East or West: Political or Civilized Choice

Photo: http://www.panarmenian.net
Photo: http://www.panarmenian.net

The development of humankind has always been accompanied with processes of formation of society’s cultural, value-conceptual originality, a result of which was the appearance of different models of governance of states and societies. Mainly, resulting from characteristics of historical development, notions about eastern and western civilizations and necessities to choose between them were formed. As we had independence after a long interruption only 26 years ago, the problem of choice between western or eastern models of governance of society can be considered actual and important, as in the occasion when there is no independence having that aim is inopportune.  For us, this discussion is actual especially when discussing the problem of Armenia’s engagement in integration processes, as nowadays as a result of state’s foreign political orientation, joining some upstate corporations entails to some socio-political development within the country.  Besides, being a part of any upstate political corporation, states bear the influence of social and political uniqueness within it, and the road to the above mentioned civilized families in present-day geopolitics passes through these upstate corporations. In this analysis we will try to find the answer to the questions to what extent the differentiation and choices between east and west are justified, what problematic sides have the foreign political orientation of Armenia in this context, and we will try to understand whether going to east and west is political or civilized choice.

Historical Overview

The problem of foreign political orientation has been actual even some centuries ago, during the existence of Armenian statehood, when Armenia had to make clear its orientation to either east or west, as the country was in the crossroads of different civilizations and empires and was an important point in linking north to south and east to west. However, when Artashesian dynasty came to power, and especially in the years of Artashes I and Tigran the Great, Armenia itself had great potential and military-political influence in the region, and not only did the country not have the need to this political orientation but also it had some world capturing aims and was a problem for Roman Empire and Persia who wanted to establish their hegemony. In the years of Arsacid dynasty, when Sasanid Persia was trying to subjugate Armenia, where one branch of Sasanid’s rival Parthian Arsacids were governing the state, Armenia had to turn to west-to Roman empire, which could be the only ally against Persians  at that time. Our aim is to introduce some aspects of Armenia’s orientation in ancient times, we also want to mention that it had different manifestations depending on political situation in the region and powerfulness of the country. Moreover, political respectiveness was secondary factor, as the primary factor for Armenia was to keep its independence, and different cultural and religious countries could be political allies, the example of which is Christian Roman Empire and later Byzantine Empire, which tried to seize Armenia. Thus, political situation and states’ land-grabbing desires made them cooperate with those powers who could help with military supplies and here, religion, culture and other factors were not that important. So, we can conclude that in ancient times, small states for whom the most important thing was to keep their independence  tried to orientate in their foreign policy not taking into account the political similarities and preferences but available alternatives.

Characteristics of western and eastern civilizations

What are eastern and western civilizations, and what are their distinctive features and differences? As these kind of distinctive features were not only geographical determinants and places where people lived, but also mentality, that is the differences of how people perceive the world, religious, ethnic and spiritual values, differences in political, social and economic systems. Western mentality is mostly inclined to dynamic lifestyle, scientific and technical advances, improvement of society and culture, constant development of all spheres of human activities. The importance of person, his creative development is in the basis of western society. Transition from ancient to the new is seen as change of values that were old, social, economic and political systems, as they are important in the future development of society. To the eastern mentality and lifestyle is more characteristic the priority of religious and moral norms, conservatism-the conservation of accepted norms, respect and loyalty to the customs and traditions unlike the western civilization where rhythmic lifestyle exists. Eastern mentality accepts human as representative of collectiveness, whose main function is to serve the whole.

In fact, eastern and western civilizations don’t exclude each other despite the differences, as the two are different manifestations of human civilization with unique principles of the governance of society. The constantly changing and developing lifestyles, the permanent evolution of principles of human activities in the West, have entailed to the creation of more flexible and functional social system that lead western societies to higher level of development due to advances in science, techniques and value systems. Unlike this, the inert state, and value and norm stability that were prevailing in the East, as well as the absence of accepting human as individual, lead to the formation of societies that were more hierarchical and traditional, that fall back in the development of social lifestyle. After briefly speaking about eastern and western civilizations we will try to understand whether Armenians belong to one of these civilizations or not.

Armenians in the Crossroads of Civilizations

For centuries Armenians were in the influence of people and civilizations that had different cultures and traditions, which had a deep influence in forming Armenian value system and mentality. Starting from hellenistic times, Armenian value system has been subject to different cultural influences as from one side that of Greco-roman, and from the other side of Persian, later Arabic and Turkish, thus undergoing essential changes. If in times of statehood it was possible to fight against external threats and keep the value system, then after the fall of Arcasid dynasty and in the years of Persian-Buzantine and Arabic dominance Armenians were in the dominance of foreign powers and always felt the danger of allegation. The same process had also continued since the 11th century, for almost 9 centuries. Although they did not assimilated and survived through history unlike other nations, Armenians however were influenced by eastern and western civilizations. And if we try to look over the characteristics of these two civilizations and separate the features that are characteristic to Armenian mentality we can notice general features from the two ,e.g. being traditional, and loyal to the existing customs is influence of eastern civilization, whereas being human-centered and not collectivist is a consequence of western civilization. Famous English scientist A.Toynbee has introduced the term ”local civilizations”, in the context of which some authors speak about the Armenian civilization. We believe, that Armenians have always been in the crossroads of other civilizations, and they have been a bridge between those, bearing their influence and thus the Armenian culture, traditions, lifestyle and worldview are synthesis of different sides, which takes us to both East and West. So, we think that we- Armenians, are neither European nor Asian nation, and that bearing the uniqueness of those we can be considered a Eurasian nation. Here, speaking about unique civilization is unwise, as each civilization must have precise differences when compared to another, which make that social-cultural system a civilization. Armenians’ secular, cultural and ideological system can be considered the synthesis of the features of western and eastern civilizations and the facts that Armenian is a separate branch of Indo-European family of languages, that Armenians were the first nation to accept Christianity and have separate branch of it don’t prove the existence of Armenian civilization. Moreover, except for the 7 living civilizations Toynbee mentions also 14 dead civilizations as Sumerian, Babylonian, Andean, etc. These do not exist today, but have had a massive investment in the development of world civilizations, and if as a basis of existence of separate Armenian civilization we consider Armenians’ living till today and not ceasing like other nations then it is a weak fact considering the above mentioned.

The External Politic Orientation and Civilizational Characteristics of Armenia

Now let’s try to speak about the problems of external politic orientation of Armenia taking into account the above mentioned facts and historical factors. After the independence the most important problem that we are to solve till today is the modernization of society and creation of just, prosperous and democratic state. We can speak very long about why we and mainly the authorities failed to do this, but it is not the topic of this analysis. Armenia became independent as a post-Soviet state, and however much we try to speak about the links and perspectives of cooperation with West, the first vector in external relations was directed to Russia.A vivid example of this is ”Treaty on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance” signed between Russia and Armenia on August 29,1997, which predicted the future of relations of the two states, and of Armenia’s policy which was unfavorable for us. In the 2000’s when V.Putin came to power in Russia, a problem of reestablishing Russia’s role in the world politics and of transforming the united world was posed, thus the process of broadening Russia’s influence in post-Soviet states started, the consequences of which were seen some years after. Being former locomotive USSR state, Russia tried to regain its influence on post-Soviet states to keep them in its influential zone and and confirm its political position. The fall of USSR caused many regional and ethnic frozen conflicts to start again, as the Union was formed by force, and when deciding the borders of the states many regional and ethnic factors were ignored. To keep its influence in the post-Soviet regions, Russia uses those frozen conflict, by escalating and freezing them when needed and by having constant influence on these countries. And as Russia has more power in this region than the West then in fact it is impossible to have kind of own policy and not to take into account this country. If we view this from the point of view of Armenia, it becomes apparent that of all the powers freezing and escalating of Nagorno Kharabakh conflict is mostly important for Russia, as using this problem, which is important for both Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia limits mainly Armenia’s external policy considering the problem of safety. It is very apparent that when a state does not have enough economic, social and military potential, it cannot have a policy only for its own, and has to turn to this or that power to insure its safety and protection. Taking into account both the existence of Nagorno Kharabakh conflict, closed borders, existence of not the favorable neighbors and many social and economic threats we come to the conclusion that nowadays Armenia is restricted while planning its own policy. But from one side we cannot stay away from Russia whenever we want and turn to the West for cooperation in all spheres, and from the other side we cannot be under  the total control of Russia, which implies many threats. Being a bearer of both eastern and western civilizations we can use the western model for the formation of the state, as if by saying western(European) values we mean democracy, preservation of humans’ freedom and rights, social justice, prosperous state of society, etc. the being of these is possible as much as they are not alien for us. After the independence factors such as social-political culture in society or some social mentalities were not transformed as needed and in these conditions the above mentioned advance was impossible to reach. In theoretical level we want to have a state of European type, to have prosperous and just society, but in our lifestyles we continue to live with the stereotypes and traditions that have roots in ourselves and which are opposite to the values that we imagine, so we find ourselves in a place where we cannot clarify either our wishes or the transformation to practice. If we consider the problem from the view of European Union Association Agreement and integration with Europe in this way, then everything is not that easy not only because of relations with Russia and the military state in the region, but also because of social-cultural factors. European values are something very artificial and causing misunderstandings as people understand the preservation of the rights of sexual minorities, the legalization of marriages of homosexuals and other things that are opposite to the values of the Armenian society. In our opinion, we are a traditional society and bear the traditions and values that have roots in us, so we are not ready to transform the society to the level that they can accept different phenomena that are deviated from the normal. And it is not needed as it is possible to make people be tolerant to these phenomena but they must not be transformed to phenomena having general and normal support, as a manifestation of people’s indivisible rights and freedoms. Considering the fact that we have many elements both from eastern and western value system, it is necessary to have a unique model of formation of state and society, which must not duplicate eastern or western ones in all details. We must be able to take from the West what is important to meet the social, economic and political challenges, meanwhile we must also keep elements from our traditions, as it does not contradict social evolution. In the present international relations, based on geographical position, political state in the region or on many other factors, countries make obligated choice in the orientation of external policy. The available objective and subjective realities make states not to consider value, social or cultural preferences but taking into account the available political realities and challenges, so an opposition between what is possible and what is desirable emerges. Based on the need of transformation in social, political, economic and value system, Armenia can struggle to integrate to European family, but the military-political challenges, the state of relations with Russia and other problems connected with it keep Armenia in the view of Russia’s policy. Coming to the conclusion that because of many problems Armenia cannot have a policy of its own but also should not go into the total control of Russia and loose its sovereign state and the right to make own decisions, Armenia must keep a balance between the two forces, deepening the cooperation with both the West and the Eurasian players. This can be reached if in the relations with Russia Armenia manages to keep the line where Russian pretensions intersect with our national and state benefits. In the Caucasus, Armenia has a very important military role for Russia and this factor must be considered when trying to somehow keep stability in the relation of the two, and Russia must not be seen as a guarantee of Armenia’s existence.



Author: Hayk Sahakyan.  ©All rights are reserved

Translator: Edita Shadoyan


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