Pashinyan’s interview to Al Jazeera: Veracity-checking
By Orkhan Amashov
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s interview given to Al Jazeera on 13 June was, unexpectedly, not of a revelatory nature. Nonetheless, certain points articulated therein are worthy of close inspection.
This June is unlikely to go down within the annals of the Azerbaijani-Armenian normalisation process as a breakthrough. No new liminal line has been crossed. No admission resulting from painstakingly arduous self-analysis and metaphorical self-flagellation has been made.
Most of the statements made by Pashinyan in the interview were a reiteration of the regressive part of the post-conflict Armenian narrative. Yet there are always some nuances or shifts of emphasis that may be discerned and cogitated upon.
Whilst responding to the question on the 10 November trilateral declaration, Pashinyan insisted that the document in question was not a ceasefire agreement, but a declaration on ceasefire. At first glance, this may appear a pedantic, semantic and largely inconsequential formality, but this is not the case.
The Armenian PM’s concise and rural definition for the declaration is that “with the statement, the ceasefire came into force, all military actions ended, and there was a step aimed at ending the violence”.
This is only one limb of the substantive core ingrained within the document. The 10 November deal, falling short of a peace treaty, is nevertheless a definitive ceasefire agreement, with a clear set of provisions, according to which Aghdam, Lachin and Kalbajar were returned to Azerbaijani control, albeit in desecrated form.
The deal was an armistice agreement giving rise to obligations under international law. Its declarative nature was augmented with normatively defined ‘responsibility’ to undertake those steps enabling Azerbaijan to regain control of the aforementioned territories.
Pashinyan’s insistence on avoiding the term ‘agreement’ has its roots in some rhetorical elements employed by him after November 2020. The Armenian PM was adamant to downgrade the declaration as a “document deciding on nothing substantial”.
Back then, this ‘limited’ interpretation appeared to be driven by a desire to ‘put on a brave face’ and placate the critics at home and amidst the diaspora. Now, it seems to be guided by the contrived belief that what once gave rise to the conflict has not yet been dealt with, and thus nothing has been decided upon, as such.
“Nagorno-Karabakh” issue not addressed
In this vein, Pashinyan believes that the trilateral declaration did not address “the Nagorno-Karabakh issue”, and the most urgent matter between Armenia and Azerbaijan and for regional peace remains related to this.
It is not just that the ceasefire deal did not entail any provision as to the subject in question, but there was no mention of the truncated remnants of the beleaguered, illegal and so-called “NKR” as an entity or the OSCE Minsk Group whose mandate was to address the root cause of the conflict – which related to the territorial status of the former oblast.
The trilateral statement, of course, was not designed to be a final word on what is now the former conflict, but the absence of the key ingredient that had long been central to the protracted process is being perceived by many as the removal of the territorial status question from the discourse.
Denuded from its territorial dimension, the former ‘NKR’ issue has transmogrified into one related to the rights and security of the ethnic Armenian population of Karabakh within the interstate normalisation process between Baku and Yerevan. This is what was missing from Pashinyan’s answer and he has yet to accept it unconditionally.
Interestingly enough, during the traditional ‘Parliamentary Hour’ in the Armenian National Assembly, which took place subsequent to this Al Jazeera interview, the Armenian PM again reiterated that the status was not an aim in itself, but a method of achieving guarantees for the rights and security of the Armenian population.
Whilst explaining the work of the delimitation commissions, Pashinyan said that this particular track of interstate engagement “has nothing to do with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict”. Here, he deserves a half-reprobation.
It is true that the DD subject (delimitation and demarcation) is unconnected with the operational situation on the temporary zone under the aegis of the Russian peacekeepers, yet the Armenian PM’s insistence on referring to the former conflict in a present tense leaves much to be desired.
Zangazur and Lachin corridors
The Zangazur Corridor remains a subject that is a source of continuous vexation for Armenia. Pashinyan stated that “the wording, the narrative about the so-called corridor is unacceptable”, and “it is a red line”. He also argued that the trilateral declaration referred to one corridor, and that was the Lachin corridor “that connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia”, whereas the rest was “about opening communications”, based on the principle of mutual respect for sovereignty and the inviolability of borders.
Again, it is undeniably true that the ceasefire deal does not mention the Zangazur Corridor, but what matters is the substance, which could be ascertained with relative ease upon examination of the original design behind Article 9. The self-same provision states, inter alia, that Armenia is to guarantee “the safety of transport links between the western regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic in order to organise an unimpeded movement of citizens, vehicles and goods in both directions”.
In terms of its gist, the “unimpeded” connection between the main Azerbaijani territory and Nakhchivan, as stated in Article 9, is not different from the Lachin Corridor, along which Baku is to “guarantee the safety of citizens, vehicles, and goods traveling in both directions”.
What is of import here is the nature and normative core of a regime that will apply to the route going through Southern Armenia. The path will be long and rock-strewn, but the cartographers will reflect the new reality.
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