Will Recent Pro-Armenian Measures in West Add up to Anything?

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There have been pro-Armenian measures in the West recently. Is this a political breakthrough, a false start or something else? We will find out in due course as we analyze trends and developments in the South Caucasus.

It was extremely frustrating for the Armenian side to see the international community’s indifference during the 44-Day War in 2020, which isolated Armenia. We must also remember the cavalier attitude of the Trump Administration toward Armenia, which resulted in territorial losses and many deaths. Almost 5,000 young men between the ages of 18 and 22 perished, which was felt doubly in a country struggling to retain a stable demographic profile.

Gradually, after the war, as the international community began to communicate with Armenia, the message to Nikol Pashinyan’s administration was that Yerevan has to lower the bars regarding its expectations so that the international community could lend a helping hand for the beleaguered country to recover. Lowering the bar meant for Yerevan to reconcile with the fact that for all practical intents and purposes, Karabakh was lost. It was not enough to contend with the loss of Karabakh, when Azerbaijan began invading the sovereign territory of Armenia itself. As of this date, Azerbaijan’s forces are occupying 125 square kilometers of Armenia’s soil.

It seems that Azerbaijani aggression has hit a turning point which has enabled the international community to react. A series of powerful statements emanated from Europe and the United States in the past couple of weeks.

Time will show whether those are genuine and what impact they may have on Azerbaijan’s intentionally cruel and belligerent course.

The illusive peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan is being dragged from Brussels to Sochi and from Washington to Prague, with no end in sight.

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Before delving into the details of that peace treaty, it behooves us to view that crisis within a broader storm, which may render the Armenia and Azerbaijan standoff irrelevant.

President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, buoyed by his success over Yerevan, is extending his territorial claims far beyond Armenia, right to Iran, as his speech in Samarkand revealed last week. Aliyev’s ambitions are being fueled by the new developments in the region. Angry accusations have been flying across the borders, between Baku and Tehran and Ankara. Thus far, the gunpowder in the region remains dry. However, the new (and former) Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s return onto the scene may trigger dramatic changes in the political landscape of the region. It is left to be seen if President Joe Biden turns out stronger than President Obama in containing the hawkish posture of the Israeli leader.

Short of strong-arming by Washington, the coalition of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Israel may act against Iran, particularly when Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is itching for some foreign adventures and victory to boost his sagging domestic popularity before 2023’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

Barring such an eruption, the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace treaty may continue to dominate the stage in the South Caucasus. Thus, the intervention of the major powers may affect the course of those negotiations.

Until recently, both pro-government and opposition quarters had been criticizing the Pashinyan administration for its lack of initiative in foreign policy. But no more. Armenia’s government has been engaged in many diplomatic missions, for better or for worse. It has been diversifying its foreign policy and even taking timid steps to break away from Russian political bondage. And it seems those efforts are paying off, as certain favorable trends are moving Armenia’s way.

One of the first deals post-war was made with India, to rebuild Armenia’s defense forces. Other developments are on the political level, which need careful nurturing to yield dividends.

On the legislative front, Spain’s parliament fired the first salvo when members refused to ratify an agreement with Azerbaijan regarding exchanging information and intelligence, citing as a cause Baku’s aggression against Armenia. Then came the resolution in the French Senate, ratified on November 16, with a vote of 265-1, which coincided with the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s hearings on November 15, led by Chairman Robert Menendez. There was very little doubt left about their interconnectedness.

The French Senate resolution included all the issues which Armenia had been seeking for the international community to redress and condemn Azerbaijan for. It called on the French executive branch to take action on all those issues: the unconditional retreat of Azerbaijan’s forces from occupied Armenian territory, respecting Armenia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, repatriation of the prisoners of war, an end to Azerbaijan’s destruction of Armenian monuments, application of sanctions against Azerbaijan and calling on its European partners to do the same, opening a humanitarian office in Karabakh, contributing to the defense capabilities of Armenia, and reaffirming the need to recognize the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh and carrying out negotiations on that basis. Last but not least, the measure asked for international peacekeeping forces to be stationed in Karabakh, which would certainly hit a nerve with the Kremlin.

Azerbaijan reacted furiously to the French Senate resolution, and its parliament issued an angry press release blaming French senators with “bias and ignorance.”

On November 16, the chargé d’affaires at the French Embassy, Julien Le Lan, was summoned to Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry and handed a letter of protest with regard to the resolution.

It is interesting that when the French legislature formulates a passionate statement on a political scene, the executive branch receives that act with a cool head and does not react immediately. Thus, Olivier Becht, France’s trade minister, who was representing the country’s foreign minister at the Senate debate, did not raise any objections, and neither did he indicate whether the government would take any actions. His only comment was, “No country in the world does more to support Armenia.”

We have to wait and see what that statement will translate into.

Senator Menendez, in his turn, raised certain pertinent issues at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s hearing, questioning Karen Donfried, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and Phillip Reeker, the senior advisor for Caucasus negotiations from the State Department, who is the representative of the US on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, if and when the group comes together again.

Menendez first qualified the Karabakh issue as a humanitarian crisis and then added, “My frustration with the State Department is that they always say, ‘well, both sides should refrain.’ But when there is an aggressor, we should call out the aggressor. … It is Azerbaijan.”

He also criticized waiving Article 907 of the Freedom Support Act routinely, when Azerbaijan fails to play by the rules imposed on it by the US.

Most of the time, the representatives of the executive branch kept quiet, in rare cases answering in equivocal statements, which frustrated the senator, who in his concluding remarks stated that “It is totally unacceptable that they can’t respond with specificity what kind of humanitarian assistance the US is providing to the victims.”

Another little-noticed event took place in Djerba, Tunisia, where Pashinyan handed the presidency of the International Organization of Francophonie from Armenia to Tunisia. He was also able to insert Armenia’s position into the final communique of the assembly, against all odds.

The most recent international forum to be held on Armenia’s turf is the annual conference of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), whose members are arriving in Yerevan on November 23. Armenia has been frustrated by that organization’s response its problems. The fundamental principle of the CSTO is to defend the territorial integrity of its members, whereas the group has been qualifying the loss of 125 square kilometers of Armenian territory to Azerbaijan as a “border dispute.” After much debate, finally, “helping Armenia” was placed on the organization’s agenda in Yerevan.

Although Azerbaijan is not a member of the CSTO, Aliyev has already fired a pre-emptive salvo, stating that Azerbaijan has more friends in the CSTO than Armenia. His statement was justified on November 9, as Belarus and Kyrgyzstan congratulated him on his victory in the second anniversary of the “patriotic war” of 2020. The paper tiger of Belarus — Putin’s alter ego — Alexander Lukashenko, repeatedly has insulted Armenia and Pashinyan in the CSTO forum and publicly stated that “it is not CSTO’s business to deal with Armenia’s grievances.” On other occasions, he has stated that “Aliyev is our friend,” while who “needs Armenia.”

Understandably, Lukashenko and Putin will face a resentful public in Armenia, which will call on Pashinyan to quit the CSTO structure.

Because of these intense diplomatic activities, there is an air of optimism in Armenia. But more experienced pundits have been cautioning the public to take a more realistic approach for a number of reasons.

  • In the case of the French Senate resolution and the US Foreign Relations Committee hearings, all the statements are at best non-binding recommendations to the executive branch, which most of the time practice realpolitik, running counter even to the basic principles of that respective state, rendering as a mockery all proselytizing on human rights and democracy.
  • Despite all these international condemnations, Aliyev continues to bomb Armenia’s borders, because it is encouraged and allowed by Russia. A desperate Putin is bogged down in a Ukraine war it cannot win easy, and now cannot face off against Aliyev and thus he makes his compromises at Armenia’s expense.
  • There is also an unspoken factor: the issue of Israel, the protégé of the West, which uses Azerbaijan’s territory as a military spring board for a possible action against Iran. Azerbaijan is Israel’s friend and an enemy of Iran. Armenia happens to be Iran’s friend, a pariah nation for the West.

Once we figure out this political jigsaw puzzle, we can find out why all the political noises in the West end up in an echo chamber.

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