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Armenian opposition remains obdurately inflexible, Pashinyan panders to its prejudices

12 May 2022 11:10 (UTC+04:00)
Armenian opposition remains obdurately inflexible, Pashinyan panders to its prejudices

By Orkhan Amashov

As Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan struggles to probe and penetrate the most peace-resistant stratum of Armenian society to gain its support, his detractors are continuing to foment resistance against what they believe is nothing but "inglorious peace".

The present phase of the confrontation between the government and opposition is not the height of the nationwide schism, and the incumbent PM is not in the throes of the most violent despair of his tenure – he faced a greater threat in the past, yet managed to ride supreme in the face of the slings and arrows of his detractors.

Prior to the 2021 June snap election, the prospects for Pashinyan's government were far more lamentable and the danger of the loss of power was potentially imminent. Back then, the question sullying the minds of Armenians was whether Pashinyan would be able to maintain electoral support after the disastrous 2020 war, and the answer to that critical question was given affirmatively. The result was perceived as a vote of confidence and the offering of a fresh mandate to pursue a peace agenda.

However, there is no guarantee he will survive unscathed on this occasion, for nothing is unthinkable and the resilience of the disgruntled opposition, coupled with the deep-entrenched and seemingly intractable paranoia within Armenian society, form a continuous source of implacable vexation.

The ongoing ferment should not be underestimated. Although a sufficiently potent critical mass has not been established to enable the opposition to overthrow Pashinyan and his government, it is possible that such a mass could transmogrify into an irresistible force within a short space of time.

Revenge is a strong poison, and Armenian society has not come anywhere near overcoming the inextinguishable allure of the fatally toxic ambition that once governed it to the fullest extent. The political spectrum in Yerevan is not monolithic, of course. Those who call for the removal of the incumbent government do not currently have an upper hand yet the eventual growth of the present discontent to something disproportionately massive cannot be excluded.

It is in this context that the emergence of Armenia's six-point counter-proposal to Azerbaijan's original peace offer should be evaluated. The exact content of the former is not known, but one is given to understand that it entails the provision on the rights and security of Karabakh Armenians and makes references to certain terms and constructs that Baku finds inadmissible – specifically "the final status of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Oblast" and "the OSCE Minsk Group" that has long been viewed "de facto dead" by Azerbaijan.

The counter-proposal may, at first glance, appear to be a meagre attempt to consolidate Yerevan’s negotiating position by placing emphasis on what is important to Armenia. However, on closer inspection, once the timing and circumambient circumstances are taken into account, it seems to have been designed to placate the disaffected and pander to the opposition’s prejudices.

The Armenian opposition has become more image-conscious. In some quarters, the term "revenge" seems to be, if not detested, certainly undesirable. Its regressive connotations are fathomed by some Pashinyan opponents to the extent that they offer a different lexicon.

For instance, Armen Gevorkyan from the Republican Party claims that what should drive the opposition today is not revanchism, but a desire to protect the nation's dignity within the clearly delineated red lines. Yet the gist is the same - bemoan the loss of national self-confidence and hopelessly stick to the idea of reversing the consequences of the Second Karabakh War by refusing Baku's peace agenda.

Pashinyan is far from being forced to resign. The present state of affairs does not necessitate such a compulsion. Avetik Chalabyan of the National Agenda Party believes that in order for Pashinyan to be constitutionally removed, around 20 members of his party in the Parliament should denounce him so as to create the basis for "no-confidence".

Once it is clear that Pashinyan, as PM, does not command the confidence of the National Assembly, there will be a new election. This, of course, entails a great deal of wishful thinking, yet it is noteworthy to acknowledge that the opposition is considering all sorts of routes.

Pashinyan now is vacillating and undertaking a great deal of prevarication so as to appease his disparagers. Renouncing the peace agenda may provide for him some momentary respite which would be detrimental to his course in the long run.

One aspect that should be borne in mind with unmistakable clarity is that the revanchist opposition is unlikely to be won over or convinced of the futility of the pro-war venture. It is improbable that the inflexible obduracy will be eschewed. However, it is possible is that the revenge-driven segment could be overpowered.

In the meantime, Baku must brace itself for all sorts of eventualities. The prospects for a peace deal will not be bolstered by the demise of Pashinyan and rise of the former elites, yet such a political change will primarily be negatively consequential for Yerevan, not Baku.

To recapitulate, the ghastly return of the Karabakh clan to the top of Armenian politics is not perceived as a likely possibility, as the circumstances on the ground are not sufficiently conducive for such an after-the-bell comeback.

Yet, the current opposition is able to exert sufficient pressure on the government to derail the peace process. The present ambiguity over the terms of the peace negotiations between Baku and Yerevan seems to have been engendered by Pashinyan's attempts to fend off the attacks of his denigrators.

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