Author: Natig NAZIMOGLU
After the “velvet revolution” in Armenia, the new government continues to flounder in the swirl of unsuccessful attempts to reverse the Karabakh settlement according to its own dreams and ambitions. The new Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian continues to stay afloat thanks to high trust he has received from the population exhausted from the crisis. But will he have enough resources and time to finish the fight against the criminal Sargsyan heritage? On the one hand, the foreign policy course of the new Armenian government still raises questions from Russia, and on the other hand, and this is the main thing, Pashinian's position on the issue of Karabakh does not at all contribute to the implementation of the only chance for the settlement of the conflict with Azerbaijan.
Revenge of “revolution” and true image of “heroes”
Apparently, public euphoria provoked by the revolutionary expectations of Armenian population has significantly decreased after almost a month and a half of Pashinian's stay in power. This would happen anyway. One can raise to the top of power even by justly criticising the former leadership for mistakes and crimes. But it is also true that it is very difficult to fundamentally correct the situation in a country, which is facing serious economic problems due to lack of cooperation with Azerbaijan and Turkey and has no perspectives for implementing urgent reforms.
There were attempts to implement the pension reform, which also provoked serious disagreements that caused the resignation of the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Mane Tandilian. The same problem led to serious discussions between Pashinian’s block Elk and its partners, Dashnaktsutyun Party and Tsarukian Bloc.
Not only is there a lack of real steps to overcome the systemic crisis ongoing in Armenia for many years, a struggle with “public enemies” (an integral part of any revolution) has unfolded in the country. For several days, the protesters have demanded the resignation of the mayor of Yerevan, Taron Margarian, a member of the executive committee of the former ruling Republican Party (RPA), whose family, according to Armenian media, owns elite mansions in Yerevan and profitable transportation companies.
Attempts to eradicate the criminal heritage of the so-called Karabakh Clan have gradually translated into court trials. It is enough to note the widely discussed case in Armenia about the seizure of 200 kilograms of gold from Sargsyan's entourage. Inspections are held in the Gregory the Enlightener Medical Centre headed by Sargsyan's matchmaker Ara Minasian, as well as in Security Dream Co. managing control cameras on Armenian roads, which was allegedly backed by the brother of former president Alexander Sargsyan. He was even detained for “illegal carriage of weapons” but then released without any guarantees to stop pressure from the new authorities.
There are also speculations about inspections of the restaurant business of the head of Sargsyan's security guard, Vachagan Ghazarian. According to official information, the Investigation Committee seized almost one and a half million dollars in cash.
But the loudest action of retribution for the crimes committed under the previous regime is unfolding around the arrest of General Manvel Grigorian, member of parliament, Chairman of the Yerkrapah Volunteer Union, and former Deputy Defence Minister.
As reported by the National Security Service of Armenia, Grigorian together with other individuals has illegally acquired and stored weapons and ammunition. Until recently, he was considered the de facto ruler of Echmiadzin (his son Karen was the mayor of this city) and the entire Armavir region. General Grigorian used to provide voting support to the Republican Party of Armenia and personally to the ex-President Serzh Sargsyan. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said that the arrest of Manvel Grigorian was connected not only with the storage of weapons, but also with the appropriation of provision for Armenian soldiers during the “April war”. During the searches in Yerevan and the general's estate in Karabakh, the investigators found a large number of canned meat, cigarettes, underwear, military uniforms, hygiene products, ammunition, vehicles, including snowmobiles, cross-country vehicles, and even letters from children addressed to soldiers in April 2016.
However, the criminal essence of Grigorian has shown itself long before Pashinian came to power. During the Karabakh war, he was one of the organisers of massacres and the capture of peaceful Azerbaijanis appropriating their houses and material values looted in Karabakh. Human rights activists also accuse him of appropriating money and gold from Azerbaijani banks operating in Karabakh. Grigorian himself admitted that after the war he returned to Armenia with hundreds of prisoners, one of whom was kept in slavery in his own house.
Thus, the arrest of Manvel Grigorian once again revealed the true face of Armenian “heroes” who have raised to prominence due to their crimes committed during the occupation of Karabakh.
Meanwhile, the struggle with the most odious representatives of the Sargsyan regime has quite definite political goals associated with the need to completely destroy the influence of RPA, ensure final collapse of the political structure of the Karabakh Clan, the entire power system established during the presidencies of Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sargsyan. Without solving these problems, “revolutionary” power in Armenia has no perspective.
However, its future depends on more significant factors, one of which is relations with Russia.
Before heading the government, Nikol Pashinian has repeatedly raised the issue of Armenia's withdrawal from the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and even made statements about the Russian military base deployed in Gyumri. He made it clear that he saw the future of Armenia in integration into the Euro-Atlantic space.
After becoming a prime minister, anti-Russian rhetoric of Pashinian has noticeably diminished. But his Euro-Atlantic orientation is much more pronounced by his recently appointed officials, who almost entirely consist of people close to the West. Nevertheless, Pashinian is very cautious in his actions concerning Russia, as evidenced by his visits to Russia and contacts with the leadership of the Russian Federation.
Soon after taking the office of the prime minister, Pashinian visited Sochi, where he took part in the meeting of the heads of EAEU member states and held his first talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In mid-June, he made his second trip to Russia, which coincided with the start of the World Cup. Positive statements made during his contacts with the top Russian leadership about the state of Armenian-Russian relations allowed Pashinian to rant about a dialog between him and Putin, which left no “dark corners”.
However, if one looks at specific issues at higher Armenian-Russian level, it is easy to notice many very dark sides of bilateral cooperation. For example, the announced plans of investments (up to $90m) of the Tashir group of companies (owned by Russian billionaire of Armenian origin Samvel Karapetian and controlling the assets of Power Networks of Armenia) in the construction and upgrade of power distribution networks. However, following Pashinian's talks with the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, the Armenian Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Artur Grigorian announced the dissolution of concession agreement with Tashir. Pashinian insisted on making a “quick” decision on this case.
Apparently, Pashinian's government is unhappy with the fact that all strategically important areas of Armenian economy are controlled by Russian businesses. Is Pashinian ready to thoroughly redistribute the existing property against the interests of Russia? What will be Russia’s reaction if the new Armenian authorities ask Russians in a transparent and explicit manner to leave the country disguising their true intentions under “an open dialogue without dark corners”? These questions are rather rhetorical given that Russia still remains the guarantor of Armenia’s security, which blatantly uses this guarantee in order to continue the occupation of Azerbaijani territories.
In other words, Pashinian demonstrates his aspiration to withdraw Armenia from Russia's control but does not want to refuse Moscow's support in the military-political sphere. This task, however, is difficult to implement, like all attempts by the new Armenian authorities to change the agenda of the Karabakh settlement.
“The order will be given at the most relevant time”
Pashinian is insisting on the urgency of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) to participate in the negotiation process as a full-fledged party of talks. This idea is based on Armenia's refusal to discuss the basic settlement issues with Azerbaijan and the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, among which the priority is given, of course, to the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories. In other words, Pashinian’s claim implies thsuch issues should not be discussed with him, the Prime Minister of Armenia, but with the leadership of the unrecognized NKR.
New Armenian authorities claim that similar trilateral talks were already conducted in 1994-1995 resulting in the ceasefire agreement and the agreement on strengthening the cease-fire regime. However, Pashinian tries to ignore an undeniable fact that we live in 2018. The aggressive Armenia, which is trying to maintain the status quo established as a result of the occupation of Azerbaijani lands, is opposed by the strong Azerbaijan, which is determined to achieve the liberation of Karabakh and return over a million refugees expelled from their homes by Armenian occupiers to the region. Responsible for the occupation of Azerbaijani territories, Armenia cannot avoid this prospect of development by fairy tales about the “effectiveness of trilateral negotiations”. International mediators who are trying to activate the negotiation process also recognise this reality.
After the recent visit to Armenia, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs confirmed “their determination to assist the parties in the peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict on the basis of the basic principles of the Helsinki Final Act, including the non-use of force or threat of force, territorial integrity, equal rights and self-determination of peoples”. In addition, it was reported about a possible meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in the near future, which, apparently, will discuss the opportunities of the summit of the heads of both states, Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinian (both leaders got acquainted in Moscow after a football match between Russia and Saudi Arabia).
Thus, the co-chairs made it clear that the talks would continue between the two sides of the conflict, which are Armenia and Azerbaijan. According to the statement of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after the talks with his Armenian counterpart Zohrab Mnatsakian, if Armenia and Azerbaijan “agree that Nagorno Karabakh will be again represented at the talks, this will be their decision, and we will respect this decision.”
Of course, Baku opposes the inclusion of a puppet occupation regime in negotiations and is ready to start substantive negotiations with Armenia. These talks will be based primarily on de-occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven adjacent regions of Azerbaijan.
By the way, the chairman of the State Duma of Russia, Vyacheslav Volodin, who made an official visit to Baku recently, said that Azerbaijan always took the “correct and constructive position” on Nagorno-Karabakh, and “all those who support the aggravation of relations, all those who do not hear words and the people's desire to live in peace, of course, follow the path of tension. We must do everything to prevent this path.”
Thus, restoration of any trilateral format of talks is out of question. And it is in the interests of Armenia to withdraw voluntarily, peacefully, its troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. This is the first demand of Azerbaijan, whose demonstration of growing power is also evidenced by the recent liberation of over 11,000 hectares of land in Nakhchivan, including the village of Günnüt in the Sharur Region, which have been controlled by Armenian occupants for the past 26 years.
During the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Azerbaijani army, Azerbaijani Minister of Defence Zakir Hasanov confirmed the main task before the army as the liberation of occupied territories and restoration of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. “Our army is ready to fulfil this task at any time. The order to accomplish this task is a political issue, and such an order will be given at the most relevant moment considering the existing international political situation,” Mr. Hasanov added.
Such statements demonstrate that the personnel of the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan are completely ready for the beginning of the war for the liberation of Karabakh - this is the main message of Baku voiced during the celebrations of the centennial of our National Army.
Undoubtedly, the process of the Karabakh settlement is entering a crucial phase. Unshakable will of the increasingly intensified Azerbaijani state, whose armed forces expect only a relevant order from the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, is a primary evidence of this fact.