Armenian veteran diplomat: "Why Armenia lost the war for Karabakh"
Zhirayr Liparityan, a veteran of Armenian diplomacy and adviser to the first president of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosyan, gave an interview to BBC Russian, and speaks about the main mistakes that, in his opinion, led to Armenia’s defeat in the war for Nagorno-Karabakh.
He assesses the role of Prime Minister Pashinyan, his relationship with Azerbaijani President Aliyev, and the responsibility of the entire political elite and society of Armenia for the current situation.
“Instead of negotiating a compromise, the Armenian authorities wanted to maintain the status quo: control of Karabakh and seven regions around it”
BBC: If one were to briefly set out your views, you get the following: the team of the first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan, of which you were a part, wanted to resolve the conflict through negotiations and compromise, and all subsequent leaders wanted to maintain the status quo, in which Armenian forces controlled Nagorno-Karabakh and seven regions around it.
Zhirayr Liparitan: Our administration – Ter-Petrosyan’s administration – bet on peace. And the next administrations – especially the last one [i.e. Pashinyan’s cabinet] – bet on war.
The following administrations also negotiated, but with the thought in mind that ‘if nothing works, we will return to the war.’ And so Pashinyan decided: “Nothing works, and if this is a war, then let it be war. And we will win.”
- Azerbaijani army enters Lachin: who’s where in Karabakh – an overview
- A Precarious Peace for Karabakh
- Putin: ‘If Armenia refuses to comply with the Karabakh agreement, that would be suicide’
BBC: Why did the negotiations fail?
J.L .: The Karabakh issue has several components. The main ones are the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and the issue of the seven regions of Azerbaijan, which fell under the control of the Armenian forces.
Since the moment of the truce, the international community has told us that it does not recognize the independence of Karabakh. […] Russia, Turkey, Iran, the United States and France proposed options based on the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. It was clear. They’ve been telling us this for the past 30 years.
The second part – no one in the world expected that we would hold onto these seven regions. They always expected their return, under certain conditions. […]
Regardless of whether we consider the independent status of Karabakh to be fair, we are dealing with an adversary who was not ready to accept these conditions even after his defeat.
And we had to keep in mind that over time, Azerbaijan is only getting stronger in terms of military power and in terms of resources.
And the longer our path to an agreement, the more its absence brought the war closer and the less chance we had of winning this war.
That is, the question was: do we admit the possibility of returning these areas – in exchange for security guarantees for people and territories?
And in the absence of a chance to agree on a status now, can we postpone it until later, when we can consider other possibilities?
We [Ter-Petrosyan’s team] wanted to create an opportunity to return most of the districts in exchange for peace and leave the question of status for later.
The following administrations decided that the return of territories can only be in exchange for status – that is, recognition of the independence of Karabakh by Azerbaijan, or at least a path to independence, such as a referendum. […] [Pashinyan] insisted that a clear understanding of future status is necessary, and without this, Azerbaijan’s position cannot be taken seriously, and the negotiations are meaningless, because Azerbaijan insists on territorial integrity.
And he came to the conclusion that first we need to agree on status, and if this requires a war, then there will be a war and we will win.
This was the logic of the Armenian side for the past 25 years, and now we see the miscalculations. Large-scale miscalculations. […]
- Op-ed: the Karabakh agreement doesn’t mean peace, just a ceasefire
- Op-ed: who will replace Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan?
- Op-ed – Russia-Turkey: geopolitical war, or competitive partnership?
Provocative statements, “Karabakh is Armenia, period”
J.L .: There were other miscalculations even before the war. The Armenian side made a number of completely unnecessary steps, which were provocative towards Azerbaijan and Turkey.
BBC: What kind of provocations do you mean?
J.L .: For example, when we are discussing the future status of Karabakh, Azerbaijan proposes its solution: “Karabakh is Azerbaijan”. This is the position of the international community.
And here we say: forget about negotiations, Karabakh is Armenia, period!
Second, the president and PM of Armenia this summer made statements in connection with the anniversary of the Sevres Peace Treaty, which can be considered a presentation of territorial claims against Turkey.
In addition, the Minister of Defense of Armenia stated: “New war – new territories.”
There were other statements as well. And our side also began to talk about the ‘illegitimate leader of Azerbaijan’ and the ‘dictator of Turkey’. This is not our business, not our country, is it? It was an attempt to export the idea of democracy to Azerbaijan and Turkey.
That is, you negotiate with the leaders of these countries and tell them that they are illegitimate?
Pashinyan thought he was a great statesman when he said that any decision should be acceptable to the peoples of Azerbaijan, Karabakh and Armenia. He thought it was a brilliant idea that Aliyev should repeat and accept, and if he does not repeat it, then he is a bad leader.
But the fact is that he did not offer the solution itself – what solution will be taken by all three peoples?[…]
“All political forces in Armenia are responsible for the situation, as they did not want to listen to the international community”
BBC: So you say that the Armenian authorities misjudged the reality?
J.L .: This is not only a matter of power. Look at the whole spectrum of Armenian politics. Except for one party, all are ultra-patriots. I do not see in the Republican Party, Prosperous Armenia, Bright Armenia, [Armenian Revolutionary Federation] Dashnaktsutyun or any other party of politicians who offered to listen to what the international community was telling us.
And the opinion of the international community should be important to us – because when we lose, we run to it and ask for help. We ask them to do what they cannot do.
BBC: That is, in this issue there is no difference between, conventionally, Kocharyan and Pashinyan, the previous and the new government?
Zh.L .: There is a difference between Kocharyan and Pashinyan, but it seems to me that different political forces had the feeling that Karabakh was not only our problem, and let the mediators solve it, and if they do not solve it, then it’s okay. We have time. And again ‘if there is a war, we will win.’
This kind of thinking is widespread, and all [politicians] are responsible for it. This lack of political imagination, this lack of understanding of what you are dealing with, and the inability to separate your wishes from what you really need and what you can get.
This is a problem of political culture. And therefore, when they say that Pashinyan must leave, I ask – who will take his place?
Most political forces want power, they want to play on defeat, but they do not offer new approaches.
“The truce factually closes the Karabakh issue”
BBC: How do you see the situation after the November 9 peace statement?
J.L .: This statement can have two interpretations. One is pessimistic and most likely true. But it is so pessimistic that it will be difficult for people to accept it.
So, the ceasefire statement factually closes the Karabakh issue. It does not say this directly, but it is based on the principle of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. And Pashinyan, the prime minister of Armenia, signed it. And no one will change this.
Azerbaijanis will return, and the Azerbaijani authorities will do everything to make the maximum number return. We want our compatriots, the Karabakh Armenians, to return.
But will they be ready to return to such Karabakh?
And if there is no mass return [of the Karabakh Armenians], then the further status of Karabakh need not be discussed.
On the other hand, Russia is keenly interested in seeing as many Armenians return as possible. Because if there are no Karabakh Armenians there, then Azerbaijan will be able to say [to the Russian military]: what are you doing here?
But when President Putin and other [world leaders] say that the status of Karabakh is not defined, they do not mean that the independence of Karabakh is possible.
They have already said that this is impossible – that [Karabakh] is part of Azerbaijan. They made it very clear.
In the past, Russian diplomats did not support a single project that did not envisage Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. The only thing they did was agree to postpone the issue of status.
The statement [of November 9] makes it clear that there is no question of choice – a choice between independent Karabakh or within Azerbaijan. This choice no longer exists – if it ever existed.
“There are now only two scenarios for Karabakh: autonomy within Azerbaijan – or cultural autonomy
About seven regions around Nagorno-Karabakh
BBC: The refusal to return the seven regions is associated with the fact that at some point the Armenian society began to call them liberated, not occupied. How did this happen?
J.L .: Our view of these seven districts has changed over time. We occupied them because our houses were bombed from them – and Stepanakert, and even the houses of our people in Armenia itself.
We took them for defensive purposes and said – when there are security guarantees, we will return them.
In 1992, when we took Lachin, Robert Kocharian, who became the chairman of the State Defense Committee, made a statement in which he promised to return Lachin as soon as we received security guarantees. He asked me to write the text of this statement. […]
Then these areas became the subject of negotiations. And then this phrase sounded like this: we cannot return them, because they are Armenian.
Even if they were not Armenian [at the beginning of the conflict], these are historically Armenian lands, and we should not return them under any circumstances.
Vazgen Sargsyan, prime minister and defense minister [until 1999], played an important role in shaping this view. He argued that areas should not be returned.
He had this logic: the land conquered by the blood of our soldiers cannot be given away. […]
When we decided that we were not going to return these areas, it turned us into supporters of territorial expansion.
Instead of fighting for the right of the Armenians of Karabakh to live freely and in safety and their right to self-determination – instead, we began to call these territories historically Armenian.
This did not work in our favor. Many in the Turkish Foreign Ministry and among the political elites began to think that Karabakh is not about the self-determination and security of the Karabakh Armenians, but about the dream of a Great Armenia. […]
And they thought that if it was expansion, then Western Armenia would be next. We, of course, did not have such military power, but for them it was an irrational fear.
“Negotiations are not patriotic conversations with oneself, but work with the enemy”
J.L .: We always talked to ourselves. And if what we say comes from patriots and sounds patriotic, then we are right.
We did not try to understand and study what Azerbaijan can or cannot give. We just decided that Azerbaijan could not give us anything worthwhile.
Negotiation is an extremely painful day-to-day job, just like independence for small countries, especially ours.
The declaration of independence is only the beginning, the beginning of your problems, not their end. It should be appreciated and protected on a daily basis in accordance with how the world around you is changing.
BBC: I assume that you have communicated on this topic with the new Armenian government.
J.L .: Once I had a conversation with a high-ranking representative of Pashinyan’s cabinet. I asked: “What solution do you propose [to the Karabakh conflict]?” The answer was: “There is nothing to decide here.”
At that time, there were no longer negotiations and no solution was proposed.
I asked him: why did you decide that? Did you sit down with Aliyev and discuss all possible options? You didn’t. I’ve done this, to some extent, and I’ve seen possible options, but it doesn’t matter.
Your duty is to do everything possible before declaring that there is no decision and there is nothing to discuss with Azerbaijan. It is not just a lack of state thinking. This is a negotiation with ourselves.
BBC: When journalists ask Pashinyan about his harsh statements, he points to no less harsh statements by the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey.
J.L .: It is important to emphasize that I do not like the position of Azerbaijan and Turkey. But it’s not about what I like.
Twenty years ago, here in Boston, I gave a speech and said that if we did not compromise, it would lead to disaster.
When I finished and the audience could ask questions, one gentleman stood up and said, “Sir, this is so important, but so depressing.”
I answered: “Did I introduce myself as an artist? Go home and watch TV for entertainment. Don’t come to my lectures. My job is not to entertain or inspire you. I have no good news for you. “
We give the people wrong information, wrong analysis and offer unrealistic scenarios as possible solutions.
We are pushing them towards nationalism instead of statehood. And then we say: the world will not be accepted. But who is responsible for this? […]
BBC: For everything that you have just said, you will be called a traitor to the nation. Does this bother you?
J.L .: When irresponsible people say this, it’s a sign of honor … It doesn’t bother me.
“Responsibility is on Pashinyan. But also on the mentality of the Armenian people “
BBC: When you talk about the problems of mentality, it kind of removes responsibility from Pashinyan. But it was he who led Armenia for the last two and a half years.
J.L .: Responsibility is distributed over time. Pashinyan’s responsibility is greater, because he reduced the already existing way of thinking to three or four simple statements: Azerbaijan cannot give us anything acceptable, the status of Karabakh can be resolved by a war, there is nothing to negotiate about, and democracy will bring us the support of the West.
But if this thinking did not exist before him, he would not unwind it.
If you remember, the opposition from the very beginning accused him of two things – anti-Russian views and plans to surrender Karabakh. Did he try to assure that he was not going to surrender the land? Did you want to be received in Karabakh? I dont know. But he made tough statements.
“Aliyev could think that Pashinyan deceived him”
J.L .: There are other things as well. One of them is what happened in Dushanbe at a meeting with Aliyev. It seemed that the ceasefire was finally being respected and a direct line of communication was established [between ministries of defense].
This meeting is very important in terms of how Aliyev perceived Pashinyan. He did not trust Kocharyan – his father bequeathed to him not to trust Kocharyan. He had hopes for Pashinyan – I don’t know if they were justified or not.
And when Pashinyan asked him to observe the ceasefire, he agreed. I don’t know the details of their conversation, but I know that it was some kind of exchange.
Probably, Aliyev said something like “Okay, we will do it, but we need to discuss the essence of the issue”. And Pashinyan said something along the lines of, “Okay, but give me time.”
BBC: Pashinyan says something completely different – according to him, it was Aliyev who asked him to stop talking about the absence of democracy in Azerbaijan.
J.L .: I know about the content of the conversation from a very reliable source in Azerbaijan. Such a conversation took place.
And what happened next? Pashinyan began to say that Artsakh is Armenia. He began to insist on the return of Karabakh to the negotiating table – this place was lost under Kocharian.
If you over and over again put a condition that is obviously unacceptable to your opponent, it means that you are sabotaging the very idea of negotiations.
And then he began to talk about a solution that would be acceptable for three peoples – not for three governments.
In fact, he began to insult Aliyev
And Aliyev decided that he was deceived. That Pashinyan misled him by promising to negotiate in essence, but he himself only bought time to resolve issues within the country.
While [Armenian Foreign Minister] Mnatsakanyan discussed one thing with [Azerbaijani Foreign Minister] Mamedyarov, Pashinyan said something else.
And this mistrust played a big role in Aliyev’s decision that the negotiations were doomed.
I don’t want to say that Aliyev always kept his word. In the past, he backed out of the settlement plan negotiated in Kazan in 2011.
And Heydar Aliyev did the same – he agreed, and then decided that he could achieve better conditions. […]
“Either we get everything we want – or war”
J.L .: At one time I communicated mainly with Arkadiy [Ghukasyan], who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and later became the President [of the unrecognized NKR].
But after my resignation, I communicated with many other Karabakh people and people who know the state of affairs in Karabakh.
And this is their thinking: any option in which we get less than we want is too risky. And if there is a war, there will be a war.
I answered: my friend, but the war is unpredictable, and the further, the more predictable it will not be in our favor.
And they answered: we will fight, and we would rather die than agree to what we do not want.
This was the logic of so many. Many thought war was fun. War is entertainment. War creates heroes. The war is needed to prove our patriotism and our heroism.
War is a sacrifice, if, of course, you sacrifice yourself and not your neighbor’s son.