Armenia Defense and Foreign Policy

Foreign policy and defense

Armenia is a nation in Western Asia. Its capital city is Yerevan. Armenia is in a state of war with neighboring Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. With Turkey, the country is in conflict over the Turks’ massacre of Armenians in 1915. The attempts of normalizing relations in recent years have not succeeded. Armenia’s great and powerful ally is Russia.

armenia military spending and defense budget

For centuries, the Armenians lived as a Christian minority under Muslim rule. They saw themselves as an outpost of the West and Christianity in the Muslim East. It created feelings of belonging with other peoples of Eastern Christian background, such as Russians and Serbs, and such feelings gained greater leeway with the fall of Soviet communism (1989-1991).

Armenian nationalism is characterized by the general political climate in the Caucasus, with the exception of the Soviet era, there was no strong central power. Throughout the centuries, the area’s many small groups of people – both Muslim and Christian – have struggled to preserve their particularity towards their neighbors. History then becomes important in the struggle to assert the rights of the own people. Another factor affecting Armenia’s relations with the outside world is large groups of exile Armenians in the US and Europe, mainly France.

A pivotal role in Armenian history writing plays the 1915 genocide and massacre of Armenians living in Turkey (see Older history). This national tragedy is celebrated with a special holiday, and it is for many Armenians the proof that “the Turks” – the residents of today’s Turkey as well as in Azerbaijan – are the Armenian’s heir enemies. Some groups of extremist nationalists – mainly among Armenians in exile and within the Dashnak Party – still, in principle, still have the dream of restoring a conceived Great Armenia and “retaking” parts of Turkey. From the mid-1970s to around 1990, two Armenian terrorist organizations, the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (Asala) and the Armenian Genocide Justice Command (JCAG), carried out a long series of attacks around the world against mainly Turkish diplomats. The terror also affected many civilians, including non-Turks. JCAG was described as the armed branch of the Dashnak Party.

Nagorny Karabakh

Relations with Azerbaijan are poisoned by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – a conflict that has completely dominated Armenia’s foreign policy since independence in 1991 (see Modern History and Conflicts: Nagorno-Karabakh). Nagorno-Karabakh formally belongs to Azerbaijan but is inhabited by ethnic Armenians and occupied by Armenian troops.

Since the ceasefire was reached in 1994, the countries have occasionally negotiated a peace agreement with the help of the Minsk Group, which is led by the USA, Russia and France. In 1999, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan made direct talks on Nagorno-Karabakh. Before the assassination of the Armenian Parliament that year (see Modern history), it seemed for a while that the countries, under strong US encouragement, were preparing an agreement on the enclave. But the agreement never came to an end, and the direct talks were canceled.

After Russian mediation, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed the Moscow Declaration in 2008, with promises to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict. The declaration did not really contain any news. Attempts to create peace continued to fail and the situation at the border of the enclave remained tense with occasional clashes.

In 2012, tensions rose again between the countries when several soldiers were killed in skirmishes at the border (see Calendar). The conflict was further intensified when the President of Azerbaijan pardoned an officer who had murdered an Armenian colleague in 2004 during a NATO course in Hungary. The officer had been sentenced to life imprisonment in Hungary but was handed over to Azerbaijan after promising that he would serve the rest of the sentence there. On his return, as a hero, he aroused upset feelings in Armenia, whose government severed its diplomatic relations with Hungary.

In 2016, the hardest border war broke out in over 20 years and at least 100 people were killed, most soldiers. The situation stabilized after a ceasefire, but violence still exists at the border at regular intervals.

Azerbaijani and Turkish blockade

Since 1993, both Azerbaijan and Turkey have maintained a blockade against Armenia, although some trade with both countries has taken place via Georgia. Turkey wants an expert commission to review the events in 1915 and at least earlier demanded that the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh be resolved before diplomatic relations could be established with Armenia.

After the turn of the millennium, cautious peacekeepers began between Armenia and Turkey. In September 2008, the President of Turkey took a football match as a pretext to visit his colleague in Yerevan, whereupon the two presidents invited their foreign ministers to enter into a dialogue with the goal of normalizing relations. In November, Armenia expressed a desire for the border to be opened and diplomatic relations opened, but at the same time it was stated that Armenia would never urge Armenians in exile to stop working to have the events in 1915 internationally recognized as a genocide.

On October 10, 2009, the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Turkey, in the presence of their US counterpart Hillary Clinton, signed an agreement to normalize relations and open the border within two months. First, however, both countries’ parliaments must approve the agreement. Before it was concluded, President Serzh Sargsyan had visited France, the United States, Lebanon and southern Russia to persuade influential exilarmenic groups on the need for an iceberg with Turkey, while at the same time Dashnak party at home organized a hunger strike in protest outside the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan. As the Turkish government also faced opposition at home, the normalization went slow, and in January 2010 it seemed to stop completely when the Armenian Constitutional Court made a critical statement about the agreement. In April, President Sargsyan said that Armenia has until now suspended the ratification of the agreement with Turkey. In 2018, the president stopped the process via decree.

Because of the Azerbaijani-Turkish blockade, Armenia has land links with the outside world only through Iran and Georgia. Without the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenia would have been a natural transit country for Caspian oil on its way to Western Europe. Armenia thus pays a high economic price for the conflict to remain unresolved.

Iran, Georgia and Russia

Relations with Iran and Georgia are good. The 35-kilometer border with Iran is the only border section open in the south, and Armenia’s trade with Iran has grown sharply since independence. In the north, Georgia is an important transit country for Armenian goods. Along the border on the Georgian side, a minority of Armenians live, and among them sometimes votes have been raised to allow them to become independent or join Armenia. However, Armenia has refrained from encouraging such efforts.

Against Russia, Armenia has always shown strong loyalty, and Russia protects its influence in the troubled South Caucasus with the transit of oil and gas from Central Asia and the Caspian Sea to Europe. During the first difficult years after independence in 1991, Armenia received financial support and fuel from Russia. In 1997 it was revealed that Russia had secretly supplied Armenia with military equipment for three years. Russia has remained the country’s most important ally, with significant military and economic presence in Armenia.

The ties with Russia were strengthened in 2010 through an agreement on continued Russian military presence on a military base in Armenia until 2044.

In 2013, President Sargsyan announced that Armenia would join a Russian-led Customs Union, which also included Kazakhstan and Belarus. The decision was seen as a diplomatic triumph for Moscow. At the end of 2015, the Customs Union was replaced by the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), to which Kyrgyzstan also joined. The EEU is partly built on the same model as the EU with free movement of goods, services and people and coordinated economic policies. Russia also has great influence over Armenia’s energy sector (see also Economic overview and Natural Resources, Energy and Environment).

USA, Europe and Israel

In the United States, The Armenian Assembly of America and other Armenian lobby groups are working to influence Congress in Armenian favor. Armenia has been one of the largest recipients per capita of US aid since the late 1990s, with it having been cut sharply since 2015 when the EEU entered into force (see above). In the US congress, resolutions were passed in both 2010 and 2019 describing the killing of Armenians during the First World War as genocide.

In Western Europe there is the largest group of exile alarm menus in France. Lobbying on their part helped the European Parliament in 2000 adopt a non-binding resolution calling on Turkey to recognize the genocide of the Armenians during the First World War. The following year, the French Parliament passed a resolution that marked the death of Armenians in 1915 as genocide. In March 2010, the Swedish Parliament adopted a resolution with the same meaning. Similar decisions have been made in Italy and the Netherlands, among others.

Armenian nationalists previously wanted to compare the events in Turkey with the Nazis’ extermination of Jews during the Second World War. In February 2002, however, Israel’s ambassador to Yerevan said that the events of 1915 were a tragedy for the Armenians but that they should not be equated with the Holocaust or referred to as genocide. Armenia protested, and an incident in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter helped to further cool the relationship. In the political rhetoric of Armenia, anti-Semitic renditions are not infrequent.


Armenia became a member of the European Security and Cooperation Conference (then the ESC, now the OSCE) in 1992. Since Armenia and Azerbaijan after the Nagorno-Karabakh War entered into a ceasefire in 1994, the countries have occasionally negotiated a peace agreement with the help of the so-called Minsk Group, appointed by ESC / OSCE, as mediator. (The Minsk group is led by the United States, Russia and France.)

In 1996, Armenia, together with Azerbaijan and Georgia, signed a cooperation agreement with the EU. In January 2001, Armenia joined the Council of Europe. However, the country has on several occasions been criticized for deficiencies in democracy and respect for human rights. The Council of Europe’s parliamentarians approved a report on Nagorno-Karabakh in 2005 that both Armenia and Azerbaijan tried to stop. The report, in particular, branded Armenia to occupy the territory of another Council member.


Armenia’s defense consists of an army and security forces linked to the Interior Ministry. Since 1995, there is a Russian military base in Gjumri with about 5,000 soldiers, MiG-29 aircraft and the S-300 air defense system. The contract for the base is valid until 2044. It is seen as a defense in a possible new conflict with Azerbaijan. The base is close to the border with Turkey, and Russian soldiers help guard Armenian borders. Selected recruits from Nagorno-Karabakh are trained at the Yerevan Military College.

In the period between 2009 and 2018, Azerbaijan spent six times as much as Armenia on military spending, according to the Peace Research Institute Sipri.


Army: 41 850 men (2017)

The air Force: 1 100 Men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 4.0 percent (2017)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 15.5 percent (2017)