Armenians hold complex, at times contradictory views toward the Russian military base in their country, a new opinion poll has found.
When asked whether it was "acceptable for a foreign state or institution to ensure Armenia’s national security," only 17 percent of Armenians found it acceptable. But then, asked if they "find the presence of any other state’s or structure’s military bases in Armenia acceptable or unacceptable?" 55 percent found it acceptable. Of those that found the presence of a foreign base acceptable, the greatest number of respondents (38 percent) said it was justified to protect against attack by Azerbaijan or Turkey, while 25 percent said "security guarantees" -- probably a broader version of the same answer.
Those responses are hard to reconcile with one another, but probably represent the ambivalence many Armenians feel toward the Russian military presence in their country as a necessary evil.
Russia operates the 102nd military base in Gyumri, Armenia's second city, and has about 5,000 soldiers stationed there. In 2010 Armenia agreed to allow the base to stay until 2044 and while Armenians have generally acquiesced to the base's presence, unprecedented protests against the base broke out in January after a Russian soldier abandoned the base and killed seven members of a local family in their home.
Among the other interesting findings of the poll:
• Of the 17 percent who agreed that "a foreign state/structure [is acceptable] in ensuring Armenia’s national security," 58 percent identified Russia as the preferred state, 10 percent identified the European Union, seven percent France and four percent the United States. No one mentioned either NATO or the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The latter does in fact play a role in Armenia's defense, at least on paper, but Armenians likely (and probably correctly) see Russia as the only important member to them and don't foresee any other members (Belarus and several Central Asian states) coming to their defense.
• Of those who agreed that a foreign base on Armenian soil is acceptable, more Armenians identified Turkey (24 percent) as the threat they needed protection against than Azerbaijan (16 percent). That's an interesting finding, given that Azerbaijan is far more likely to attack Armenia than is Turkey. But perhaps Armenians believe 1. they could handle an attack by Azerbaijan themselves, but not one by the much more powerful Turkish military; 2. a war over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh would be unlikely to spill over into Armenia, thus not triggering the collective security agreements Russia has with Armenia; or 3. that the base's location very near the Turkish border logically orients it toward that threat.
• Asked if not joining the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union would threaten the de facto independence of Nagorno Karabakh, many more Armenians say it would not (55 percent) than say it would (22 percent).
The poll was conducted by the Armenian NGO Civilitas Foundation with support from the German and Norwegian governments.