The war has destroyed Armenia’s morale. People are grieving their losses and the entire country is licking its wounds. Seventy-five percent of the territory of Karabakh is lost and Armenia’s southern region, Syunik, is under Azerbaijani threat but the Armenian political parties seem to have forgotten the losses and danger at hand and are instead fighting over whatever has been left.

It is an odd situation in the sense that people are trying to overcome the trauma inflicted on the country and pretend that the normal course of life is already being restored.

The electoral campaign is so intense that the parties involved have created their own world and they have lost their connections to regional problems which have their own pace of development. So much detachment from regional problems may lead one day to a rude awakening.

Although in the bigger picture two major camps (that of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and former President Robert Kocharyan) are confronting each other, upon further scrutiny, the mosaic may reveal a more nuanced picture; there are 22 parties and four alliances but it is believed that all those parties eventually will become subsidiaries of the two main camps.

Kocharyan is in an alliance with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and a group from Syunik called Reborn Armenia (Veratsnvogh Hayastan) and his camp is characterized as the comeback vehicle of the old regime. That is not entirely true, because there was an effort by the country’s first president, Levon Ter-Petrosian, to bring together all the former presidents to stop his former disciple, Pashinyan, but they failed to agree with each other. Kocharyan has gone his own way and it seems he has been able to connect with disgruntled residents.

In his most recent public debate, Ter-Petrosian saw a silver lining in the participation of so many parties, which may splinter the vote and not allow any single party to achieve a full mandate, eventually leading all the winning parties to find accommodation in a national unity government. That is a positive way to look at the situation, but the hatred, animosity and acrimonious language are so intense that one is at a loss to see the prospect of workable cooperation after June 20.

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In this overheated and polarized atmosphere, one voice of reason stands out, that of Edmon Marukyan, the head of the Bright Armenia party. He appears to be a true statesman who might be able to bring the Pashinyan and Kocharyan camps together for a viable government. But in the heat of the fireworks, his voice is drowned by partisans of the two who believe that their side has the monopoly on the truth.

Pashinyan is running through his own party, the Civil Contract, and is no longer in his former alliance, My Step. His representatives put out their own polls, suggesting that Pashinyan’s camp will net 60 percent of the vote but the best estimates suggest the party can barely hit 30 percent, which is still ahead of all remaining groups.

Pashinyan has a lame duck government, which even in normal times, could hardly meet the citizens expectations. But with the war losses and the threat of further losses in Armenia proper, his task is all the more difficult.

The main danger to the country remains regional developments, yet Armenia is so caught up in the fever of an election campaign that it seems not to notice that those changes will come to shape its future.

The sooner normalcy is restored in the country, the better it is because the country has to face up to those challenges and formulate a cohesive foreign policy which might help it navigate these difficult times.

One regional development which may eventually help Armenia is the return of Iran as a major player in the Caucasus. Tehran has been suffering under the imposed sanctions, allowing Russia and Turkey a free hand to advance their own interests. Now that the implacable Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is removed from power, Washington has more flexibility in dealing with Tehran. That will not only allow it to reactivate the nuclear deal, which President Biden had pledged to do, but it will also check Russia and Turkey in their joint deals in the Caucasus.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Iran, which had observed strict neutrality during the war, has been flexing its muscles. The expectation is that Iran will respond to Biden’s move in its own terms; that is, two days after Armenia’s elections, Iran will hold its own presidential election. President Hassan Rouhani, who was considered a liberal by Iranian standards, can no longer run as a candidate and perhaps the next candidate will be the one who can take advantage of Washington’s overtures.

However, Iran has already drawn its own red line, announcing that it will not tolerate any border changes in the region. It did not even hesitate to state that any change might lead it to use military force. But even more interesting is the news that Tehran is ready to offer a corridor to Azerbaijan, over its own territory. That eventually will relieve tension on Armenia and undermine Russian Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov’s plan, which Armenians believe is to impose the Azerbaijani corridor linking Baku to Nakhichevan, through Syunik.

President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan is keenly aware of these possibilities and is pushing to impose on Armenia certain arrangements before the latter is rearmed and bolstered by powerful supporters. Aliyev has stated that he has offered Armenia a peace deal which Yerevan is refusing to consider and that Armenia will regret the decision in the long run.

Of course implied in that statement is the threat that if Armenia fails to sign a peace treaty on Azerbaijani terms, it will end up facing another war.

But what is in that peace treaty that Armenia is refusing to consider? Azerbaijan will recognize Armenia’s territorial integrity in return for Armenia recognizing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, including Nagorno Karabakh.

Azerbaijan has also other reasons to enter into hasty arrangements with Armenia. While Baku is contending that it has resolved the Karabakh issue by force, pressure is building on the other side, by the co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, to return to negotiating under the framework of the OSCE, where certain principles would apply.

One of those principles was the refusal to use force to resolve problems.

Azerbaijan has already violated that principle. France, in particular, is very eager to play a role as a peacemaker and its parliament has already adopted a resolution to declare Karabakh an independent entity.

During Pashinyan’s visit to Paris and Brussels earlier this month, President Emmanuel Macon and European Union President Charles Michel called for the immediate and unconditional release of Armenian prisoners of war under the terms of the November 9 declaration. They also asked Azerbaijan and Armenia to reposition their armed forces along the lines they were at on May 11.

The most interesting development is the US’s forceful entry into the Caucasus. While at this writing, we do not have the results of the Biden-Erdogan meeting, Acting Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip T. Reeker’s visit to the region and his unequivocal statements already signal that America is back and here to play a role.

Reeker has reiterated the statements made by France and the EU regarding prisoners of war and border issues.

In addition to those, the US was instrumental in the release of 15 prisoners of war to the embarrassment of the Russian side, which has been exasperating its Armenian allies by not enforcing the November 9 agreements with Azerbaijan.

These actions do not necessarily mean that the US is favoring Armenia. It is rather signaling to Moscow and Ankara that the time for their unilateral actions is over.

Another sign that the US is taking notice of the region is that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken again activated the waiver on Section 907 of Freedom Support Act for direct aid to Azerbaijan by the US, which was specifically designed to defend Armenia against Azerbaijani aggression.

As we can see, the Caucasus is under rapid transformation and Armenia has to take advantage of the opportunities that may arise. But Armenia’s foreign policy establishment is in collapse after the resignation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ara Ayvazyan and his deputies this month.

Protocol requires that the foreign minister greet Mr. Reeker at Zvartnots Airport in Yerevan. But Armenia  embarrassingly did not have a foreign minister. What is more ominous was that Mr. Pashinyan himself acted in the role of the foreign minister, while diplomacy is not his forte. If Mr. Pashinyan truy loves Armenia, he should stay away from assuming any diplomatic mission.

Many potential changes in the region favor Armenia which needs a team of able and experienced career diplomats to secure Armenia’s position in the region.

Unfortunately, thus far, Armenia is delinquent in its diplomacy.








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