Karabakh War Ends with Collapse of Dreams

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Armenians woke up Tuesday with heavy hearts to see in the glare of the new day the nightmarish scenario in Nagorno Karabakh.

Had the outcome had been positive, the spilled blood and the young lives lost in 44 days of heroic battles would have been justified and not hurt as much. Instead, the tripartite peace deal signed on November 10, 2020 will become a disgraceful epitaph on the tombstones of those fallen heroes.

This calamity was long in coming. When the Velvet Revolution took place in 2018, it had an attractive single-subject goal of getting rid of corruption. That caught the imagination of the masses, particularly when the revolution’s leader, Nikol Pashinyan, assured the public that he did not have a foreign policy agenda; and that relations with friendly nations would be kept intact. But when the members of My Step party packed the ministerial positions and parliament, events took on a different direction. People in parliament such as Daniel Ioannisyan, Arman Babajanyan and Alen Simonyan, just to mention a few, began engaging in anti-Russian rhetoric. They demanded that Moscow talk to Yerevan on an equal footing, as if Yerevan’s political clout matched that of Moscow.

This shift in policy certainly upset the Kremlin, which grudgingly watched insults being hurled at its friends in Armenia, like former President Robert Kocharyan and Gen. Yuri Khachaturov. The sacking and incarceration of the latter, in particular, was shocking as he held the prestigious position of secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. That move was disastrous politically, and cost Armenia dearly.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey immediately saw the increasing alienation between Armenian and Russia. Armenians underestimate Erdogan’s political and diplomatic acumen at their own peril.

It was easy for Turkey to conclude that because of the deepening rift between the two formerly close allies, Moscow would not go the extra mile to protect Armenia.

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Moscow telegraphed many signs of its displeasure, but if the Armenian government read them correctly, they turned a blind eye.

The developments encouraged Turkey to lay out its war plans. Armenians ignored the warning signs. They matched Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev’s maximalist demands, wanting everything and conceding nothing, with their own maximalist stance.

Today it is Monday morning quarterbacking to state that the seven regions outside Karabakh, in Azerbaijan proper, occupied by the Armenian forces as an insurance policy, could have been surrendered with dignity rather than waiting for today to sign an unconditional, undignified surrender.

At an earlier time, concessions could have been made against the guarantees that the territories ceded would be kept demilitarized. Today, Armenia and Artsakh have no room to make such demands.

This column had detected early on a consistent pattern in the political interaction and power play of Russo-Turkish relations and had predicated that the pattern may also extend to the Caucasus; in that pattern, Turkey, in its aggressive posture, creates facts on the ground and Russia eventually acquiesces. That happened in Syria, Libya and today it is happening in Artsakh. Russia has been testing Turkey on all these fronts but it will always avoid getting entangled in a full-scale war, because that will mean standing up to the entire NATO alliance.

Erdogan can jail as many journalists as he wishes, murder as many opponents as he desires and bully his neighbors. He will only get a slap on the wrist from the Western allies, as long as he complies with the global agenda of the West to contain Russia. All rhetoric on human rights, democracy and justice will evaporate and Erdogan is well aware of the fact and he designs his policies accordingly.

This time around, Turkey’s foray in the Caucasus proved to be partially successful. First, Ankara sought to have a voice alongside the co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, in the settlement of the Karabakh issue, but it was rebuked. Then, it appealed to Moscow to bypass the OSCE format and cut a deal between the two capitals. That proposal also failed.

Armenia confronted a situation similar to that of today during 1992-1993, when Prime Minister Levon Ter-Petrosyan adopted the policy of the “third-party option,” which meant that Armenia could opt to ally itself with Turkey, abandoning Russia. At that time, Moscow had helped Azerbaijan to conquer two-thirds of Karabakh. Armenia changed course, after suffering 6,000 casualties. Following course correction, Russia helped Armenia to conquer back Karabakh proper and seven additional regions for security. That is how the favorable agreement of the ceasefire of May 1994 was achieved and held until the present war. This time around, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was indifferent to Moscow’s calls. That is why Armenia was forced to accept this debacle.

Moscow realized that Azerbaijan was slipping through its fingers and tilting towards Turkey. It therefore decided to cut a deal with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, at the expense of the Armenians, especially since the latter had also rendered themselves politically dispensable for Moscow.

In the document signed on November 10, there is no mention of Turkish peacekeeping forces in Karabakh alongside Russian ones. Aliyev has claimed that Turkey is also party to the peacekeeping regime but has shown no evidence for it.

The Russians have appeased the Turkish-Azerbaijani tandem at the expense of Armenia, very much like they did in signing the Treaty of Kars in October 1921, finalizing Armenia’s border with Turkey. At that time, Moscow ceded Armenia’s territory to Turkey as a result of friendship with Ataturk.

It pains every Armenian to read the entire text of the agreement because that document signifies a surrender of historic proportions. It can be compared with the fall of the Ani, the capital of medieval Armenia, to the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, the surrender of the Fortress of Kars in February 1918 and the gifting of Cilicia by France to Ataturk in 1921. On all three occasions, Armenians could only swallow the bitter pill.

The document signed on November 10 gives away to Azerbaijan all that it had wanted and more, including a strategic corridor through Meghri to connect Azerbaijan with the exclave of Nakhichevan. What is left of Karabakh is 2,500 square kilometers of territory, almost half the size of the original. What is more agonizing is that there is no mention even of the status of the enclave.

Silence on the issue of the status means that it will come under bloody Azerbaijani rule and Baku will bestow on it what it calls the “highest level of autonomy.”

After 30 years of proud independence, which Armenian will be naïve enough to live under Azerbaijani rule? The ghosts of Sumgait and Baku are still alive and well for Armenians who have lived under Azerbaijani rule.

Today, the major question is who will be in charge of damage control in Armenia, with the spillover problem from Karabakh into Armenia proper.

Pashinyan has stated that before signing the conditional capitulation, he had consulted the relevant parties, while President Armen Sarkissian issued a statement to indicate that he was informed of the peace treaty through the media. Even Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan confessed that he was unaware of the deal.

Now, acrimonious barbs are being traded in Armenia. An unruly crowd invaded the prime minister’s office and ransacked it. Another mob moved to the parliament, causing damage. One could hear incoherent slogans, with some blaming Pashinyan, and others blaming the old regime for creating an uncontrollable and volatile situation. The fact that the Speaker of Parliament Ararat Mirzoyan, who is one of the architects of the Velvet Revolution, was sent to the hospital, speaks to how much velvet is left of the 2018 revolution.

There are calls for Pashinyan’s resignation and forming a transitional coalition government, but members of the parliament cannot enter the building to hold a session.

Five members of Pashinyan’s My Step party have resigned from their seats, fearing to meet Mirzoyan’s fate.

A dangerous situation has been created; not only Karabakh has been lost, but it looks like Armenia’s fate is also damaged beyond repair.

As the Karabakh defense army is being evacuated from Shushi to be replaced by peacekeeping forces, groups of soldiers have refused to obey orders and have vowed to remain in their positions. This is reminiscent of a historic precedent, when the Bolsheviks were taking over Armenia in 1920 and intended to cede Syunik to Azerbaijan. Garegin Nzhdeh refused to abandon his post and that is how the region remained an integral part of Armenia.

When Pashinyan came to power, he promised to the people that any agreement he would sign would be subject to the will of the people. He stated that he would invite them to the main square in Yerevan and seek their consent.

The crowds have been inundating the square, but Pashinyan is nowhere in sight.

 

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