Op-ed: Pashinyan is a politician, not Moses, his words are not commandments
PM Pashinyan and fate of Nagorno-Karabakh
During his last press conference, Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, when asked about the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh, made a number of statements that caused resonance in society and expert circles. He was criticized by the inhabitants of the country on social media, and by many political scientists. Pashinyan’s statements were perceived as a preparation of society for the upcoming painful concessions on Karabakh, in particular, the signing of a peace treaty, according to which this territory will be recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
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Pashinyan’s statements discussed in Armenia:
“A peace treaty should be signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but before that, the document should be formulated as a result of negotiations. We believe that these negotiations should take place and Armenia is ready for them.
There is an agreement ratified by the parliament, according to which it is stated that the Republic of Armenia recognizes the territorial integrity and inviolability of the borders of Azerbaijan. This agreement was ratified in 1992.
In turn, Azerbaijan ratified the agreement on the territorial integrity of Armenia. De jure, back in 1992, Armenia and Azerbaijan recognized the inviolability of borders and territorial integrity [of each other] within the borders and territories existing in the CIS.
The provision on preserving [during the referendum on the status of NK] the ethnic proportion of 1988 was excluded [from the documents discussed in the format of the OSCE Minsk Group]. After the meeting in Kazan, the provision of the Madrid principles was removed from the negotiating documents, according to which the population of Nagorno-Karabakh described all the peoples living in the NKAR, in the same ethnic proportion as it was in 1988, before the conflict [the Armenian population was in the majority]. In August 2016, the Armenian side turned to the mediators with a request to restore it.
Azerbaijan often makes statements which mirror those that Armenia made after 1994 [after the first Karabakh war]. In particular, after 1994, statements like “the issue of Artsakh has been resolved”, “Baku is an Armenian city” were made in Armenia and Artsakh. Now Azerbaijan is doing the same. I mean, there is an element of revenge in these statements, which I hope was dictated by emotions”.
Expert commentary – Alexander Iskandaryan
Pashinyan justifies his actions
“Pashinyan is not a historian, not a specialist in texts and not a sociologist. Collecting an array of information in the Armenian press after 1994, doing its content analysis, understanding what expressions and how the Armenian press of that time or officials used it is not his business.
Pashinyan is a politician, and what he says has a political context, namely: as a result of the lost war in 2020, Armenia must make some agreements that are dictated by its reduced subjectivity.
In this situation, the actions of the Armenian authorities must somehow be appealing within the country itself. In addition to foreign policy, there is also domestic policy.
In the current situation, again as a result of a lost war, as a result of the shock that the Armenian society is in, as a result of a rather strong protest that is born in society about interaction with Azerbaijan and Turkey, it is necessary to somehow justify what you are doing. At least that’s how the government sees it.
In general, not saying anything to the public and simply concluding agreements is fraught with internal turbulence, and this is shown by the experience of past Armenian governments.
This is evidenced by the constant discourse in Armenia that all agreements and interactions in the negotiation process take place behind closed doors. The current government, even before coming to power, advocated for everything to happen openly and publicly.
People remember this, and it needs to be conducted this way, which Pashinyan does.
Comparing today’s rhetoric of Aliyev with the rhetoric of the Armenian leadership after the first Karabakh war is possible only if you have done a lot of work comparing the texts – how it worked then and how it works now. And it doesn’t seem to me that the rhetoric of Levon Ter-Petrosyan [the first president of Armenia, 1991-1998] in 1995 was the same as the rhetoric of Aliyev in 2021.
Armenia is a democratic country, there were a lot of different conversations, but I don’t remember that at the level of the country’s leadership it was ever said that “Baku is ours”.
In any case, this is a matter for a special study. Pashinyan’s political rhetoric is quite understandable: the politician in power needs to explain that what he is doing is the right thing”.
Rhetoric for political purposes
“The politician is not the prophet Moses at all, what he says is not the ultimate truth and is not a commandment. He uses specific rhetoric for political purposes. This is what both Pashinyan and Aliyev do.
The Minsk process has existed since 1992 [peace talks in the format of the OSCE Minsk Group]. The purpose of this process is to determine the status of Artsakh and resolve the Karabakh problem. Whether it went badly or not is another question. Why the Minsk process? Because a conference should have been set up in Minsk, at which the Karabakh conflict would have been resolved, the status of Artsakh should have been determined.
If Armenia had then recognized the independence of the NKR, these negotiations would have become impossible. What is there to talk about then?
The meaning of the negotiations, the meaning of the entire Minsk process was to determine the status of Artsakh.
Therefore, the non-recognition of the independence of the NKR by Armenia was perceived as a concession from the Armenian side. The basis of the Minsk process was that the determination of the status of Artsakh would be the result of this process, and not a precondition. The process was going on, and legally he has not ended to this day.
The Minsk Group is in “waiting mode”, but it exists, and those proposals that were put up for discussion in the Minsk Group were all about the status of Artsakh”.
Armenia does not need to recognize the integrity of Azerbaijan
“When we were part of the CIS, Armenia did not need to recognize the territorial integrity of anyone. The Republic of Armenia joined the CIS within the borders of the Armenian SSR, and the Karabakh problem did not exist on the territory of the Republic of Armenia.
This is political rhetoric, it is a way to justify one’s position in some way.
We are talking about the position that today’s elite wants to promote after the lost war, and it is trying to present this position not only to Azerbaijan, Turkey or Russia, but also on Armenia’s internal political arena.
Now there is an attempt to somehow advance the process of interaction with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Azerbaijan and Turkey combine this process into a single whole with the Karabakh process”.
Voting in the South Caucasus is always ethnicized
“The Madrid and Kazan proposals [documents that were discussed at the negotiating table] say that the referendum should be held with the participation of all nationalities living in the NKAR at the time of 1988 in the ethnic proportion that was then. Why is it so? Because the results of a referendum in the case of the South Caucasus are always known in advance. Voting is always ethnicized. People vote based on their ethnicity.
It is difficult to imagine any significant number of Karabakh Armenians who would vote to join Azerbaijan, or any significant number of Azerbaijanis who would vote to live in an independent Artsakh. But the world is not always like this.
For example, in Quebec, representatives of the French-Canadian community voted against the independence of Quebec. Where there is a real legal mechanism, it is possible to self-determine without pogroms, exterminations and ethnic cleansing.
In the South Caucasus, if you know the ethnic ratio, then you know in advance the results of the vote.
Therefore, the task of the OSCE Minsk Group project was not just to see what result the referendum would give, because it is clear what will happen. The task was to ensure that the referendum was held in an appropriate ethnic ratio. And this ethnic ratio was in favor of the Armenians at the time of 1988.
Therefore, the referendum is a tool, and both the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides understood this very well. That is why there were disagreements on this issue. Azerbaijan understood that at the moment when consent is given, everything else will be implemented through a referendum, that is, in a technical way”.
Provisions appear and disappear
“During the entire negotiation process, some provisions always disappeared and reappeared at some point. That is why these professional areas are very poorly suited to be pulled out for public discussion. And that is why they are dealt with by diplomats and not people from the street. That is why such agreements cannot be decided on the town squares.
The Karabakh conflict is a complex multi-component problem, similar to cabbage, with legal, geographical, historical, economic layers, with various types of lobbying, requiring professional knowledge and professional approaches for thousands or tens of thousands of pages.
There is a process history. This is a rather complex issue, very difficult to work with. People have been working for years, this process has a certain tradition, well-established mechanisms. In connection with the war, these mechanisms are violated.
And the politician’s task is to translate this complex reality into a slogan, into a simple expression, and this is called providerism in science. You have to take a fairly complex text, not even a text, but a huge context, and translate it in such a way that people in the town square say: “Yes, he is right”. Your task is set in advance, and your goal is not to find out the truth at all. You are not a historian, but a politician.
Provisions disappear, then appear, then others appear. Similarly, there was first a package plan [of the settlement of the Karabakh conflict], then a phased one, then accession, an independent republic, and so on. The politician takes a certain episode and manipulates it. This is their job”.
Will there be Nagorno-Karabakh after the signing of the document?
“The Artsakh issue will exist even if Pashinyan signs some document tomorrow. The problem won’t go away. But at the same time, I don’t know what he will sign or if he will sign at all.
The Karabakh conflict has its own particular difficulties at each stage. Azerbaijan’s goal is obvious. Along with a corridor [connecting Azerbaijan to its exclave of Nakhichevan through Armenian territory] and a configuration of borders, it wants to get some kind of paper that can be presented inside Azerbaijan as recognition by Armenia of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan along with Nagorno-Karabakh. This is the reason for the pressure on Armenia in various formats – discursive, diplomatic and military.
The idea that pressure on Armenia will end after the signing of such a paper is false.
The idea that with fewer resources, when something is taken away from you, and you give, and you will not be attacked, is false. You have more security when you have more resources, not less, when you are stronger, not weaker.
Having a border along the banks of the Araks and having a border in Kapan [a city in southern Armenia] are very different things. Having an army that is considered the strongest army in the region and having an army that none of the neighbors consider to be an army at all are also different things. To have a border where it possible to somehow carry out a defensive, and to have a border through which armed people pass and are met by a shepherd, the head of the community, or a passerby, are two different things.
No, I don’t think the pressure will end when Azerbaijan gets what it wants.
There is a minimum program, there is a maximum program, and there are intermediate programs.
It is still difficult to say what exactly Pashinyan will sign if he signs anything at all. Because the document that Azerbaijan can present within its country as the recognition of territorial integrity by Armenia together with Artsakh, and the document on the recognition of Artsakh by Armenia as part of Azerbaijan are also different things.
Do we recognize the Russian Federation? But do we recognize Crimea as part of it? God knows. Japan recognizes the Russian Federation, they have diplomatic relations. But does Japan recognize the Kuriles as part of Russia? There are a lot of such examples in the world”.