Author: Namig MAYILOV
Remember the famous saying "you can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."? Once said by one of the most outstanding personalities in world history, the 16th US president Abraham Lincoln, these words came to my mind on May 21, when a new, so-called president of the unrecognised Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Araik Harutyunyan, took the office in the occupied Azerbaijani city of Shusha.
At first glance, everything was quite convincing. Harutyunyan took the oath on the constitution and the Gospels at the parliamentary session of the new convocation. The ceremony was accompanied with anthem and fiery speeches, applause and a feast.
As expected, the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, also took part in the inauguration ceremony. But there was not even a single semi-official person from other states. Not because of the quarantine, but because no one in the world recognises NKR as a nation state. Even Armenia! Pashinyan was just another head of Armenia, who participated in the inauguration of his protege in the occupied Azerbaijani territories. Same as it has been for all the years of occupation. So, there was nothing new.
However, a fundamental innovation of the current ‘inauguration show’ was the venue. This time the ceremony took place not in Khankendi, which the occupying side recognises as the capital of NKR, but in the neighbouring city of Shusha. Obviously, this provoked a double indignation in Azerbaijan, even to the extent that the authorities threatened the Armenian side to launch military attacks on Shusha. Apparently, the organisers of the show were aware of such a reaction, knowing the historical and cultural value of Shusha for the Azerbaijani people. Perhaps it was orchestrated to tickle the nerves of the Azerbaijani public, but on the whole, the provocation of Yerevan failed, as well as the so-called elections, as expected, unrecognised by no one.
But Pashinyan again demonstrated his diffidence and inferiority. Having been under repeated diplomatic attacks of the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, the Armenian prime minister is trying to save his local political authority by demonstrating impudence on the Karabakh front. Once he sent his son to serve in the occupied lands of Azerbaijan, then he was noticed dancing in Shusha, and now he attended the inauguration of his protege, who announced his intention to move the illegitimate parliament to Shusha.
Pashinyan is well aware that any sudden movements in the Karabakh direction are counterproductive because of the ongoing peace negotiations. Apparently, the leader of ‘street democracy’ is trying to extend the status quo. However, the revolutionary authorities of Armenia will fail in fooling the world community for a long time. Firstly because the ambiguous foreign policy of the new Armenian authorities created an unfavourable atmosphere in and around Yerevan. Secondly, the world cannot adjust its approach to the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict every time someone comes to power in Yerevan. It is no coincidence that the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov broke the silence in the controversy over Karabakh by openly declaring the current agenda of discussions today.
Mr. Lavrov called the current format of the Karabakh settlement useful and recalled that there are Madrid agreements and documents prepared by the Russian side in 2010-2011, the so-called Kazan principles and projects, which were presented a year ago in Moscow at a meeting of the foreign ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia.
“These documents suggest moving towards a settlement based on a step-by-step approach, assuming at the first stage the solution of the most pressing problems, the liberation of several areas around Nagorno-Karabakh and the unblocking of transport, economic, and other communications. So, I believe that when we decide to sign these documents, it will be the first step in implementing the UN Security Council resolutions that demanded to stop the war and start negotiating. Now we need to agree, and this is exactly what we seek as co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group,” Mr. Lavrov said.
Remarkably, neither the other two co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (US and France), nor Azerbaijan refuted Lavrov’s statement. Only the Armenians objected, because now they know that they cannot fool the Armenian society any more. During the two years of premiership, the Pashinyan team failed to present anything new to Armenians, but vague promises of a happy future and combating with its predecessors. The COVID-19 crisis only exacerbated the situation. Yerevan’s only resort in domestic politics is Karabakh, which it cannot leave so quickly.
Therefore, it is not surprising that Pashinyan immediately denied that a phased settlement plan was actually on the negotiating table, involving the liberation of Azerbaijani territories adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh at the initial stage. According to Pashinyan, no new document has been proposed to resolve the Karabakh conflict since the “velvet revolution” in Armenia. He claims that initially, when he just came to power, the question was whether Yerevan would continue negotiations from the point where Serzh Sargsyan left them. “We said no, and that the legacy left by Sargsyan was unacceptable to us. No one should try to confine us,” Sputnik Armenia quotes Pashinyan. In other words, according to Pashinyan, the old document is unacceptable for Armenia.
Pashinyan is right in one thing. “There are different points of view regarding the forms, packages or stages of the settlement,” he says. But for some reason, all other parties to the conflict agree on all approaches to the stages of the settlement but Yerevan.
In this context, the statement made by the Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan was also interesting. “The territories that Mr. Lavrov referred to in his statement, among other things, are a security zone and a line of defence [for Armenia]. No one can assume that this can be revised and the security of the people of Karabakh can be questioned, that someone can make concessions and jeopardize security,” Mnatsakanyan said categorically.
At the same time, three weeks later, Mnatsakanyan called on Azerbaijan to abandon its maximalist positions in order to reach a compromise. It is worth considering where the head of the Armenian Foreign Ministry made two conflicting statements. During a press conference in Yerevan, he said that “there have never been and will not be concessions”, while during the online meeting of the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers on May 12, he called on Azerbaijan to abandon its allegedly maximalist position. In short, there is an attempt by the Armenian authorities to fool both the internal and external audiences. As political scientist Stepan Danielyan noted, “Pashinyan tells [Russia] one thing, and another thing to other people.”
The Armenian expert community considers Lavrov’s revelations and the subsequent statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry as pressure on the pro-Western authorities of Armenia. However, the only pressing element here might be the frankness of the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Lavrov could not misinterpret the essence of the issue, and this was confirmed in the response of the Russian Foreign Ministry to Mnatsakanyan. “The return of territories located around Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh by the will of the population are among the elements of the settlement process,” the Russian Foreign Ministry commented.
Obviously, the intensification of international mediators gives us some hope that the settlement process can be moved off the ground. But Azerbaijan should not be very hopeful and have an illusion that Karabakh will be returned to it easily. Power in Armenia may change, but the essence of the regime remains the same.
The Kremlin’s attitude towards Pashinyan and his team is negative, but Russia and other co-chairing states still have their own geopolitical interests. Therefore, Baku will continue to follow its own path, building up its military power in parallel with diplomatic efforts. Hence the hysteria building up in Yerevan and the Western pro-Armenian circles just before the large-scale military exercises initiated by Azerbaijan in May.
Given the cost that the Armenian people had to pay for the occupation policies of its leaders, it is unlikely that any regime in Armenia takes the liberty of offering so-called ‘concessions’ to its society, or rather, the return of the occupied territories back to Azerbaijan. At the same time, Armenian authorities know that sooner or later they will have to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions on the immediate, full and unconditional release of the occupied lands of Azerbaijan. Otherwise, these lands will be returned through international mediators or by Azerbaijan itself.