Separatists in despair: Exhortations of no avail reach vertex
By Orkhan Amashov
The closer Baku and Yerevan move towards a peace deal, the more infuriated and vehement the separatist remnants still present in the mountainous part of Karabakh become.
Overwrought under the weight of the latest defeat-induced moral and physical decrepitude, and disillusioned with the Armenian government’s acquiescence to Azerbaijan’s five-point plan, which amounts to the former’s readiness to recognise the latter’s territorial integrity, the leader of the illegal entity based in Khankandi, in a faint attempt to throw his last dice, suggested a certain vertical framework for relations with Russia.
Destiny has long ceased to smile comfortably upon separatist leader Arayik Harutunyan and his henchmen. In fact, he has been enmeshed in an issue from which there is no hope of extrication.
The inflexible logic of the recent development points to the utter and irreversible extermination of the illegal formation of which he is in charge. Once a peace deal is concluded, there may be no need for the Russian “peacekeepers”, and without them, the separatists will have no refuge inside Karabakh.
Moral and political debasement
The idea of creating an Armenian state in Karabakh has traditionally had two elements. The first objective was to achieve its recognition by the international community, and then to realise what is called the "miatsum" and unite with Armenia. Now even in Harutunyan’s perverse world, this unhallowed mission is impossible, hence the radical solution in the form of acceding to Russia has emerged.
It is not the first time that Harutunyan has exhorted the Kremlin to take control of this miserable situation. During the Second Karabakh War, he sent a letter to the Russian president to interfere. As was the case during the 2020 campaign, some contemporary elements within the Russian establishment are sympathetic to exhortations of this kind.
Back then, in response to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s request for military aid as a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, Moscow clarified that, since the campaign was fought on the sovereign territory of Azerbaijan, there were no grounds for intervention.
Despite their bombastic statements, constant pleas and imaginary self-perception of being a quasi-state, the separatists are not functioning within a legal space. At no point during the course of the OSCE-mediated protracted negotiations has Baku consented to their participation, despite Yerevan’s best, yet futile, efforts.
The entity in question has not been referred to in any document signed pursuant to the 2020 ceasefire deal. To be brief, when the separatists talk about “the preservation of the 'Artsakh' statehood”, they are talking about something that only belongs in the depths of their gibberish-fuelled imagination.
Constructive share in guilt
Moscow, despite its indispensable, yet self-interested role in ending the hostilities, is not entirely blameless in this context. Article 4 of the Russian-brokered ceasefire states that "Russian peacekeeping forces of the Russian Federation shall be deployed concurrently with the withdrawal of the Armenian troops''.
The withdrawal in question has not happened as yet and, on this basis, there are grounds for assuming that the Kremlin has a constructive share in keeping the aspirations of the separatists rhetorically alive.
The facts, as far as they can be demonstrated, point to such a surmise. The separatist forces are still physically present in Khankandi, within the zone of the responsibility of the Russian peacekeepers. Baku has consistently drawn attention to the non-fulfilment of this particular provision.
Moscow prefers not to dwell upon this point at any length. If pressed to produce an answer, the Kremlin may always resort to tergiversation. On a purely formalistic level, it is possible to produce a different interpretation of what the withdrawal actually means in this context, or to even go as far as to draw up an artificial distinction between the forces directly at the command of Yerevan and the separatist forces operating from within Karabakh.
Harutyunyan's displeasure and his preposterous idea have provided an ample opportunity to throw a piercing glance at the internal political situation and establish the degree of sanity in Armenia, which appears to exist in a parallel universe. On a governmental level, such a scheme is deemed useless and dangerous. Pashinyan, as was stated in his address to the National Assembly, has reiterated that he no longer views the status as a foundation from which guarantees as to rights and security emanate, but the other way round.
The opposition is a different story, of course. One school of thought is that Pashinyan must be deposed, one way or another, and then a new government should take a different Karabakh line, renouncing the previous administration's “concessions”. Some of those who propagate this approach are also weary of Russia, and believe that relying too much on the Kremlin in the light of the Ukrainian crisis would be damaging to Armenia’s reputation in the West.
The second school of thought is that, since the chances of Yerevan removing Pashinyan are slight, Russia must be encouraged to step in and solidify its presence in Karabakh on a long-term basis. This method of reasoning is not unakin to Harutyunyan’s recent plea.
Disuniting population from separatist junta
That the illegal entity based in Khankandi has no viable chance for legitimacy goes without saying. It is also clear that the incumbent Armenian government presently views the “status” as a method, not an aim in itself, in the context of the negotiations. It follows that the next stage should be the disentanglement of the separatist junta led by Harutyunyan from the local Armenian population of Karabakh.
Pashinyan’s latest address to the Armenian parliament was indicative of this shift in a tentative way. He focused on the guarantees regarding the security and rights of the local inhabitants within the framework of Azerbaijani-Armenian relations.
The so-called illegal and universally unrecognised “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” is not a part of any discourse. What we observe today is that, even in Yerevan’s worldview, it is ceasing to be the voice of Karabakh Armenians.
Harutyunyan’s latest exhortation might have caused dismay and even some degree of perturbation. But, within the grand scheme of affairs, it is nothing more than the glow of a firefly that is destined to die after a few days, leaving no trace of its misbegotten existence.