Disagreement between the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan and separatist leaders of non-recognized Nagorno-Karabakh is getting much deeper. The two sides consistently demonstrate severe opinions about each other. Despite the fact that current head of state, Pashinyan warns separatist leader Bako Sahakyan about it, he does not seem to obey Pashinyan. There are several reasons for this tension.
As former political leaders of Armenia support the separatists of Nagorno-Karabakh, the first and foremost detail that ignited the tension is densely linked to them. Thus, Pashinyan government arrested Robert Kocharyan and totally removed Serzh Sargsyan from political power. Separatists appealed to the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Armenia with a request to change the preventive measure against the former president, stressing that his release would be a signal of unity and solidarity for the Armenian society. However, the Prosecutor General’s Office refused the request. Pashinyan strictly emphasized that authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh should not intervene in internal affairs of Armenia, since the country is sovereign and independent.
It should also be emphasized that incumbent head of Nagorno Karabakh, Bako Sahakyan is under direct control of the former presidents which means Pashinyan does not possess any influence mechanism in Nagorno Karabakh. In order to strengthen his political power, he wants someone from his team get elected to the president position in Nagorno-Karabakh in the upcoming 2020 “presidential elections” whom he can easily control.
The next and most important factor is that, as Nagorno Karabakh is under the influence of Moscow, there are some estimations that one of the separatists may become a “president” with the support of this big power in the region. Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan support Bako Sahakyan, incumbent president of the non-recognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. However, Bako Sahakyan announced that he will not put his candidacy in “presidential elections” in 2020. Another estimation is that the separatists may bring either Robert Kocharyan or Serzh Sargsyan to the "presidency" of Nagorno-Karabakh. Kocharyan is already claiming on behalf of the main opposition as he bidding to presidency. Some analysts in Armenia estimate that in this process Russia will also support him claiming that Kocharyan has always considered Russia their ally, and, most importantly, that Kocharyan applied Russia’s management model during his reign in Armenia. On June 13, the meeting between Russian Ambassador to Armenia Sergei Kopyrkin and former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan supports these considerations. In addition, through this meeting, Russia still demonstrates its importance in the region. After the meetings of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Nikol Pashinyan at Nur-Sultan and St. Petersburg, Putin remarked that Armenia should respect Russia's interests. This meeting can also be considered as a real intimidation to Pashinyan that his government should run compatible policy with Russia.
As mentioned, the most important factor for the end of Pashinyan’s era in Armenia is Russia. This big power neither relies on Nikol Pashinyan, nor endorses his current policy. After Pashinyan’s accusation that Russia delays the negotiation process, the attitude of Russia was quite plain referring to the words of Russian ambassador to Azerbaijan Mikhail Bocharnikov: "Russia supports the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and is ready to contribute to the continuity of the discussion process.”
Moreover, external factors are not enough for the estimations that it may be the end of Pashinyan era in the next future. There is also an internal turmoil within the country. The time works against Pashinyan, as he is going to lose his supporters in Armenia as well. He claimed that, during the tenure of Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan, Armenia had recession in every aspect of the country, especially in economic sector, because of unsuccessful policies of these former political leaders. Thus, prior to becoming head of state, he promised to develop economic situation of the country, to improve the living conditions of the citizens in a visible and tangible manner, and to fight against corruption. However, he disappointed his supporters as he could not live up the expectations. Currently, the situation of people is getting worse. According to a recent International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database Reports, Armenia is in the top of the list of the world's poorest countries.
The next incident that occurred between the current Armenian government and non-recognized Nagorno-Karabakh leaders can be considered another proof of tense relations. While Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan together with the President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian, Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin II, Chairman of the National Assembly Ararat Mirzoyan and other high-ranking officials participated at the event dedicated to the Republic holiday at the Sardarapat Battle Memorial, no one from Nagorno Karabakh separatist regime was there. They announced that it was not possible for them to join the celebrations due to the fact that OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs were in Karabakh and they had meetings with the Group. However, when journalists asked whether they received invitation or not, they remained silent. Since this kind of severe incident between them happens for the first time, it increases estimations that the conflict is getting much deeper. Furthermore, in his turn Bako Sahakyan accused Pashinyan government claiming they do not provide access to documents on the negotiation process on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution.
As there is strain and deepest mistrust between the two sides, Armenia has increased the number of military posts on the border with Nagorno-Karabakh, and the identity of those arriving is being checked. It means that the severe relations between Pashinyan and the separatists will remain in the near future. Moreover, Pashinyan ignited members of the Armenian community in Karabakh to protest against Bako Sahakyan. As Nikol Pashinyan has recently stopped providing separatists with financial assistance, in his turn, Sahakyan accused Pashinyan selling lands.
All these facts led to the intensification of ceasefire violation on the frontline.
The Minister of Defense of the Republic of Armenia David Tonoyan explicitly said that he personally ordered to kill the Azerbaijani solider Elshan Khalilov and then rewarded those who carried out the order. The high-ranking official’s attitude again demonstrates Armenia’s destructive approach to the negotiation process and this is the violation of all norms of international law.
On June 12, the air defenses of Armenia engaged in the OCA anti-aircraft missile system and made an attempt to shoot down the aviation assets of Azerbaijan. “Missile system did not hit the target and self-destructed in the air” the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan said in a statement.
On June 13, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Police, Vice President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini met with the Foreign Minister of Armenia Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and discussed several issues, including Nagorno Karabakh conflict. After the meeting at the press-conference Mohhreini emphasized that EU stands for the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and endorses the mediation efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs. When one of the journalists asked Mohhreini to compare the work of the government that came after the revolution in Armenia and the work of previous governments, she answered that she would never compare one government with another. She emphasized that there is excellent partnership between EU and current government in Armenia. This is an important message that Pashinyan government turned his face towards EU and US and he is more interested in cooperation with them rather than with Russia. It is another proof that he will totally lose Russia’s support.
As mentioned above, there are several factors of the political incompetence of the Pashinyan’s tenure. Failure to adhere to promises given to the people in domestic politics, the failure of the foreign policy course, and, most importantly, the successful diplomatic activity of Azerbaijan gives a good reason to say that the situation is progressing in favor of Azerbaijan. Accordingly, significant progress can be achieved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2019.
Shabnam Hasanova is PhD candidate at Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy, Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan