By Philippe Raffi Kalfayan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

The spectacle we have been witnessing in Armenia is a collective suicide. It is shameful and something that insults our intelligence and dignity. The risk of losing an independent state is real, and everything continues as if nothing had happened: 5,000 dead, 10,000 injured. A generation sacrificed. Fear and fatalism are the order of the day.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s stubborn determination to cling to power is paralyzing the country. His sole argument for staying in power rests on the threat of former presidents returning to power, especially his archnemesis, Robert Kocharyan.

No words are spoken about the gross mistakes that have brought us to this point; all the current and former leaders have demonstrated the same difficulty for assuming responsibility for their mistakes.

I have been silent since my last interview with the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, in which I argued that every day that passes without a change in governance and diplomacy will cause irreversible damage to the Karabakh issue and to the territorial integrity of Armenia ( Yet nothing has changed, except Azerbaijan’s nibbling at Armenian territories. There is no lack of analysts — “experts” — and irrelevant polemics, but opinions are fragmented, incomplete, partisan, often directed at the past by pointing to the mistakes of actors. They don’t aim to solve the actual and dramatic political situation on domestic and foreign planes. Public exchanges on social networks between Armenians are appalling, rife with finger-pointing, bickering, slander, insults and conspiratorial accusations.

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Meanwhile, we are on the eve of a national catastrophe. The moment of truth has come.

Will the Armenian Nation be collectively able to follow the right initiatives and do everything possible to prevent the repetition of mistakes made in the management of the crises it faced at the beginning of the 20th century? The immensity of the loss of a sovereign state would be irreversible for Armenians, because it can easily lose its population in an established and wealthy diaspora. The systematic emigration from Armenia since the early 1990s has accelerated and the refusal to send one’s sons to fight for the homeland is a dominant attitude among the elites: adolescents of conscription age are sent abroad. At the same time, the new Armenian expatriates are doing everything to prevent their children from doing their national service in Armenia. Of course, one can hardly judge those parents’ attitudes, especially for diaspora natives. But this reality shows how Armenian society is not confident in the future, and somehow is indifferent to what could well happen. It is this fatalism which must be reversed.

Support for Pashinyan Is a Political and Moral Aberration

A diminishing portion of the population blindly supports Pashinyan. That fact is likely to partly explain the irrationality of the situation. There is no ideology or platform offered. They throw their weight built behind a political leader as compared to another leader, but not in relation to specific political or ideological programs. The opposition has failed to convince voters in that respect, and it is running on a scattershot platform in the elections. In the upcoming June elections, the number of political parties (above 100) in a country that counts 2,500,000 inhabitants is also an aberration, particularly when one knows how divided the population is. The vote for the opposition will be divided among so many that those already in power can keep their offices but even worse, there will be no chance for a fundamental debate about national issues.

No leader in any democratic country would have survived politically and morally after the crushing military defeat and its disastrous human toll such as the one Armenia saw in November. The abandonment of sovereignty underpinned by the ceasefire agreement is being verified today. It should be remembered that the latter was signed without being referred either to Parliament or to the people, while the Prime Minister had made a promise to the “people” during his famous fiery speech of August 17, 2018 on Republic Square that he would never make a decision engaging the future of the country without consulting them.

The declaration made the day after the signing of the trilateral agreement “What would you have said, how you would have reacted if I had offered to give up part of the Karabakh territories without going to war?” should have disqualified the person uttering it.

I am still amazed to observe what little reaction this comment aroused in the diaspora. The bodies of the soldiers were still laying on the battlefield, the number of dead and missing was unknown (and still is to this day), and hundreds of families were living in anguish over whether their children were alive or held as POWs. This terrible confession leads us to believe that all human losses were suffered for that reason and for personal political survival.

Armenia’s Present and Future: Statesmanship Must Prevail

A series of initiatives attest to the intellectual agility and dynamics of Armenians in rethinking the way the Armenian nation must operate (the idea of a “Network State”), and in promoting collective reflection and prioritising objectives for tomorrow (“The Future Armenian”). But as interesting as these initiatives are, they will only be useful if the Armenian state continues to exist. The “Network State” is even a disturbing concept because it suggests that a virtual state could eventually substitute for the real state. I doubt that such a concept will exist before long in the practice of international relations. It cannot prosper without keeping the Republic of Armenia alive. Finally, if such a virtual state were to exist, it would be under the influence of new political superpowers, the GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) and others, which are more powerful than the states and no less dangerous. Those new transnational trusts now impose their own power, particularly by regulating the freedom of opinion and expression with private rules.

The recent initiatives of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian have prompted me to break my silence because I consider him to be the only one to think and behave as a responsible statesman and to raise the right questions at this crucial time, however one may assess his term. He did make mistakes, like those who succeeded him, but he managed successfully to face the multiple challenges and no-less-dramatic circumstances at that time.

It is vain and useless to look for individual wrongs. There is a collective fault that has lasted for 30 years, and the diaspora is also liable for what happened. The only goal that prevails is to get out of this lethal swamp unscathed: the salvation of the Republic of Armenia.

To anticipate the inevitable comments of all those who, I am sure, will try to find some affiliation between me and Levon Ter-Petrosian, it should be said that I got to know him personally in 1989 in Paris. I was not necessarily a fan at that time, and I even openly confronted his government in the field of human rights from 1995 to 1998 because of the political persecutions taking place. But his statesmanship, discretion and pragmatism, the capability of having a strategic thinking devoid of romanticism are valuable.

He wrote many analyses about disturbing realities at the time. He was already raising the right questions (see his collection of articles Armenia’s Future, Relations with Turkey, and the Karabakh Conflict, published in 2017). It seems to me that Ter-Petrosian is indispensable today for uniting the opposing political forces of the country in order to stop the current Armenia’s ordeal and lead to a period of transition.

Unity cannot be decreed; it can only be the outcome of a compromise

In politics, nothing is ever transparent, but one cannot suspect Levon Ter-Petrosian of desiring power or intending to sacrifice national sovereignty as some outrageous journalists have claimed. He has his own realistic and pragmatic vision.

Neither Nikol Pashinyan’s grip on power nor the return of Robert Kocharyan are ways to bring Armenia out of its current state of polarization. The election of one or the other may lead the country towards civil war, or at the very least to the perpetuation of the situation and thus political paralysis. A disunited and weakened country will be easy prey for the foreign aggressor and the flow of emigration will take care of the rest.

A domestic combustion has been avoided until now, which all Armenians should take notice of and welcome. This is good news for Armenian democracy. Nevertheless, unity cannot be decreed. You don’t call it out trying to rally everyone behind you like most leaders of the opposition or the current parliamentary majority do.

It can only be achieved after exchanging views and reaching a compromise on fundamental points. The situation is more than opportune to engage in strategic debates and to create a national consensus around common objectives relative to national security and sovereignty. The refusals of Robert Kocharyan and Serge Sargsyan to make an alliance with Ter-Petrosian on the terms discussed between them are disappointing but they are not definitive. It is not excluded that an agreement be reached later in the aftermath of the June 20 elections, if those are held. However, it would have been wiser to start discussing these points today. It will be more difficult to doing it in an emergency mode under the pressure of constitutional calendar.

Political Stumbling Blocks

The points to be discussed are sensitive but fundamental. They cannot be the subject of bargaining. This is about the vision of what the Armenian state should and could be in the coming century. The question is: how do we imagine the existence and development of a viable state economically, diplomatically, and militarily when it is surrounded by almost 100 million Turks and Azeris, who practice hateful discrimination politics against Armenians and who aspire to appropriate a large part of Armenia, in addition to Karabakh? The strategic alliances, economic and demographic flows, prioritization of national causes, Armenian-Turkish relationship, and pan-Armenian model and affairs underpin this question.

Levon Ter-Petrosian has already pointed to the national objectives of candidate Robert Kocharyan and his ally ARF (Dashnak) but also to those of the Sasna Tsrer as obstacles. What is the pertinence of putting the Armenian question, in particular the international recognition of the genocide (invariable from Kocharyan through Pashinyan), and the territorial claims in the primary objectives? Are they essential to the resolution of immediate border disputes and national security issues? The pan-Armenian priority at the moment is to save Armenia’s very existence. The territorial claims on Turkey arouse scepticism. There is no request for abandoning these utopias. A Nation needs those to move forward. But one should not make them immediate objectives. The diplomatic and moral victory of the Armenians remains the physical existence of a sovereign Armenian state because it represents the best proof of the failure of the Turkish intention, which was and still remains that of the annihilation of the Armenians in this region.

Clearly, Levon Ter-Petrosian and the Kocharyan/ARF alliance must intelligently debate these issues in order to reach an agreement for national interest.

All the while, the threat of another calamitous emergency is present. How can Armenia stop Azerbaijan’s aggressive behaviour to avoid another war for which Armenia is not more ready than it was in September 2020? The best proof of this weakness is that neither Nikol Pashinyan, nor any other political leader offered strong rhetoric or go-to-war speech when Azerbaijani forces made their way to Syunik.

Changing the Negotiator Is Imperative

I insisted last December that it is unthinkable that Nikol Pashinyan should continue heading the negotiations with Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey. He can no longer be the negotiator since he is a defeated and powerless figure. On this point too, it seems to me that Levon Ter-Petrosian, teaming with the former presidents of Armenia and Karabakh, is best able to conduct these negotiations. This is the mission that he assigned himself in the justification of his attempt of rapprochement with the second and third presidents.

The risk of a resumption of war has existed since November 9. It must be remembered that Russian peacekeeping troops can withdraw at any time at the request of one of the parties (stipulation in the agreement). Meanwhile, the army leadership has been falsely accused of attempting a coup. Other institutions had expressed concern over the country’s security and demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister. As President Ter-Petrosian stated, the senior army officers who signed this declaration were expressing legitimate concern and he praised their restraint in not overstepping their constitutional boundaries.

The Foreign Ministry is weakened at a time when it is precisely what we need most. Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan is content to hold a salon and issue press releases. More fundamentally, Armenian diplomacy continues to make the same mistakes that led to the war: to stick to the Principles of the Minsk Group while the violation of the first of these Principles, namely the prohibition of the use of force, has shattered the negotiated terms of the process. That process was already a legal-diplomatic impasse ( The Troika format could possibly survive. The Minsk Group is a useful screen for Russia to legitimize its role and action in Karabakh. But maintaining the content of the agreement is absurd.

Moreover, the trilateral ceasefire agreement of November 9 has itself been violated since that date, and the incumbent government failed to act accordingly to enforce it. Any negotiations on the aftermath of the ceasefire agreement should never have started since not all prisoners of war had returned to their homes. Last week, for about 24 hours the government even denied the advance of Azeri troops on the territory of Armenia, before retracting and then presenting itself as a victim to the “international community.”

Picking Alliances

Many columnists appeal to the “international community.” It should be remembered that is an empty concept. It does not exist. United Nations experts are currently studying the subject. The Security Council is the most important organ of the United Nations, although its functioning is dependent upon the geopolitical balance of power between its 5 permanent members (USA, China, Russia, France, and Great-Britain).

The countries to whom Armenia appeals for assistance in relation to the incursion of Azerbaijani troops into Armenian territory are the three members of the Minsk Group (France, United States, and Russia).  Are they in a position to provide Armenia with assurances and guarantees of military protection?

How can we appeal to three countries which intentionally allowed Azerbaijan to take back by force the Karabakh territories occupied by Armenians in total violation of the Minsk Principles?  Let’s take a closer look at this military incursion into Syunik and Gegharkunik.

This incursion could well be an Azerbaijani scenario with the possible endorsement of Russia aimed at putting pressure on the current negotiations, testing international resolve before staging a major ground invasion, and in the event of a withdrawal, which is likely to happen at this stage, serve the re-election of Nikol Pashinyan. In fact, the Prime Minister would thus appear as the winner of this diplomatic showdown.

Several disturbing elements support this hypothesis. First of all, no shots were fired. Second, the Azerbaijani troops advanced three kilometres in Armenian territory without encountering Russian or Armenian resistance. Third, no general mobilization order has been issued in Armenia. This scenario would prevent the return to power of the “Karabakhtsis” associated with the ARF.

This unsolicited political “aid” is poisoned because Armenia would emerge even more weakened from this scenario: Pashinyan would be indebted to Aliyev or labelled as traitor.

Levon Ter-Petrosian

The American and Russian reactions are moderate. President Macron’s statements seem to exceed France’s ability to obtain what is announced. It is unthinkable that the United Nations Security Council will take a decision giving the green light to any military aid from France or from another country in the current circumstances. It may change if the situation worsens on the ground.

Besides, the Security Council would be embarrassed to pass such a resolution when it is blocked, due to the US veto, the passing of a resolution condemning Israel’s otherwise much more serious and disproportionate crimes against the Palestinian civilians.

Azerbaijan, thanks to the international tensions and the proven powerlessness of the United Nations system, is taking advantage of its military and psychological advantage and pushing its pawns. Everything can therefore be envisaged in the near future. It is unlikely that the West will intervene militarily. At best if the violation of territorial integrity continues, Armenia may hope for a UN Security Council resolution calling for the withdrawal of Azeri troops. On the ground that would not change anything. These resolutions are certainly important from a diplomatic and legal standpoint, but any informed observer knows how little international law and Security Council resolutions are respected (Israel being the first slayer of the UN system and of international law).

Will the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) multilateral treaty (an intergovernmental military alliance composed of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan) be more useful? It is highly doubtful that this treaty will be implemented in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan because all of the member countries wish to maintain bilateral relationship with Azerbaijan.

Will the bilateral military treaty between Russia and Armenia be the only option left? From a military perspective, this is probably the most realistic one. However, Russia cares for its own geopolitical reasons to continue its tactical alliance with Turkey, while also creating inroads over the territory of Armenia for regional economic reasons. It will then favor diplomacy until the end, especially if no shots are fired. The weaker side — Armenia — will be the one that should again make concessions. This is why Nikol Pashinyan, who embodies the surrender, must be replaced in the interest of the nation. The team and format proposed by Levon Ter-Petrosian are the best solution. Today the replacement of Pashinyan is even more urgent. It has been disclosed that a secret negotiation was going on and was about to be completed. Pashinyan did not want to disclose the content and claimed that if the adversary agrees to it he will sign it. Obviously he has no intention of consulting the Parliament or any other institution, creating another de facto blow to Armenia.

Extreme Options and Neglected Alliances

Armenia must stop portraying itself as a victim and take its destiny back into its own hands without begging or waiting for aid from third parties. It is easy to say but a long way to go.

The question of alliances is crucial and must be one of the subjects of closed-doors debates which should be held urgently between political forces. We can read and witness radical views. For an example, the new political movement launched by an alliance of the Sasna Tsrer with other small groups is actively promoting ties with the United States by taking advantage of the growing anti-Russian sentiment among a population that doubts the latter’s intentions in the region. I do believe that they are deeply mistaken about the intentions of the United States and Europe to supplant Russia in Armenia. Those militants forget too easily the setback of the Georgian experience.

Armenia is but a toy in the new cold war between Russia and the West. It does not have the means to question the strategic alliance with Russia: our border security, energy supply, transportation, telecommunication and banking industries for the most part rest with Russian firms. On the other hand, it is time to have a firmer discourse with Russia. The latter has often been mistaken throughout history in its tactical alliances.

At the other extreme, Kocharyan recently referred to Armenia’s increasing political integration into the Russian Federation. It is an unpleasant idea, because it means a greater loss of sovereignty. He must clarify that idea and it must be debated.

Beyond those alliances, the Armenian government never made reference to Iran, China, and India, while they all have an interest in maintaining the territorial integrity of Armenia. In fact, Iran and India have officially made a declaration about it within last days. The reasons for Iran’s interest are directly related to its own border with Azerbaijan and the fear for the rising up of its domestic Azerbaijani minority. And India has been brought into the equation indirectly by the Azerbaijani and Turkish appeal to fellow Islamic nations, especially Pakistan, for support in various international bodies.

One could elaborate even further. The point is that all those options must be debated by all components of the nation. No leader can decide alone at this critical time, where Armenia is at crossroads and the State endangered.

The most important thing is to act now, to mobilize and dedicate intelligence and resources to a few objectives, to have a real diplomatic and security strategy in the short and long term, and to put aside interpersonal conflicts. The negotiations and the transition must be prepared today. Strategic thinking and debate must begin now and not wait for the outcome of the elections. If Pashinyan signs a new agreement in the conditions he mentioned today, then those elections will most probably not happen.

[Philippe Raffi Kalfayan, based in Paris, is a Lawyer, Lecturer in International Law and a former Secretary General of FIDH (International Federation of Human Rights). He is a regular columnist for the Mirror-Spectator.]


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