Pashinyan Warns Armenians to Lower Their Expectations on the Karabakh Status Issue
Caucasus followers were taken a little off guard on April 13 by some boldly worded statements made by Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, to the national parliament, essentially preparing the country for some hard choices ahead. "Today, the international community tells us once again,” he said: “‘lower your expectations on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, so you will achieve greater consolidation around Armenia and ‘Artsakh’ (Karabakh).’” The message, he warned, still quoting the nebulously framed ‘international community’ was “‘otherwise, don't rely on us’… ‘not because we do not want to help you, but because we cannot help you.’"
Keen to make clear the unvarnished situation, Pashinyan pointed out that Yerevan’s maximalist hopes of finding a special territorial status for the region of Azerbaijan populated with Armenians looks increasingly untenable. Pashinyan explained that "the international community clearly tells us that being the only country in the world that does not recognize the territorial integrity of an ally of Turkey – Azerbaijan - is a great threat not only to “Artsakh” (Karabakh) but also to Armenia." The relevance of NATO member Turkey to the discourse is notable and likely connected to the new geopolitical situation vis a vis the tensions over Ukraine between NATO and Russia, Armenia falling traditionally into the latter’s orbit.
More Moves Towards Lasting Peace
Finding a solution to a problem as knotty as the decades-old Karabakh dispute is bound to be full of pitfalls, but behind the scenes, a great deal of work has been conducted in recent months. At the end of March, a Joint Armenian-Azerbaijani Liaison Group issued a report listing 30 confidence-building proposals they had hammered out together. Then, on April 6, the leaders of both Azerbaijan and Armenia met in Brussels with EU Council President Charles Michel. The parties agreed to start work on a peace agreement and establish a joint commission to work on the delimitation of borders. Then on April 11, the countries’ two foreign ministers reportedly discussed these issues further in a rare, direct telephone conversation. After that, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan regretted that, while Armenia favoured a return to the OSCE Minsk Group process, the current disintegration of relationships between the co-chair nations [the US, France and Russia, now at loggerheads over Ukraine] meant that “we cannot allow a vacuum to be created in that regard.”
"A Peace Agreement as Soon as Possible"
In his April 13 speech, Pashinyan clarified that the foreign ministers of the two countries had agreed to begin preparations for a peace agreement. "What this means in practice, what the schedule and format will be, still needs to be discussed and decided. But our plans include signing a peace agreement with Azerbaijan as soon as possible."
Stressing that there is no alternative to such peace, Pashinyan drummed home the message that some kind of compromise would be needed on the status issue of the region. What Armenia needed to do was strengthen the "international legitimacy" of Armenia's position on resolving claims of anti-Armenian discrimination in Karabakh. At the same time, he mused that over territorial questions, "There is no country in the world today, or, there are very few countries that are happy with their borders or consider them fair."
What is clear is that Armenia’s position is rendered all the more difficult by the situation in Ukraine. As part of the agreement that ended the 2020 Karabakh War, Russian peacekeepers are currently deployed in Azerbaijan along the perimeter of cities and villages where Armenians reside. However, their position in that context looks increasingly discordant from all sides in the current context, bringing an increased urgency to the search on all sides for a more stable basis for lasting peace.