Pashinyan stuns Armenian parliament: Liminal line crossed
By Orkhan Amashov
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s recently-acquired taste for honesty, that first manifested itself in the December 26 press conference, has again been thrust upon the political elites in Yerevan and the public with an effect that, not to put too fine a point on it, was not too far away from that of a thunderclap.
Honesty is a luxury, particularly not easily affordable in politics, let alone for a leader of a country whose fortunes have dramatically fallen after a recent debacle. We are yet to ascertain whether Pashinyan will find this new practice of his excessively exorbitant along the way.
However, what can be asserted now is that his latest address to the National Assembly was, without any shadow of a doubt, a positive event in the context of the accomplishment of that gargantuan task, incumbent upon the Armenian leadership, of preparing the nation for what is to come.
Baku and Yerevan have to address myriad issues before coming close to a peace deal. The whole business, or to be more precise, its inner substratum, is hinging upon the recognition as to two key subject matters, namely, to the acknowledgment that Karabakh is Azerbaijan, and that there will be no status for Armenians of the region in any administratively delineated guise.
These are the demands of the victor and Pashinyan’s latest address to the National Assembly has touched upon both. The former, the issue of Karabakh being under Baku’s territorial jurisdiction, seems to be something that Yerevan has already accepted, with all due reservations that may still be clinging hopelessly to the realm of realpolitik.
Whereas the latter subject, the acknowledgement that the status is no longer tenable, is an issue of an even far greater delicacy and that of arduous cogitative proclivity. Therefore, a clear and unambiguous admission as to the final outcome is not yet a foregone conclusion.
Enhanced recognition for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity
Pashinyan has reaffirmed that there is nothing unacceptable in Baku’s five-point offer and there is no alternative for a peace agenda, emphasising the inimical effect of being the only country that does not recognise the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan - a first-rate ally of Turkey.
On December 26, 2021, Pashinyan declared that Armenia and Azerbaijan recognised each other’s territorial integrity back in the early 1990s, and a reciprocal reiteration of what was agreed upon three decades ago should not be an issue. Yet that admission, at the time it was made, was not sufficiently clear regarding the former Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. In fact, it is a well-known fact this form of legal obfuscation has previously been resorted to by other Armenian leaders.
However, after the Brussels meeting, this admission as to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is no longer in its pristine condition, for it has evolved and been somewhat enhanced. Pashinyan was clear that the international community was expecting Yerevan to relinquish the control over the seven adjacent territories surrounding the former Nagorno-Karabakh region prior to the recent war, and that not recognising Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is a counterproductive move that will not be backed by any serious global power.
Lower status expectations
He also added that the expectations as to the status of Karabakh must be lowered. This a point which opens a can of worms for him and the whole of Armenia, as it means the onset of a discussion over the fate of Armenians living in this respective region of Azerbaijan.
If the recognition of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, with Karabakh included, is digestible, saying a farewell to the concept of the status is at present not something which could be unreservedly admitted and imparted to the public.
What Pashinyan seems to be engaged in at present is akin to flummoxing the public by introducing a moot point as to the inevitable end, instead of vexing the country through an outright asseveration. In other words, the open and unreserved acknowledgement, to the effect of the separate administrative status for Karabakh Armenians being an impossibility, would be too much to request.
Old wrangle renewed
One of the central lines propounded by Pashinyan to furnish his defence against the accusations of the opposition for the dismal state of affairs entrapping Armenia has been that it is the previous government’s failure to see events in the perspective that has caused the catastrophic results of the Second Karabakh War.
Such a ground of substantiation, of course, is something that today’s Pashinyan critics, led and guided by the former Armenian presidents, Serzh Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan, are bound to be adamant to reject. Armenian opposition members, as restless harriers anxious to be at the heels of a prey, determined to destroy what they are certain to be a pack of lies, were unleashed en masse on the beleaguered prime minister.
Serzh Sargsyan was probably the most vociferous amongst the disaffected. Blazing with a surging desire to restore his image in the public eye and vex his nemesis, he went on a diatribe as to how maliciously false Pashinyan was.
The dispute between the two is centred upon the nature of the OSCE-mediated Minsk Group negotiations prior to the war. Sargsyan claims, contrary to what Pashinyan stated, that his government never agreed to a phased approach, but only to a package-based settlement.
The co-leader of the "I have Honour" alliance maintains the view that, under his term, Yerevan agreed to the phased version of the package format, not the phased settlement, as such. Irrespective of where the truth lies, the point which does not require further proof is that Sargsyan's line led to procrastination with no settlement chance in sight, leading to the eventual crisis. Pashinyan, on the whole, resorted to cheap populism and failed to manage the process and then faced the consequences of the military confrontation in the form of a full-scale war.
The current PM, under the strain of the difficulties engendered by the Second Karabakh War, is perhaps now trying to follow the right path. Yet expecting utter and unfettered honesty from him would be too naïve, and that is not how political machinations work.
It is possible that the incumbent PM may still resort to shifty concealments and evasions. For instance, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan has downplayed talks about the emergence of a bilateral format involving Baku and Yerevan, stating that the OSCE Minsk Group was still very much in the game.
First of all, the origins of the currently emergent bilateral format date back to the two bilateral platforms mediated by Brussels and Moscow, and they are both very much in the game and drive the process. Secondly, the OSCE Minsk Group is defunct and the only actor which has unsubstantiated hopes about its resuscitation is Armenia, and that is not good enough.
Pashinyan’s task is unenviable. It is not just a surfeit of courage that he needs along the way, but also an ability of exercising his discretion as to telling the people the truth in such a way that the nation accepts the inevitable. And when it comes to honesty, that too should be practiced with finesse, being turned on and off like a faucet or tap.