Yesterday the United Nations General Assembly voted on a resolution that declared the Crimean referendum invalid. Armenia voted against the resolution and although it was joined by only ten other countries, the resolution barely passed with 100 votes because the other 82 countries either abstained or were no-shows.
Armenia’s decision to vote against the resolution and thus put it in the minority, opposed to the United States, Canada, and much of Europe, seems to have upset some people.
In no time, commonly repeated conspiracies about Russians forcing Armenia to make decisions against its will or visions of wild incompetence in Armenia’s foreign policy decisionmaking have been circulating in social media and elsewhere.
That Armenia is irresponsibly running roughshod over its image with no good reason chooses to ignore the very well-founded reasons Armenia may have had to vote against the resolution invalidating Crimea’s referendum.
So why was Armenia one of only 11 countries to vote against the resolution?
Put simply, Ukraine has not been a friend of Armenia’s.
In fact, although enemy might be too strong a word, it has freely aided and abetted Armenia’s enemy in Azerbaijan with seemingly nary a concern about any potential fallout it might cause with Armenia.
Armenia could not have possibly voted in favor of the resolution and there were some compelling reasons why it cast a vote against it, instead of abstaining.
The following gives the reasons why Armenia could not have voted in favor and why it may have chosen to vote against the resolution.
1) Ukraine supplied arms to Azerbaijan during the Artsakh War – and continued to do so.
In History on the Move: Views, Interviews and Essays on Armenian Issues, Edmond Azadian writes:
“[…] as subsequent events evolved it became all too apparent that Ukraine has steadfastly stood behind Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict all along. …it was reported from Stepanakert that Ukraine had shipped 40 tanks to Azerbaijan. Later that number was raised to 59. Ukraine had also supplied Azerbaijan with Mig-21 attack planes.”
This is in addition to documented reports of Ukrainian mercenaries fighting among Azeri forces as well as flying air attacks against Armenian soldiers.
Since the war, according to Azerbaijani sources reporting as late as 2010, Ukraine has continued to provide Azerbaijan with lethal military hardware.
As an aside: Besides Ukraine and Ukrainians, Russia fought against Armenians in Artsakh and continues to supply weaponry to Azerbaijan. These are both true and undeniable. But the fact is that Ukraine and Russia cannot be equated. While both had people fighting against Armenians in Artsakh and both have supplied arms to Azerbaijan, only one supplies Armenia with advanced weaponry and large-scale military support that it does not make available to Azerbaijan and that is Russia.
2) Ukraine and Azerbaijan were two of the founding members of GUAM.
GUAM, or the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, was started by Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. Although denied by the founding members, it was largely seen as an anti-Russia alternative to the CSTO, which was a security organization.
Tomas Valasek, a scholar, published a piece at the Harvard’s Kennedy School Belfer Center in 2000 that put it plainly:
GUUAM [note: it included Uzbekistan back then] was established with the express purpose of forging close institutional ties with the West, which, in the military realm, means NATO.
Armenia was left out of GUAM, although it neighbored two of its founding members, excluding it from any of the projects that the organization might implement. This wasn’t the only instance of an agreement between Azerbaijan and Georgia that excluded Armenia – the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan Pipeline was another instance. It’s that in this iteration, it was done with the agreement of Ukraine.
No explanation was given why Armenia was not asked to be a part of GUAM.
The relationship between these GUAM countries would be represented more explicitly – and detrimentally – later on.
3) Ukraine voted in favor of a UN resolution “affirming the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and demanding withdrawal of all Armenian forces” from Artsakh.
That’s right. Ukraine voted for what was probably the most anti-Armenian resolution in UN history.
Any argument that Ukraine has a new government which shouldn’t be held responsible for past transgressions would have to stand against the fact that this was in 2008 and that’s when Yulia Tymoshenko was prime minster. The same Yulia Tymoshenko who was released from prison almost immediately after this new Ukrainian government took over and who has, post-revolution, declared her candidacy for Ukraine’s presidency.
Also included in the 39 votes in favor – out of 193 members – were Georgia and Moldova.
There simply could not have been any justification, considering Ukraine’s record, for Armenia to vote in favor of the resolution.
Why didn’t Armenia abstain?
The only legitimate question regarding Armenia and the vote on Ukrainian territorial integrity is why Armenia didn’t just abstain. After all, why vote on an unpopular issue?
Several reasons may have been at play and the following are our thoughts.
As explained above, at best, Ukraine helped advance the anti-Armenia agenda of Azerbaijan in the United Nations and possibly in other arenas. At worst, it is one of the few countries who have provided one-sided military support for Azerbaijan in what is a conflict that can be considered an existential threat to Armenia.
To have voted for was out of the question. To have abstained would have been to neglect Ukraine’s atrocious track record, including in the UN, of serious issues that concerned Armenia and sent the message that there are no consequences for slapping Armenia in the face.
The “no” vote was an opportunity for Armenia to make the point that in dealing with it, countries should expect that their decisions will have consequences, if not immediately, in the future.
2) The UN General Assembly has done nothing for Armenia; Votes in the UN GA rarely have any impact; And thus, Armenia had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
This is a body that did nothing to save the cemetery of Djulfa from destruction by Azerbaijan or to stop the bombardment of the civilian population of Stepanakert by Azeri forces from Shushi.
What it comes down to is that votes in the UN General Assembly are usually for show and really have little impact on the international order. Indeed, this very resolution on Ukraine was non-binding, meaning that, in effect, it had no power.
So, by rejecting the resolution, Armenia had nothing to lose.
But what did it have to gain?
Armenia, all the other reasons notwithstanding, used the vote as a gesture of goodwill toward Russia. It was actually a deft policy decision to support Russia because it was giving nothing up but gaining credit for future dealings.
There might be some who think Armenia gave up its standing with other world powers in rejecting the vote; it would be worth reminding them of the Armenia-Turkey Protocols.
After experiencing the wrath of its domestic population and its Diaspora, Armenia was made to look like a fool when Turkey didn’t ratify the agreement. And the US, apparently the lead on the endeavor, hardly mustered up the breath to criticize the Turks.
What’s more, Armenia didn’t reap the benefits of cooperation with the US in the form of renewed Millennium Challenge Funds or a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.
So, Armenia’s foreign policy calculus likely didn’t prioritize going out of its way to appease the US, which was leading the vote effort. After all, there hadn’t been much in it for Armenia when they did.
3) Territorial Integrity
Azerbaijan’s call to action in getting countries to support its false claims to Artsakh is by yelling “territorial integrity” every chance it gets. The resolution which Azerbaijan introduced in the UN with that same tagline, which Ukraine supported, was, as might be expected, rejected by Armenia while citing that it supported the self-determination of peoples.
Now, given Ukraine’s track record supporting “territorial integrity” against Armenia and Azerbaijan’s known intentions about implanting “territorial integrity” into the discourse, Armenia could either stay silent, whereas previously it hadn’t, and potentially give firepower to Azerbaijan because it changed course. Or it could continue with the precedent it had set when confronted with the same issue, with essentially the same language in the past, showing consistency in its principles.
Armenia chose the latter and rejected the idea of territorial integrity when it clashes with a people’s right to self-determination.
Whatever your stance is on the referendum in Crimea – whether it was real or a Russian ploy to cover its annexation of the peninsula – Armenia was voting on the language presented by Ukraine in that resolution and it did so by maintaining its established position on self-determination.
Finally, much of the 140-character discussions have centered on the group of sketchy countries that also voted against the resolution, including North Korea, Sudan, Nicaragua, and Belarus. Most of it is disbelief that Armenia finds itself among this crowd but why that’s important is difficult to ascertain.
If the company you’re in after a UN vote makes a difference, then we should ask ourselves what it says about the United States and Canada that when they voted against Palestine becoming an observer state in the United Nations, they counted among their company Palau, Micronesia, and Nauru.
Nothing? That’s the point.
William Bairamian is the publisher of The Armenite. He is also a graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public of Affairs (SIPA).