The Velvet Revolution Creeps into Karabakh


A nightmarish scenario is unfolding in Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh): while David Babayan, a spokesperson for the president of the republic warns of “concentrations of Azerbaijani Army units where they were not supposed to enter,” former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosian warns that whatever happened in Armenia must not happen in Artsakh.

What triggered this entire scenario was a scuffle on June 1, in Stepanakert, between some civilians and members of security forces. As a result, 15 people were hospitalized.

The true nature of this fight remains a mystery because a street brawl could not have resulted in political protests, demands for the resignation of the leader of the security forces, and indeed some resignations have taken effect, leading analysts to believe that the incident was not a street fight but rather a plot to destabilize Artsakh, while the enemy is at the gate.

First to resign was Arayik Harutyunyan, the state minister, who announced at his resignation that other high officials will follow suit. And that prediction proved to be true when the next wave of resignations followed through with Chief of Police Kamo Aghajanyan and the head of the National Security Service Arshavir Garamyan.

Harutyunyan, who was replaced by Grigory Martirosyan, attributed his resignation to a “new phase of reforms,” which Artsakh President Bako Sahakyan was planning to implement. The protestors had not asked for Harutyunyan’s resignation; they were demanding the heads of the police division.

Under the tenuous situation created, all eyes were directed towards Armenia’s new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, whose magic words had proven to be very effective in controlling crowd situations from getting out of hand. And Pashinyan, indeed, called for calm and the demonstrators were dispersed. But his call was enigmatic, if not conditional; he stated that he had been in constant watch of the situation in Artsakh and that President Sahakyan had promised to him to take immediate action in addressing the situation and bringing to justice the parties responsible who had instigated the incident. He concluded in his statement that the ball was in the court of Stepanakert and that if the authorities did not take immediate action, the people were entitled to go back to the protest lines.

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Bako Sahakyan seemed to be in control of the situation and he came up with his own announcement, which in part, said, “There are no developments here that could be defined as a political crisis, as some would lead you to believe.”

Some similarities may be detected between Moscow’s position vis-à-vis the Velvet Revolution in Armenia and Yerevan’s position with regards to the situation in Artsakh. They both assumed a wait-and-see attitude assuming a kind of controlled and dispassionate approach.

There are some differences in the case of Armenia this spring and the events in Artsakh. In Armenia, the Velvet Revolution moved from the bottom up, but in Karabakh, it was from top to bottom.

Recent news informs us that some protestors are back in the streets demanding the president’s resignation. And indeed, in an interview this week, Sahakyan indicated that he will not seek reelection once his term is up. These actions discredit what Artsakh has achieved in terms of good governance. The protestors claim that the republic’s constitution is flawed, that the elections have been conducted under fraudulent conditions and that the leaders do not enjoy legitimacy.

These are accusations that only Azeris would make.

Thus far, Artsakh has gained respectability, if not recognition, through holding model democratic and transparent elections, closer to the standards in the West rather than Armenia.  These demonstrators are not concerned about destroying that image and are playing into the hands of the enemy.

During my recent visit to Armenia, I found many people speculating about the future and offering their views of the evolving events in the tiny enclave. Some there believe that because of the deteriorating regional and international situation, pressure on Armenia was forthcoming to cede territory to Azerbaijan, and Serzh Sargsyan did not wish to shoulder that responsibility and opted out.

As much as Armenians pride themselves with their hard-won victory in Karabakh, there is an undercurrent of resentment towards Artsakh. Sometimes people blame the Karabakh conflict for their problems in terms of policy and economy. But one major argument is that mothers in Armenia send their sons to defend Karabakh but people in Karabakh, especially at the leadership level, look for a place in the sun in Armenia. And that view is corroborated by positions held in Armenia’s leadership by Robert Kocharyan, Serzh Sargsyan, Arkadi Ghoukasyan, Gen. Seyran Ohanyan and others. No one would publicly articulate that undercurrent, but former President Ter-Petrosian did and even politicized the issue.

Nikol Pashinyan has been Ter-Petrosian’s political disciple all along the struggle to topple the Republican Party stranglehold ion the top echelons. Ter-Petrosian had even devised a term for that action: to deconstruct the Kleptocracy (gazmakantel).

Today, Pashinyan has put forth the notion that Artsakh must be a party to the negotiations. Actually, it has been a party in the past. Even the cease-fire was signed between Baku and Stepanakert in 1994. But in the process, Artsakh was dropped out of the process.

Now people have been asking whether Pashinyan is promoting or abandoning Karabakh to its own devices.

Whatever the policy or the motives, it is not the time to stray from the course.

The regional situation is indeed deteriorating with the US and Israel further isolating Iran, on the one hand and on the other hand tightening sanctions around Russia, two countries that are strategic allies for Armenia and on which the country’s economy and security depend.

External actions can destroy Armenia, but internal issues and destability may exacerbate that process.

Throughout Armenia’s history, our statehood has been destroyed by foreign enemies to whom internal dissenting forces have contributed. Beginning with Tigran II’s empire, which fell to Rome partly because of the betrayal of his son, and the Kingdom of Ani which fell and Vest Sarkis had something to do with it. The Cilician Kingdom fell to the Mamelukes and the internecine squabbles of the princes contributed to its internal weakness. We blame the loss of our first republic on the Soviet-Turkish collusion, but internal score-settling had also a role in the demise of the republic.

Today, history has offered a golden opportunity to Armenia and Artsakh to survive. With the victory of the Velvet Revolution, Armenians have all the more reason to be circumspect, to look back on the lessons of history and preserve the velvet quality of the revolution, both in Armenia and Artsakh.




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