“Enlight” Public Research Center presents Nzhdeh Hovsepyan’s historical-political study “The Armenian Architecture of the Status-Quo in Nagorno Karabakh. New National Ideology (?)”, which has been accomplished with the support of “Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation”.
The Armenian Architecture of the Status-Quo in Nagorno Karabakh. New National Ideology (?)
Since 1994 the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has shifted from hot to cold, and the conflicting parties have moved from the mountains and battlefields to multilateral, trilateral (bilateral) summits. Between the escalation and de-escalation periods of the conflict, the strictly narrow interests of many players, and the common good, its nature shifted over the years both in terms of content and form. Not only Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Azerbaijan, but also the international community had their own understanding of the conflict, and the disagreement around its resolution deepened from year to year.
Under these conditions, the settlement of the conflict through peaceful negotiations, no matter the willingness the parties expressed, came to a deadlock. The deadlock was not only obvious at landmark summits (Lisbon in 1996, Key West in 2001, Rambouillet in 2006, Kazan in 2011, etc.), but it was also evident in the rhetoric and practices of the parties, in their day-to-day activities. If the international mediators considered keeping the negotiation process alive and manageable a priority, the agendas of Armenia (also Nagorno-Karabakh) and Azerbaijan differed significantly. The Armenian side ruled out a military solution, confident that the 1994 victorious ceasefire resolved the conflict to their benefit. With this mindset, it was perfectly natural to adopt a strategy of maintaining the status-quo deriving from the contradictions between the external centers of power, and conditioned by that, the route of rejecting a military resolution to the conflict. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan had its own agenda, which it made no effort to hide; make full use of the time allotted for the peaceful settlement of the deadlock, and prepare for their “big break” of conflict resolution by any means possible (including military). In fact, the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides made drastically different methodological and strategic calculations. One side hoped to maintain the status-quo in the face of external power center controversies, while the other hoped to play on those very contradictions to change the situation in its favor at an opportune moment.
In 1998 the so-called “status-quo party” won in the Armenian crisis of power. They were advocating for the political discourse derived from the very goal of maintaining the status-quo for as long as possible. This entailed Nagorno-Karabakh being de facto independent and in control of the 7 regions, but without the international recognition. The Armenian political discourse was accordingly derived from the goal of constructing the architecture of the political thought in service of preserving the status-quo. In the internal Armenian politics, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was pushed to the background, and instead, the domestic political agenda and socio-economic concerns came to the foreground. In fact, the absolute majority of the main political forces unanimously preferred to keep the Nagorno-Karabakh issue on the sidelines, practically “forcing” the Armenian society to support the policy of maintaining the status-quo.
If the Armenian non-governmental political forces were not formally responsible for that, the situation was completely different for the ones in power. After 1998 official Yerevan kept discussing options of compromise in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement negotiations, including the possibility of conceding or exchanging territories. The Armenian authorities, however, did not publicize this to the internal audience.
Moreover, since 1998 anti-concession propaganda took to rise inside the country. The internal political rhetoric on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was not concentrated around the need for its resolution and subsequent tangible outcomes. Instead, it presented the problem to be already solved, stressed the impossibility of conceding an inch from one’s homeland, and discredited those who spoke for compromises – declaring them traitors.
Notwithstanding such distorted reality, in 2018 Armenia underwent a government change. The country faced a lucky opportunity to re-evaluate the pre-existing realities, but there was no ideological shift in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, leaving the political discourse rooted in maintaining the status-quo. In fact, the 2018 events did not lead to an open discussion about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between the government and the public, failing to realize the necessity of resolving the conflict. The notion that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was Armenia’s main problem was missing from the social and political circles, ignoring the fact that in such a large-scale conflict, where the interests of many (countries, corporations, individuals) intersect, the status-quo could change at any moment with disastrous consequences. And then in 2020, with the sudden change in the frozen state of the conflict, Armenia discovered that it had been trapped in an explosive false reality for decades. It turned out that, despite propaganda and self-deception, the conflict had not been resolved. The defeat suffered by the Armenian side in the 44-day war and the irreversible human, territorial, material, and time losses proved that the ship of the sovereign Armenian state is in a completely new situation – much more vulnerable, weakened, and with a damaged ideological basis.
The Status-Quo – a Half-Solution Between War and Peace
The January 7-8 Armenian Security Council extended session of 1998 was a turning point not only for a number of Armenian state officials but also for the development course of the Armenian state-building. Just like around the world, in Armenia too, political disagreements have often led to the resignation of certain officials, which is not at all unusual. Even the set of resignations and the backstage nature of that process resulting from the disagreements around an issue of such gravity and fatal importance for Armenia as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict could have been assigned to the Eastern mentality if the governmental party that took complete power over the state did not make drastic, strategic and irreversible changes in the country’s political course.
Contrary to official assurances that Armenia will continue its politics regarding Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution, it has, in fact, undergone a major methodological change; taking the maintenance of the status-quo as the main priority, internationally the Armenian government expressed willingness to make compromises for the peaceful resolution of the conflict, while to the Armenian people it presented the compromises as “treacherous” and “defeatist”.
At the aforementioned session not only two opposing understandings of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict collided but also two different approaches on Armenia’s future. This division was the manifestation of not only the ideological fracture within the government but also of the general mood in political and social circles. President Levon Ter-Petrossian led the first direction. In his second term, he publicly took active measures toward reaching a peaceful resolution to the conflict, which was reflected in his September 25, 1997 press conference, and his article “War or peace; time to get serious” published on November 1, 1997.
Presenting the current state of the negotiations, Ter-Petrossian insisted that, taking into account the long-term nature of the issue, the step-by-step deal at hand presented the maximum possible advantage for the Armenian side; “Karabakh did not win the war, it won the battle … In addition to the essence of the compromise, there is also the moment of compromise. It is obvious that in the case of compromise, the strong side has the opportunity to gain the most. “Armenia and Karabakh are stronger today than ever before, but if the conflict is not resolved now, in a year or two they will be incomparably weaker”.
Ter-Petrossian’s attempts at Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement were met reluctantly by both opposition political forces, socio-cultural individuals, and a number of authorities, notably the Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, the Minister of Defense Vazgen Sarkissian, the Minister of Internal Affairs and National Security Serzh Sarkissian. Teammates’ disagreement and the refusal to consent to voluntary resignation, created an unusual situation, since all of these officials were appointed by the president, were under his direct supervision, and did not have the necessary primary mandate.
Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkissian, who was considered one of the pillars of Ter-Petrossian’s administration, was convinced that such a settlement of the conflict dishonored victories of the war; “Today, the soldier standing on the top of Omar is defending Yerevan. Get rid of the war? Get rid of Karabakh? … How can we do that if it is already the life and the history of an entire generation, marked with the blood and the memory of tens of thousands of victims, and for hundreds of thousands it is their fate and their life’s mission? What for should we do that, if there was never a moment in our history when we have been closer to the ultimate victory than this?”
At the ideological level, V. Sarkissian-R. Kocharian-S. Sarkissian trio’s position to postpone the settlement of the conflict and preserve the status-quo was aimed at using that time to strengthen the state. Considering the concessions unnecessary, the trio was convinced that in the next few years Azerbaijan would not be able to gain military dominance over Armenia. Therefore, until the situation reached a critical point, there was no need for concessions.
For Robert Kocharian handing over territories was unacceptable since it would strengthen Armenia’s position in negotiations; “Without clarifying the NKR status? We would immediately lose the advantages that insured the ceasefire agreement”. Ter-Petrossian opposed this with a counter-point; “Isn’t it clear what a forced concession means? Forced concession means capitulation. And in the case of capitulation, you do not concede anything, or if you concede, you do not get anything in return, but obediently accept whatever option you’re given”.
While Ter-Petrossian advocated for conflict settlement based on the need for economic opportunities that regional communications would present, Robert Kocharian attributed 90% of the state’s economic difficulties to the improvement of governance and tax policy. He assured that the oil factor could cause geopolitical dangers for Azerbaijan itself and with the corrupt Azerbaijani government, he doubted that time would work for Azerbaijan.
The trio supporter and the commander of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army, Samvel Babaian, thought that without resolving the Karabakh’s status issue, the return of the occupied territories could not even be discussed. He ruled out the return of Kelbajar & Lachin even in the case of independence; after losing 1-2 regions, he was certain Azerbaijan would be inclined to make concessions. Proponents of maintaining the status-quo argued that the above-mentioned peaceful years could be used to strengthen the economy. Steps taken to strengthen the economy, restoring the law and order within the country they saw as a positive change that could be used to prevent the power imbalance with Azerbaijan. It can be said that this particular argument out of the entire discussion brought forth the tendency to focus solely on the domestic agenda, that consolidating internal resources and arriving at “correct solutions” the current de facto state of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will be preserved, and Azerbaijan would not be able to take the military rout of conflict resolution.
What happened in February of 1998 in Armenia was neither an ordinary change of power nor a simple coup d’etat. It was a radical change in policy-making methodology, based on the principle of multi-layered behavior by a small state. In other words, having a conflict with a neighboring country with many external and internal stakeholders, Armenia began to speak to each one of them in a language convenient for them. This behavior, however, was extremely dangerous, because on one hand, it created unreal and delusional expectations within the public, on the other hand outwardly agreeing with the international community initiatives, but in reality, not being diligent in keeping their end of the bargain, Armenia built a reputation of a frivolous partner – strengthening the atmosphere of distrust and running the risk of creating new reasons for hostility.
Armenia, in fact, was being dragged into a multi-layered game, where the control of the processes was getting out of their hand year after year, creating problems, the solutions to which were obviously beyond Armenia’s limited means. In 2021 Ter-Petrossian himself admitted that the imperative for the conflict settlement became especially apparent after the OSCE summit in Lisbon in November of 1996 when the opinion of the international community began to shift significantly in favor of Azerbaijan. According to him, the military-political disbalance between Armenia and Azerbaijan began with the creation of the international oil consortium and the role Azerbaijan took in it. Ter-Petrossian explained that the sudden shift in the US position in favor of Azerbaijan at the OSCE Lisbon Summit was influenced by the Texas oil lobby. It was becoming obvious that in the long-term, Azerbaijan was gaining a more advantageous position, while Armenia was to remain in the position of a pursuer at best. This was the very reason for Ter-Petrossian’s distrust, that any kind of Armenian diplomacy might be able to change other countries’ positions regarding the principle of territorial integrity and the returning of occupied territories. He could not imagine such change even amongst countries friendly to Armenia, which had their own national interests to cater to and were dealing or were at the risk of dealing with conflicts much like the Nagorno-Karabakh one. Taking into account the factors of natural resources and the geographical location, Armenia was no match to Azerbaijan, even without the Turkish factor, in terms of posing interest to the global power centers. The issue here was the strategic thinking against the situational short-sightedness, the typical casino bluff up against a calculated policy, and finally, the ability to think further than tomorrow against an opportune stroke of luck.
The Armenian Minister of foreign affairs from 1998 to 2008 and the status-quo architect Vardan Oskanian notes, that the session in question was crucial not only for him but also for the country. According to him, during that session, they chose the path for the country’s development. In his resignation letter from February 3, 1998, Ter-Petrossian also related to the issue as a shift in the course of the country’s future development. “The problem is much deeper and connected with the principles of statehood, peace, and the alternative to war”.
The big dispute of 1998 between the two wings of the government brought to president Levon Ter-Petrossian’s and his team’s resignation, and the second wing led by the Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkissian, Minister of National Security and Interior Affairs Serzh Sarkissian, having the absolute trust of the Nagorno-Karabakh government and the silent support of the Armenian opposition, took the political power in the country. This force led the Armenian collective choice (of government, opposition, and public) to disrupt the existing deal for the conflict settlement, and cling to the policy of maintaining the status-quo. The public was passive or alienated in the process, which can be explained by several factors including the lack of knowledge on the conflict settlement, the lack of social justice, the anti-propaganda, and so on. It is a fact, however, that the society accepted President Ter-Petrossian’s resignation with solid indifference, and at the same time, during the snap presidential elections it did not form the demand for political debate on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, nor did it receive an offer for it.
The Modern Ideological Haven of Armenian Cause
In the Armenian political life of the 1990s the following question dictated the essence of the ideological debate; should Armenia be an ordinary state with an ordinary life or should it undertake a global mission? Attributing Armenians a global role would, in turn, condition whether a country with such a role should have a national ideology or seek to return its ancestral homeland. If the government of 1990s insisted that Armenians are a regular, ordinary people, that has to solve the issues of security and well-being on its de facto territory, being content with normal life, the political opposition posed an ideological alternative bringing forth the idea of a unique nation and prospects of great goals. If the government of that time refused to turn “Armenian Cause” and the Genocide recognition into a state policy, basing Armenian foreign political goals on existing resources, the political opposition would find ideological counterpoints to that as well – to make the recognition of the Armenian Genocide the state policy – making the dream of founding a national state on the entirety of the historical homeland a political goal. This led to the spreading of a similar internal ideological propaganda, as well as a new foreign political positioning.
While the government led the political program for the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and amicable co-existence with the neighbors, the political opposition naturally should have opposed this “ordinary” peoples’ typical way of life, considering the victorious ceasefire of the first Karabakh war as a starting point to implement the above-mentioned world mission. From this approach, they derived that the Armenian side had nothing to concede, moreover, the conflict should have been used to develop, become an instrumental player in the region, and consider the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh part of the Armenian Cause with the noble intention of returning the other parts of the lost homeland and uniting them to the Armenian state. The political formula arising from the theoretical judgment assumed that a mission should be reserved for the Armenian people, which, of course, a small state could not fulfill. Therefore, Armenia should have set a task not towards conceding territories, but instead keeping the ones occupied and, in the best-case scenario, expanding to even further territories. The practical political expression of that theory became the policy of delaying the conflict settlement and preserving the status-quo. It was, in fact, not only a tool to preserve all the achievements of the war, but also a necessary platform to launch the global role of the Armenian people. The ideological determinant of the former was the ARF party, which viewed the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as an essential component of the nationwide phenomenon of “Armenian Cause”. The ideologue of the second one was Vazgen Manoukian.
Therefore, the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was a fatal threat to the very architecture of the ideology of “Armenian Cause”. Essentially, it was based not on the thesis of developing through conflict resolution, but instead on the preservation and development of the statehood thanks to the conflict remaining unresolved. To expand – the conflict did not hinder but helped the strengthening of Armenia. Robert Kocharian explains this claim; “One has to have the will to live with this issue even for many years, and only then the successful outcome will be possible“. For Vazgen Sarkissian, on the other hand, the choice of state-building based on the status-quo ideology bordered with plain nationalism; “To unite nationally in the homeland, Armenia. To unite nationally outside the Republic of Armenia. Concentrate our economic, political, intellectual potential around the world. And this is not a utopia. It is possible and it is a necessity. To maximize our nationwide, global resistance”.
When in the 1990s. Vazgen Sarkissian declared the war “the war of all Armenians”, it was quite natural that there could be no retreat from it. For such a mindset, the slightest renunciation of any achievement of the “all-Armenian war” was inadmissible, because the war was not perceived as a continuation of politics by another tool, but was perceived and presented as a sacred event. Robert Kocharian, for example, considered the Nagorno-Karabakh issue “a life’s mission” for himself and his teammates. Naturally, any sort of concession would damage that “life’s mission”. It is no coincidence that those who opposed the conflict settlement took as a starting point the fact of deprivation and casualties suffered in the war. Vazgen Sarkissian said; “Why else have we sacrificed so much and so many?“ Serzh Sarkissian repeated the same argument in 2000; “We can’t really make those compromises. I understand that Levon was in charge of everything, he was the president. But we were directly leading the battles, I lost almost all of my friends. Almost everyone. I lost my cousin. He had come with his father at 18 to help me”. As the president of Armenia and the chief negotiator for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, he would repeat the same in international interactions, such as the 2016 private conversation with the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko. Nagorno-Karabakh Foreign Minister and the second President Arkady Ghukassian was also a Karabakh issue sanctification supporter. “No matter how bad people live, there are sacred issues, there are posts that can never be surrendered“.
To discard the opportune moment for the conflict resolution and to establish the preservation of the status-quo as the country’s development path, starting from 1998 the government had to ensure the practical side of this. In that context, Robert Kocharian’s first speech in September of 1998 from the UN podium is noteworthy. With this speech Armenia officially assumed the responsibility of international recognition of the Armenian Genocide, making it the cornerstone of the state’s foreign policy. In the Armenian-Turkish relations Armenia opposed the issue of the Armenian genocide to Turkey’s precondition to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the new Armenian government made “Armenian Cause” its state policy. By the way, there is a misconception that the “Armenian Cause” is identified with an actively aggressive policy against Turkey, combined with territorial or compensation demands from the latter. But its real – local version was completely different; addressing the domestic audience with anti-Turkish rhetoric, those policy-holders, as a rule, did not take any actual anti-Turkish actions in the international arena. In other words, they talked the talk but never walked the walk. The main idea behind that policy was the formation of systemic anti-Turkish sentiments, by taking advantage of Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s rhetoric, without their real practical continuation. This way, on one hand, the government preserved its “national” and “patriotic” image and formed a society prone to manipulation and full of insecurities, on the other hand, it did not create any problems for Turkey avoiding direct conflict with them. The whole “charm” of this policy is that it does not cause problems in the outside world (excluding the blockade), and at the same time, it ensures governability inside the country, the dominance of the ideology sustaining it, the atmosphere of fear from the external threats and patriotism necessary for the self-serving preservation of power. Consequently, making the “Armenian Cause” country’s state policy Armenia served not the purpose of making demands to Turkey and receiving compensation, which required a completely different set of tools, but solely the agenda of inter-political propaganda and manipulation of public opinion. It is best evident in the statement of 10 Armenian parties on the occasion of the centennial anniversary of the Treaty of Sèvres, on August 10 of 2020; “Treaty of Sèvres is not merely a historical fact. It is an international treaty signed between still existing (or successor) states. The Armenian and the signatory states’ academic communities should prompt international discussion around the Sèvres Treaty, while the political circles should point at its importance in the context of global and regional political processes“. Amongst others, the Republican Party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), and the Prosperous Armenia parties demanded the implementation of the Sèvres Treaty, which entailed fragmentation of Turkey and the creation of “independent and united” Armenia. These parties held the power from 1998 to 2018, and for about 20 years they had every lever to initiate an international process true to the nature of that statement and cornering Turkey with the demands in those echelons to fulfill the Sèvres Treaty. However, when they were in power, they did not take any such action.
In the Armenian reality, at least on a formal level, the correlation between the Armenian-Turkish relations and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has always been denied, as if one was strictly independent from the other. This, however, is not as much a malicious manipulation, but more so a case of swiping things under the rug, since back in the day Turkey was the one to suspend the normalization of diplomatic ties with Armenia when it openly declared the impossibility of the process until Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is resolved. If it was somewhat normal for the Armenian public not to see the correlation between these processes, the same cannot be said for the ruling elite. But, if the people in charge did not have the will or the desire to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, what else could they have done with regards to the Armenian-Turkish relations; everything to justify the status-quo, and consequently the unresolved state of the Armenian-Turkish relations. Hence the need to fill the vacuum created, in this instance, by making the international recognition of the Armenian genocide a priority in Armenian foreign policy. Therefore, the deeper the propaganda to postpone the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement or to present the conflict as already resolved, the more natural the unsettled Armenian-Turkish relations became, while inside the country anti-Turkish sentiments grew stronger.
When the third president of Armenia Serzh Sarkissian attempted to normalize the Armenian-Turkish relations in 2008 he quickly met the resistance of the propagated atmosphere created by his very efforts. However, when that initiative failed due to poor calculation and insufficient political will, the Sarkissian administration returned to the politics of “Armenian Cause”. During his time in power, two major tools were introduced into the Armenian socio-political life – “Pan-Armenian declaration” adopted on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide and the concept of “Nation-Army”. Both events, being directly related to Armenia’s foreign policy, served exclusively as an internal political agenda. Their purpose was to strengthen the state-led policy of maintaining the status-quo, as a practical action stemming from an ideological choice. However, it should be emphasized that, in the case of both the “Declaration” and the “Nation-Army” concept, the idea did not have a practical, real and systematic implementation taking a propagandist accidental nature, only producing noise without the necessary tangible outcome. In other words – it was enough for the propaganda effect but useless for practical continuity. Being a legal document addressed to the international community, the “Declaration” indirectly made demands to Turkey, referring to the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres and the arbitral ruling of US President Woodrow Wilson. However, given the dangers of such a move, in his interviews with foreign media, Serzh Sarkissian repeatedly insisted that Armenia had no territorial or compensational demands from Turkey. A political paradox arose between the public references, the “between the lines” messages, and the forced rejection of the historical demands right after adopting the “Declaration” which had formed the atmosphere for those exact historical demands. As much as it was dictated by political short-sightedness, it was also conditioned by the internal political agenda.
Serzh Sarkissian injected the concept of the “Nation-army” into Armenian politics in January of 2016, when he concluded that the status-quo is permanent and unchangeable. However, in April of the same year, Azerbaijan launched a military action, debunking the inner Armenian myth of the impossibility of war and the inviolability of the status-quo. After the end of war, however, the Armenian government not only made zero attempt to reform the internal life but also continued the policy of maintaining the status-quo in a new spirit, conditioning the possibility of excluding concessions in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with the success of the “Nation-Army” concept. As a strategy for Armenia’s development, it should have ensured the inviolability of the status-quo and, essentially, serve as a tool to strengthen the status-quo – becoming so military powerful that it could force peace without settling the conflict. This thesis was the ideological motto of the 1998 trio; “Develop without concessions.”
The political parent of the “Nation-army” concept, then RA Minister of Defense Vigen Sarkissian said; “The ideology of “Nation-army” implies using the potential of the Armed Forces to help develop our country and society“. The motivation behind the inception of the “Nation-army” ideology the was best detected by Levon Ter-Petrossian; “This idea is the same strategy of preserving the status-quo presented in a different packaging. Neglecting the harsh lessons of the past 18 years, the regime has decided to continue the infamous policy of perpetual confrontation with Azerbaijan and Turkey”.
Both of these tools of preserving the status-quo, Serzh Sarkissian introduced after major failures in the international arena. He adopted the “Pan-Armenian Declaration” after failing to normalize the relations with Turkey, and the “Nation-Army” after the April war of 2016. In both cases, Armenian government let down by the failures suffered in the international arena, returned to the mode of “adaptation,” reigned by the idea of status-quo and exiting the deadlock without concessions. Accordingly, Sarkissian’s government wasn’t able to master the political will to end the “Armenian Cause” agenda, moving from 2018 all the way back to 2008. The Armenian policy of not perceiving the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as a challenge of primary importance was picked both consciously, ideologically and because it was comfortable. As a result, public perceptions were gradually dulled, and external threats became alien to the public. Only domestic political issues dominated the state-political agenda of Armenia.
In this context, Vardan Oskanian’s example is noteworthy. Explaining his rejection to become Serzh Sarkissian’s advisor in 2008, he said; “I would like to be involved in the internal political issues, rather than the foreign political affairs, as I’m certain that the challenges we face are first and foremost internal, and only after successfully overcoming those will we be able to solve the external problems“. It was a symbolic expression of the political elite’s collective mindset, that Oskanian, who has been involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement throughout his public service, was already sure that the threat of war was neutralized, the architecture of the status-quo has succeeded and it was time to cast an eye at the internal affairs. Although with the 1998 change of power Armenian political discourse was freed from the presence of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it was completely anchored on that conflict or to be precise, on the conflict being unresolved. The more Nagorno-Karabakh issue was pushed out of the domestic political agenda the more it was influenced by its outcome. The latter, however, did not manifest in searching for ways to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict or debates around appropriate solutions, but entirely focused on and adapted to the banal mental exercise of “conceding or not conceding territories”. Those who hinted at a compromise were declared traitors, and those who would not give up “even an inch” automatically became patriots.
Compromise as a Mark of Betrayal and Patriotism
The greatest damage done to the internal discourse of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was distorting its essence, making it primitive and sentimental through categorizing it either as treacherous or patriotic. The moment the debate around the conflict resolution was limited to being declared a patriot or a traitor, the rational discussion vanished. If such “finishing” of a debate may seem forgivable and less catastrophic when it concerns everyday matters, the situation is completely different when it comes to the political elite, that has a duty and a responsibility to be much more rational when dealing with issues of military aggression, war, and people’s safety.
Nevertheless, the essence of the debate on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 1998 was irrationalized at the hands of the ruling elite. The discourse of betrayal and handing over the lands has been permanent in Armenian political life since the beginning of the conflict, when the opposition repeatedly accused the government of betrayal, disowning Nagorno-Karabakh, and handing over the homeland. The practice of using military defeats against the government as an upper hand stopped after the victorious ceasefire of 1994. It gained new momentum in September of 1997 when Ter-Petrossian presented the prospects for the settlement of the conflict. His attempt to incite a public debate failed miserably, which became apparent at the Yerevan meeting of the opposition political forces and the cultural figures on October 17, 1997. This did not gain much attention in the context of further political upheavals, but it was a loud act of destroying the internal debate around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, with which the political opposition and the persons of intellectual occupation refused the debate in finding ways of conflict resolution instead declaring the government’s proposing of possible solutions as treacherous and NK-disowning. That gathering and its content significantly conditioned the radical disruption of the public-political discourse on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement.
The gathering was called “In Defense of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic”, considering Ter-Petrossian’s position unacceptable, and rejecting his proposed solution. Refusing to have a meaningful discussion, the participants called the president a “traitor” and the step-by-step deal “surrender of Karabakh.” Ter-Petrossian, however, continued his efforts to put the debate on a substantive ground with his article “War or peace? Time to get serious” and in his speech at the Security Council session. However, this did not achieve the goal of involving the political, intellectual elite, or apolitical society in a substantive discourse. Simultaneously, the details of the step-by-step deal were not published, and populism alongside irrationalizing the discourse filled that informational vacuum. The government was not able to communicate the essence of the problem to the public and what Armenia would gain and lose from it. And the reason for the inability to do so was the division within the government. Ter-Petrossian did not manage to form a rational discourse also with his own teammates. “Thus, the two-day discussion gives me serious grounds to suspect that those who oppose the step-by-step solution have any intention to settle the Karabakh conflict at all. Many of them do not even attempt to hide it. The seeming debate around the step-by-step or the package deals is just a cover to extend the settlement process and to maintain today’s situation that is the status-quo for as long as possible. I dread the terrible threat it poses to the existence of both Karabakh and Armenia”.
It can be argued that a rational discourse was not formed, first of all, because the supporters of the status-quo did not, in fact, have any proposals of strategic planning for a calculated policy. After Ter-Petrossian’s resignation and his departure from the political arena, the Karabakh issue did not seem to exist in Armenia. Regardless of the course of the negotiations and the behind-the-scenes events, this topic was hardly ever raised on a public level. Parallel to the 1998 “Common State”, the 1999 “Meghri” versions, and the active negotiations of 2000-2001 in Key West, the public awareness on the topic was nonexistent. It is worth asking whether the Armenian government, who led negotiations around the conflict settlement after Ter-Petrossian’s resignation, indeed wanted to settle. Considering the fact that it would be impossible to implement international agreements without public awareness, and preparedness, it becomes clear that the authorities did not intend to implement these agreements at all, in fact, they were engaged in imitation of negotiations.
It should be noted that during the years of conflict conservation, the Armenian government attempted to silence the occasionally rising internal political problems with the posing threat of war. At first, the government did not provide any information about the negotiations, then they created such ideological stagnation, where the Nagorno-Karabakh problem did not exist and only the internal agenda was prioritized. And finally, as soon as the government suspected a threat to their power, they immediately manipulated the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. It can be claimed that systemic and professional manipulation was implemented: on one hand, they presented the conflict as already solved to the domestic political field, and the society was being convinced that the issue no longer exists, but as soon as the domestic tensions turned against the government, they immediately brought up the conflict and its threat. This trick was used during all the post-election events when a large part of the society disagreed with the official election results and took to protest. If the option of manipulating the threat of war was used to neutralize the opposition’s protests, the “guillotine” of patriotism was used to crush the forces supporting the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Anyone who spoke on the necessity to resolve the conflict was immediately placed under the propaganda attack, branded a traitor, a “non-patriot”, a Turk, and so on. Considering that in Armenia only Ter-Petrossian and his political force had made the settlement of the conflict into a political platform, the aforementioned labels were mainly addressed to him.
The most evident moment of that was the presidential election of 2008 when Ter-Petrossian was the main oppositional candidate and was also a real threat for Kocharian-Sarkissian to losing power. Hence, it was not at all surprising that the government returned to the already successfully used tool of manipulating the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Unlike the previous elections, this time the main opponent was also an ideological supporter of compromises, which gave more freedom to the Kocharian-Sarkissian government with their choice of words. If in previous years the government would intimidate people with Azerbaijan possibly taking advantage of instability inside Armenia, now they also accused their political opponent of selling off the Nagorno-Karabakh. Amongst the blames of being a freemason supporter, pro-Jewish and pro-Turkish, the government also blamed Levon Ter-Petrossian for a defeatist approach in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Serzh Sarkissian even publicly stated that three years might be enough for Ter-Petrossian to hand over Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. All of the governmental lackeys pointed at Levon Ter-Petrossian’s approach on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue from 1997-1998, presented the status-quo as the successful outcome of Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkissian’s conducted politics, and tried to convince the public that with Levon Ter-Petrossian’s return the 1998 plan to “surrender Nagorno-Karabakh” will be implemented. Kocharian’s extensive interview a few days prior to the voting followed the same logic. In this interview, telling the story of taking Kelbajar, he presented that Ter-Petrossian was against the liberation operations in Nagorno-Karabakh and tried to stop the victory of the local Armenian forces, etc. It is noteworthy that in the past, the opponents of the government were “destroyed” by propagandists, lackeys, and agents, but this time around the president and the presidential candidate were directly involved. This time, as can be expected, there was no debate over the alternatives of peace and war, because the essence of the issue was blurred, distorted, and simplified to the extent of “surrendering homeland”, “traitor-patriot”, “loser-winner”.
It is astonishingly paradoxical that there was no substantive debate on the Karabakh issue even after the April war of 2016, during the parliamentary elections in 2017. In the elections, the political force led by Levon Ter-Petrossian, the Armenian National Congress (ANC), exclusively followed the slogan of needing to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It seemed that there was a provocative side to the political debate, there was an occasion, and the public’s attention should have naturally shifted to that very issue. But 1997 repeated itself in 2017, where there was the question, there was the need, there was the urgency, there was one side of the debate, but the debate did not take place. It did not work because the other side of the debate, the status-quo supporters, was absent. They considered the matter resolved, so they did not debate over the ways to solve it. However, the 2017 elections composed the Armenian parliament of parties that had indefinite, general, and “patriotic” approaches regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. The expression of real public perception was that the force campaigning for the idea of compromise received only 25,950 votes, or 1.65%, in a vote exactly one year after the April war. By the way, in 2016 in a private conversation after the war, Serzh Sarkissian acknowledged that the situation would worsen if the conflict was not resolved, but publicly he and his party campaigned in the opposite direction, thinking the idea of compromise as “defeatist,” “land surrendering,” “anti-national,” “anti-patriotic.”
From the moment supporters of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement were labeled “traitors” and those who ruled out concessions – “patriots”, the discourse naturally vanished. At the level of patriotism and betrayal, the debate is a fruitless and unnecessary waste of time, where there are no arguments, calculations, or even politics. The settlement of the conflict, which was a huge complex of issues in and of itself, was reduced to the level of “not giving up an inch of land”, pushing to the sidelines important issues such as the shift of political influences in the region, countries reviewing their political priorities, the military disbalance between Armenia and Azerbaijan, radical turn in Turkish politics and so on. If “Armenian Cause” became a state policy after the 1998 change of power, the “traitor-patriot” concept rose to a level of state propaganda after the events of October 27, 1999. The problem was directly related to Vazgen Sarkissian’s person, who being part of the 1998 coup d’état, used his influence to keep the contradiction of views from being personalized. In his speech at the 5th convention of the Armenian Republican Party from January 29, 1999, Sarkissian clearly states that Ter-Petrossian resigned following his convictions; “leaving the arena to us. He resigned leaving us in charge“. In the same speech, he clearly emphasizes; “At least there is decency in domestic politics.” This is an extremely important confession, since Vazgen Sarkissian, despite having ideological differences with Levon Ter-Petrossian, viewed it as a difference of political opinions and kept the conversation strictly within that framework, without giving in to political currents and the very basic rout of “patriots vs. traitors”. Moreover, Sarkissian plainly admitted that he and his ideologues opposed Ter-Petrossian’s solution, assuming responsibility for the implementation of their program, with all the ensuing consequences. “Leaving of Ter-Petrossian put a great responsibility on us. We were convinced that we were right, but we must prove to the people that we were right. There is a question of responsibility here“.
The terrorist act of October 27th, 1999, never allowed him to prove himself right or to be factually convinced of being mistaken. But even when Vazgen Sarkissian was alive there were two major changes in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which directly hinted at further misfortunes. First, former President of Nagorno Karabakh Robert Kocharian’s becoming the President of Armenia, left a very negative mark on the negotiation process, eliminating the international community’s perception of Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent side and the third party to the conflict, while in domestic life it cemented the conflict settlement and the false perception of Nagorno-Karabakh being irreversibly united with Armenia. Second; with the first proposal for the settlement of the conflict after the change of power in 1998, called “Common State”, Nagorno-Karabakh was officially recognized as part of Azerbaijan, and the Armenian side gave written consent to that proposal. By accepting that scenario, the latter actually showed that it was not principled in its two main arguments, allowing the issue to be indirectly transformed into a simple, territorial dispute. This was a mistake with serious consequences, leading to the birth of the next version of the settlement, to the idea of exchanging territories – Karabakh for Meghri. This version, directly implying the exchange of territories, became the bases for negotiations, and later also the key component in the settlement, essentially destroying the Armenian side’s factual grounds in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement, which was that Nagorno-Karabakh decided to leave Azerbaijan in order to survive. The negotiation process had already suffered these irreversible damages by October 27, and consequently, Vazgen Sarkissian’s assertion to take responsibility and prove they were right, no matter how honest it may seem, had already failed. Two of the 1998 trio, Robert Kocharian, and Serzh Sarkissian, after all, were able to prove they were “right” by presiding in Armenia for 20 years.
The separate failures and achievements of that cycle, coming together in the results of the 44-day war of 2020, prove whether the trio was right or wrong, but are also shown more factually in the following three major aspects; Was Armenia able to develop enough to mitigate the imbalance with Azerbaijan? Was the security environment around Armenia higher in comparison to 1997? Did Armenia develop in terms of human capital and demographics? Armenia failed in all three of these aspects; differences with Azerbaijan and Turkey grew into hostility, the army was not properly modernized, the economy remained constrained and corrupt, and emigration did not stop. Despite the state facing such serious problems, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue never became a substantive discussion or grounded debate. Any discussion on the subject inevitably led to theories of conspiracy, betrayal, defeat, anti-nationalism, cowardice, or was silenced through the systemic, stable, and delusional propaganda of invincibility, the conflict being long-resolved, and the most efficient army in the region. Regardless of the government’s performance from 1998 to 2018, the achievements and failures Kocharian-Sarkissian administrations have had, there is one issue they are unequivocally responsible for; as a result of preventing the internal debate on the settlement of the conflict, the public perceptions of the conflict were distorted, and the development of any rational discourse on finding a way out was stopped. On one hand, the authorities deprived the public of information about the negotiations, on the other hand, they stifled the voice of others in the “patriotic” clutter. This was the reason that inside the country the authorities spoke about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in one language and vocabulary, and outside the country in another.
Bilingual Elite and Two-Faced Policy. Armenian Bluff
The contradictions between the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict sides were first and foremost manifested in the differences in its interpretation. If Azerbaijan presented it as a territorial dispute between the two states, the Armenian side put the emphasis mainly on the principle of rights, in particular the inviolability of the human right to life, a threat to which the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh would face living as a national minority within the state of Azerbaijan.
However, if the former was easier to explain in the international arena, the latter was incomparably complicated due to the lyrical nature of the argument, the geopolitical interests of the decision-making powers, Azerbaijan’s resources, and the interest of individual states and corporate circles in those resources. However, at different stages of the militarized phase of the conflict Armenian occupation of the 7 regions significantly changed the nature of the conflict and its international perception. It can be said that it was a double-edged sword, on one hand – a winning card, on the other hand – a cause for pressure. The Armenian side was given the opportunity to gain more substantial concessions in exchange for those territories, but at the same time, it was under greater international pressure. Their occupation was justified by being a vital security zone arguing that keeping them under control Armenian side prevents the militarization of the conflict and curbs possible military aggression against the Nagorno Karabakh’s territory, but the international community had no doubt that these territories belonged to Azerbaijan, were part of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and had to be returned to it. The UN Security Council adopted four resolutions in relation to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which, among other provisions, demanded the withdrawal of the local Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.
This is very important considering a number of circumstances. Firstly, in public perception, with much help from the military-political elite, the occupied territories were presented as historical national lands and their occupation was told to be their liberation. In other words, in the Armenian reality, those territories did not belong to Azerbaijan, but to historical Armenia, and their liberation was a step towards the restoration of historical Armenia. Second, by narrowing the essence of the conflict, making it a prisoner of the categories of “conceding land”, “keeping land”, this mentality gave the mentioned territories a symbolic-sacral nature. When land concessions were presented as treason, while keeping them – as patriotism, the question was based on the principle of betrayal at least on a level of an assumption. And so which patriot could return the “national lands” to the enemy, especially when those lands were fetishized and touching them was a deadly sin? This clear manifestation of taking ownership of the Armenian demands was the result of systemic, intensive feeding of the Armenian domain, with the notion that concession was simply a betrayal. Those perceptions of the aforementioned territories, sanctified, infused with symbolic meaning, and veiled with patriotism, contradicted not only the opinion of the international community but also the content of the conflict resolution documents they presented and that the Armenian government agreed to.
For the international community, the principle of territorial integrity is a legal category, a tradition, and an instrument of global stability, that only the big players have the power to break or change. Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi – “What is permissible for Jupiter may not be permissible for a bull”. This Old Latin proverb best expresses the concept of double standards in international relations, where, contrary to the principles of “universal justice”, compared to bigger states, the toolkit available for small states for the same purpose is limited and much more unequal in terms of resources they possess.
The strengthening of the link between patriotism in Armenia and the irreversibility of the mentioned territories was directly proportional to the deepening of the disconnect between the international and Armenian realities, creating a false reality for the latter. However much it was the result of the patriotic sector propaganda, as much it was present in Armenian society naturally. In other words, in the Armenian political perceptions, that propaganda found fertile ground due to a number of objective realities. Having been part of the Turkish-Persian-Russian empires for centuries, deprived of even a basic connection with foreign policy, the Armenian society and its political “elite” not only had no experience in that regard but also had no idea of its formal-practical side. The 2.5-year-old First Republic not only did not have time to form such public perceptions, but its political elite too found themselves completely inexperienced in international relations, leading to the fiascos of Batumi and Alexandropol. Having been a part of the USSR for about 70 years, Armenia was “freed” from the burden of conducting foreign policy, and at the same time deprived of the opportunity to deal with international systems and accumulate public experience of having learned the rules to their game. When Armenia was declared an independent state and it had to conduct its own foreign relations, neutralize external threats and face challenges from abroad, it turned out that the lack of traditions was at the same time a lack of basic public knowledge. The lack of basic communication and awareness had a serious impact on international relations and the creation and strengthening of manipulative perceptions around them. Hence, a false and self-serving reality was forming in the Armenian society regarding the “liberated” territories, that no other country in the world was sharing. However ironic it sounds, that idea designed for domestic consumption was not even shared and backed on international platforms by the ruling “Armenianist” elite, which supported it domestically. Levon Ter-Petrossian did not hide in his public speeches that the return of those territories was inevitable (“Let us not engage in self-deception or have vain illusions, we have no allies in Karabakh’s independence issue”.) and we had to make calculations, so as to avoid forced concessions, and instead gain the possible maximum for those concessions. The 1998 trio and their supporters publicly rejected the idea of concessions, insisting that it is not only possible to get more out of the process, but also develop without making concessions. Despite this characteristic, the trio representatives avoided publicly speaking on the matter on domestic platforms, however being forced to allow the possibility of concessions when speaking with international media. In fact, a two-faced situation was emerging, where double thinking turned into a double lexicon, which implied discussing territorial concessions in closed, behind-the-scenes international negotiations while rejecting them in the Armenian public arena declaring them a betrayal and renunciation of the “all-Armenian war”.
The fact that the forces that came to power in 1998 did not renounce territorial concessions at any stage of the negotiations, is proven by all the settlement documents, with their statements after the 2020 war and occasional verbal slips when they were in power. It is noteworthy that the people and parties gathered around the second president Robert Kocharian, who demanded recognition of independent Nagorno-Karabakh when they were in opposition, coming to power did nothing in that regard or to include the independence of Nagorno Karabakh in the agenda of the negotiation process.
Moreover, they obediently served the conducted policy, the evidence of which is the confidential diplomatic report on the 2009 meeting of ARF figures with the American co-chair of Minsk group Matthew Bryza. Referring to the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the ARF representatives literally noted: “The interim status of the Nagorno-Karabakh-Lachin corridor is normal, but it must be clearly recognized that they are no longer part of Azerbaijan. “The territories around Nagorno-Karabakh are a security zone against possible military attacks by Azerbaijan, so the ARF opposes their return“. ARF both had a normal attitude to the interim status of Nagorno-Karabakh and insisted that those territories could not be returned because they were a security zone. In that instance what could an international mediator understand from the Armenian side’s contradictory position in order to try and secure a balanced solution? Naturally, the international community either would not understand those double assertions or simply would not take them seriously. And in that context, the Armenian side’s main mistake was the continuous delay of the settlement, with the logic of its active or initiative freezing.
One of the most prominent episodes of this two-faced policy is closely related to Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian’s speech in 2000, during the meeting with the Armenian community of Glendale. The latter spoke about the exchange of territories: “Meghri is given to Azerbaijan, Lachin is given to Armenia together with Karabakh. Through Meghri Armenia gets a sovereign way of communication with Iran“. In this case, the minister’s statement was again addressed to the foreign audience and, according to that logic, the people in Armenia should have been kept in the dark on such matters. However, it turned out that the press of that time did not ignore the minister’s statements, in response to which the RA Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a clarifying statement. “It was a very private, informal speech that needs no comment“. This was astonishing proof that the subject was not raised in front of an internal audience, and that the words spoken to an external audience were largely presented as private, mistranslated, or misunderstood. A unique exception was Oskanian’s interview on “A1+” in 2001, in which he directly stated that if Armenian side reaches the desired status of Nagorno-Karabakh, “all the occupied territories, except Lachin, must be returned“. To the clarifying question what the desired status was, as the media of that time spoke of a “self-governing status”, the foreign minister declined to elaborate, citing diplomatic confidentiality. It is noteworthy that for using the term “occupied territories”, Oskanian once again came under fire from the “patriotic” choir, then blamed the “wrong translation”. Naturally, the minister encountered the same atmosphere, which was dictated by the will of his government and its continuous policy. The policy of using one language with the international community and another with the domestic was best manifested in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement documents and public statements of Armenian authorities.
Robert Kocharian’s government preferred not to talk about compromises and occupied territories in front of the Armenian audience. This was typical of Kocharian’s politics both in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Meanwhile, Kocharian did not hide from the external audience those territorial concessions are inevitable. One such example is his interview to “Al Jazeera” TV in September of 2006: “There are lands outside the administrative borders of Karabakh that are occupied by Armenian forces. We have repeatedly said that except for to the narrow strip of land between Armenia and Karabakh, Lachin, we are ready to discuss the terms of returning the territories to Azerbaijan“. In front of the internal audience, Kocharian retrospectively speaking of the concession of territories, particularly in his book of memoirs, writes that the annexation of Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia through the Lachin corridor would take place in exchange for the “return of the Azerbaijani territories occupied by us and a designates corridor to Nakhijevan through Meghri, that would be guarded by international peacekeepers”. By the way, the book of Kocharian’s memoirs was first published in Russian, again, essentially, for an outside audience. In all of the conflict resolution documents, without exception, the return of the territories controlled by the Nagorno-Karabakh Military to Azerbaijan was clearly stated.
It is mentioned in all the UN Security Council resolutions, as well as in all the versions of the conflict settlement – “Step-by-step”, “Package”, “Common State”, “Meghri” variations, including the Key West document, “Madrid” principles derived from the Prague process, 2011 Kazan document, the 2016 Russian proposals (so called “the Lavrov plan”), 2019-2020 packages. It is noteworthy, that the first settlement package of the “Common State”, presented after Robert Kocharian took the power in Armenia and was approved by his government, entailed that Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan would form a united state. Factually, Armenia recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, when mere months ago the trio and the Nagorno-Karabakh ruling elite rejected the “Step-by-step” version of the conflict settlement and demanded a written statement that would deny even the hypothetical perspective of Nagorno-Karabakh being part of Azerbaijan. This was a very remarkable circumstance, considering that the Armenian parliament had already ruled a special decision on this issue on July 8, 1992; “To consider inadmissible for the Republic of Armenia any international or domestic document where the Nagorno Karabakh Republic will be stated as part of Azerbaijan“. Moreover, in 1997 Ter-Petrossian assured: “Armenia will never sign any document without the signature of Nagorno Karabakh“. And in the ever so tortured “Step-by-step” deal, Nagorno-Karabakh was an equal side to the conflict that had legal prerogative accepted internationally and by Azerbaijan to be part of future negotiations concerning its status.
The “Madrid” principles presented by the Minsk Group co-chairs in November of 2007 were approved by the Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities and became the basis for negotiations. And it happened in a situation when the presidential marathon started in Armenia. Incumbent President Robert Kocharian was in a position of a lame-duck, whose 2nd term was about to expire and who, in fact, was willingly putting the burden and the responsibility on the new president, to be elected in 2 months’ time. The approval of the “Madrid” document was important also in another regard; such an endorsement was voiced by a government formed under the slogans of “not an inch of land”, “only victory”, “8000 sq. meters independent Nagorno-Karabakh”, while it accused its main internal political opponent of that time, Levon Ter-Petrossian, of being “defeatist” and “wanting to return the liberated lands”. The vocabulary, points and principles of the “Madrid” document were in line with the negotiation process and its logic since the beginning of the conflict. Therefore, for those who are aware of the process, there was, in fact, no extraordinary principle or point in it; “All Azerbaijani territories adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh, which are under Armenian control, will be returned to Azerbaijani control. The corridor of an agreed width should connect Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. Armenian forces are withdrawing from the Kelbajar region. The final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh will be determined through a plebiscite, which gives the people of Nagorno-Karabakh free and factual expression of their will. Internally displaced persons and refugees have the right to a voluntary return. Opening of all borders, reopening of communication channels, including Azerbaijan’s direct connection with landlocked Nakhichevan. Deployment of a peacekeeping contingent“ By the way, in April of 2008, days before leaving his presidential seat, Robert Kocharian, who internationally accepted the “Madrid” principles, declared during a briefing with reporters that the Armenian side should not retreat in its approaches and demands, moreover, in case Azerbaijan tried to take advantage of the domestic tension, the Armenian side has to answer with tightening its position. According to him, “Azerbaijan’s position forces the Armenian side to take more drastic steps, such as the recognition of Nagorno Karabakh independence, the signing of a defense agreement between Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh”. Since he was not going to take part in the talks any longer, and managed to delay negotiations for 10 years before leaving, Kocharian was convinced that “even under the threat of war, one cannot make any concessions“. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was no longer Kocharian’s concern, he had no reason to be restrained or cautious. Within a few days, the issue of Karabakh would become the headache of the next president, and no longer in his official position, he could gain public sympathy with bold anti-Azerbaijani and anti-Turkish statements.
After the controversial elections of 2008 and the events of March 1st, Serzh Sarkissian became the president of Armenia. During his time in power, tangible steps were taken both in Armenian-Turkish relations and the negotiations around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement. The two processes proceeded parallel to each other; considering, that since the 1990s’ Turkey conditioned the normalization of the Armenian-Turkish relations with the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict or real progress in the matter, this parallel movement seemed natural. Moreover, the Turkish authorities always made it clear that unless there is progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations is impossible. In this respect, it seemed that in 2008 the Armenian government had calculated such a parallel, and was building and implementing its policy by that very logic.
In July of 2008, Serzh Sarkissian announced the initiative to normalize Armenian-Turkish relations, within the framework of which Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited Armenia in September. In December, at the Meindorf Fortress in Russia, the Presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia signed a declaration reaffirming their commitment to a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, based on the Madrid Principles. 3 months later, in April of 2009, Armenia and Turkey publicly announced their agreement on a settlement process roadmap, and in October in Zurich, they signed protocols on the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations and the establishment of diplomatic relations. The meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan took place in Sochi in January of 2010 through the mediation of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. This meeting was quite important in terms of the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, given the parallel process of normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations, which had reached a point of stillness; the agreements were signed and were awaiting ratification in parliaments. Meanwhile, Turkey clearly stated that ratification will not take place until real progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. At this time the Armenian government was faced with a specific problem – without progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, which direct outcome would be a territorial compromise of some sort, no normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations could take place. In this context, the ball was in the field of Nagorno-Karabakh negotiation, and in the summer of 2011, the sides reached a state where their positions were maximally leveled with each other. It was expected that a real document on the settlement would be signed on June 24 in Kazan, although the necessary preparations had not been made inside the countries; the public was completely unaware of both what the document entailed and the fact of signing it. Here, however, the agreement failed, “because at the last moment I. Aliev proposed more than ten changes in the mostly agreed-upon text“.
If the status-quo in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict did not change, the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations reached a complete deadlock. Essentially, 2008-2011 intensive efforts, which entailed 14 meetings at the presidential level, and more than 3 dozen meetings at the level of foreign ministers, failed on both fronts. It is noteworthy that the Armenian government at least in the public sphere tried to separate the two processes, which the cancellation of the planned statements of the Foreign Ministers on the day of the signing of the Armenian-Turkish protocols proved. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was going to speak about the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in connection with the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations. The RA Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian was against it, and so a decision was made not to make statements following the protocol signing ceremony. Rejecting to make statements, undoubtedly, made it possible to avoid an international scandal, but did it solve the issue of the future ratification of the protocols? Or did it stop Turkey from linking the two processes? In fact, at that time Armenia understood that in reality it was impossible to separate the two processes, and so it actively participated in both. But at the same time, it tried to dispel that notion in the domestic public perceptions, pretending that these were not connected with each other. This, on the one hand, artificially created different public expectations, on the other hand, deepened the gap between the rhetoric of the two sides. Serzh Sarkissian’s public activities during the signing of the Armenian-Turkish protocols deviated from the traditional ՚Armenianist՚ mentality and were praiseworthy, in particular his meetings in Armenia and in the Diaspora, the attempts at persuading and explaining, why it is necessary to normalize relations with Turkey.
However, that “courage” was limited to the Armenian-Turkish relations, and Sarkissian refrained from the same transparency in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Meanwhile, the main question was obviously tied to Nagorno-Karabakh and the shift in that area, which would determine the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations. Serzh Sarkissian spoke about the main provisions of the document he agreed on at the 2011 Kazan summit for the first time only after the 2016 April war, on November 17 in an interview with Dmitry Kiselyov, Chief Director of “Russia Today” international news agency. Serzh Sarkissian was saying the following. “That is, the Armenian side, the Armenian sides – Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia, are leaving the territories that are occupied today as a security zone. In other words, the territories that the Azerbaijanis consider occupied – 7 Azerbaijani regions. We are leaving those regions“. In the official written version of the interview, however, that part was transcribed as follows: “That is, the Armenian sides, Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia, are leaving the territories that have been taken as a security zone, the territories that the Azerbaijanis call occupied. We leave the territories, we go“. That statement was largely ignored and systematically marginalized by the state media and the governmental information sources, moreover, deliberate changes were made also in the transcript. This small, perhaps insignificant episode proves how the official propaganda tried to mislead the public, either by not providing clear information or by conveying a huge amount of different, contradictory, complicated, confusing information, not shying away even from distortions.
Serzh Sarkissian, ready to sign the document at the Kazan summit, did not speak about the document or its provisions inside the country, which contradicted his own position voiced at the 2005 National Assembly hearing titled “The NKR issue; Ways of settlement”, in which he stated that the two sides cannot sign the agreement behind the public’s back, without preparing them. “Compromise means giving up something from what you have. And no one gives up anything painlessly and voluntarily. The president or any other official of any country cannot sign a document that is impossible to implement and that is not approved by the parliament, the government, and the people“. In 2011, however, it turned out that either Sarkissian was inclined to bypass public opinion or was not serious about signing the Kazan agreement. In both cases, the conclusion is the same: the Armenian government did not consider the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement a top priority, which made the normalizing of Armenian-Turkish relations impossible. Regardless of the fact that it was the President of Azerbaijan who prevented the signing of the Kazan document by submitting new changes to it, it does not change the nature of the problem. The question is, what would happen if Azerbaijan did not create obstacles and signed the document. Meanwhile, the situation was resembling two picky customers’ visiting a restaurant, when the waiter’s suggestions, in this case – Minsk Group co-chair’s settlement versions, were rejected either by Armenia, or Azerbaijan, sending the waiter for a new order. However, if such behavior was advantageous to Azerbaijan, the Armenian policy of delay was more than confusing, considering on one hand the disbalance of powers, and on the other hand, the corrupt and unhealthy situation inside the country worsening by the day. In other words, if Azerbaijan hoped to accumulate armaments and turn the status-quo in its favor at the right time, Armenia’s reason for clinging to the status-quo was unclear, since it did not even create an atmosphere and institutions for resistance inside the country.
In his interview with the Syrian “Al Watan” newspaper from March 22, 2010, Serzh Sarkissian did not hide the fact of concessions; “When the people of Karabakh get a real opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination, practical mechanisms for security and development are created, the return of those regions around Karabakh to Azerbaijan can be considered a compromise on the Armenian side, of course preserving the corridor connecting Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia“. The fact that Serzh Sarkissian gave this interview again to a foreign media outlet, again for the external audience, deserves special attention. Moreover, one year after the April war, in 2017, in his congratulatory message to the domestic audience on the occasion of the Armenian Army Day, Serzh Sarkissian again spoke about the importance of preserving the above-mentioned territories and not conceding them. “The events of [April] also clearly showed the vital, irreplaceable importance of the security zone around Artsakh. We are not going to fight another lengthy “war” on the balcony or in the kitchen of our own houses. We have already been through that“. Once again, the internal audience was served an informational and ideological concoction about not giving up the “security zone” (or “historical homeland”), while they had no trouble “returning the 7 Azerbaijani regions” in front of external audiences, triumphantly continuing the vicious practice of internal and external languages. While that bilingual doctrine was showing its side effects in the international arena even in those years, when the theses created by the Armenian officials and the propaganda were successfully repurposed by Azerbaijan on various international platforms, creating real problems for Armenia. One of the outrageous examples of this was the “Chiragov vs. Armenia” case in the ECHR, where the Armenian side lost, and the court had designated a special section in the evidence base for the “not an inch of land” type of statements made by Armenian officials and politicians inside the country.
Serzh Sarkissian’s government refrained from using the opportunity to talk about the real state of the affairs in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during the 2017 parliamentary elections. The ANC’s agenda as a political opposition seemed to be a lucky way out for the government, in terms of informing the public about the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and revealing the real situation without getting involved themselves. The moment, however, was lost in the general noise with the government staying out of substantive discussions, propagating the “Nation-army” ideology. It is noteworthy that during the second term of Sarkissian’s presidency when the representatives of the international community spoke about the settlement of the conflict, stressing the return of territories around Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian authorities argued that they were not official, rather personal statements, and did not reflect the essence of the talks, like in the cases of Minsk group US Co-Chairs James Warlick, Matthew Bryza, French Co-Chair Bernard Fassier, Russian Co-Chair Vladimir Kazimirov, and others. It was, in fact, a big fraud aimed at the internal audience, because how could the presidents of the USA, Russia, and France talk about compromises, their representatives, the Minsk Group co-chairs, reveal details of the possible deals, if it were indeed a separate, individual position, far from the essence of negotiations? It is factual that these allegations were made with the intention of again misleading the Armenian society, concealing the real nature of negotiations, and keeping the domestic audience in a made-up reality. This circumstance is further emphasized by the fact that the Armenian authorities spoke about territorial concessions with the international media, and on domestic platforms, they either blurred the essence of the issue or resorted to the rhetoric of “not an inch of land”.
Armenian Dream: Maintaining the Status-Quo
The 1988 and 1998 political choices, the Karabakh movement and the failure to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, conditioned the direction of Armenia’s development, serving it, seconding it and deriving from it both the foreign policy of the country and its internal relations. Inter-social relations – state, political, economic, cultural, social institutions began to develop in line with the chosen path. Such a choice, first of all, defined the political system in Armenia, which didn’t distinguish itself with a quality content even until the division of perspectives in 1998. If at the beginning of the Karabakh movement and the early 1990s’ Armenian political organizations and individuals were engaged in an active ideological debate with each other on substantive issues, after the signing of the ceasefire, the ideology of the debate was transformed into a routine, adapting to a situation where the strategic opposition was seconded to the current political dividend. The electoral cycle of 1995-1996 did not contribute to the development of political organizations, ideological unions, the formation of perspective alliances, but led to the emergence of conjunctural units, coming together around individuals at an opportune moment, and a narrow-minded, self-serving rat race for power. In addition to the fact that the electoral round, which was a convenient occasion for political debate, did not serve its purpose, it also failed as a tool for building a democratic society, sidelining the function of the Constitution as the starting point for state development and the political competition arising from that perception.
Underdeveloped and, during the 1995-1996 election period, tortured political system after the 1998 anti-democratic change of power and the 1999 October 27 terrorist attacks, took the path of complete degradation, leading to the desolation of the political field, ideological profanity, convergence of business and politics, corruption of political organizations, alienation of the citizen from the state, degeneration of the electoral mechanisms, distortion of state functions, criminalization of the state and, eventually, reached the point of depoliticization of politics. In a political system of such realities, where that very system was de-facto stripped of ideology, politics and turned into a “community” office, a healthy and real conversation around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the ways to solve it naturally could not exist. Therefore, certainly, the topic of the conflict should have either been sidelined or turned into a subject of narrow political manipulations, equivalent to political discourse, manners, values, conditions and realities of that time. The transition of political power in 1998-1999, can be said to have ended in May of 2000, when President Robert Kocharian ousted Prime Minister Aram Sarkissian and Defense Minister Vagharshak Haroutyunian, ending the two-winged government and subjugating the power completely to himself. The presidential and parliamentary elections of 2003 exclusively served the President’s political interests. Essentially, there was no balance in the newly formed political system, in the face of the monolith government and the opposition “turned into ruins”. Monopole, pyramid-shaped government had its economic and political pillars and the legislative-judicial powers were in a state of direct derivation from the executive power. There were clear rules of the game, which guaranteed the connection of the whole social-political-economic system to the President and his close cohort, with a clear agenda of maintaining the power.
The desolate state of the country’s political field was occasionally disturbed by realignments inside the government and redistributions of spheres of influence. In such circumstances, there was no obligation, need or compulsion for such a government to discuss or enter a dialogue with the public. Consequently, Armenia’s political issues, in particular relations with its neighbors, security, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the establishment of the political system, etc., were pushed to the background through general noise or systematic manipulation of public opinion. Therefore, only in parallel universe it might have been possible for the government to voluntarily address these issues, more so search for their solutions or present the public the real state of the affairs. Political actors could take this load, but in the best-case scenario they preferred to play by the government-set rules, shutting themselves in their comfort zone.
The deserted political field, the absence of debate in a covert but irreversible way, had an impact first of all on the internal public perceptions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, re-establishing them as if such a problem did not exist, as if the issue had already been resolved. That alienation started in 1998, with the backstage resignation of the President, with not discussing the reasons for the resignation in the National Assembly and the complete disregard for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the 1998 snap presidential elections. In other words, the most important Armenian foreign policy issue, which caused the resignation of country’s primary mandate, the President of the Republic, did not get to be discussed publicly. It was the first tangible manifestation of Armenia’s political life changing from public to behind the scene. The issue, which was directly related to the security of the state, the prospects of development, had to, essentially, be the national-state choice, but was instead solved on the level of silent, backstage feuds of the elite. The elections of the new President were conducted without the Nagorno-Karabakh issue as well. It was a historical paradox that the elections took place as a result of the domestic crisis caused by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but the measure of overcoming it did not involve a discussion about its cause and solutions.
1998-2020 Armenian political life was almost entirely focused on the domestic agenda. Even the 2016 April war was not able to change the internal discourse in Armenia, which was significantly facilitated by the government of the time, preaching through all its channels that the Armenian side had won the four-day war by its choice of status-quo and that Armenia must stick with this “winning” policy. This propaganda, in fact, quickly putting down the first shock of the war, set into stone the status-quo policy, “confirming” it was right. The government took back the reign of propaganda locomotive, which was accompanied by the choir of “not an inch of land”-ists.
In 2020, retrospectively explaining the April war Serzh Sarkissian reaffirmed it as a victory. “This has never been a question for me, because, based on the results, I am sure this is our victory, the victory of all of us“. The analysis of the cause of the war, the assessment of the changed realities in the region did not take place on a public level, filling the existing vacuum with elements of inflated patriotism and global conspiracy. This propaganda created a big illusion that the Armenian side maintains the military balance even after a 20-year break, factually proving the propriety of the status-quo policy and giving it a new momentum.
However, the active mediation efforts from the Russian side in negotiation process became notable after April, 2016. The second meeting between the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan after the April war was organized by Russian President Vladimir Putin, moving the agenda of the conflict settlement from Vienna to St. Petersburg. If the May 20, 2016 Vienna meeting agenda was the introduction of investigation mechanisms to prevent further escalation, the thematic coverage of the June 20 St. Petersburg meeting was significantly larger; “There was a detailed exchange of views on key issues of the settlement. The Heads of State noted the fact of reaching mutual understanding on a number of issues, the solution of which will provide an opportunity to create conditions for progress in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Presidents stated the importance of regular meetings between them and agreed to continue them on such a scale, in addition to the work of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs“. With such an agreement, the parties, in fact, hinted that the process of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement is moving quite fast, with the expectation of concrete solutions. During his July 12, 2016 visit to Baku Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that “the parties are closest to the prospect of success in the Karabakh settlement than ever before. For obvious reasons, we do not disclose details of the ideas discussed during the meeting in St. Petersburg. Russia and Azerbaijan are discussing concrete steps that should lead to the settlement of the Karabakh conflict”. The negotiation process that resumed after the April war was, in fact, quickly taken over by Russia, making the above-mentioned “concrete steps” in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict an alternative to the introduction of investigation mechanisms. The statement of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs regarding the October 16, 2017 presidential meeting in Geneva did not in any way touch upon the introduction of monitoring and investigative mechanisms, “effectively” canceling the Vienna agenda: “The meeting was held in a constructive atmosphere. The Presidents agreed to take measures to intensify the negotiation process and reduce tensions on the line of contact. The Co-Chairs expressed satisfaction with these immediate resumption of talks after a long break. They are ready to work with the parties to act as a mediator in the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict“.
However, if Azerbaijan and Russia were discussing “concrete steps that could lead to the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” Armenia was not particularly active in that regard. The government’s cooling propaganda on the April war and preserving the status-quo was accompanied by remarkable actions of two radical poles of the opposition field, the influence of which was no less valuable in terms of generating public sentiments than the government’s veiled or obvious propaganda. A group self-proclaimed as “Sasna Tsrer” (“Daredevils of Sassoun”), after the April war of 2016, on July 17, launched an armed attack and captured the PPS Regiment of Yerevan, declaring it an “armed uprising” and justifying it by “the state of the country. Serzh Sarkissian’s betrayal of handing over the liberated Nagorno-Karabakh territories through a set-up war, just to keep his Presidential seat, will be the last nail in the coffin of our statehood. The main reason for this uprising is the desire to ensure the Nagorno-Karabakh integrity and its people’s security“.
Although the militant group surrendered on July 31, the clashes in Yerevan during the 13 days prior to that sparked a new wave of negativity against the authorities, on a socio-psychological level linking them to making concessions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Naturally, when the public sympathy lies with the armed group instead of the illegitimate government, every policy imitated by the latter, especially related to conflict resolution, would be negatively accepted. The second important event on the opposition pole during the capturing of the PPS Regiment was the statement made by Nikol Pashinian, the leader of the “Civil Contract” party, during the rally supporting the actions of “Sasna Tsrer” and demanding Serzh Sarkissian’s resignation, in which he stated that there are real processes around Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution happening behind the scenes; “Levon Ter-Petrossian has formed an alliance with Serzh Sarkissian to implement a so-called program on the Karabakh issue, which is known in diplomatic circles as “the Lavrov’s plan.” It is a disgraceful, humiliating solution for Armenia and agreeing to such a solution is shameful not only for the country’s first names, but also for every Armenian citizen. To speak of compromise in an atmosphere of aggressive behavior by Aliev means to speak of the capitulation of the Republic of Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. But we will not allow the capitulation of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh“. The opposition agenda of excluding compromises added a new level to the architecture of the status-quo.
After the April war, a situation was created in which Russia intensified its mediation efforts, advancing the Russian “Lavrov” proposals, on which Azerbaijan and Russia had a politically agreed position, at least on a public level, while Armenia’s position was ambiguous. The government did not speak publicly about the issue, instead deepening the status-quo policy with its propaganda tools, and the two radical opposition forces were completely against the option of compromise. Amongst the Armenian political forces, the Levon Ter-Petrossian led ANC was the only one who urged to meet the mediators’ proposals. Ter-Petrossian’s position, being unique, was at the same time widely criticized by other opposition forces. In fact, in this case too he was conducting a monologue; the warnings made to the main players of the political field have already become common, and for the public they were disconnected from their daily lives. According to Ter-Petrossian, the urgency of the conflict settlement was conditioned by a real change in Russia’s policy, at the core of which was no longer the 1990s status-quo preservation, but the establishment of a new status-quo based on the new balance of powers. The main political forces in Armenia, as a united choir for the status-quo, not only failed to notice the change in Russia’s policy and the planning of the new status-quo, but also continued the disgraceful usage of internal and external languages.
Meanwhile, Ter-Petrossian publicly spoke about that change for the first time in his article regarding the Constitutional amendments in Armenia, on November 26, 2015, noting: “After a break of about 25 years, the world is entering a new phase of the Cold War, one of the focal points of which will again be the Middle East region. The signs of that are already there. By actively engaging in the vortex of Syrian events and strengthening relations with Iran, Russia is revealing its long-standing strategic interests in the region. In that context, it is obvious that in order to secure its back, Russia will soon take serious steps to strengthen its position in the territories directly adjacent to the Middle East. One of those regions, perhaps the most important, being Transcaucasia, Russia will prioritize the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, the normalization of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, as evidenced, in particular, by Lavrov’s recent visits to Baku and Yerevan. This is not about Russia imposing any new program for the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, but only about giving new momentum to the program based on the “Madrid” principles through the efforts of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs“. If Ter-Petrossian’s warnings were alien to the opposition and the society unaware of the actual state of the affairs, again it was a completely different case for the government. On November 3, 2021, almost 6 years after the referendum on constitutional amendments, Ter-Petrossian published his November 28, 2015 letter addressed to the President of the RA Constitutional Court Gagik Haroutyunian, where he stated without diplomatic formalities; “In case of escalation of international tensions, escalation of the situation in the Middle East, Russia will have to strengthen its military base in Armenia, and from here take part in the military actions in Syria and Iraq. This means that Armenia and its foreign diplomatic missions will be considered enemy territories by anti-Russian forces, becoming one of the targets for Islamic terrorism. Russia will try to secure its military presence in Azerbaijan as well, which, much like it was in 1920-21, will be possible only if the Karabakh issue is resolved favorably for the latter“. In response, Gagik Haroutyunian said; “Serzh was also introduced to the letter. Your concerns have grounds. But postponing the referendum is no longer legally possible!” No other details are known at the public level, but the message and the government’s response to it in general and in the context of the development of the situation in particular, are quite telling. The government’s behavior of ignoring external challenges, focusing exclusively on domestic political life, was at least a classic political irresponsibility.
The fact that the Armenian government lived exclusively on the internal agenda, considering itself free of external challenges, was expressed by its uninterested behavior towards the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It seemed the conflict was Russia’s, or at best, Armenia’s and Russia’s shared headache. It is memorable that during the ceremonial part of the meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, after the April war of 2016, Serzh Sarkissian publicly asked a completely surprising question; “We were convinced that this issue can be resolved exclusively through compromises, peacefully, but today we have what we have. That’s why your point of view is so important to me: why did it happen anyway? Of course, we have our idea, but you are much more informed, so we will be grateful if you could present your idea“. By the way, since July of 2018 Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has repeatedly publicly stated that “I am convinced and I think we all know that Russia can prevent the war, therefore, I cannot believe that Russia will allow the war or Russia will not use its leverage to keep Azerbaijan from provocations”. The culmination of the Armenian authorities’ policy of ignoring external challenges and living a domestic political life was Serzh Sarkissian’s speech on February 2, 2016. From 2013-2016 Sarkissian, focusing entirely on clearing the country’s domestic political field from his opponents, was reminded of external challenges only from time to time when there was border escalation. During that time, he managed not only to remove the main opponent from the political field, to irreversibly weaken the potential successor of the total power, to divide the opposition field, but to also create tangible preconditions to keep the power after the end of his Presidential term in 2018. Wasn’t it natural that having dealt with the internal politics of March 2008 events with surgical precision, the threat of opposition and the rival governmental force, Serzh Sarkissian should have felt more confident in foreign policy and adopted a more uncompromising stance on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Freeing himself from internal political constraints, the Sarkissian administration again paid tribute to the internal political agenda and tried to justify the status-quo policy. Considering Armenia’s main issues to be internal, and the action of external opponents ineffective, Sarkissian not only reaffirmed the policy of defending the status-quo started by Kocharian, but also professionally upgraded it; “We have been living in these conditions for 25 years. We are already accustomed to them. We do not and will not connect our opportunities for progress with the solution of these problems. We have to come to terms with the fact that we do not have any real partners east of Martakert, Martuni and west of Gyumri and Armavir. Until now, we have lived without them, ensuring more or less rapid development. Let’s consider over there to be a bottomless swamp, impossible to cross”. As an internal political agenda, it may have already been approved by the consensus of the majority of Armenian political forces, but to what extent did this concept correspond with the current geopolitical situation (e.g., the Russian opposition with the West), the changing realities in the region (e.g., Turkey’s military-political revival), and, to some extent conditioned by that, Russia’s new policy. Was isolated Armenia able to withstand the challenge of upsetting the military balance in the “swamps” pointed out by Sarkissian, which in about 2 months after the aforementioned speech, on April 2nd, 2016 came under fire?
The 2016 April war erupted as a complete surprise for the Armenian society, who, as Sarkissian put it, was “accustomed and adapted” to the status-quo. The war and its results showed that the situation in the region had drastically changed, the status-quo of previous years was cracking. However, as the next 5 years showed, this circumstance did not receive proper attention from the Armenian political elite (consensus – 1). Moreover, after the April war, the Armenian government not only was not zealous, did not try to find working and realistic solutions for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but also returned the internal political discourse into a field of “not an inch of land”-ism. In elections held exactly one year after the 2016 April war, the issue of security, war and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was completely marginalized. None of the political forces participating in the elections, except for the ANC, saw the urgency of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement, but was clearly against compromises. History has been repeated many times. Instead of dialogue and debate on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it was either a choir of voices with all parties rejecting Ter-Petrossian’s preference for a settlement of the conflict without presenting their vision, or a monologue when Ter-Petrossian’s statements were not met with counter-points of the same substance and remained unanswered. The position of the government was again noteworthy; one year after the April war the government “clung stronger to the politics of the status-quo”, refused to move the conflict settlement process to the domestic political arena, not entering into a substantive debate on the settlement of the conflict, as well as concealing the real situation at the negotiation table.
Seeing the April war as a normal episode of the conflict, and presenting it in the domestic political field as a failure of the enemy’s plans and a victory, the government with both its political positions (e.g., manipulative comments on the negotiations, avoiding the discourse of conflict resolution, introducing the concept of “Nation-Army” and the attempt to popularize it, etc.) returned the country to its pre-war state. Armenia was forced to live in an age of its own, while the atmosphere around it has changed, and the policy of the great powers entered a phase of geopolitical revisions. The 2017 parliamentary elections brought the internal Armenian discourse of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution to an irreversible deadlock. The 1998 policy of maintaining the status-quo reached its peak when, even after the four-day war, the political, social, cultural, economic realities of the country were left unchanged. The chosen path – to develop without compromises and carrying the burden of the conflict, which in some places was presented as a necessary element for the existence of Armenia, was accepted as a way of life with absolute public harmony. If it was somewhat natural for a society living with the burden of everyday problems, then it was unacceptable for the political elite. If the society was the victim of psychological-ideological violence, then the political elite – the government and the opposition (consensus – 1), was the author of that violence acting as an 1890s fedayee and a modern day pompous-patriotic orchestra. Making the preservation of the status-quo Armenia’s top political goal in regional politics, turning the state into a security consumer regional ballast, declaring rival states “swamps” and creating a false agenda of its own existence, ignoring geopolitical changes around Armenia, numbing public alertness, forcing perceptions on international relations conditioned by provincial patriotism, the political elite made Armenia captive to the status-quo in Nagorno-Karabakh, thus condemning the state to the whim of the moment, as the status-quo could change at any time, even by small and average players.
2018 Revolution: “The Catcher in the Rye”
In April-May of 2018, as a result of a huge wave of protest and a large-scale public uprising, a peaceful change of power took place in Armenia. The chain of the same government reproducing itself and the faultiness of the elections as a tool for the change of power, was finally broken; Serzh Sarkissian resigned from the post of RA Prime Minister, instead the Republican majority in the National Assembly elected Nikol Pashinian as the head of state. In the snap parliamentary elections held seven months after the revolutionary events, the block led by Nikol Pashinian gained a constitutional majority, taking full control of the legislative and executive branches. Thus ended the phase of power transition in Armenia, freeing almost all spheres of the country from stagnant stability. At the same time, however, the former stagnant situation turned into a state of confusion, which also affected the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement process. Carrying a potential of the material threat, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was gaining superior importance over other issues. However, in this new reality, it was not essentially perceived as a priority.
In new government’s view the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was, at best, only one of the problems, and not an urgent one. The realization of the national dream to perpetually maintain the status-quo created the perception that the negotiations were a forced unpleasant protocol duty. At the initial stage, any internal political uprising in Armenia was constantly rebuked at the propaganda level with the “reasoning” of not harming Nagorno-Karabakh. When the opposition threatened the positions of power, the latter immediately reminded of the unresolved conflict and demanded “not to play into Azerbaijan’s hands”. That was probably the only moment when the government formed after 1998 voluntarily recalled the conflict but only within the blackmail logic. The 2018 acts of protest were no exception; the authorities were directly predicting a war. These “concerns”, however, quickly transformed into a systemic, organized accusation campaign of “handing over the lands” aimed at the new government. Propaganda ignited from the first day of Pashinian’s government was fueled with new accusations, that he became the Prime Minister of Armenia to disrupt Armenian-Russian relations and surrender Nagorno-Karabakh.
In this context, the September 28, 2018 agreement between the Armenian Prime Minister and the President of Azerbaijan to reduce military tension on the line of contact became a key occasion. The “Dushanbe Agreement” was turned into myths, legends and fabrications by the Armenian opposition circles, propagating that systematic border tensions and shootings ceased in return for the Armenian government’s promise to hand over Nagorno-Karabakh. This propaganda left a heavy residue, on one hand, making the Armenian authorities be more rigid in relations with Azerbaijan, on the other hand, creating an atmosphere of alarm and anxiety among the Armenian society. This propaganda had a huge impact on the position of the government in domestic political life and was also reflected in Armenia’s actions in the negotiation process on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement. This provocation, of course, does not justify the mistakes of the Armenian authorities in the negotiations. They were trusted with a mandate to conduct the negotiations and carried the political and legal responsibility for them; therefore, the government’s task was to neutralize or avoid those side effects.
The propaganda accusing Nikol Pashinian of selling Nagorno-Karabakh was carried out through numerous media outlets, social networks, and even open statements of specific figures, publicly declaring that Pashinian intends to return the lands to Azerbaijan. These allegations first of all were “substantiated” by the fact that Pashinian was Ter-Petrossian’s “ideological offspring” and the bearer of his thinking on the settlement of the conflict. The propaganda was more than primitive: Pashinian had been in Ter-Petrossian’s team before, therefore he shares the first President’s ideology. It didn’t matter to this propaganda machine that Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkissian have also been in Ter-Petrossian’s team. It also did not matter to them, that Pashinian’s vision of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, even on the level of elements and principals, had no relation to Ter-Petrossian’s proposals on the issue. Davit Shahnazarian, the number 3 on the Republican Party’s pre-election list for the 2018 snap elections, was the most active in the discourse of “handing over the lands” accusations, assuring, that the Dushanbe agreement was beneficial solely to Azerbaijan, which would gain territorial and positional advantages in Nakhichevan. According to him, the policy led with regards to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue was not resulted by the inexperience of the new government, but was a clearly planned agenda of “taking the government for giving up Nagorno-Karabakh”. In this regard Serzh Sarkissian’s statement from February 25, 2020 was very interesting. In it, addressing the group of citizens who came to support him in front of the court, he stated: “The independence of Nagorno Karabakh is above everything. Nagorno Karabakh will never be a part of Azerbaijan. This has been the ultimate goal of my life, it will accompany me to the end, everywhere”. Outwardly, it seemed completely illogical, what did Sarkissian’s corruption case have to do with Nagorno-Karabakh being part of Azerbaijan? Meanwhile, that statement was the perfect expression of the atmosphere in Armenia and its guiding slogan that the government is trying to hand over Artsakh, which is why it is prosecuting former officials, including the second and third presidents.
Serzh Sarkissian’s aforementioned statement was probably one of the most notable statements in the psychological and propaganda campaigns, and was reinforced by his party supporters and systemic, well-organized press coverage from the hundreds of anti-government media outlets. On one hand, it created suspicions that the government is involved in some sort of conspiracies, on the other hand, it deepened the extremist perceptions in society, leaning them towards “not-an-inch-of-land”-ism. In conditions of such propaganda no society could independently arrive at the idea of compromise in the conflict resolution, especially the Armenian society, which for years has lived in the reality of rigged elections, imitation and made-up facts. And the competence and responsibility of the ruling elite could be first observed in this instant. By a historical paradox, the one Armenian government was accused of handing over Nagorno-Karabakh, which, compared to the all-previous ones, had adopted the most uncompromising stance on the Karabakh issue. During his first election as the RA Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinian publicly presented that he did not see the necessary atmosphere for the settlement of the conflict: “Azerbaijan’s refusal to recognize the right of Nagorno-Karabakh people for self-determination leaves no room for talks about any compromises“. Regardless, this approach had the right to exist, but when it served as basis for the positions of government officials who conducted the conflict resolution negotiations, and, essentially, directed it as a precondition to international community, it couldn’t avoid creating problems in the process of negotiations. With his position, Pashinian related the question of Armenia agreeing to compromises with Azerbaijan committing to a specific responsibility. If in the past, at least in the behind-the-scenes negotiation process, one side’s logic had to be balanced with the other side’s, now Armenia demanded that Azerbaijan publicly made its most significant concession, only after which the Armenian side would be ready to discuss its own concessions. To be fair, in the conditions of military-patriotic pathos, such messages and statements were not properly perceived, on one hand being attributed to simple crowd-pleasing, on the other hand, being considered natural in the context of the “victory” card of the April war. But the problem is that when the Armenian leader was starting from the position of radically turning the negotiation process around, when he was also exporting what had been said and propagated inside Armenia for about 20 years to the international arena. This, of course, is not an exceptional or reprehensible phenomenon in a historical situation, if the party doing so has sufficient resources to serve its agenda. In this case, the problem was different: would Pashinian, after receiving complete information about the real situation in the country, change his opinion as a candidate for the post of the Prime Minister in accordance with the objective conditions, and bring it in line with the existing real opportunities?
The issue of restoring the trilateral dimension of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement was defined by the RA government as a targeted priority. Pashinian spoke about this directly one day after being elected the Prime Minister, during his visit to Nagorno-Karabakh: “How can a negotiation of this format, that’s missing one of its key participants altogether, solve an issue? The most important component of resolving the issue is conducting negotiations in the right format“. This was a completely rational action in terms of restoring the state of the affairs and the completeness of conflict settlement process, considering that the mistake of leaving Nagorno-Karabakh out of the negotiation process, made by Robert Kocharian, was indeed a gift to Azerbaijan in terms of presenting the conflict as a territorial dispute between two countries. But this step taken by the new government went against the international footing Armenia had and its resources to sustain them. Over the years, Armenia’s weakened position, the military imbalance with Azerbaijan, and the international community’s inclination towards the so far bilateral negotiation, made this goal unattainable. Pashinian believed that Armenia could not speak on behalf of Nagorno-Karabakh, stating that without the direct participation of Nagorno-Karabakh, the conflict could not be resolved. This stance, however, did not receive a positive international response. Thus, on March 9th of 2019 the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs made a statement, in which they called the sides of the conflict to “refrain from making statements or actions that imply a change in the situation on the spot, predetermine the outcome of future negotiations or create preconditions without the consent of the other party, demand a unilateral change of the format or show readiness to resume hostilities”. This statement was extremely strange, because it was not only proof of behind-the-scenes tensions, but also their public manifestation. This episode, however, did not change Armenia’s policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. On February 16, 2020, RA Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian presented the position of the Armenian side in a Facebook post, calling it “Munich Principles”: “1. Nagorno Karabakh gained independence just like Azerbaijan. 2. Nagorno Karabakh is a side to the conflict and to negotiations, without which it is impossible to resolve the conflict. 3. There are no territories, there is security. Nagorno Karabakh cannot give up its security. 4. It is not possible to resolve the conflict in one or two actions. In the negotiation process, “micro revolutions” are needed, then “mini revolutions”, then breakthroughs. 5. Any solution to the issue must be acceptable to the people of Armenia, the people of Karabakh, the people of Azerbaijan; Armenia and Karabakh are ready to make tangible efforts to find such a solution. Azerbaijan must also show such readiness. 6. There is no military solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. If anyone claims the opposite, the people of Karabakh can then conclude that the conflict has been resolved long time ago“. With this approach, Armenia not only did not share the opinion of the Minsk Group co-chairs, but also defined a clear alternative to the “not-an-inch-of-land”-ist position – either a total and status-wise clear solution to the conflict, or maintenance of the status-quo. With such a vocabulary, the Armenian Prime Minister actually uprooted the two-faced policy led by the government since 1998, and addressed the internal and external audiences with the same lexicon. If from 1991-1998 the internal and external lexicon of the government were, in fact, the same, and in 1998-2018, significantly different and contradictory to each other, then in 2018 it returned to the same principle, with a major difference of the external lexicon deriving from the internal one. Because of this choice, not only the Armenian-Azerbaijani positions began to differ significantly, but also a gap was created in the perceptions of Armenia and the mediating states. This, of course, was incomparably a more honest approach than sending different messages to internal and external audiences and, in fact, deceiving them. However, it not only did it not reduce security risks, but also methodologically contradicted the status-quo policy as a situational preference. The gap between the approaches of Armenia and the international community became especially apparent on March 12, 2019 joint session of the Security Councils of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, held in Stepanakert. At that time, the RA Prime Minister spoke openly about the principles at hand, in fact, demanding from the international community to clarify them, so that the conflicting parties did not interpret them differently. This step could be considered an example of transparent governance, but on the other hand, what message was it sending to the international community and how was it contributing to the prospect of the peaceful conflict settlement? “And what can these principles mean in practice? Who has the right to interpret them? Documents that do not allow misinterpretation should become the bases for the negotiation process”. It is clear that any principle or solution would be presented as the victory of the Armenian side in Armenia, and in Azerbaijan – as Azerbaijan’s victory. Finally, if the principles were to be clarified on the level of excluding misinterpretation and on the level of package solution accordingly, in that instant both in terms of international law and military-political balance, they would not be in the least pro-Armenian. Prime Minister Pashinian stated this post-factum, in 2021, presenting the negative changes that took place in the negotiation process in 2015-2016.
The objective and unbiased assessment of the situation and, essentially, workable solutions could be expected only from the government. First of all, the government was the policy-maker, the further development of the events would be defined by its steps and decisions. Second, being the government, itself assumes responsibility for any direction the situation develops, both to be found guilty or to earn laurels. Third, the government had the best knowledge of the real picture of the available resources, information, and would make decisions according to the possibilities and well-informedness. The government was the only one that could not avoid the issue before the international community. Finally, the Armenian government was fairly elected, the most legitimate one since 1992, whose legitimacy left no doubt. And with that vote of confidence, it was expected that the risks of failing at Armenia’s most important issue would be minimized. With such a policy regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, wishing so or not, Armenian government fell into a big trap – dragging down with it both the energy of the 2018 revolution, and any sort of pro-Armenian prospect to the conflict resolution. In response to opposition’s total anti-propaganda and informational manipulations, the confused state of the people, the government chose not the option of forming a political discourse and putting the issue on the agenda, but instead resorted to the way of primitive responses. Any manipulation from the opposition about giving up the lands was met with the government’s efforts to clear its name and deny it. The more the opposition accused the government of handing over lands, the more the government strengthened its position, trying to prove that it was not handing them over. If the opposition did not suffer from publicizing the issue, the government was both suffering loses behind the scenes and creating new problems in the negotiation process. The combination of internal and external languages in favor of the former was a serious mistake in terms of Armenia’s security threats.
The Prime Minister’s statements on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which, in fact, were merely an instrument against the opposition on the domestic political agenda, were circulated by other key members of the government. Amongst these, the RA NSS director Arthur Vanetsian’s visit to the South of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Araks Valley, on February 27, 2019, to get acquainted with the resettlement program, is noteworthy. Here the director of the NSS announced for the world to hear; “It is constantly speculated that they will give back the lands, they will negotiate, they will give in, and so on. Bringing this program to life, we will send a clear message to our people, to the world, that we have no intention of giving back an inch of land“. RA Defense Ministry David Tonoian’s similar statements from his meeting with the USA Armenian community on March 30, 2019, turned out even more resounding; “As the Minister of Defense, today I redefine the “territories for peace” formula. We will do the opposite – “new war for new territories”. As expected, their statements did not change anything in the domestic political life of the country, that is, the opposition did not stop accusing the government of handing over lands, but those accusations were not unequivocally perceived in the international arena, at the same time being exploited by Azerbaijan’s propaganda. It is noteworthy that post-2018 government of Armenia refused to repeat the first President’s policy of adopting the same position of compromise both inside and outside the country. It also refused to follow in the footsteps of the second and third Presidents, who expressed willingness for concessions abroad and simultaneously rendered the idea of concessions as treason inside the country. They, in fact, chose the third option, which expressed the wishes of the Armenian people but presented an isolated, marginalized case in the international arena. It was clear that in order to “sell” the Armenian society’s wishes of domestic consumption the government did not have enough resources, but they still took the way of violating the Khorenatsi doctrine. The Prime Minister conveyed the basic perceptions and dreams of the society to the international actors, instead of presenting the realities they formulated to the Armenian society. These desires could not be imposed on the international community, while its actions or inaction could have had practical consequences for Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
The policy of the Armenian new government in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict had 4 major tangible expressions, which locked the gates of the negotiation deadlock. First were the Tavush battles and their perception inside Armenia, their heroization and the “substantiation” of the invincibility of the Armenian army in case of a possible war. The second was the unequivocal statement of the Armenian Prime Minister at the rally in Nagorno-Karabakh, “Artsakh is Armenia, period”, which not only had a negative international perception but also deepened the perception of the conflict as a territorial dispute. By the way, such statements were once made by both Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkissian, but exclusively in front of an internal audience. Moreover, in the conditions of the authoritarian information system that they possessed, those aspirations were taken away, not to mention that in the international arena, they expressed willingness to make concessions. The third was the inauguration of the new President of Nagorno-Karabakh in the city of Shushi, which was received very negatively and sensitively in Azerbaijan. The last straw was the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Sèvres in August of 2020, which was celebrated in Armenia with underlined resonance, adding a brick to the tense and even hostile situation in relations with Turkey.
The 2018 exclusion of a compromise solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict took place on the precondition of clarifying the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. However, if in the past everything in international relations was subordinated to the protection of the status-quo, including at the expense of Armenia’s sovereignty, this time such subordination did not taken place. The opposite is possibly true; Armenia, trying to maintain the status-quo, did not want to pay for it. This decision was apparently not so much an ideological choice or a calculated policy as much a misunderstanding of the international relations system. In fact, by choosing to maintain the status-quo as a policy, the Armenian government abandoned the main tool of it, misleading the international community and the domestic Armenian audience, which had an impact on the freezing of the status-quo process; the wrong tool for the intended purpose. Meanwhile, it was impossible to freeze the conflict settlement process with hot tools. In other words, the methodology and the toolkit were at odds with each other. As a result, Armenia chose not to make a decision on the existing proposals, but that “non-decision” was a decision in itself.
On September 21, 2020, at the celebration of the 29th anniversary of the Independence of the Republic of Armenia, the Armenian Prime Minister presented “The Transformation of Armenia by 2050; strategy”. The package included almost all spheres of the socio-cultural life of Armenia, however, it did not include the Karabakh issue. It is symbolic that the presentation of the strategy ending with the conclusion “Artsakh is Armenia, period” took place only 6 days before the 44-day war. It embodied the 2018-2020 foreign and domestic policy pursued by the Armenian government; for Armenia, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is militarily resolved, so the entire potential of the state must be directed to the domestic socio-economic development. Being high-strung package both in terms of content and presentation, it was again about the internal Armenian agenda, and continued the terminology introduced by Serzh Sarkissian in 2016 about the island of Armenia surrounded by “swamps”. This was not only a political miscalculation, but also an ideological choice of excluding concessions. Both the Armenian society and the ruling elite were convinced that the will, self-confidence, faith, strength, heroism and patriotism were enough to fight against weapons, armor, money and resources. In Armenia, delusional perceptions, well wishes and national aspirations prevailed over sober calculation, limited resources and practical capabilities, myth and fallacy over reality, inflated patriotism over bitter truth and unsatisfactory reality.
Freedom without responsibility is anarchy, power without responsibility is a disaster. This is how the conduct of the Armenian political elite can be described since 1998. Paying tribute to local and provincial patriotism, this elite, on one hand, conducted foreign policy insofar as it served the agenda of ideological dictatorship and maintaining the power within the country, on the other hand, with the tactic of delaying issues in the international arena, agreeing to proposals but leaving them unfulfilled. A discursive environment of land fetishism was established within the country, where the political ecology was saturated with the oxygen of pompous patriotism, first rejecting the substantive debate over ways to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and then the existence of the conflict itself. In the case of speaking from the position of compromises the political organizations and individuals, essentially, committed a political suicide, which made the players who avoided being pushed to the sidelines, support a similar discourse – joining the ranks of the “nationalist komsomol” choir. It is noteworthy that while a totalitarian dictatorship was established in Azerbaijan, there was no possibility of creating a similar dictatorship in Armenia. It was compensated by the compulsion of inflated patriotic discourse, establishing an ideological dictatorship. A “national ideology” was emerging as a modern form of “Armenian Cause” in the shape of a “status-quo party” dictating that “concessions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are a betrayal”, “the conflict is resolved” and other similar dogmatic statements and clichés about international relations, that immediately destroyed any contrary assertion or even opportunity for discussion. The political significance of this ideological dictatorship cannot be diminished at all, in comparison with, for example, the Azerbaijani model, because it was no less consequential in its destructive influence on healthy public institutions and the environment.
Moreover, an important axis of this “ideological dictatorship” was the formation of internal and external languages. And if the foreign language was in harmony with the mediators on the external front, constantly showing the readiness of the Armenian side to make concessions, then the internal language had re-shaped the internal political field using the above-mentioned “national ideology” and the overpowering propaganda noise, consistently deepened in the public consciousness and perceptions that the conflict was resolved. It was present everywhere from kindergarten recitals to elementary schools, university classes to academic literature, from mass media to culture. Thus, the dictatorship of the national ideology of “not giving up an inch of land” was established, at the root having one and only goal to maintain power. Of course, without diminishing the role of the systemic and organized government propaganda, it should be noted that in 1988 the society that stood up for Nagorno-Karabakh, while going through the difficult path of independence, war and the establishment of the statehood, became indifferent regarding this issue. The deprivations suffered during the independence movement, socio-economic polarization, social injustice, selective justice system, disruption of the electoral machine, distortion of the political system led to the violation of public solidarity, gradually alienating the public from the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and the state in general. The state, the war and its trophy in the form of Nagorno-Karabakh, began to be associated with plunder, deprivation and irreparable/one-sided sacrifice, naturally leading to public indifference. This is the way to explain the indifference of the society both in 1998, when the issue of Armenia’s development path was decided, and in the most corrupt elections that took place one year after the April war of 2016, or after the 2020 war. If in 1998 the factor of the guerrilla-military “elite” was still decisive, which, in fact, was used to prevent the internal consensus on the settlement of the conflict, then after the events of October 27, 1999, and the end of the transitional period of power, the phenomenon of the victorious army in the form of a “caste” of warlords was crushed in a calculated way. As a result of emigration and socio-economic polarization, the newly forming middle class lost its role, diminishing even small chances of recovery in case of possible failure.
If it was somewhat acceptable for the society to distance itself from the problems of the state, security, international relations and focus on its everyday problems, the same behavior was unacceptable for the government, whose job was to deal with those problems. The Armenian society and its political class, in fact, voluntarily refused to discuss the problems of Armenia and find solutions, sometimes attributing them to Russia’s and other countries’ responsibility, who were “pro-Armenian” or “indebted to Armenia”, and sometimes justifying that carelessness with the enemy’s “lack of brains”. Due to the government’s propaganda, the public eco-environment, and perhaps national mentality, the root of denying the dialogue grew deeper in the Armenian society. Even in everyday life adopting the extremism of building and valuing things, the mindset of win-lose instead of win-win, compromise at the political level automatically began to be ruled out, leading to a choir of voices and a monologue, but never to a dialogue. After all, there was no political compromise as a more or less acceptable solution for the conflicting parties, neither between different political groups inside the country, nor abroad, especially regarding Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Of course, there is a theory that the failure of the Armenian side was the result of not speaking the language of international law with the world, of underestimating the power of law and self-determination. This study, however, was based on the political theory of realism, starting from principles of the balance of power between the conflicting parties, the basic, narrow interests of the minor and major stakeholders, and existing resources. Without pretending to analyze or criticize the theory of the rule of the international law and self-determination, it should be noted that in the end it does not clearly answer how to resolve the issue of the imbalance between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the policy of foreign power centers conditioned by their own basic interests. So, even if the Armenian side did not fail to create a proper legal base in the settlement process, refusing to make the concessions demanded by Azerbaijan and basing it on the right of self-determination, how could it change that approach – with Turkey strengthening and its regional plans, disrupting relations between Russia and the West, the situation and military-political environment altered by Russia’s geopolitical game of chess, etc. Finally, due to Russia’s geopolitical interests, the Armenian-Azerbaijani agreements would have been insufficient in terms of finding solutions to the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in any case. However, the problem is that Russia’s attitude to the settlement of the conflict has not been the same at different stages, in terms of not allowing a solution or forcing it. Therefore, the task of the Armenian socio-political elite was to correctly and carefully calculate Russia’s geopolitical interests and priorities, to understand their changes, the logic (including the purpose) of those revisions, and try to combine Armenian interests with them as much as possible. Considering the victorious ceasefire of 1994, the failing of the peaceful resolution process from 1995-2020, and losing the war in 2020, it can be clearly seen when the Armenian side came out right in its calculations and when it failed miserably.
The 2020 war and its severe results proved the failure of the “Israelization” attempt of the country, leaving both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in ruins. What was the appeal of “Israelization” is still unknown, considering that the young generation who seeks a normal, stable, prosperous lifestyle and peaceful everyday would flee the atmosphere of violence and uninterrupted war? Armenian political thought was weak and therefore was suppressed by the dogmas of “patriotic history”, ignoring the factors of political context, geography and location. Relying on the status-quo formed at one historical stage, which would inevitably change in the next one, the Armenian political elite and the society as a whole were unable to accept the change of the environment around them and adapt to it. They did not have the courage to accept the simple and key reality that the status-quo registered at a favorable moment cannot be eternal. Understanding this inevitable historical regularity and acting accordingly, was the responsibility of the political elite, realizing it themselves and explaining it to people, that the status-quo, as French political scientist Dominique Moïsi accurately notes, was the recipe for a disaster.
 Ter-Petrossian L., “Selected works”, Yerevan, 2006, pp. 591-624.
 “Republic of Armenia”, Yerevan, 1997 November 1.
 Ter-Petrossian L., “Selected works”, page 630.
 Sarkissian V., Press conference, Yerevan, 1998 January 23.
 Sarkissian V., Letter to Leon Ter-Petrossian, Yerevan, 1997 October 1.
 Kocharian R., “Life and Freedom”, Yerevan, 2019, p 274.
 Ter-Petrossian L., “Selected works”, page 659.
 Astourian S., From Ter-Petrosian to Kocharian: Leadership Change in Armenia, Berkeley California, 2001, p. 51.
 Libaridian G., The challenge of statehood: Armenian Political Thinking Since Independence, Blue Crane Books, 1999, p. 66.
 Aragil Electronic News, ìRMK Defence Minister Believes Chances Are High the War May Resume Again,îAragil Events of the Week, 8-15 September 1997.
 Sarkissian V., Letter to Levon Ter-Petrossian, Yerevan, 1997 October 1.
 Ter-Petrossian L., Interview with Petros Ghazarian, H1, 2021 May 27.
 Oskanian V., On the Road to Independence, Yerevan, “Antares”, 2013, p. 38.
 Ter-Petrossian L., “Selected works”, page 661.
 Program of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Approved by the General (Snap) Assembly of the ARF, Yerevan, 1998.
 Manoukian V. It is time to jump off the train. Collection of articles, “V.IV. Today & Tomorrow “, Yerevan, 2002, p. 137.
 Kocharian R., “Life and Freedom”, Yerevan, 2019, p. 279.
 Sarkissian V., Letter to Leon Ter-Petrossian, Yerevan, 1997 October 1.
 Sarkissian V., Letter to Leon Ter-Petrossian, Yerevan, 1997 October 1.
 Sarkissian V., Letter to Leon Ter-Petrossian, Yerevan, 1997 October 1.
 De Vaal T., Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War, New York University Press, New York and London, 2003, p. 261.
 De Vaal T., Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War, New York University Press, New York and London, 2003, p. 260.
 Kocharian R., Speech at the 53rd session of the UN General Assembly, 1998 September 25.
 10 Armenian parties made a statement on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Sèvres, Yerevan, 2020. August 12.
 Pan-Armenian Declaration on the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Yerevan, Tsitsernakaberd, 2015 January 29.
 RA Defense Minister Vigen Sarkissian’s speech at the “Nation-Army. Model of development for the collective potential” session at 6th Armenia-Diaspora Pan-Armenian Forum, September 18.
 For example, Interview of the President of Armenia Serzh Sarkissian to “Hurriyet” Turkish newspaper, 24 April 2015 (https://www.president.am/hy/interviews-and-press-conferences/item/2015/04/24/President-Serzh-Sarkissian-hurriyetdailynews-interview/).
 Serzh Sarkissian’s congratulatory message on the occasion of the Army Day, 2016 January 27.
 RA Defense Minister Vigen Sarkissian’s speech at the session of the board under the RA Minister of Defense in 2016 October 29.
 Leon Ter-Petrossian’s speech from December 17, 2016 – ANC convention.
 Oskanian V., On the Road to Independence, Yerevan, “Antares”, 2013, p. 44.
 “Azg”, 1997 October 18.
 Ter-Petrossian L., “Selected works”, page 660.
 R. Kocharian’s interview to 4 TV stations, 2008 February 16.
 Nagorno-Karabakh NA Speaker Artur Tovmasian briefly spoke on the issue. “After the April 2016 war, the third President of the Republic of Armenia Serzh Sarkissian met with the former President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Bako Sahakian with 22 deputies. Serzh Sarkissian urged us to agree to hand over the seven regions. We said that the “Madrid” principles do not express the fundamental interests of the Armenian people. He also said that you have heard the song “Kars, Kars” many times, if you renounce the “Madrid” principles, then one day you will hear the song “Stepanakert, Stepanakert”. He put it very harshly.”
 Sarkissian V., Speech at the 5th convention of the Armenian Republican Party, Yerevan, 1999 January 30.
 Sarkissian V., Speech at the 5th convention of the Armenian Republican Party, Yerevan, 1999 January 30.
 Ter-Petrossian L., “Selected works”, page 639.
 Wikileaks, Eur Das Bryza’s Meetings with Arf/Dashnaktsutiun, Yerevan, 2009 August 17, Canonical ID: 09YEREVAN567_a (https://search.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09YEREVAN567_a.html).
 “Aravot”, 2000 June 2.
 “Aravot”, 2000 June 2.
 Kocharian R., “Life and Freedom”, Yerevan, 2019, page 382.
 The decision of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Armenia on the Situation in the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, H. N-0663-1, Yerevan, 1992 July 8 (https://www.arlis.am/DocumentView.aspx?DocID=3278).
 Ter-Petrossian L., “Selected works”, page 638.
 Basic principles for a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, transmitted at the OSCE Ministerial Council, Madrid, 2007 November 29 (http://www.aniarc.am/2016/04/11/madrid-principles-full-text/).
 Sarkissian S., Kazan Summit on Nagorno Karabakh, 2021 July 6 (https://www.serzhSarkissian.com/en/article/serzh-Sarkissian-kazan-after-10years-20201).
 Sarkissian. The national idea is a strong state without problems with Azerbaijan and Turkey. November 17(https://www.president.am/en/interviews-and-press-conferences/item/2016/11/17/President-Serzh-Sarkissian-interview-Rosia-Segodnya/).
 President Serzh Sarkissian’s interview to the Syrian “Al Watan” newspaper, 2010 March 22 (https://www.president.am/en/interviews-and-press-conferences/item/2010/03/22/news-46/).
 Congratulatory message of President Serzh Sarkissian on the occasion of the Army Day, 2017 January 28 (https://www.president.am/hy/press-release/item/2017/01/28/President-Serzh-Sargsyan-attended-solemn-award-giving-ceremony-on-occasion-of-Army-Day/).
 Case of Chiragov and others v. Armenia (Application no. 132116/05), 2015 June 15 (https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/app/conversion/pdf/?library=ECHR&id=001-155353&filename=001-155353.pdf).
 RA 3rd president Serzh Sarkissian’s introductory speech at the sitting of NA Investigative Committee examining the circumstances of the military actions of April, 2016 – April 16, 2020 (https://www.serzhSarkissian.com/hy/article/serzh-Sarkissian-press-conference-introduction-2020?fbclid=IwAR10D_RFWM_rR6ZAg2ku-8GveQUj9cB9Ph1wQefniq0gH7TxUiqXhFBODYE).
 Joint Statement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Secretary of State of the United States of America and State Secretary for Europe Affairs of France, 2016 May 16 (https://www.osce.org/mg/240316).
 The Presidents of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan issued a joint statement in St. Petersburg in 2016. June 20 (https://www.president.am/hy/press-release/item/2016/06/20/President-Serzh-Sargsyan-meeting-with-Presidents-o-Russia-Azerbaijan/).
 Statement of “Sasna Tsrer” group, Yerevan, 2016 July 17.
 Rally in front of the Yerevan PPS Regiment, 2016 July 22.
 President Serzh Sarkissian met the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov in 2016 April 22 (https://www.president.am/en/press-release/item/2016/04/22/President-Serzh- Sarkissian-meeting-with-RF-foreign-minister-Sergey-Lavrov/).
 Serzh Sarkissian’s speech on the implementation of the amendments to the Constitution, 2016 February 12 (https://www.president.am/en/statements-and-messages/item/2016/02/12/President-Serzh-Sarkissian-meeting-Constitution-speech/).
 Nikol Pashinian’s press conference, Stepanakert, 2018 May 9 (https://www.primeminister.am/en/interviews-and-press-conferences/item/2018/05/09/Prime-Minister-Nikol-Pashinians-press-conferance).
 Pashinian N., Speech at the joint sitting of the Security Councils of Armenia and Artsakh, 2019 March 12 (https://www.primeminister.am/en/press-release/item/2019/03/12/Nikol-Pashinian-meeting-Security- Council).
 Vanetsian A., Visit to Artsakh, 2019 March 1 (https://armeniasputnik.am/20190301/arcaxum-nor-bnakavayr-ekarucvelu-17552735.html).
 Kocharian R., ” Since 1988 until today Karabakh has been, is and will always be part of Armenia for me. It is just that Karabakh has a parliament, a president, Armenia also has a National Assembly and a president, with its structures, but the body is one. We now have one body, two head – one is a little big, one a little small “, Meeting with the youth, 1998 March 7.
 Sarkissian S., “And when I say Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh is an integral part of it, it is one of the most militarized territories on earth”, the 6th session of the state commission coordinating the events dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, 2015. September 26.
Author: Nzhdeh Hovsepyan © All rights reserved.