A Revolution? Perhaps Not — What’s Old Is New In Armenia


Jacob Kamaras Editor for the Jewish News Service
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Newly elected Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan says he is “ready to continue peaceful talks” with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), the mountainous region running along the Eurasian nations’ border that has been the source of their decades-long conflict.

With Pashinyan hailing his rise in the country’s “nonviolent, ‘velvet revolution’” and mainstream media coverage echoing his claims that there is “new hope” for Armenia, it’s tempting for the middling observer to believe that the new leader brings with him new prospects for regional peace.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In the same comments he purportedly commits to a peace process with Azerbaijan, Pashinyan asserted that “mutual concessions would be possible only after recognition of the right of the NK people to self-determination.”

Pashinyan’s call for “self-determination” in NK represents his vow that Armenia will continue and even intensify its occupation of internationally recognized Azerbaijani territory. U.N. Security Council Resolutions 853, 874 and 884, as well as U.N. General Assembly Resolutions 19/13 and 57/298, all validate NK as part of Azerbaijan. The U.S. State Department, too, states that America “does not recognize NK as an independent country, and its leadership is not recognized internationally or by the U.S.”

Demanding that Azerbaijan surrender its internationally recognized rights to its own territory, in favor of self-determination for the so-called “Nagorno-Karabakh people” — who, in reality and in legal terms, are Armenian and simply reside in Azerbaijan — is a non-starter for any peace negotiations.

His calls for self-determination and recognition of NK are, given the circumstances, not only disingenuous and a continuation of long-held illegal Armenian policies, but also a thinly veiled nod to his intention to continue the occupation.

But Pashinyan gets even more audacious. He also insisted, “I’m ready to hold talks with Azerbaijan’s president on behalf of Armenia, but the leadership of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) should hold talks on behalf of Artsakh.”

By “the leadership” of Nagorno-Karabakh, Pashinyan is referring to “president” Bako Sahakyan, who has links to Russian military intelligence and Middle East terrorists from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. He is not a legitimate political leader and certainly not a suitable negotiating partner for Azerbaijan. Would you negotiate with a post-Soviet warlord, or would your country negotiate with anyone representing an unrecognized “republic?” What practical value would the outcome of such negotiations even carry?

“What is this? Initial naiveté, ignorance of the subject, the bravado of the victor or maybe all of these together?” Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Hikmet Hajiyev said in response to Pashinyan’s comments.

The conflict is not the only important issue that remains unchanged, contrary to popular belief, amid the election of Pashinyan. Some pundits theorize that Russia, in a break from its longtime pattern of meddling in the affairs of post-Soviet states and opposing anti-government revolutions, will not interfere in Armenia.

Yet Reuters reports that before the resignation of Pashinyan’s predecessor Serzh Sargsyan amid widespread protests in Yerevan, “Russian officials had high-level phone contacts with the protest leaders and the ruling elite that was clinging to power,” with the news agency citing “three people briefed on the discussions.”

Foreign policy circles, however, largely believe that Moscow cunningly played both sides and acted as a “silent kingmaker in Armenia’s revolution,” as Reuters describes. This, of course, perpetuates long-standing policies and personalities; therefore, upon closer observation, little has changed.

For now, Russian interference in Armenia’s transition of power is subtle. It doesn’t look anything like the annexation of Crimea, just yet. But judging from the history of Russian foreign policy and specifically, its deep influence in Armenia, don’t expect the subtlety of Moscow’s intervention to last.

Gen. Petr Pavel, chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, understands this well, telling Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “To some extent, I am surprised there is not so much visible Russian interference, but I believe there is a lot going on beneath the surface.”

“Armenia is one of the countries which Russia sees as their near neighborhood and their justified sphere of influence,” Pavel pointed out, also noting Russia’s “significant” military presence in Armenia.

Sargsyan and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin repeatedly expressed that they coordinate their policies. Pashinyan has already said that Armenia wants to purchase additional Russian weapons and forge closer business and political ties to Moscow.

“We have things to discuss, but there are also things that do not need any discussion. That is the strategic relationship of allies between Armenia and Russia,” Pashinyan told Putin during their first meeting.

The (for now) feel-good era of Pashinyan won’t solve poverty-stricken Armenia’s economic woes, either. The Armenian GDP plummeted over 14 percent in 2009 during the first year of Sargsyan’s presidency, and the nation has never recovered. Yerevan’s backward economy remains heavily dependent on agriculture and is plagued by skyrocketing inflation as well as a severe brain drain.

Sargsyan led Armenia down a road to becoming arguably the least sovereign post-Soviet state, and that is why the country is in disarray. Accordingly, Pashinyan won’t make progress towards addressing these problems if he fails to disentangle Yerevan from Moscow and that scenario seems more unlikely with each day.

Pashinyan can carry out a shake-up of Armenia’s government, or make generic statements about wanting peace with Azerbaijan. But we shouldn’t expect substantive political and economic change in Armenia anytime soon, not even after this “revolution.”

Jacob Kamaras is a contributor at the Haym Salomon Center. 

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.