Readjusted Armenian reasoning: Status recalibrated. What is new?
By Orkhan Amashov
After the 2020 November ceasefire that ended the Second Karabakh War, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that: “this is not a victory, but there is no defeat until you consider yourself defeated”. Back then it looked like an attempt to put on a brave face at a time of national disaster and a cheap remark to placate his disillusioned nation.
Perhaps it was indeed a mere manifestation of an understandable desire to appear calm and morally unconquerable. After all, Pashinyan needed to say something not completely devoid of hope, however unsubstantiated. What had happened, in truth, was a devastating defeat, and the document signed was an act of capitulation.
Now, in retrospect, it seems that, perhaps inadvertently, without thinking of it as forming part of any grand scheme, then Pashinyan set in motion a process of explaining to the Armenian people the deeply uncomfortable and essential truth about what was to come. He needed to be ebullient, use the right words and explain the dreadful in a manner which made it sound least vexing.
War-induced sea change
His recent statement calling for “lowering the bar” regarding the “status” demands seems integral to that rhetoric. Prior to the war, Yerevan had consistently viewed the then-ongoing conflict as one in which the status of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, inextricably linked with the right of its Armenian population for self-determination, took precedence over Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. Baku was ready to discuss the autonomy of the region, provided its jurisdiction over Karabakh was recognised by the opposing side.
The Second Karabakh War has induced a sea change, as a result of which, the bargaining chips have been rearranged. Both countries altered their views of the term in question, not exactly in the same way, but in a direction which was not entirely dissimilar.
Azerbaijan’s view on the issue is crystal-clear. President Aliyev’s famous line on the fate of the status of the region, uttered on the day of the signing of the ceasefire agreement, does need any reiteration, as it has been so ineradicably fixed in the minds of all those remotely familiar with the case. For Baku, the very first ‘s’ of the word “status” seems to give rise to vehement repudiation, let alone any substantive talk over it.
Yet the understanding is different over there in Armenia. In fact, now that Yerevan has agreed to Baku’s five-point plan, and Pashinyan himself reiterated the importance of recognising Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, the status of Karabakh Armenians inside Azerbaijan happens to be the actual subject pervasively permeating the vanquished nation's world in the interim.
The language employed by Pashinyan, during his recent address to the National Assembly, as to the “status” issue was measured and careful. “Status in the current situation is not a goal, but rather a means to guarantee the security and rights of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said.
In other words, what can be surmised, is that the Armenian side will continue trying to ensure some status for Karabakh Armenians with the purpose of achieving the best possible deal which would guarantee their security and rights. And that possible deal may fall short of a status, which is not the ultimate aim.
This part of his speech, upon closer examination, amounts to an implicit admission as to the impossibility of the status. At present, he perhaps could not have been clearer than that.
There is another aspect that is to be reflected upon. Pashinyan has stated that: “Armenia has never had territorial claims on Azerbaijan” and that the Karabakh issue “is not a matter of territory, but rather a matter of rights”.
Again, the context is vital. There is nothing novel here in a literary sense, as the externally observable part is the same. But the meaning ascribed to the old precepts has changed, particularly when one troubles oneself with the task of looking into Pashinyan’s newly-expressed position in its full entirety.
Since Yerevan has already come to the point of recognising the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, with Karabakh included, the claim as to the former conflict being about “about rights” not “territorial claims” – which is an old thesis – acquires a new interpretation. Here the crux of the debate is about the rights of Armenians inside Azerbaijan, not about their right for self-determination, which may potentially give rise to a fully-fledged independence for the region from Baku.
When Pashinyan says he is not the one surrendering Karabakh, he is evidently trying to prove that his aim is to achieve a greater recognition for the security and rights of the Armenian segment of the region. The incumbent PM's reference to the recent escalation over the Farrukh heights is a clear demonstration of what he has meant. Pashinyan's view is that there is a danger of “losing Karabakh piece by piece, in gradual stages", if a peace deal is not achieved.
One may assume that here by “not losing Karabakh” the PM means “the protection of the Armenians present there”. Is this not incredibly close to what Levon Ter-Petrosyan said in the 90s? What the former Armenian President roughly stipulated was that as long as the people were physically present in that territory, the objective could have been deemed achieved. Pashinyan has made quite a journey to nearly come to this worldview.
Then the question may arise that, if this indeed the case, and Pashinyan has truly experienced a change of heart, why then his statement refers to the “clarification of the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh”. The Azerbaijani side maintains, and rightly so, that the administrative division with such a topology does no longer exist.
The newly-developed Armenian reasoning, on the other hand, is contingent on the formulation that the status is now a method, not an ultimate end. So, it can be inferred, for the sake of clear thinking, that “Nagorno-Karabakh” is an anachronism, which here means no more than a former name of the territory where Armenians are physically present.
There is a journey ahead. Along its rock-strewn mountain path where only a rare breed of goats can determine a precipitous path, there will be quite a number of hurdles capable of causing relapses and excruciating moments of doubt. It should all end with the full and unreserved Armenian acceptance of the inevitable.
Once that has been attained, the nation will find out that the status subject is a relic of a bygone age, incapable of being of any practical value for contemporary needs and consigned to the overflowing dustbin of history.
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