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Pashinyan’s crib sheet evolves

28 September 2022 15:14 (UTC+04:00)
Pashinyan’s crib sheet evolves

By Orkhan Amashov

With the tiniest bit more rigour, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan could have cut a better, less of a dissembler type of a figure at the UN on 22 September. With a swot’s enthusiasm, he croaked out, as if by rote, the Armenian account of the 12-14 September state border escalation, fired off a few sly barbed darts at Baku’s coercive negotiating stance and stated that Yerevan would recognise Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, if the latter would reciprocate.

As was the case in his latest parliamentary addresses at home, Pashinyan emphasised “the integrity of Armenian territory across 29,800 square kilometres”. In New York, he went further, and asked Baku for the map showing the boundaries of Armenia according to Azerbaijani rationale. This was cunning, perhaps so cunning that one could have put a tail on it and called it a weasel, or maybe a beleaguered polecat. But this move was not exceedingly wise. In fact, this posturing is a negotiating stance which simply says “what is ours is ours, what is yours is a subject for further negotiations”, befitting a victor dictating the tempo, and thus not for Pashinyan to assume.

It is also unwise because the real question is if Armenia is ready to recognise Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity across 86,600 square kilometres, including Karabakh. In fact, he never openly made such an unambiguous statement.

The taxonomy of Armenia’s future recognition that Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan is still under gestation and has only been comprised of feigned admissions made at different points, to date. Whenever Pashinyan came close to uttering the essential rhetoric, or said something akin to the obligatory, the wrath of the domestic opposition and the Diaspora was heaped upon him, making him retract or imbue nuances of a different meaning to divert away from a trepidatious move towards a comprehensive deal.

As sure as the Pontiff retains his Catholicism, the point about the mutual recognition of each other’s territorial integrity is integral to the peace agenda, and constitutes one of the five principles that Baku offered in February and with which Yerevan acquiesced in March. In New York, Pashinyan remonstrated that a peace deal must be a real, and not phantom, demanding some “concreteness” as to "reciprocity".

If it is clarity he is after, then it should also be said that the Armenian illegal armed formations have not yet left Karabakh, in contravention of Article 4 of the 10 November 2020 trilateral declaration. Pashinyan’s “we are ready to recognise Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity” or “we already recognised it in 1992” lines entail nothing but sordid, long-practiced creative ambiguity. As long as uncertainty will prevail regarding this principal focal point, Azerbaijan is under no obligation to reciprocate in so many words.

It remains a sad fact of life that the state border between the two belligerents remains undelimited and undefined. It is partially due to the lack of progress in the delimitation track of the negotiations that these recurrent escalations prove deadly and unpredictable. Pashinyan’s view of the Zangazur Corridor remains one of stodgy annoyance. His whole argument is still based on superficiality, which is that the term “corridor” is absent in Article 9 of the ceasefire deal. The substance is not of primary importance, but merely one externally visible word that is fuelling his obstreperousness.

Yerevan envisions a peace process as pootling along whilst spurning momentums. This is the core reason obstructing the negotiations. In this vein, the recently intensified diplomatic efforts of Washington seem to be worthy of particular note. On 26 September, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan tweeted that he had hosted the meeting between Hikmat Hajiyev, Foreign Policy Adviser to the President of Azerbaijan, and Armen Grigoryan, Secretary of Armenia’s National Security Council, and emphasised the parties, inter alia, discussed “the importance of pursuing time-bound and focused negotiations”.

The word “time-bound” is critical here. Yerevan’s flip-floppiness and disregard for deadlines need to be addressed. The argument that the first duty is to avoid the possibility of escalations and then work on a peace agenda is misleading. The two objectives should be fulfilled simultaneously. As the experience of the past two years has shown, if the negotiations are slackened, escalations will continue to erupt with more regularity.

To be more succinct, so long as the Armenian forces remain in hiding under the protection of the Russian “peacekeepers” in Karabakh, there will be ongoing tensions within or near the temporary zone. At the same time, the undelimited zone at the intersection of the two states will continue to witness escalations.

Having said all this, one should also reflect on the gradual transformation of Pashinyan, which is slow and tempered by the pressure exerted on him by the peace-resistant forces within the Armenian world. “The status is not the goal, but the means to guarantee the security and rights of the Armenian population of Karabakh”, proclaimed by him in April, was a significant step.

Following the 12-14 September escalation, in a parliamentary address, he expressed his readiness to sign a document, which would guarantee Armenia’s integrity across 29,800 square kilometres, even if such a course would see him thrown out of office. Despite being somewhat retracted later, the utterance of the original point was also a move in the right direction.

Then, in New York, whilst addressing the UN General Assembly, he reiterated his willingness to recognise Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, if Baku does the same in relation to Armenia. This was another step. Cumulatively, these points constitute an irrefutably vague and nebulous domain that has yet to evolve into a solid political position.

Finality will be achieved when a sufficient degree of antedating statements will form the fertile ground for a definitive Armenian recognition that Karabakh is Azerbaijan. Such a finality could be achieved by other means, if Pashinyan decides to budge from his current position, as is his wont.

To extricate itself from this execrable state of affairs, Armenia needs to adopt the most effective trajectory and avoid falling into a new nadir. If it fails to do so, no piper will play a lament and only crocodile tears will be shed. So long as Yerevan is not signed up to recognising and respecting Azerbaijani territorial integrity, Armenia's own borders will be subject to clarification, and Armenians will be unable to sleep soundly in their beds.

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