Pashinyan’s Shuttle Diplomacy and the Dwindling Hope for Karabakh Armenians

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There has always been a latent sense among some quarters of Armenia’s population that in order to be able to live in peace in Amenia, that country has to jettison the cause of Karabakh (Artsakh).

That sense is becoming more prevalent and is taking the shape of a policy, to the chagrin of the people of the enclave and against the political logic of the Caucasus.

It is apparent that after overrunning Karabakh in 2020, the Azerbaijani forces have encroached upon Armenia itself, occupying 45 square kilometers of Armenia proper and they are pushing for a corridor within Armenia’s sovereign territory.

Armenians lost their last historic kingdom in the year 1375 and they have no hope of recovering the lands lost then. The lost Karabakh lands may also end up joining forever the long-lost homeland. The impact of the 44-Day War will be felt for centuries to come and our generation will be held accountable before history and future generations of Armenians.

Losing Karabakh does not necessarily ensure living in Amenia peacefully; instead, it exacerbates the fears for a loss of the remaining homeland in the near future.

Whatever politics are conducted today will shape the destiny of future generations. We are not sure if people engaged in that politics fully are cognizant of that fact, in these days of political expediency.

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We can only review and analyze today’s developments in light of the above logic. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has just completed his third Brussels summit with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, through the mediation of European Council President Charles Michel. The ensuing post-meeting statement assures everyone that the discussions were “frank and productive,” which in diplomatic parlance does not amount to much. The opaque statement issued by Mr. Michel renders the situation even murkier.

Those meetings held in Brussels, the capital of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), have been taking place over the background of the greater powers’ rivalry, certainly influencing the process and the outcome of those negotiations.

Earlier Pashinyan had met President Putin, just to remind him that nothing behind his back may happen.

The November 9, 2020 declaration with its nine points, which brought about the ceasefire of the 44-Day War, was drawn up and forced upon the parties by President Vladimir Putin, who was at that time controlling the situation and implementing the above declaration. But the Russian war in Ukraine also changed the atmosphere in the Caucasus, where politics turned more fluid for the regional countries. It is true that change allowed Armenia more flexibility and opportunities, thus allowing Yerevan to launch a new diplomatic initiative.

As a result of the new maneuverability, Amenia tried to find alternatives to its foreign policy options, with some encouraging results. No previous Armenian administration had been accorded a welcome comparable to the warmth that Ararat Mirzoyan found in Foggy Bottom. The same treatment was reserved for Pashinyan in European capitals.

But Azerbaijan was ahead of the game and enjoyed the same opportunities to consolidate its gains from the war and, directed by Ankara, it began playing a more prominent role in the region. All these because of the major power rivalry. Indeed, the Kremlin complained that the West was hijacking the negotiation process.

Just one day before Russia invaded Ukraine, President Aliyev was in Moscow to sign a strategic treaty with President Putin and the crux of the treaty was that the parties will not conduct economic activities that would contradict or compromise the interests of the other party. But, thumbing his nose at the Kremlin, Mr. Aliyev took his next trip to Brussels and assured the Europeans that Azerbaijan would be able to fill the void of Russian gas if and when the latter decided to retaliate and cut the flow of gas to Europe as a result of sanctions.

Moscow did not react to this transgression for two reasons. First, Aliyev had agreed with Putin not to open a second front in the Caucasus with Russia, which it could ill afford. The second cause is suspected to be a political charade whereby Russian gas can be mixed with the Azerbaijani supplies, since the latter could not meet the demand level. That arrangement would bypass sanctions in the watchful eyes of the Europeans.

Returning to the negotiating process, Russia has been following it with watchful eyes and with a certain degree of jealousy. Russia’s concern is revealed in the fact that the very next day after the recent summit, when Pashinyan and Aliyev returned to their respective capitals, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers, Ararat Mirzoyan and Jeyhun Bayramov, respectively, to get a full account of the negotiations.

Moscow insists that the process of delimitation and demarcation will be conducted trilaterally, since Moscow is in possession of all the relevant historical maps, but Mr. Michel’s statement indicated that the two sides will meet on their mutual border and work out the details of the process themselves.

Analysts in Armenia believe that delimitation and demarcation on Russia’s watch may lead to political compromise suiting Moscow, while under the supervision of the West, it could progress on a sounder legal basis.

The statement by Charles Michel is visibly lopsided in favor of Azerbaijan, with good reason that Azerbaijan has become a more important political asset for the West. Armenia has long pinned its hopes on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, because that was the only and last international entity that had maintained the principle to settle the status of Karabakh without the use of force. Under the auspices of Minsk Group Armenia could hold Azerbaijan accountable for violating one of the principles of the Helsinki Declaration of the OSCE, which says that resorting to force or using violence to settle a political issue are unacceptable. Because of the controversies between Russia and the other co-chairs of the Minsk Group — the US and France — the group has been inactive and that is why the EU has become more aggressive in replacing it.

Mr. Michel’s statement also reveals that the parties have dealt with border issues, meaning delimitation and demarcation.

The next topic referred to is “connectivity,” unblocking transport links. Whereas Azerbaijan has blockaded Armenia and that issue could be resolved if Baku reversed that action, Turkey and Aliyev have more ambitious plans to configure the region to their economic and strategic advantage. That is why the parties have “agreed on principles governing transit between western Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan and between different parts of Armenia via Azerbaijan, as well as international transport through communications infrastructure of both countries.”

It is very difficult to deduce if the issue of the Zangezur Corridor is hidden behind this terminology.

Sure enough, the following day after the meeting, President Aliyev reported on the “good news” of the corridor to Erdogan, only to be refuted by Armen Grigoryan, the secretary of the Armenian Security Council.

Under the heading of “peace agreement,” the fundamental topic which seems to have been discussed is the peace treaty to be signed under the five-point terms proposed by Azerbaijan.

The parties do not seem to have discussed the issue of Karabakh or if they have, no conclusions have been reached. That is why Mr. Michel has taken personal responsibility to include the Karabakh reference in his statement: “I also stressed to both leaders that it was necessary that the rights and security of the ethnic Armenian population in Karabakh be addressed.”

The above statement indicates that the issue of Karabakh’s status has been watered down to an impossibly low level.

The last topic regards the European Union’s readiness to help the parties economically. Whereas the Aliyev dynasty, after looting its country, has enough wealth to buy sophisticated weaponry and keep its restive population quiet, the only party which needs economic help is Armenia.

This is a very dangerous political document, where words unsaid have more explosive significance that those expressed. Some pro-regime pundits in Armenia, who help the administration to formulate its political doctrine, are after quick fixes that may endanger Armenia’s future. Thus, one of those “practical” politicians, Areg Kochinyan, does not consider the departure of Russian peacekeepers who ensure the security of the population of Karabakh to be something unrealistic. Therefore, he believes that Armenia needs to discuss a peace agreement with Azerbaijan and normalize relations with Turkey.

A peace treaty of the kind of Armenia has been offered is not a substitute for peacekeeping forces. Karabakh, left to the tender mercies of Azerbaijan, will suffer the fate of 500,000 Armenians in Azerbaijan who were expelled through pogroms organized by the government and army.

When Pashinyan states that international community is asking Armenia to lower the bar on demands for Karabakh, he means that the world wants Karabakh’s people to be left defenseless.

Karabakh was formerly an autonomous region (oblast) in the Soviet Union. It had its state apparatus, parliament and freedom to develop its language and culture.

In this case, the international community is colluding with Azerbaijan to dismantle a state structure already in place. That same international community bombed former Yugoslavia during that country’s civil war in which one group was destroying another, just like in the Armenian case, and helped create a state in the heart of Europe, Kosovo, where it installed a government of former criminals, gunrunners and drug lords. It is a state which still cannot survive without Western crutches.

The only lesson Armenia can derive from these negotiations and the priorities of major powers is to build its armed forces and develop its economy. The goal certainly isn’t reconquering the lost territories but to prevent future wars and humiliations.

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