Pashinyan has strong reasons not to sign such a document
(The below article is an adaptation from the original Armenian text)
By Vartan Oskanian, former minister of foreign affairs – RoA , 18 April 2022
Armenia is at a critical juncture reminiscent of the country’s political situation in 1997-98. But first, let me be clear: there is no comparison between Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s and Nicol Pashinyan’s approaches to these situations then and now as far as Armenia’s national interests are concerned.
Though Pashinyan’s recent speech in parliament bore certain similarities to Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s article “War or Peace”, Pashinyan’s recent debates in parliament were reminiscent of those during the January 8, 1998 session of the National Security Council convened by Ter-Petrosyan, the session of the 1998 Security Council had been much more extensive: The members of the session included not only Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan, Minister of Defense Vazgen Sargsyan, Minister of Internal Affairs and Minister of National Security Serzh Sargsyan, but also the members of the Armenian National Movement, the political leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh headed by President Arkady Ghukasyan, Minister of Defense Samvel Babayan and Prime Minister Leonard Petrosyan. As the first deputy foreign minister at the time, I had been invited to the meeting as the chief negotiator on the Karabakh issue.
Ter-Petrosyan was advocating for a step-by-step settlement of the Karabakh conflict proposed by the Minsk Group. He was convinced that it was in Armenia’s national interest, and essential to the survival of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, to return the regions adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan with the exception of the Lachin Corridor. Taking stock of the geopolitical situation at the time, along with the limited means for Armenia’s national development, he did not see any other feasible option.
His opponents objected to his position on grounds that the proposal did not even mention the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Ter-Petrosyan objected that any mention or reference to the status of Nagorno-Karabakh should mention the principle of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, and thus it was preferable to refrain from raising the issue at that early stage. Ter-Petrosyan then interrupted the heated argument and put me in a difficult position. Extending his hand in my direction, he said: “Let Vardan tell us, is there any possibility of us receiving a document regarding the state of Karabakh that would not also establish the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan?” I was not ready for a response. Sitting at the end of the table as a listener, I had not expected to participate in the discussions.
Everyone turned their eyes toward me, as though my answer would seal the fate of that meeting. I said what I believed: “Mr. President, I think it is possible.”
My answer was based on my conviction that we had not yet exhausted our diplomatic capabilities, that although international conditions may not have been favorable to us at the time, the fluidity of these conditions could have turned in our favor, which is exactly what happened. In the following years, the Minsk Group put three proposals on the table: i) the ‘common state’ proposal of 1998, ii) the Key West proposal of 2001, and iii) the Madrid principles of 2007, all of which referred to the status of Karabakh as lying outside of Azerbaijan. But none of these came to be.
The key difference between the 1998 debate and the current one is that, while Ter-Petrosyan only insisted on refraining from discussing the status of Karabakh, Pashinyan is inclined to recognize Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan so long as there are assurances for the security of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
While in those days Ter-Petrosyan had been proposing to bypass the issue of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, today it is necessary to bypass that issue at all costs and to avoid signing a “peace treaty”, which would seal Karabakh’s status as becoming a part of Azerbaijan.
Pashinyan has compelling reasons not to sign such a document if he so wishes.
First, from a legal point of view, a document that cedes Artsakh to Azerbaijan would contradict the Constitution of Armenia, given the ruling of the Supreme Council of Armenia in 1992. For Pashinyan to sign such a document requires the Constitution of Armenia to be changed and the decision of the Supreme Council to be annulled.
Second, no individual has the right to make such a consequential decision. Receiving the majority vote in an election does not give one the right to single-handedly decide on an existential issue that concerns the Armenian people.
Third, the people of Artsakh, whose physical existence is at stake, and who have borne the brunt of the injustices and tribulations of the past decades, have not given anyone the authority to decide their destiny on their behalf, as the parliament recently established.
Fourth, there is a provision regarding Nagorno-Karabakh that has been approved by the National Assembly of Armenia, according to which Pashinyan and his government ought to support the realization of the people of Artsakh’s unequivocal right to self-determination based on the principle of “secession for salvation”.
I am more convinced today than I had been in 1997-1998 that we have not exhausted our diplomatic capabilities. Since the 44-day war of 2020, there have been no serious efforts of Armenian diplomacy to achieve a pro-Armenian outcome in Karabakh. Even if we assume that current international conditions are not favorable to such an outcome, it would be, to put it mildly, naïve to now determine the status of Artsakh as belonging to Azerbaijan.
The result of any negotiation must satisfy three conditions: the negotiation must be sensible, effective, and improve the relationships between the parties. It is not possible for the path that the Armenian authorities have chosen to meet any of these conditions. Pashinyan’s speeches and that of his partisans in the National Assembly regarding their readiness to “lower the bar” of Nagorno-Karabakh’s political status (which is to say, to accept Karabakh’s belonging to Azerbaijan), have pre-empted any possibility of their negotiating an acceptable outcome.
The signing of such a document may establish friendly relations between the current authorities of the Republic of Armenia and Azerbaijan, but it cannot serve as a basis for friendship between the state and people of the Republic of Armenia and Azerbaijan.