A political rift between Armenia and Karabakh may prove extremely dangerous, with unprecedented results, while intensive exchanges are taking place between Armenia and Turkey on the one hand, and between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the other.

And this, within the context of the US-Russia standoff over Ukraine.

President Joe Biden’s advice to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to open the borders with Armenia may have helped begin a new chapter between Armenia and Turkey, but Washington’s pressure on Russia may adversely impact Armenia, as an unintended result, because Moscow, in its massive mobilization on the Ukrainian border and with a prospective faceoff with Washington, maybe forced to forgo nuanced politics with its Armenian ally, having no time or appetite to calibrate with the latter.

While President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan continues to persist in his demand for opening a corridor through Zangezur, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk had reassured Yerevan that opening communication lines and railways would be under each respective country’s sovereign control. That assurance was also given in a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry. However, during a recent inquiry by a journalist, Mr. Overchuk maintained an ominous silence over the issue. Also, this month, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko revealed that a package agreement was on its final stages. “Within the framework of this mechanism, important preparatory work has been done to restore both railway and automobile roads in the region. Currently, a single package is being finalized. This approach will ensure the sustainability of the decisions,” added Rudenko. Again, no word was uttered on the control of those roads, which renders suspect Russia’s intentions.

During the context of these international developments a controversy arose between the authorities of Armenia and Karabakh. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s position on Karabakh has never been consistent. He once declared that he did not have a mandate to negotiate on behalf of Karabakh, since the people in that enclave had never voted for him. And then, on another occasion, he claimed that “Karabakh is Armenia. Period,” infuriating Azerbaijanis and providing a casus belli to them.

On December 24, 2021, during an online press conference, he washed his hands of the problem entirely and declared that the destiny of Karabakh had been predetermined by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations Security Council and that it was beyond his power to change anything. In the meantime, he did not miss the opportunity to blame the previous administrations for their mismanagement of negotiations.

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The historic truth is that, as corrupt as the previous leaders were, they managed — or were lucky enough — to avoid a war such as the catastrophic one that took place in 2020. Pashinyan stated that in 2016, three packages of proposals were placed on the negotiating table, which precluded a reference to the interim status of Karabakh. The document transferred the issue of the interim status to the UN Security Council, where a decision had to be made on the legal-practical application of the temporary status. Thus, Pashinyan noted, the UN Security Council would reach a predictable solution on the interim status, as “Nagorno Karabakh is mentioned as part of Azerbaijan in two UN Security Council resolutions on the Karabakh conflict adopted in 1993.”

Pashinyan concluded his remarks on the topic by stating: “I consider this a disaster in the negotiation process, because it is obvious that the UN Security Council will make all the decisions according to the logic of its own resolutions on the Karabakh conflict, where Nagorno-Karabakh was recognized as part of Azerbaijan.”

This position may give some comfort to a segment of society in Armenia that favors the philosophy “let’s get rid of Karabakh and have a comfortable life in Armenia,” but it spells only a disaster for the future of Armenia. That position was also held by certain commentators and further enunciated by the supporters of the current regime, but that policy could only trigger a domino effect, as proved by President Aliyev’s demand on Syunik and also in the near future, the entire territory of Armenia.

Predictably, a storm of fury developed not only among the ranks of the opposition but particularly in Karabakh itself. President of Karabakh Republic Arayik Harutyunyan issued a statement refuting Pashinyan’s stand and defined his position in eight different points which start with the following assertion: “The full recognition of the rights of the Armenians of Artsakh to self-determination is not subject to reservation and concession; the exclusive owner of this issue is the Armenians of Artsakh. Therefore, only the authorities of the Artsakh Republic are authorized to speak on behalf of the people of Artsakh.” A similar statement followed from the Karabakh parliament.

We have to be reminded that unlike the tripartite ceasefire signed in 2020 by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, the 1994 ceasefire was signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Artsakh, which gave legitimacy to the authorities of Artsakh. This inclusion of a semi-recognized entity may resemble, in certain aspects, the treaties signed between the US federal government and different Native American tribes, which do not enjoy international recognition. However, the US government, to this day, admits the validity of those treaties.

When Artsakh became a signatory of the ceasefire and the UN Security Council recognized that fact in stating that Armenian forces of Karabakh [not the Republic of Armenia] must withdraw from Azerbaijani territories, Baku realized that down the road it may be dealing with a legal entity. This is why it manipulated the situation to leave out Karabakh as a negotiating party.

Former President Robert Kocharyan, hailing from Karabakh, believed that he could represent the enclave, along with the Republic of Armenia, during the negotiations. That proved to be a fateful mistake.

In Pashinyan’s formulation, he was envisaging a Cyprus-style solution, where ethnically-segregated communities would share an internationally-recognized territory. That solution was refused outright by the international community; after all, it has not worked for Cyprus and would be no different for Karabakh.

The standoff between Yerevan and Stepanakert has some similarities with the Palestinian situation where the rift between the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip gives some comfort to the occupying power, especially when Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, serves as a security apparatus that quells any foreseeable Intifada.

Thus, in light of the above situation, it is not surprising that Pashinyan’s position has gained more support in Azerbaijan than in Armenia, as the following quote will ascertain. Azerbaijani commentator Orkhan Amashov, writing in Azer News, states, “Armenian society is still regurgitating and cogitating some of the statements made by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. … Despite this, the uproar in Armenia is not inexplicable, as it was the first time that an Armenian leader, in a sharp contrast with his predecessors, admitted the fundamental hopelessness of the stance of Yerevan within the protracted negotiations. … The Armenian prime minister’s confessional admissions are not out of kilter with Baku’s stance.”

Pashinyan’s abdication of Armenia’s responsibility for Karabakh’s status and future will fuel Mr. Aliyev’s hopes that his forthcoming negotiations with Armenian authorities will be a breeze.

Although these developments brought about a somber mood in Armenia’s political atmosphere, some commentators, like Stepan Krikoryan, came up with a positive statement, seeing a blessing in disguise. Indeed, they believe this will give a chance to the Karabakh authorities to have their individual voice heard and independent policy shaped, thereby becoming an international entity. This may seem a far-fetched possibility. One thing is certain: Karabakh’s people are on their own. They may become the Rohingyas of the Caucasus, causing calls for help from many quarters, but not benefitting from any benevolent actions.

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