Armenia must have “active” foreign policy in neighborhood, Pashinyan says

By Mark Dovich

“It is clear that, in the current, difficult geopolitical situation, the Republic of Armenia should conduct an active foreign policy,” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a major speech to parliament Wednesday.

“We are trying to further activate our traditionally active contacts with Iran and Georgia, and at the same time start conversation with Azerbaijan and Turkey,” he continued. “Of course we don’t have any illusions here, but this conversation must continue…I think it is obvious that this is in the national interests of Armenia.”

Turkey

Commenting on the ongoing, high-level communication between Armenian and Turkish officials, Pashinyan said that the two sides have agreed to hold talks “without preconditions.”

Previous talks to normalize relations between Yerevan and Ankara have collapsed due to various “preconditions,” most notably Turkey’s insistence that any rapprochement with Armenia could only happen once Armenia solves its dispute with Azerbaijan over Karabakh.

Pashinyan argued that the two sides should take advantage of the current momentum to push for a normalization deal, warning that “there is a big chance that the process will become stagnant” if there are not “swift results.”

Relations between Armenia and Turkey are extremely fraught. Though the two neighbors officially recognize one another, they have never established diplomatic relations.

Ongoing disputes include Turkey’s refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire during World War I, as well as Turkey’s role in aiding Azerbaijan in the 2020 war in and around Karabakh.

In addition, the Armenia-Turkey border, which stretches for hundreds of kilometers, has been closed since the early 1990s, when Turkey, in coordination with Azerbaijan, imposed an economic blockade on Armenia that remains in place today.

Efforts to normalize relations between Yerevan and Ankara took on a new life late last year, when both countries’ governments appointed special envoys, who have since held the first direct talks between Armenian and Turkish officials for over a decade.

Azerbaijan

In his wide-ranging speech, Pashinyan also referred to the news that came out of his meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev earlier this month in Brussels that the two sides had agreed to convene a joint commission to delimit and demarcate their border.

It is not possible at present to say how long the demarcation and delimitation process will last, Pashinyan argued, noting that it will be a complex undertaking with “many nuances.”

“To give a concrete assessment over timetables is very difficult. By the end of April we know for sure that the commission must be formed, and then the commission will answer the remaining questions,” he said.

Delimitation refers to the process by which a border is legally defined, while demarcation involves the process of physically marking a border, such as by building a fence or wall, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

More than 30 years on from the collapse of the Soviet Union, the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan remains undelimited and undemarcated, as does the Armenia-Georgia border. In Soviet times, those borders were internal, and so officially defining them was not an issue of concern for the authorities in Moscow.

Russia

In his speech, Pashinyan criticized the work of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in and around Karabakh.

The Russian peacekeepers’ inability last month to prevent Azerbaijani troops from briefly capturing Parukh – which lies in the contingent’s zone of responsibility – raises serious concerns over their effectiveness and competence, Pashinyan argued.

“We find it important for the Russian peacekeeping contingent to take measures to withdraw the Azerbaijani military units from its area of responsibility,” he said. “This is an absolute necessity and a very serious trial for the Russian peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh.”

In addition, he slammed the Russian troops for apparently blocking the entry of a number of Armenian lawmakers to Karabakh on Tuesday, calling the move “perplexing” and noting that it “contradicts the terms” of the November 2020 ceasefire agreement that resulted in Russia’s deployment of peacekeepers to the region.

Georgia

Pashinyan described Yerevan’s relations with Tbilisi as taking place “in an atmosphere of friendship and mutual trust,” explaining that they are based primarily on Georgia’s role as a transit route for Armenia’s foreign trade, Georgia’s large ethnic Armenian population, and “mutual interests in terms of regional security.”

“The fact of having different foreign policy vectors and choosing different integration systems brings some impact,” he said, alluding to Georgia’s pro-European orientation, which contrasts sharply with Armenia’s close ties with Russia. “But we must happily note that, in fact, this impact is minimized in our relations.”