Pashinyan’s confession and reactionary uproar
By Orkhan Amashov
Armenian society is still regurgitating and cogitating some of the statements made by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan during his recent online press conference.
Now we can look at the totality of his comments and ascertain that the majority of the points he made were widely known by those outside the OSCE-mandated process. In fact, the preponderant part of his claims conveyed information that was familiar to large swaths of the Azerbaijani public and informed segments of the international community.
Despite this, the uproar caused 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 key part of the “truth-revealing” strategy employed by Pashinyan during the press conference was based on the tenet that, under the successive governments of [former presidents] Kocharyan and Sargsyan, some of the disturbing, yet essentially vital, elements of the talks were held back from the people. The overarching principle was that he, as a responsible and conscientious leader, found himself heavy-laden with the ungrateful task of informing his people of a gloomy reality.
Using a voice imbued with pathos, the Armenian prime minister admitted that, at no stage during the negotiations, was the former area of the Soviet-era Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast considered to have been an exclusively Armenian entity and “it was recorded that an Azerbaijani population also lived in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the protection of their interests was on the agenda of the negotiations."
In fact, Pashinyan promulgated one of the key elements of the Madrid principles that was widely debated throughout the years, in stark contrast with the delusional previous administrations in Yerevan that either chose to downplay the Azerbaijani substratum of the region, or simply refused to admit its existence, whilst addressing the internal audience. Furthermore, Article 7 of the November 10 ceasefire deal expands the same premise, stating internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees should have the right to return to the liberated territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding regions under the supervision of the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees.
Pashinyan also referred to the “dramatic changes” in the negotiations that took place in 2016, which led to the suggestions that the conflict’s file should be transferred from the OSCE Minsk Group to the UN, which recognised Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan in its four 1993 UN Security Council resolutions.
The confessions of the Armenian prime minister invoke two elements. First of all, any form of adjudication under the auspices of the UN would be founded on the famous UN Security Council resolutions espousing Azerbaijani territorial integrity. Secondly, in the context of the Madrid principles, the future status of Karabakh would have been determined in line with the Azerbaijani Constitution.
The Armenian prime minister’s confessional admissions are not out of kilter with Baku’s stance. The aforementioned principles were predicated on the precept of creating an auspicious environment for the long-term peaceful resolution of the conflict through the application of normative ambiguity. They provided some scope for the application of realpolitik, as they did not exclude any particular concluding scenario, but recognised the prerogatives of Azerbaijan, whose consent was the absolute key to the fate of Karabakh under all circumstances. Pashinyan’s view, or rather admission, is that given the nature of the negotiations and points of reference, the chances of "independence" for the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast had been completely exhausted, prior to his premiership.
It is crucial to bear in mind that the final legal determination of the region in question was subject to safety caveats. It was imperative that Azerbaijan would agree with any "independence" referendum and that, without its consent, no outcome would be recognised. In addition, such a referendum was duty-bound to be "legal”, and “legality” here, inter alia, automatically meant conformity with Azerbaijani laws; to be more precise, compliance with the Azerbaijani Constitution; in other words, with the prevailing legal order applicable to the situation.
As previously stated, the Madrid principles were founded on a vague legal construct, and as such, its implementation could have led to the creation of an independent entity in Karabakh, had Baku agreed to this by making an unthinkable concession, which was absolutely out of the question. In fact, if one troubles himself by carefully following Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s official statements on the future of the region, one could ascertain that he has consistently and abundantly clarified that Baku would never agree to a process that could, even in some distant future, lead to the creation of a sovereign entity on Azerbaijani territory.
The situation is evolving at a dizzying pace. Within the space of a very short time, Pashinyan has transformed from being a thwarted and deluded man, fighting a rearguard action, irresponsibly claiming that “Karabakh is Armenia and full stop”, to a man steeped in reality, admitting that the area of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast had long exhausted its chances of being outside Azerbaijan, this meagre chance having passed long before his own premiership.
The sharp contrast is striking. But why? As to Pashinyan’s motives for being so candid, one could assume that he is pursuing two interrelated objectives. Firstly, by revealing the sheer incompetence of his predecessors, both in terms of the way they managed the so-called negotiations and developed the army, which was proven to be not up to scratch during last year’s war, given the lack of active Russian support, he shifted the blame to his current opponents. Secondly, and more importantly, his admissions could form part of a larger attempt to prepare Armenians for a completely new reality, in the light of which a comprehensive and lasting peace with Azerbaijan could be achieved.
Pashinyan came to power as a populist and countercultural political figure and is known for his textbook talent of producing empty, substance-free slogans designed to steer public emotion, both at home and in the diaspora for some time. As a former so-called journalist, he knows how to scribble half-truths and to prevaricate to the ultimate degree, if necessary. During the Second Karabakh War, he consistently lied to his countrymen by denying the obvious. But he is also a re-elected man with a domestic agenda and some carefully considered plans for his country. To implement these, he will need to forge a sustainable peace with Azerbaijan. Perhaps the rationale for his recent dose of truth serum lies in the vital inevitability of leaving the Karabakh issue in the past, so as to progress to the future.
Honesty is, of course, a luxury. If Pashinyan has truly acquired a taste for the finer things in life, under the necessity of pursuing his self-proclaimed lofty domestic policy, he will need an injection of courage and a surfeit of support along this rock-strewn path. In the context of the internal struggle between Pashinyan and his adversaries, the former’s recent admissions were not yet the beginning of the end for the revanchists and reactionaries, but perhaps the end of the beginning.
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