Russian soldiers on Armenian civilians. For background, see kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/255581/, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/01/gyumri-events-could-spark-new-war-over.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/01/moscow-agrees-to-try-gyumri-killer-in.html).
But what makes this protest more serious is that it comes in the wake of the Armenian revolution that brought a new and less pro-Russian government to power in Yerevan, one that has everything to gain by taking a tough line in defense of Armenian sovereignty and everything to lose by appearing to kowtow to Moscow.
Indeed, Kavkaz Uzel reports, the demonstrators not only prepared a letter for the Russian ambassador, who did not come out to meet with them, but also a memorandum for the Armenian government demanding that it change its approach to Russia more broadly.
Narine Mkrtchyan of the National Press Club said that Armenians have always been told that their country cannot exist without Russia. But that “stereotype,” she insisted, harms the interests of Armenia while benefitting Russia. Yerevan must make the review of its relations a major part of its upcoming agenda.
Up to now, “Armenia has always put the interests of Russia above its own, voting in international forums on this or that issue” depending on what Moscow wants, Mkrtchyan says. That must change. Armenia has its own interests and is quite capable of defending them.
“If Russia does not change its policy and Armenia does not become more demanding, protest attitudes in the country will grow and radical steps are not excluded. The murder in Gyumri is apolitical issue, and calls … not to politicize it are at a minimum strange. We are forming the political agenda of a new Armenia and this question must become one of the most important.”
Another activist, film director Tigran Khzmalyan said that Yerevan must take the initiatve and leave Moscow-dominated structures like the Eurasian Economic Community and the Organization for the Collective Security Treaty. Being a member of them has only isolated Armenia from the rest of the world.
And he concludes that those who say Moscow will give Karabakh to Azerbaijan if Armenia doesn’t do what it is told are wrong. A long time ago, “our army solved the Karabakh issue.” Moscow can’t decide to take an action against the Armenian people and the Armenian army.