By Tigran Grigoryan
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, addressing the country’s parliament on April 13, once again made a number of startling statements about the Karabakh conflict settlement process. Pashinyan’s most controversial statement referred to the international community’s insistence to lessen Armenians’ demands on the status of Artsakh. In that part of his speech, Pashinyan in particular mentioned:
“Today, the international community is telling us again: slightly lower your bar on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and ensure greater international consolidation around Armenia and Artsakh. Otherwise, the international community says, do not rely on us, not because we do not want to help you, but because we can not help you.”
Pashinyan’s latest speech is part of a strategy that started in the summer of 2021. The ruling Civil Contract party’s Artsakh agenda was quite bold in the June 19 snap parliamentary elections last year. The party spoke about Nagorno-Karabakh’s right to self-determination through the application of the principle of remedial secession.
The program also mentioned that the Republic of Armenia will continue to be the guarantor of the security of the people of Artsakh. The ruling party promised to keep the de-occupation of territories of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region on its agenda.
However, just two months after Pashinyan’s Civil Contract’s victory in the snap parliamentary elections, two of the three provisions listed above – Nagorno-Karabakh’s self-determination through the principle of remedial secession and the de-occupation of territories – were not included in the government program.
Between the snap elections and the adoption of the government program, a number of events took place that changed the approach of the ruling party to the Karabakh settlement process by 180 degrees. It was during this period that Armenia was offered to abandon its previous stance on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and “lower the bar.”
First, the Foreign Ministers of Romania, Austria and Lithuania arrived in the South Caucasus on June 24-26, 2021. During a press conference concluding the visit, Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu stated that further modernization and democratization of the country should become Armenia’s new strategic goal.
The unspoken part of this statement implied that Yerevan should gradually reconsider its priorities, renouncing some of its demands and positions on the Artsakh issue. This was a widely circulated point of discussion in the West after the end of the Second Karabakh War.
Following the Foreign Ministers’ visit, European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi arrived in the region on July 8-9. At a press conference in Yerevan on July 9, Várhelyi announced that the EU would provide 1.6 billion euros to Armenia for a number of priority special programs and that another 1 billion euros would be raised from other sources for Armenia.
The President of the European Council Charles Michel visited the region on July 17-18. This visit kicked off the EU-Armenia mediation mission in the Armenian-Azerbaijani context.
During their visits to Yerevan, the EU officials most likely tried to explain to the Armenian authorities that raising the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independent status after the defeat in the second Karabakh war was unreasonable.
Instead, it is likely that Armenia was offered to soften its stance and agree to any status of Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan. And the consolidation of the international community around Armenia and Artsakh, which Pashinyan mentioned in his speech on April 13, would be expressed in the form of 2.6 billion euros in financial assistance and promises of economic development.
The Armenian authorities have obviously accepted these EU conditions, as they did not see any particular prospects for Nagorno-Karabakh to achieve an independent status.
What has been happening in Armenian public discourse on the Karabakh issue over the past six months has been a direct consequence of this process. Various government officials regularly tried to convey to the public the idea that the status of Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan should be an acceptable option for the Armenian side.
The same goal was pursued by Nikol Pashinyan at a scandalous press conference at the end of last year, during which the Prime Minister simply repeated a number of Azeri theses on the conflict. On April 13, Pashinyan spoke more openly about his goals. His speeches on this issue are likely to become more honest in the near future.
This position of the European Union is understandable. Brussels is guided by strictly pragmatic principles. The EU first needs peace and tranquility in the South Caucasus. European officials are not so interested in which side’s interests will be trampled in the process of establishing peace.
By the way, hours after Pashinyan’s speech, the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia, Toivo Klaar, wrote on his Twitter page, noting that many challenges still remain on the road to a comprehensive settlement, but it is important to move forward. “Armenia has the EU support in the search for a just peace.”
In this case, it is important to understand Azerbaijan’s stance in the process. At this stage, Baku seems to have adopted a more maximalist approach; it is not ready to even discuss the question of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status within Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani authorities continue to insist that the Karabakh conflict is over and that there is not even an administrative unit called Nagorno-Karabakh.
However, it can not be ruled out that Baku may temporarily soften its approach in the presence of various promises from the EU. However, Moscow’s position on this issue will be crucial. In conclusion, it should be noted that, if this process succeeds, Nagorno-Karabakh will face a complete ethnic cleansing of Armenians. The Armenians of Artsakh are not ready to accept any status within Azerbaijan. In case of such a development, they will simply leave their homes on their own volition. The era of peace will settle in the region alongside the ethnic cleansing of Artsakh.
Translated by Zara Poghosyan
Tigran Grigoryan is a political analyst based in Yerevan. He holds a Master’s degree in Conflict, Governance, and International Development from the University of East Anglia.