"Armenia was only reacting to challenges": on the situation after the 2020 war

Nov 9 2023

  • JAMnews
  • Yerevan

Armenia’s and NK’s mistakes

On November 9, three years ago, the leaders of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan signed a trilateral declaration that cemented the cessation of hostilities in Karabakh, the so-called second Karabakh war. However, in September 2023 Baku launched a military operation in the disputed territory that remained under Armenian control. Almost the entire Armenian population, more than 100 thousand people, left their homes.

What steps should the Armenian side have taken after signing the 2020 ceasefire statement in Karabakh to prevent this situation, what mistakes were made by the authorities of Armenia and the unrecognized NKR? Political scientist Tigran Grigoryan answered these questions.

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The political analyst believes that, as early as 2018, it was obvious that Azerbaijan was preparing for war. Aliyev had a great temptation to solve the issue militarily. The military balance was badly disturbed, and more could be achieved by war than through negotiations.

“The [Pashinyan] government had no experience in foreign policy, in the security sphere, and did not know the details of the Karabakh issue. All these circumstances contributed at least to the acceleration of the processes.”

Grigoryan says that instead of trying to postpone the war, to buy time, to strengthen Armenia’s military and diplomatic capabilities, everything was done to provoke Azerbaijan, and recalls Pashinyan’s statements about bringing about a revolution in Azerbaijan following the example of Armenia, starting negotiations from zero, saying that “Artsakh is Armenia, and that’s it.”

“This is how Aliyev’s arguments that the opponent is destructive and it is impossible to negotiate with him were legitimized. Of course, the international conjuncture also suited Azerbaijan very well: the pandemic, the US elections,” he says.

He considers the July aggravation in the Tavush direction of the border a big mistake. He says that on the eve of the war it gave the impression to the country’s security decision-makers that “the Armenian army has become a significant factor in the region”.

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Tigran Grigoryan believes that the resignations of the leaders of Amenia and the unrecognized NKR after the signing of the November statement could have had a positive impact on the situation.

“If the change of power [in Nagorno-Karabakh] had taken place at that time and a more effective team had come to power, everything could have been organized more thoughtfully. Another question is whether there was such a team in Artsakh. And the prolonged change of power, which ended in September 2023, did not contribute to the success of the processes, but on the contrary, accelerated the collapse.”

The analyst also believes that former president of the unrecognized NKR Araik Harutyunyan pursued a “rather problematic personnel policy”, with problems related to decision-making.

“The country was on the verge of collapse, but all forces were busy with some internal political problems.”

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This applies especially to the period after the defeat in the 44-day war. Grigoryan says that, theoretically, after November 9, someone from the ruling “Civil Contract” party could have changed the prime minister, and this would have contributed to the improvement of Armenia’s “negotiating position”. At the same time, he notes that the party cannot exist without Pashinyan.

He says that there is a political situation in the country which makes it impossible to change power and “the arrival of any healthy forces”. He explains this as follows:

“On the one hand, you have a defeated government, incompetent in negotiations, foreign policy and security issues. On the other hand, you have representatives of the previous government who also contributed to the disaster. In the end, you get a snap election in 2021, when the defeated government is re-elected.”

And this created a feeling in the international community that Armenian society “has accepted the defeat, according to the government’s policy”. At the same time, he emphasizes that the ruling party ran in those elections with a different agenda and then changed it on key issues.

Main provisions of the statement adopted at the end of the Pashinyan-Macron-Scholz-Michel quadrilateral meeting, as well as a commentary by an Armenian political scientist

In Grigoryan’s opinion, the two Armenian sides did not show a strategic approach. He states that the Armenian government was constantly changing its position on the Karabakh issue and the country’s security.

“There was not a single case when the government had any idea what at least its next step would be. It has always been in the role of responding to challenges, processes initiated by Azerbaijan.”

And the leadership of the unrecognized republic, according to the political scientist, had the impression that they “by and large have no functions, they have nothing to do.”

“The perception was that the Russians guarantee local security, and everything must be done to please them.”

Among such actions, Grigoryan named the decision on the official status of the Russian language. In the same context he considers President Araik Harutyunyan’s welcoming of Russia’s recognition of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, which he considers “a serious mistake”.

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According to the analyst, with the outbreak of the war in Ukraine a “power vacuum” was created in the South Caucasus which Azerbaijan took advantage of. He believes that in addition to the fact that Russia has fully concentrated its resources on Ukraine, its interests in the region have also changed:

“At some stage Russia, having simply failed to convince or impose its approaches on Azerbaijan, adopted Baku’s approach, placing all responsibility for the situation on the Armenian authorities”.

He believes that if not for the Ukrainian war, Azerbaijan would have been much more restrained and cautious in its decisions. He believes that before the September 2023 military operation Baku periodically “probed Moscow’s red lines”. In the end, it became convinced that it would face no opposition if force were used.

“We can say that to some extent they even reached an agreement with the Russian Federation on this issue.”