Yesterday, I talked with two people who focus on the “information war” between Armenia and her enemies (a.k.a. Turkey and Azerbaijan). The most interesting point of the conversation came when we talked about Syria.
Armenians are not generally a big fan of Assad, but definitely want him to stay compared to the opposition fighters. Assad has been tolerant of the Christian minority in Syria. While the image painted of the opposition is that they’re mostly hardline Islamists that will do bad things to the Christians if they gain power. Already there are reports of Christians afraid of the opposition because of their pro-Assad stance and of opposition fighters looting and desecrating churches. Both of the previous links come from Russia Today, which has a clear pro-Assad preference in the conflict, but they are representative of the type of news Armenians are receiving on the issue. As an interesting side note, in a number of Middle Eastern countries, Christians have often supported dictators over the popular uprising.
The bigger concern for Armenians is who comes after Syria: Iran. Armenia loves Iran (they have oil and are a good neighbor). Persians love Armenia (we have alcohol). And with the US pressure on Iran, Armenia could potentially lose its strongest ally. The worst-case scenario for Armenia would be an Arab Spring situation in Iran that ousts the current government. The new government would likely be much closer to the west, a.k.a. much closer to Turkey and Azerbaijan. If Iran became friendly with Azerbaijan, then Artsakh and Armenia would be surrounded by allied Turks and Muslims on all sides. This could end the cease-fire around Artsakh and lead to war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
With a friendly Iran and Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan could deliver a lot of weaponry to its isolated region of Nakhchivan. This would open up an entire new front for Armenia to defend. And, without Iranian support, all of the supplies for the southern region (including Artsakh) would have to come from Yerevan or Georgia/Russia. It would be very difficult for Armenia to defend this region if Azerbaijan attacked.
People generally accept that, except for small excursions, Azerbaijan won’t do a full scale attack in the current geopolitical climate. It knows that Artsakh forces could do significant damage to its infrastructure and that Armenia, and the world, will respond. Thus, unless Azerbaijan can conquer the region in a brief period of time (i.e. a week), it will face a repeat of the early 90s war but with international support squarely on Armenia’s side. If Azerbaijan engaged Armenia on three fronts, the flat north, Nakhcivan, and Artsakh, Armenia’s forces will likely be too thin to defend against these incursions. Azerbaijan could pull back its forces from Armenia proper when international pressure got too strong but then consolidate forces in Artsakh. Such an attack wouldn’t need Turkey’s support and thus Russia likely won’t jump in to help Armenia. With such a high chance of winning, it’s much more likely that Azerbaijan would attack if it had Iranian support.
Thus, what is viewed as essential for Armenia is to keep Iran, and as the friend of your friend is also your friend, and Assad as well.