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Tuesday September 27 2022

Pashinyan muddles through at home and evades Samarkand

16 September 2022 18:03 (UTC+04:00)
Pashinyan muddles through at home and evades Samarkand

By Orkhan Amashov

The state of affairs in the Armenian Prime Minister’s backyard is unenviably tense, but one aspect is unmistakably clear: Yerevan will remain unmoved in its vindictiveness unless pressurised by Baku to act otherwise, and any semi-reasonable statement or move made by Pashinyan, revealing his inclination to move towards peace, will prompt an internal uproar, which he will find challenging to placate.

Admission and retraction

In his 14 September post-escalation statement to the National Assembly, the incumbent PM expressed his willingness to sign an undefined “paper”, which would guarantee for Armenia “a lasting peace and security across an area of 29.800 square kilometres”, even though by so doing, he would be vilified as a traitor, culminating in his being ignominiously turfed out of office. Again, he resorted to the old formula on the Karabakh subject, first enunciated in April, that “the status is not a goal, but a means to ensure the security and rights” of the Armenians in the region.

His admission, perceived by many to be tantamount to the possibility of Armenia recognising Azerbaijani territorial integrity, with Karabakh included, led to massive protests demanding his resignation, with some opposition MPs calling for an impeachment procedure to be pursued. Later, Pashinyan backtracked, claiming no document had been signed and he had not seen any draft agreement that he would sign, in an attempt to appease the malcontent.

The question arises as to what exactly that hypothetical document which Pashinyan expressed his willingness to sign is meant to entail. Will it be some sort of a pre-comprehensive deal declaration, establishing mutual recognition of the territorial integrities of both sides, stating an unequivocal position on Karabakh and denoting the fundamentals for a future interstate treaty with a wider remit? Or does Pashinyan mean some sort of an interim resolution, exclusively regulating the state border issues?

There is no clear answer to this question. It seems to be characteristic of Pashinyan to make one statement indicating his resolve for peace and then retrospectively add explanatory additions, altering the original meaning, when forced to deal with specific nuances by his unhappy populace. Dithering is easy to him, as he has been manifestly preoccupied with it hitherto.

The Samarkand summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) could have provided a platform for the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders to discuss the recent situation, but with Pashinyan refusing to attend, this chance has been spurned.

Pashinyan’s fate

The Armenian leader’s predicament has now been considerably exacerbated, as a result of the deadly implications of the recent escalation, which cost lives on both sides, albeit considerably more deleterious for Armenia in terms of its military position alongside the border. Some may argue that if the current PM is chucked out of office as a consequence, it will also be on the conscience of Azerbaijan, whose mode of response was remorselessly swift and debilitating for the other side. British journalist Neil Watson commented: “For all his rhetoric and obstreperousness, Pashinyan is the Armenian leader that Azerbaijan needs. A cannier and more committed leader would never have been in this situation.”

If one throws a retrospective glance at the tenure of Pashinyan in its cumulative entirety, one would see that Baku has shown enough goodwill over this period. In 2018, now-former President Serzh Sargsyan, whilst on the verge of an imminent overthrow, appealed to the people, voicing the argument that if power changed hands, Azerbaijan would use it for its advantage over Karabakh. Quite the reverse, Baku exercised restraint so as not to be an obstacle to Pashinyan’s ascendance, with the expectation that a new administration in Yerevan would depart from the hard line pursued by the previous leadership.

When in 2019, Pashinyan renounced the OSCE Minsk Group principles, declaring that “Karabakh is Armenia and full stop”, Azerbaijan raised its diplomatic measures, without resorting to military means. Now, after the Second Karabakh War, when Yerevan remains committed to delaying a peace deal, any act of tolerance towards Armenia’s teetering is likely to be utilised by Yerevan as acceptance of further vacillation.

Pashinyan's parliamentary address entailed in itself a premonition of further losses if no concessions were made. This element needs a clearer hearing. It is incumbent upon him to build upon the morbid side of the recent escalation to make a strong case that would not just indicate the judiciousness of the intensification of peace talks, but lead to the upending of Armenia's presently prevailing recalcitrant negotiation position, the continuity of which would, in all probability, amount to further clashes, or possibly a new war.

Ultimately, it all boils down to the degree and clarity with which Yerevan is ready to acknowledge the basic precept that ‘Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan’. Pashinyan, in his parliamentary address, indicated that a deal he would sign might not be the agreement of ‘our dreams’, hinting at an unpleasant, but inevitable eventuality, the exact content of which remains uncertain.

What he is essentially saying is “we will need to agree to something which we won’t like”. This is a half-feigned harbinger of a conclusive renunciation of Karabakh. Yet, since he also needs to sound plausible to his people, he is unable to call a spade a spade, and it remains a colander, replete with holes. Again, he is navigating between what he will do, what is deemed possible and what will happen if fails to do what is necessary. These fit well with his currently incomplete playbook.

As the hourglass for negotiations reaches its penultimate grain of sand, any escalation is to be viewed as a crisis, which must be transmogrified into an opportunity, or a fresh impetus to follow a lasting peace agenda. Pashinyan may still, whilst looking at the dusky void of escape tunnels, discern a turbid gaslight in the shape of an external saviour. Yet the darkness of his imminent environs is only tempered by a vague radiance coming from Baku, and the candour in his rheumy eyes must follow.

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