Author: Tunzala GASIMOVA
The knowledgeable people believe that not only official documents and loud statements may be a source of political information. Even the details of cloths, and the nuances of the protocol sometimes may be equally meaningful. One could easily catch the mood of the former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright before negotiations by the brooches on her jacket. Western journalists working in Moscow would closely follow the order in which the Kremlin bosses lined up on the podium of the Lenin Mausoleum on May 1 and November 7.
A little historical remark first. On September 2, 1991, Armenian deputies of the regional council of the now defunct Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and the regional council of the then Shaumyan district of Azerbaijan announced the founding of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. For thirty years, no one, including Armenia itself, has recognised this self-proclaimed republic. Yet every year on September 2, they would organise flashy celebrations with a parade, presentation of awards and obligatory visits of the top leadership of Armenia.
This time we again have an anniversary on the calendar. Yerevan made a series of very loud and furious statements. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan assured that Armenia did not consider the conflict resolved and would defend the right to self-determination for the people of Artsakh at all international platforms. Armenian President Armen Sarkissian said with the same pathos: “Issues related to ensuring the independence of Artsakh, and the inviolability of life of the local population, continued threats of Azerbaijan to start a new war, the status of Artsakh, resolution of socio-economic and humanitarian issues are the priorities of the national agenda. We no longer have the right to be mistaken in any common Armenian issue.” But, as expected, he remained silent about the catastrophic mistake once made in 1988, when Armenia put forward territorial claims to Azerbaijani Garabagh. Armenian Foreign Ministry declared: “Armenia will consistently continue to defend the right of the people of Artsakh to self-determination, the right to live and develop in their historical homeland as a basis for a just settlement of the conflict and the establishment of peace in the region. The people of Artsakh continue to face an existential threat that makes it impossible for them to be part of Azerbaijan.”
These statements were quite enough for a tough response from Azerbaijan to demonstrate once again Yerevan's inability to hold negotiatiations. But it was no longer possible – and will not be – to instil at least some optimism in the Armenian audience.
Gloomy nuances of the protocol
There was no parade in Khankendi, no grand celebrations either. It all started and ended with a visit to a local cemetery and laying flowers in memory of those killed in the First Garabagh War, the April 2016 battles and the Second Garabagh War. And most importantly, for the first time in the past 30 years, representatives of the top leadership of Armenia have not shown up during at the ceremony. Nikol Pashinyan prudently took a vacation and, according to some sources, went to Sochi. Hardly because his relations with the local elite are strained and the deputies from Pashinyan's Civil Agreement were stoned in Khankendi. There was not even a slightest possibility to drive through the Lachin Corridor. Especially after Azerbaijan's sharp protest over the visit to Khankendi of the former Armenian Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan.
Parade? After the signing of the surrender statement by Armenia, which clearly stipulates the mandatory withdrawal of all Armenian military from the zone of action of the peacekeepers? No way. There was no solemn meeting of local deputies either. Finally, no representatives of the Russian peacekeeping contingent were noticed taking part in the laying of wreaths ceremony either.
It’s only fair to say that the peacekeepers' command has never took part in any official events of the separatists. But in February 2021, at a dismal rally in honour of the next anniversary of the Garabagh movement, a priest in an army jacket with peacekeeping stripes was noticed at the ceremony. However, after a tough reaction from Azerbaijan, the priest was promptly removed from Khankendi. Not to mention that amid the ongoing search for the bodies of dead Armenian soldiers, it would better to refrain from gaudy celebrations.
Contours of defeat
Today it is arguable whether the separatist regime in Garabagh had at least a theoretical chance of recognition. Armenian authorities have regularly demonstrated their readiness to do so, but it has never materialised.
Let us recall again the well-known interview of Zhirayr Libaridian for the BBC. This historian and retired diplomat voiced what many in Armenia did not dare to say aloud: “International community has told us repeatedly since the armistice that it would not recognise the independence of Garabagh. In theory, they could do it if Azerbaijan would agree. But in general, Russia, Turkey, Iran, the United States, and France have offered solutions based on the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. It was clear. They've told us this for the past thirty years. Secondly, no one in the world expected that we would hold these seven districts. They always expected that they would be returned [to Azerbaijan] under certain conditions.” In other words, separatists in Khankendi had no chance of recognition, absolutely.
In the course of discussions under the OSCE Minsk Group and the proposals made during the dialogue, there was still room for bargaining on the principle of ‘territories in exchange for the status of Garabagh’, be it ‘intermediate’, ‘permanent’, etc. But the Armenian side simply missed the chances for this political bargain. As soon as the Azerbaijani army liberated not only the areas surrounding the former NKAO, but also Shusha and Hadrut, the odds of bargaining were reduced to zero. Baku constantly emphasises that the issue of the status of Garabagh is closed and will not be reanimated. And the worst thing for the separatists is that there is no official negotiating platform, where the issue of status could be discussed, including the Minsk Group. The issue of status as a topic for negotiations is not indicated in any of the post-war statements.
There is also what the famous former co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group from Russia Vladimir Kazimirov called ‘voting by bullets’. Armenian political elite was not just drunk with the results of the hostilities in the early 1990s. Occupation of Azerbaijani lands for more than twenty five years and the absence of real pressure on Yerevan were thought to be the best argument in the chain of estimates such as “there is no way around”, “sooner or later they will recognise [Artsakh]; it’s important to stay firm today”, and “if necessary, we will capture something else”. Armenians could not have dreamed of what happened last autumn even in the worst-case scenario.
Now, after the defeat in the 44-day war, it is not just about the absence of the usual celebrations. What is happening and not happening in Khankendi are no longer nuances of the protocol. These are, if you will, visible signs that the Miatsum project is over; even though it’s not been officially announced. On the other hand, the scale of Armenia’s political and diplomatic defeat in the 44-day war, becomes clear to the residents of both Yerevan and Khankendi only now.