Will Pashinyan Be Able to Make a Drastic Turnaround in Armenian-Azerbaijani Relations?
Zurab Batiashvili, Research Fellow at the Rondeli Foundation
After the end of the second Karabakh war, it became clear that the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan require normalization.
However, it is also clear that this is not an easy goal to achieve. This requires Yerevan to recognize the principle of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The current Armenian government views the process positively; however, this idea also has its opponents who consider this step tantamount to the abandonment of Karabakh.
Now, the main question is whether or not Pashinyan will be able to make a fundamental change in Armenian-Azerbaijani relations?
The Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiation process began shortly after the war and was mainly mediated by Russia.
This process was bumpy (serious clashes between the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides have taken place many times). Various agreements (for example, on the opening of communications) were also reached at these meetings. However, it has always been hard to implement these agreements in real life.
The last meeting between the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, and the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, took place on April 6, 2022 in Brussels. It is important that this meeting took place without Russian participation. Naturally, the Kremlin involved in Russia‘s war against Ukraine has little time for the South Caucasus. Hence, mediation was done by the European Union in this case and it seems that the parties have made significant progress during the meeting in Brussels.
Trilateral meeting organized by the European Union on April 6 in Brussels
The Council of Europe President, Charles Michel, called the trilateral meeting productive, adding that the leaders of the two countries agreed to "move rapidly" towards a peace agreement.
Returning to Baku, the President of Azerbaijan, during a meeting with the members of his own government, expressed satisfaction with the meeting in Brussels, adding that it became clear to him that "Armenia is abandoning territorial claims."
Aliyev meeting with members of the Cabinet of Ministers of Azerbaijan
It should also be noted that despite the meeting in Brussels, Russia has not been completely excluded from the process. Pashinyan's visit to Russia is scheduled for April 19 where he will meet with Putin and, most likely, discuss the above-mentioned issue.
Pashinyan’s Address to the Parliament
Returning to his homeland after the meeting in Brussels, Pashinyan quickly took action and made important statements. In particular, in his speech to the Armenian Parliament on April 13, Pashinyan said that his government is ready to recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
In addition, Pashinyan said in his speech: "It is my fault that in 2018-2019 I did not inform the public that our close or distant friends were asking us to hand over seven districts to Azerbaijan with this or that configuration and lower the requirements on the status of Artsakh. I am guilty of not telling the people that the international community unequivocally recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and expects us to follow the suit, they also expect to fully engage the Azerbaijanis who left Karabakh in determining and managing the future of Nagorno-Karabakh."
Pashinyan's speech in the Armenian Parliament
Pashinyan added: "Today, the international community clearly tells us that we are the only country in the world that does not recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, an ally of Turkey, and that it is very dangerous not only for Karabakh but also for Armenia.
Today, the international community is clearly telling us that we need to lower our requirements on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.”
He added that he wants to sign an agreement with Azerbaijan as soon as possible which includes the recognition of each other's territorial integrity and noted that it is acceptable for Yerevan.
Although Pashinyan did not openly say whether or not his administration was ready to recognize Azerbaijan's sovereignty over Karabakh, it is clear that this is implied. He only noted the importance of "the security guarantees, rights and freedoms for the Armenians living in Karabakh."
Reactions to Pashinyan’s Speech
The opposition (there are many politicians with positive attitudes about Russia) did not attend Pashinyan’s speech in the parliament but Ishkhan Saghatelian, the Vice-Speaker of the Parliament, who is a representative of the opposing Armenian Alliance (this two-party alliance created by the former President, Robert Kocharian, in 2021 includes the Armenian Revival Party and the Dashnak Party) said:
"It means that we will completely lose Artsakh [Nagorno Karabakh] because if we choose this route, Armenians will leave Artsakh. And this is completely unacceptable for us."
Saghatelian added that the only way to avoid such a scenario is to change the Armenian government. However, he did not specify how the opposition intends to do so given that after the defeat in the Karabakh war, Pashinyan held early parliamentary elections on June 20, 2021 and won convincingly (he received 53.9% of the vote, in other words, he has strong support in Armenian society).
The only thing that is known at the moment is that the opposition is planning to hold protest rallies in the near future, similar to the one held on April 5 by the Armenian Alliance together with the second opposition bloc, Pativ Unem.
Representatives of the self-proclaimed Karabakh government also opposed Pashinyan. According to the so-called “Minister of Foreign Affairs of Karabakh,” Davit Babalian, "any attempt to incorporate Artsakh into Azerbaijan will lead to the bloodshed and destruction. Our red line is that we will not be part of Azerbaijan."
The self-proclaimed "President of Karabakh," Araik Harutyunyan, also said that the Armenians of Karabakh will not give up their right to self-determination.
The Azerbaijani factor is a very important issue with which both supporters of Pashinyan and his opponents have to contend. Since the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine war, the Russian Defense Ministry has twice identified the fact of the Azerbaijani side moving positions deep into Karabakh. The last such case occurred on April 16. Russia was powerless to change the situation in both cases. Obviously, this situation worries the Armenian side, which sees it as pressure, especially in the light of Russia's lack of success in its ongoing war with Ukraine.
- The Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, is trying to make a drastic change in Azerbaijan-Armenia relations. He believes that now that the Second Karabakh War is over, there is a chance for positive bilateral relations (it should be noted that Armenia has begun such a reconciliation process with Turkey as well);
- This process is accelerated by Russia's failed war in Ukraine which has already precipitated the weakening of Russia's global positions. Russia’s future is even more unclear. It is because of this reality that the Armenian government is trying to negotiate with Azerbaijan on relatively better terms (while it is still possible);
- The Armenian opposition and the self-proclaimed government of Karabakh are trying to oppose this process. However, it is clear that their resources are limited at this point and Pashinyan also has more solid ground;
- Currently, Russia's ability to have a negative impact on Azerbaijan-Armenia relations is limited. Involved in a war against Ukraine, the Kremlin has neither the time nor the sufficient military or intellectual resources to do so;
It is in Georgia 's interest to have lasting peace in the region (particularly important is the fact that the West is intensifying its efforts to resolve the problems in our region) which will enable greater security and development (including joint projects and investments) throughout the South Caucasus.
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