27 November 2022

Sunday, 21:58

GARABAGH: THE DECISION POINT

Will Nikol Pashinian have political will to finalise post-conflict settlement?

Author:

15.06.2022

Negotiations 2.0 is probably the most accurate description of the current phase of the Garabagh diplomacy. A year and a half after the war, the centre of gravity has once again shifted to the diplomatic sphere. The two main centres of mediation, Moscow and Brussels, emphasise that they receive positive signals from both the Caucasian capitals, Baku and Yerevan. Even the most general view leaves no doubt that it is Azerbaijan that now defines the negotiation agenda.

 

What did Lavrov say?

The visit of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Yerevan on June 9 provides some food for thought. During a joint press conference with his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan Mr. Lavrov said: “I believe that there is no other way to normalise relations. The peace treaty is based on the proposals, which were presented by Azerbaijan. In response, Armenia contributed its own vision. There are two documents and a process, in which we are ready to take part as a mediator". As for specifics, Mr. Lavrov said that the trilateral commission on the unblocking of communications and delimitation of borders has also moved forward. This further proves that the talks indeed follow along the Azerbaijani agenda: delimitation and demarcation of the border, which automatically implies the recognition of borders, unblocking of communications, primarily between the mainland Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, and no indication of the "status of Garabagh". Lavrov's phrase that there is no other way but a complete peace treaty was a cold shower for Yerevan, which refuses to recognise that the conflict is over.

For Yerevan, Lavrov’s statements mean complete frustration. Moreover, Mr. Lavrov responded very evasively to questions from Armenian journalists about the events near the Farrukh village in March 2022. He did not indicate any willingness of Russia to accuse Azerbaijan of anything, or to return these heights and the village to the control of peacekeepers or illegal Armenian military groups. Obviously, Yerevan’s aspirations to play upon the competition between the mediators and Moscow's jealous attitude have been in vain. All that remains is to rally in the streets of Yerevan with ill-mouthed statements and posters against Putin and Lavrov.

Will this cold shower help to advance the post-conflict settlement process? Will Pashinian have the resolve and political will to continue the process?

 

Protests in Yerevan and a dirty trick in Khankendi

Again, we should take into account the internal political situation in Armenia with the ongoing protests. Protesters have yet to make efforts to take the critical mass of supporters to streets. Leaders of the opposition factions Armenia (Robert Kocharian) and I Have Honour (Artur Vanetsyan and former members of the Republican Party) also failed to arrange a meeting with the speaker of the Russian State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin during his recent visit to Yerevan for the CSTO Parliament Assembly meeting.

Neither can the protests be ignored. After all, Yerevan cannot remain indifferent to a possible scenario of support to the protests led by the Garabagh Clan in Khankendi, where they are organising rallies, albeit cautiously. Most importantly, there are still militant groups in the city. Baku rightly considers them a threat, though they may pose more danger to Nikol Pashinyan. After all, Araik Harutyunyan's inner circle is well aware that the process of post-conflict settlement will put an end to their structures too. Yes, Azerbaijan guarantees the rights and security of its Armenian citizens, but this does not mean guarantees of impunity for Arayik Harutyunyan, Artak Beghlaryan and others. So there may well be those who would be happy to trip up not only Brussels and Moscow, but also Nikol Pashinyan.

 

Compromise not persist

Frankly, the Armenian authorities are in a rather ambiguous position. They are not yet ready to sign documents that would put an end to the plans on Miatsum, stop the conflict, guarantee the recognition of borders and the renunciation of territorial claims against Azerbaijan. Moreover, right after the 44-day war there still were hopes in the Armenian society and even within the Armenian leadership for a restart of separatism in the peacekeeping zone. But now they realise the conditions under which Armenia will have to come to terms with Azerbaijan.

Remarkably, when the special envoy Edmond Maroukian recently arrived in Garabagh, he was met by a group of protesters demanding from him a statement that ‘Artsakh will not be part of Azerbaijan’. But they failed to get what they wanted. Telegram channels close to Pashinian have already commented on the issue: "What do you mean by ‘can you say?’ You think it would be difficult to say this? If it were difficult or dangerous for you personally, you wouldn't be shouting! What if Maroukian said that indeed? But you’d better record the faces of those who demand him to do so first, and warn them that they will be personally responsible for the consequences of their demands and won’t be able to escape from Artsakh to their apartments in Yerevan or beyond!" Apparently, they begin to realise in Yerevan that the days when they could make pompous statements like ‘Garabagh is Armenia, full stop’ are over, and they do not want to repeat the previous experience. But provocative trips of the Armenian Prosecutor-General Artur Davtyan and Manoukian to Khankendi leave no doubt: Armenia is still not ready for real peace. Armenian authorities are still thrashing around two stools trying not to give any reason for accusations of disrupting the dialogue, and not to join real talks either.

 

Déjà vu vs. reality

There is another aspect of this issue, somewhere between diplomacy and public psychology. The analysis of the current situation leaves small room for optimism due to the dismal historical experience primarily experienced by Azerbaijan. We still remember the grief consequences of the talks that spanned more than twenty-five years amid a ceasefire up until the outbreak of the 44-day war. True, the optimistic statements of mediators should have been interpreted as an announcement of the imminent advancement in the post-conflict settlement process. But so were the statements made during the first diplomatic phase of the conflict, when the mediators of the late OSCE Minsk Group would frequently use terms such as ‘progress’, ‘successes in negotiations’, ‘convergence of positions’ and so on. But we could not see the main thing—the withdrawal of Armenian troops and a change in the status quo. As it turned out, the sceptics were right.

The new phase of negotiations is again kept confidential. As with any political fortune-telling, there is a risk of getting exactly what one wants or fears the most. This includes the answer to the following question: "Is there a real progress in the negotiations, or is it a war story for yet another thirty years?"

Parallels with the first negotiation phase are very tentative. Azerbaijan has solved its most painful issue—the liberation of territories previously occupied by Armenia. Baku has also repeatedly demonstrated it is potential to delimit its borders unilaterally. Nor should we overestimate the possibility of ‘mothballing’ the situation in Garabagh: contrary to previous experience, the agreement on the deployment of peacekeepers is definite. There are economic realities as well, which imply that the protracted isolation and closed borders are too expensive for Armenia. This also means that Pashinian will sooner or later have to complete the process of diplomatic surrender. And it is better to do it sooner than later.



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