21 May 2022

Saturday, 22:11


Why Armenia repeatedly raises the long closed issue of status for Garabagh



Focal point of diplomatic efforts on the Garabagh settlement is Moscow again, where the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Russian President Vladimir Putin held negotiations on January 11. The joint statement of leaders focuses on the issue of unblocking communications and a specific road map of actions. Similar to the November 10 statement, it does not include a word about the status of Garabagh, which proves again the words of President Aliyev, who said that the issue of status is a thing of the past.

Nevertheless, Nikol Pashinyan tried to revive the issue at the last Moscow meeting: “Unfortunately, the conflict remains unresolved. We have certainly managed to secure a ceasefire, but there are still many issues that must be resolved. One of these issues is the status of Daghlig Garabagh. Armenia is ready to continue negotiations within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group, in particular, on the issue of determining the status of the region.”

What does it mean? What is really going on with the status of Garabagh?


Legal ground of Azerbaijan...

In general, the desire of Armenians to keep the issue of status live is quite understandable. Until September 2020, they have strongly believed that they had won the war, and they could formalise the status of Garabagh on paper later. Now they understand that "voting with bullets" without legal confirmation was not a good thing, and the issue of status is hopelessly over.

Let's start with the legal and diplomatic grounds of the issue. According to international law and the recognised borders of Azerbaijan, Garabagh is a territory of Azerbaijan. Neither the international law, nor the resolutions of the UN Security Council mention any other status for this region. President of Azerbaijan has been categorical on this issue. During his recent trip to the liberated Shusha, he mentioned Armenia’s previous plans to move here the parliament of the illegal regime created in the occupied Azerbaijan territory. “The notorious regime announced that it would move the parliament of the so called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to Shusha. It was yet another attempt to Armenianise Shusha. They have even begun the construction of the building for the parliament. But they did not have time. We, the owners of this land, came and pushed them out, making their dirty intentions fail. To hell with both the parliament and the status of Garabagh. Garabagh is Azerbaijan!", Ilham Aliyev said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Russian President's spokesman Dmitry Peskov have repeatedly mentioned that Garabagh was the territory of Azerbaijan.

Yerevan's attempts to use the Minsk Group to revive the issue of status are also in vain. After the victory of Azerbaijan, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs visited the region, but their final statement did not include a word on the status of Garabagh, let alone the statement of the Russian President Vladimir Putin, who underlined that Russia is acting in clear coordination with other co-chairs.

It is clear that the status of Garabagh is not a subject of negotiations today. Trilateral statements signed on November 10 and January 11 clearly confirm this fact: the status of Daghlig Garabakh is no longer a subject of negotiations, in any form. There is also a significant difference between the statements of Pashinyan, Ayvazyan, etc., on the one hand, and the agenda of negotiations, on the other hand. Discussion of the issue assumes, at least, the consent of someone else to talk about it. But the ‘problem’ is Azerbaijan considers the issue of status closed once and forever.

In other words, no matter how often during the last hundred years the Armenian leaders have raised the issue of the status of Garabagh, the six vilayets of Eastern Anatolia, which they were going to turn into Western Armenia, Lake Van or something else, their statements in no way help return Garabagh to the agenda of the talks.


... Armenian plans on status...

How can one explain the persistence of Yerevan in the issue of the status of Garabagh? It is unlikely that they simply do not understand the ongoing development in the diplomatic arena. The stubbornness of Armenian politicians has a completely different explanation. For obvious reasons, the status of Garabagh is a key issue for them. One can, of course, dismiss their statements, saying that they target the internal audience only to convince the nationals of Armenia that not everything is lost yet. But let's be realistic: if both the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Armenia make statements about the ‘unresolved status of Garabagh’, it means that Armenia does not consider the conflict resolved, still counting on revenge. But what kind of status does Armenia demand for Garabagh? According to the interview of the veteran Armenian diplomat Zhirayr Liparityan with BBC, “since the ceasefire, the international community has told us that it would not recognise the independence of Garabakh. In theory, they could do it if Azerbaijan did it. But in general, Russia, Turkey, Iran, the US and France proposed options based on the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. It was clear. They've been telling us this for the last 30 years." In other words, Armenia could only hope for the autonomy of Garabagh. But this would mean a defeat for Yerevan, because Garabagh already had autonomy within Azerbaijan. Had everything returned to the start point, it would not be the best option for Armenian politicians. In other words, they don't agree to anything less than independence for Garabagh.

Moreover, Armenians view the issue of status in parallel with the issue of territory. Armenian Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan has made statements about the "de-occupation of Artsakh." Translation of this phrase from the Yerevan political slang should mean a new occupation of the Azerbaijani lands liberated during the 44-day war. There is also no clarity about the territories they claim. Armenian invaders had even given ugly names to Azerbaijani cities outside the former NKAO. Thus, Aghdam was renamed to Akna, Fuzuli to Varanda, Kalbajar to Karvachar. They had even managed to include the map of Armenia showing the occupied Azerbaijani lands in the bulletin of the Eurasian Economic Commission.


... And the cost of defeat

All these dangerous plans are voiced to create nothing else but a demonstrative effect. No international organisation or country, including Armenia, has any legal grounds to demand from Azerbaijan something more than cultural autonomy, that is, schools, newspapers, churches, etc. Yerevan believed it could speculate on the liberation of seven districts adjacent to the former NKAO in return for guarantees on the status of Garabagh. But, firstly, Azerbaijan would not agree to the independence of Garabagh anyway. Secondly, Armenia had not shown any intention to withdraw from these districts.

According to experts, Armenia has nothing to bargain with now. Until September 2020, they have counted on military pressure. But now experts are rather evasive in answering the question of whether Armenia has an army after the recent defeat in Garabagh. Anyway, Armenia cannot threaten Azerbaijan with a military club using the ‘if you don’t agree, we will seize something else’ mantra any more.

At the same time, Armenia should take into account the post-war economic realities.

War has always been an expensive game, especially in the modern world. Armenia needs to patch its military gaps, to equip borders, to ensure social security to the families of the victims and disabled soldiers. In addition, Armenia lost a huge budget support from the robbery of the occupied Azerbaijani lands, although the Armenian economy had not been in good shape even before the 44-day war. Yet Nikol Pashinyan and his team are hopelessly trying to improve the economic statistics, whilst the country is on the brink of a socio-economic disaster.

Karen Chilingaryan, chairman of NGO Consumer Consulting Center, had to admit that prices for sunflower oil, flour, bread and sugar have risen by 30-40% in Armenia before the New Year. “Prices for citrus products have also increased. One of the reasons is the devaluation of the dram. To compensate for the rising price of flour, bread manufacturers lowered the weight of bread,” Chilingaryan said. Although the citrus fruit is still a delicacy and one can sarcastically note that it is possible to live without grapefruit and lime, but flour, bread and sugar are serious items to consider.

Former Prime Minister of Armenia Hrant Bagratyan voiced a frightening forecast: “We may face famine in March, April, May. I don't see anything good yet." He has grounded his forecast with the loss of “thousands of hectares of arable land, pastures, and wheat fields in Garabagh”, albeit more serious economic problems in the country.

Unblocking communications, economic reintegration and normal relations with neighbours, which also implies investments in Armenian economy, could help Yerevan to get out of the crisis. But if it continues to insist on the issue of status of Garabagh, it means a new round of confrontation. This is a situation where Armenia has no means to counter. This also means that this time the cost of defeat will be even higher and worse.