From 1966 until the late 1980s in the Soviet Union, the underground National United Party (NUP) supported the same twin goals of bringing about Greater Armenia and securing international recognition of 1915 as a genocide. In the late 1980s, the NUP and other Armenian nationalist groups pursued these goals by laying territorial claims on “Western Armenia” (Eastern Turkey), “Eastern Armenia” (Western Azerbaijan, including Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhchivan), and the Javakheti region of Georgia. The August 1990 Declaration of Armenian Independence lists one of its goals as “achieving international recognition of the 1915 genocide in Ottoman Turkey and Western Armenia.” Working toward these goals in the First Karabakh War of 1988 to 1992, Armenia occupied a fifth of Azerbaijani territory, and eighty percent of Armenians supported their control over Nagorno-Karabakh while eighty-six percent opposed concessions to Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Since the early 1990s, the influence of the Armenian diaspora on Armenian-nationalist thinking and security policies has significantly grown. A U.S. diplomatic cable read, “Members of the Armenian Diaspora have returned to Armenia since independence in 1991 and have served at almost all levels of levels of the Armenian government, including both the executive and legislative branch.” In June 2008, a Diaspora Relations Department was established within the Armenian Foreign Ministry. Diaspora influence in Armenia is evident in support for the ‘Armenian Cause’ (Hai Dat), which is an aspiration to obtain “at least theoretical recognition of an Armenian title to territories whose Armenian population was massacred or forced out in the early part of this century. Those territories are situated mainly in present-day Turkey and also in the Nakhchivan Republic of Azerbaijan.”
The Armenian diaspora and Armenian officials and political parties view recognition of 1915 as genocide as a precursor to the implementation of the Treaty Sevres, which would allow for territorial claims against Turkey. Eighty percent of Armenians already believe their country should plead territorial, financial, property, and other claims to Turkey. In 2013, Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepyan said, “the Republic of Armenia must get back its lost lands.”
The Treaty of Sevres allocated six provinces in what became Eastern Turkey to the Armenian Republic, which would give Armenia access to the Mediterranean Sea. The current Turkish-Armenian border was based on the October 1921 Treaty of Kars, which defined borders between Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey and was based on the earlier March 1921 Treaty of Moscow signed between Bolshevik Russia and Turkey. Bolshevik occupiers of the South Caucasus prioritized good relations with the new Turkish Republic led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk over Armenian irredentism toward “Western Armenia” (Eastern Turkey).
Two restless powers in Eurasia—Russia and Armenia—are united by their inability to accept that their “imagined communities” are coterminous with their former Soviet republics. Thirteen other former Soviet republics accepted internal boundaries between Soviet republics as post-Soviet international boundaries. Three decades of Russian security policies that involve the manufacturing of frozen conflicts in Eurasia, the annexation of Crimea, the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war, and support for a Greater Armenia based on the Treaty of Sevres demonstrate that both countries continue to perceive “Russia” and “Armenia” as larger their respective Soviet republics.
Russia will continue to have poor relations with the West, whose sanctions will remain in place, while conflicts in Eurasia will remain frozen. Russia’s occupation of Crimea will continue irrespective of the Kremlin’s annoyance over Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s new Crimean Platform initiative. Meanwhile, the Russo-Ukrainian war could be headed for escalation or, as Zelenskyy believes, a full-scale Russo-Ukrainian war.
Armenians will continue to make unrealistic territorial claims against the far more powerful country of Turkey, and they are unable to accept the loss of “Eastern Armenia” (Western Azerbaijan) in last year’s Second Karabakh War. Armenian nationalists perceive both 1920 and 2020 in the same manner—as a defeat of the dream of a Greater Armenia. Continued support for a Greater Armenia hinders the signing of a Peace Treaty with Azerbaijan, which means political instability will continue to grow in Armenia and the threat of a Third Karabakh War will loom large.
Taras Kuzio is a Professor of political science at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy and author of Russian Nationalism and the Russian-Ukrainian War published by Routledge in January 2022