Op-ed: Armenia’s new parliament and Karabakh conflict
For the first time in my memory (and I am 56 years old) the Azerbaijani people were so invested interested in the elections in Armenia. I haven’t noticed such interest in elections in my own country either, perhaps since 2003, when the previous president Heydar Aliyev died and was replaced by his son, the current president Ilham Aliyev.
Of course, the media regularly covered local elections, campaigns were conducted and some of the candidates even presented their programs. But I am talking about common people.
For example, I go to a store for bread, and the seller asks: “Muallim, they say, Kocharyan will come back to power and the war will start”. While I try to explain the situation in the region after the end of the second Karabakh war, other buyers gather around and listen, some even discuss conspiracy theories.
Why is there such an interest in the Armenian elections in Azerbaijan? The answer is simple – people do not want a new war to break out.
In the superficial understanding of the majority, Nikol Pashinyan is a supporter of peace, and ex-President Robert Kocharian is a revanchist.
Robert Kocharian was the leader of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic from 1994 to 1997, and the President of Armenia between 1998- 2008.
This superficial interpretation , I suspect, is replicated by the pro-government media of Azerbaijan (and we have almost no other alternative).
The bullying that sounded about Pashinyan during the war, footage of him dancing on Jydyr Dyuzu in Shusha (Shushi), where the first lady of Armenia trains a detachment of female fighters, and so on, have long disappeared from the media coverage.
Most likely, the ground is being prepared for a subsequent dialogue with Pashinyan’s team (if not personally with him at the highest level). Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract bloc received its mandate from the people of Armenia. As far as I can tell, judging by what the Armenian press says, there was no particular protest from the opposition.
The main rival of the current government, the second president of Armenia, Robert Kocharian, spoke out using the phrases “the results seem dubious”, “I have not yet decided whether I will be in parliament”. It doesn’t look like the old Kocharyan. I am far from intending to analyze the internal politics of Armenia, but from here, from Baku, I personally think that the idea that Russia supported the Kocharian bloc was greatly inflated (by his supporters). That is, Russia, which has great influence in Armenia, even if passively, supported Pashinyan’s bloc.
This, I repeat, is only on the surface. The victory of the Civil Contract bloc may have more far-reaching consequences.
First, it is the deepening of the already deep gap between the part of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is controlled by Russian peacekeepers, and the Republic of Armenia itself. That is, the expression of Nikol Pashinyan himself “Artsakh is Armenian, period” now seems more than dubious.
The main threat to Azerbaijan in 2025 (when the mandate of the Russian peacekeepers expires) may be the statement of the newly elected (after 2024 elections in Russia) Putin claiming that”Artsakh is Russian, period”. Maybe it will even go into his election campaign if he wants to take something from another neighboring country.
In addition, the “problem of 2025” for Azerbaijan is further aggravated by the coinciding presidential and parliamentary elections, which are themselves quite safe and predictable, but with such an imposition, traditional falsifications can cause “resonance” – small riots. In view of this, it is very likely that early presidential elections will be held in Azerbaijan. There is no talk of the transfer of power, apparently, Ilham Aliyev’s health is good.
That is, the defeat of the Karabakh clan is a de facto refusal of the Armenian society from the idea of ”miatsum” (“reunification with Armenia”, the slogan under which the first rallies began in the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region of the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic in mid-February 1988).
In my opinion, this is a step forward. The motto of the former Minister of Defense of Armenia David Tonoyan “New war – New Territories” remained in the XX century. What does control over territories give? We have seen the result.
The victory of the Civil Contract and the aggravation of contradictions between the Karabakh and, let’s say, “mainland” Armenians, among other things, are shaking the de facto authorities in Khankendi (Stepanakert). If before the start of the war, Arayik Harutunyan was considered more or less legitimately elected representative of the Karabakh Armenians, now the “master of the situation” is the former field commander, a person close to Robert Kocharian – Vitaly Balasanyan.
What does this mean for Baku?
- The influence of the Armenian authorities on Nagorno-Karabakh will decrease.
- The outflow of population from the remaining part of Nagorno-Karabakh beyond the control of Azerbaijani troops will increase. Where to? Most likely to Russia, with the common practice of handing out Russian passports, and with Russia itself having demographic problems.
- I am sure that the Karabakh Armenians will reject signing a new document. And Pashinyan will have to sign it, he has the confidence of the people (the Armenian people do not want war either) and the obligations assumed, which will still have to be implemented (I mean the Zangezur corridor, although the word “corridor” is not indicated in the November 10 document , but if enemy trains go through your territory, call it “nightingale”, the essence does not change).
In Azerbaijan, the authorities say that “the Karabakh conflict has been resolved”, it is now ancient history. But the population, in public out of habit repeating the mantra heard on TV, whispers on the sidelines that “this dough will require a lot of water”.
What is needed in order to use the historic chance and conclude a peace treaty on Karabakh? A lot:
- Agree on the return of refugees, at the first stage, inside NK itself, that is, Azerbaijanis to Khojaly and Khankendi, and Armenians to Hadrut and Shusha and other settlements.
- Who will guard them? Therefore, it is necessary to agree on joint police units, there are examples in the world, for example, in Belfast.
- It is not the biggest problem to delimit the border, but it is much more difficult to agree on “corridors”.
- Perhaps the biggest problem is what to do with the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Will there be elected representatives of the authorities, will they take part in negotiations on the lives of their townspeople and villagers, or, as President Aliyev said, “the status has gone to hell”? This topic has nothing to do with elections, it can and should be discussed in detail.
- Another question is: who exactly will be invited to negotiate? I wrote above that the authority of the elected “President of Artsakh” Arayik Harutunyan is almost zero, the decisions are made by the military. Apparently, we will have to wait for the results of the referendum on confidence, which was announced the other day by Harutunyan. This seems to be a convenient chance for him to avoid responsibility for making an unpopular decision.
- to agree on the mutual preservation of cultural heritage, etc.
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