By Mark Dovich
A five-year government plan, approved on Thursday by Armenia’s legislature, officially outlines the Armenian government’s priorities on Karabakh through 2026. It is the first official document approved by the Armenian government to do so since the country’s disastrous defeat to Azerbaijan in last year’s war in and around the region.
In a speech last Wednesday presenting the plan, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stressed that “Armenia’s external security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, a just solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, and the creation of a favorable regional and international atmosphere around Armenia continue to be a priority.”
“Our position is that the full-fledged restoration of the peace negotiation process in the format of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmanship is an essential factor in ensuring regional stability and security,” he continued.
The Minsk Group was formed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the 1990s and is meant to encourage peaceful resolution of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. France, Russia, and the United States chair the group.
The action plan, which lays out the Armenian government’s priorities through 2026, calls for a “just solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” and repeatedly stresses Yerevan’s desire to resume peace negotiations with Baku through Minsk Group mediation.
The Armenian government “sees a final settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict under the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs by clarifying the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh on the basis of known principles and elements,” the plan reads in part.
The phrase “known principles and elements” stems from deliberately ambiguous language used in the past by the Minsk Group mediators, according to Tigran Grigoryan, a Yerevan-based political analyst. He has criticized the use of such unclear language in the action plan.
Since 2009, France, Russia, and the United States have repeatedly stressed the need to resolve the Karabakh conflict according to three basic principles. The Madrid Principles, as they have come to be known, are “non-use of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”
Additionally, Grigoryan has said it is unusual for one party in a conflict to adopt the language used by mediators of the same conflict. “It is unclear why the Armenian authorities decided to use the wording and vocabulary of the Minsk Group co-chairs in the government’s program,” he wrote.
Grigoryan has also noted that the government action plan’s sections on Karabakh deviate from campaign pledges made by Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party during this summer’s snap parliamentary elections.
For instance, he has pointed out that the action plan makes only one fleeting reference to Karabakh’s final status. By contrast, the Civil Contract pre-election platform repeatedly mentions the issue and calls for the “final clarification of the status of Artsakh [Karabakh]” and for the “full realization of the right of the people of Artsakh to self-determination” under the principle of remedial secession.
Grigoryan has also underlined that the government plan fails to mention the fate of territories within the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) that came under Azerbaijani control as a result of last year’s war. But during the election campaign, Civil Contract pledged that “one of Armenia’s priorities in the negotiation process will be the de-occupation of the territories on which the people of Artsakh have self-determined.” The NKAO was a nominally autonomous region in Soviet Azerbaijan with an ethnic Armenian majority.
Lawmakers in the National Assembly, as Armenia’s single-chamber parliament is officially known, voted 70-0 on Thursday to approve the plan. But only representatives from the ruling Civil Contract party took part in the vote, with opposition lawmakers harshly criticizing the plan and refusing to vote on it.
During a speech to the National Assembly two days prior, Pashinyan said that “the government’s program is designed to maximize compliance with the negotiation atmosphere, the restoration of the [negotiation] environment, and the protection of the interests of Armenia and Artsakh.”