For several months now, representatives of Armenia’s ruling Civil Contract Party have been making only indirect references and avoided direct questions about the position and the intention of the government regarding the future of Nagorno Karabakh.
Finally, April 13 became the day of reckoning when Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan took the podium at parliament and revealed the entire inconvenient truth about Karabakh in a long and self-flagellating speech.
In fact, he only detonated the bombshell that had been anticipated for a long time.
These revelations came on the heels of a flurry of diplomatic activity, which included a face-to-face meeting between Pashinyan and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev in Brussels on April 6, mediated by the President of the European Council Charles Michel. At the conclusion of that summit, the three participants issued separate but identical statements, from which any reference to Karabakh was conspicuously absent.
Exacerbating worries in Armenia was President Aliyev’s statement that Armenia had given in on its position on the issue of Karabakh’s status. He specifically added that Armenia was ready to recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, including Karabakh as a part of that territory. He said that Armenia is renouncing territorial claims “in Azerbaijan.”
Therefore, when Pashinyan spoke at the parliament and revealed the entire truth, the bombshell, while anticipated, triggered a wave of anger and confusion in Armenia and Karabakh. Vitally important is that the speech brought into public view the divide that had been simmering for months between Armenia and Karabakh, at a moment when unity is most needed.
It also intensified divisions between the government and the opposition, to the delight of the leadership in Baku. Armenia’s civil society fragmented rather than consolidated around a unified national agenda.
In his long and impassioned speech, Pashinyan developed three crucial themes: a) his share of responsibility in the defeat; b) the conditions set by the international community for Armenia, and c) his plan to open the path toward an era of peace in the region.
With regard to the first theme, he said, “I have initially accepted my guilt and responsibility for both the war and the defeat. But I have not accepted and I do not accept the accusations addressed to me by the opposition after November 9, 2020, accusing me of surrendering lands, and thus, also of treason.
At first glance, this may seem absurd, that you admit guilt, but do not accept the accusation, and perhaps the time has come for this dilemma to be resolved. In a recent interview, I hinted that if I was to be accused objectively, I should not be accused of surrendering lands, but of not surrendering lands. And now, yes, I want to admit that I’m probably guilty of that.”
As we can notice, Pashinyan, as a former journalist and a fiery one at that, is a master of verbal gymnastics to be able to hypnotize his audience to not see the bitter truths they face.
In that speech, he also admitted that he could have avoided the war, or stopped it in its tracks, saving 3,825 lives, by confronting the country and admitting the truth about the dire situation.
“I could not bring myself to do it,” he admitted.
The thrust of Pashinyan’s speech was the fact of Armenia is facing the international community in an untenable position. Addressing that issue, he stated, “Today the international community clearly tells us that being the only country in the world that does not recognize the territorial integrity of Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan is a great danger not only for Artsakh but also for Armenia.
Today the international community tells us again ‘lower your benchmark on the status of Nagorno Karabakh a little and ensure greater international consolidation around Armenia and Artsakh.’ Otherwise, says the international community, please do not rely on us, not because we do not want to help you, but because we cannot help you.”
Then, Pashinyan laid the ground for immediate negotiations to complete the border delineation and demarcation and sign a peace treaty with Azerbaijan.
There were many questions left unanswered by those comments: which country is included in the term “international community”? What actually is expected from Armenia? What in return will Armenia get? Is this a road to relative peace for a certain period of time or a recipe for a new war?
The reasons for Armenia in facing such a grim reality today are the recent developments on the international political scene, where Turkey and Azerbaijan have become major players.
President Aliyev, under the Turkish leadership’s tutelage, took certain initiatives to placate both opposing camps in the Ukraine war. Just one day before Russia launched its attack, Aliyev signed a strategic alliance treaty with Russia, equivalent to the one Armenia had signed long ago. That raised the question as to which side Moscow would support in case of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as Moscow has identical agreements with both adversaries. That move virtually neutralized Armenia’s sole pillar of strength.
On the other hand, Azerbaijan became the favorite supplier of energy to Europe when the latter has been trying to wean itself from Russian energy sources due to embargos resulting from that war.
Therefore, under these conditions, the West has all the reasons it needs not to antagonize Azerbaijan and support its adversaries in the Caucasus. What does Armenia have to offer the West to counter Azerbaijan’s new clout in the West, except a field in its policy, to facilitate the West’s efforts to undermine Russia’s military footprint in the Caucasus?
While Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov laments that Russia’s Western partners, the cochairs in the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have been refusing to cooperate with Moscow in hammering out peace in Karabakh within the context of that group and therefore the Minsk format is dead for all practical purposes, the French and US co-chairs, Brice Roquefeuil and Andrew Schofer, respectively, have recently visited Yerevan to revive the process and inspire hope in Armenia.
For a long time, Armenia has pinned its hopes on the Minsk Group, which was continuing to maintain that the status of Karabakh still needs to be addressed under the principles of the Helsinki Final Act.
These visits have been accompanied by a call from Michel on the eve of Pashinyan’s planned visit on April 19 and 20 to Moscow, to meet President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and the head of Russia’s Duma.
All these activities may also serve as a warning to Pashinyan to avoid making any commitments to the Kremlin, which may damage the West’s interest in the Caucasus.
In that context, even the destiny of $3-billion aid package to Armenia from Europe may be up in the air.
There are many challenges for the Pashinyan government to deal with, particularly in light of Armenia’s fragile foreign policy ranks.
Russia’s Ukrainian war gives a free hand to Baku to engage in further adventures in the Caucasus and press Armenia for more concessions.
Azerbaijan’s leadership realizes that this window of opportunity cannot last very long and that is why it is pressuring Armenia to sign a peace treaty now, under duress.
Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian just released a commentary in Armenian media advising the leadership to refrain from signing at this time a peace treaty whose impact may endanger Armenia’s security and territorial integrity in the future.
For a while, President Aliyev had refrained from mentioning the Zangezur Corridor, leaving the impression that his idea had reached an impasse. But with recent developments, he has again revived that demand, even accompanied it by a threat.
With all these external threats, the Pashinyan administration has to deal with opposition from the Karabakh leadership as well as internal dissent.
The Karabakh government and inhabitants have justifiable fears about their future. As if Pashinyan’s troubling statement was not enough, a member of Pashinyan’s party in the parliament, the chameleon of Armenia’s political landscape, Vigen Khachatryan, added fuel to the fire and stated in the parliament that “the notion that Karabakh has no future as part of Azerbaijan is a fallacious statement.”
Arayik Harutyunyan, the president of Karabakh, held an emergency meeting with the leaders of local political groups to discuss concerns in the wake of Pashinyan’s statement. His office said that the meeting “expressed outrage” at Pashinyan’s remarks and stressed that Stepanakert would continue to assert Karabakh Armenians’ right to self-determination.
His foreign minister, Davit Babayan, went further, stating that Karabakh Armenians will never agree to live under Azerbaijani rule. He added that there are no “bars for us to scale down; there are only red lines drawn in blood.”
Another challenge in Armenia is the action of opposition Hairenik Party’s Artur Vanetsyan, who has begun a sit-in in Freedom Square. Although he claims that the opposition has a clear plan, he does not offer one.
All along, the opposition has been calling for Pashinyan’s resignation, without coming up with a better alternative.
The opposition and the ruling party, at this time, are engaged in an intense campaign of mutual recriminations. Most of the political talk shows have crossed all lines of decency and descended into a blame game.
Armenia’s enemies are on its borders. The internal dissent is no less a danger. Unless the citizens and the government come together, no solution can be found to face the external dangers.
Pashinyan’s bombshell should not destroy what remains of hope.