31 October, 2018 09:32

An Unpopular Discussion About Karabakh

On October 23, during a special session of the National Assembly, Armenia’s acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan spoke about Karabakh among many other issues. CivilNet’s Karen Harutyunyan and Tatul Hakobyan discuss Pashinyan’s statements, as well as the current stage of the Nagorno Karabakh negotiations. The interview is translated from Armenian with minor editing.

KAREN HARUTYUNYAN: Nikol Pashinyan said that the “operative connection” that was established with the president of Azerbaijan functions on a daily basis. Let’s understand what “operative connection” means, whether it has functioned in the past․

TATUL HAKOBYAN: It is probably meant, as I understand, to establish a contact with the other party in case of an incident or a threat, which means saving human lives. Because when the leaders of the countries, in this case regardless of them being an acting head of country or head of a totalitarian state, keep regular communication, while it doesn’t totally prevent the human loss at the line of contact, it does decrease it. That is extremely important. And if this operative link works towards that, which I’m certain does to an extent, this kind of communication should be welcomed.

We’re talking about our 18 to 20 years old boys at the border. They could be, and soon will be, our children at the frontline. So, when we talk about this topic, when you portray it on your own family, you understand its importance.

As to whether there has been a similar contact or not, I remember an excellent operative link in 1991-92, throughout the whole war between the leadership of Armenia and Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, with Heydar Aliyev specifically.

KH: You mean [then-President Levon Ter-Petrossian’s National Security Adviser] Ashot Manucharyan from the Armenian side?

TH: And there are many stories about it. For example, one side calls, the other is not at home, so he says, “Tell Ashot Manucharyan that Heydar Aliyev has called.” You know there were no cell phones at the time, so Manucharyan’s mother is the one at home answering the phone. So, he says, “You know, there are shootings from your side, once Ashot Manucharyan comes home, tell him to cease the fire and we’ll cease the fire from our side, too.”

Well, maybe this is a bit exaggerated, but it was a mechanism that worked. I’d like to look at the issue from a broader perspective. We know that unfortunately, throughout the negotiations there was no minimal mutual trust between Serzh Sargsyan and Ilham Aliyev, and similarly between their foreign ministers Eduard Nalbandyan and Elmar Mammadyarov, and they have mocked each other at the negotiation table. Mutual respect, at least minimal, is very important between the sides if we want to move forward in the Karabakh peace process.

An established contact between two leaders indicates the presence of the minimal human respect. Without this, we cannot speak of broader prospects, and the rest is empty rhetoric.

KH: On one hand Pashinyan said this operative link has no connection to the peace negotiations, since the peace negotiations have a completely different content, on the other hand you rightfully pointed out the importance of minimal trust. Today Robert Kocharyan gave an interview and said, “We still need to see at what price was this operative link established between the leaders of the two countries, since we don’t know what are the developments following the elections.”

TH: The same logic can be implied to what was the cost of Kocharyan going and with a wide smile on his face shaking hands with Heydar Aliyev and then with Ilham Aliyev. If Kocharyan has an information let him publish it. It’s hard for me to say what he means.

And what does “price” and “solution” mean, what does “keep this situation longer” and “at what price” mean? Speaking episodically about this all, just like Kocharyan and political figures in general like to speak about this all selectively. What about the cost during his time? Wasn’t it the proposed Meghri version? Not the version that was being criticized as giving away Meghri. We’re talking about the road extending over Meghri [sovereign passage over Meghri to Nakhichevan]. Would Kocharyan have this legitimacy, trust and capacity to go and negotiate such a thing at Key West?

So, now there is nothing else on the negotiations table except the document that was negotiated during Robert Kocharyan’s presidency, presented in 2007 in Madrid. The modified version of which is currently at the table. Now, this “soup” was made by Robert Kocharyan and his Minister of Foreign Affairs Vartan Oskanian.

KH: But first of all it is Azerbaijan that doesn’t want to consume this “soup.”

TH: Yes, and I’m not saying this soup is poisonous or deadly for us. I want to present the situation, when the political figures criticize their predecessors or successors, I always aim to remind them what it was like during their time.

All I’m saying is the “Madrid Soup” was made by Robert Kocharyan and his Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. We may even debate whether that “soup” was the best one out of the worst. This is at the core of the issue which the Armenian public fails to look deeper into.

What does the Armenian society do? Very primitively label “you’re a traitor, I’m a patriot,” and look at everything from this prism. Again, I’m not saying the Madrid Principles are the worst among the options. Moreover, I daresay that the less evil among the proposed options was Madrid Principles. I deviated from the topic, however.

KH: I’d like to single out a moment from Pashinyan’s speech at the parliament. He said that the Karabakh issue may be resolved when there is an approval to a plan by the people of Karabakh and Armenia, as well as of Azerbaijan. What does this mean? Change of rhetoric, a new approach, realistic approach since it’s also important to consider interests of the other side, too?

TH: Of course. Again, we should understand what does “solution” mean? Solution likely means a document which will have the signatures of Armenia’s, Karabakh’s and Azerbaijan’s governments. Or widely speaking, the signatures of Armenian people and Azerbaijani people. This is “solution.”

KH: Or the signatures of Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders, which is more realistic?

TH: Yes. But if we think of capitulations, those are not solutions. Now let’s get back to the question of…

KH: How can Karabakh issue be solved…?

TH: Yes, about the societies. I think Nikol Pashinyan has said an important but not a complete idea.

KH: He also said, “Do we want a solution that will cause another explosion, or a solution that is a real solution?” Pashinyan also said, in another context, of course, but somehow related to this, too, that he and his government are ready to take steps and be criticized for them.

TH: Of course, they will get criticism, especially if we’re talking about Karabakh. Although he said that in another context, but in case of Karabakh, if a solution is reached, I need to quote Levon Ter-Petrossian or paraphrase him that, “Armenian authorities will be cursed in Armenia, Azerbaijani authorities will be cursed in Azerbaijan, that they betrayed Armenia’s national interests etc, etc.”

As to the societies, the solution to Karabakh issue, in my opinion, implies solution in three levels. The first level that Pashinyan has mentioned, is the solution on the level of societies. When the societies understand that they are paying a price for something. The second level is the elites. In this case, the authorities of Armenia, Karabakh and Azerbaijan. And the third level, which is not necessarily a decisive one, is the level of superpowers, approval from Russia and the US.

KH: Do the levels have to follow a specific sequence of order? It would probably be correct to start from the governments.

TH: I would start from the grassroots level - societies, the ordinary people – and then the leadership and then superpowers. Why did I mention superpowers? Again, returning to Key West. Do you know why Key West happened? Ask the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders of the time - Vartan Oskanian, Robert Kocharyan, and they will say it happened because there were good relations between Putin and the US president at the time, which had its very important impact.

Now let’s return to those three levels. If there is solidarity and agreement in these levels, we can say that we are on the brink of settlement. And the signing of the document will only be one step away. Of course, after the signing of the document we cannot exclude that the leaders of the countries throw themselves towards the abyss. Because Karabakh is such a sensitive topic that after the solution none of the three societies, countries - Armenia, Karabakh and Azerbaijan - will be happy. So, this is a very complex solution.

KH: Tatul, there is also an issue of sequence of steps here. One thing is when the societies are ready for peace and understand the price they’ll pay for peace, and another when the leaderships reach agreement and come up with the peace agreement, present it to the societies and lobby, explain and work towards it. And the societies in their turn are more or less prepared. And completely another thing when there is a peace document brought forward and put for referendum. I don’t know whether there are such precedents or not, but almost certainly such a referendum will derail the peace process, because Azerbaijani society will never approve the loss of Karabakh, and the people of Armenia and Karabakh… So maybe after all we need to come out of the logic that it’s the societies that need to approve. Maybe a specific segment of the society that looks far ahead, do, but not through referendum.

TH: What is a referendum for? A referendum is also face saving, after all. Not only to see what their society is saying, but to also say, “see, the society says yes (or no).”  Of course, Karen, you are right, it’s not always that the historically important decisions that receive the approval of the society.

KH: Look at the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. President Sadat did not go for a referendum. But until now, no one in Egypt has questioned it, even Mohamed Morsi, when he was a president.

TH: Correct. But let’s return to the Armenian reality. I like to bring examples from our own history, recent one at that. When in 1918 Alexandr Khatisyan, Hovhannes Kajaznuni and Mikayel Papajanyan grinding their teeth, clutching their hearts, and in a way, bowing a little, went and signed the Treaty of Batum with the Ottoman Empire, they were cursed and condemned.

Even Aram Manukyan, the legendary state politician, “You’ve carried out an act of treason, we as Yerevan’s National Council, do not agree to it.” Of course, he then a few weeks later agreed to it in another letter. So, if we look through the prism of history, imagine those three renowned Armenian statesmen whose names should remain in Armenian history, especially Kajaznuni, said no to the Treaty of Batum and parts of Armenian regions were attached to Azerbaijan, and other parts to Georgia, which could be a reality. Would we want that?

And another example - in Autumn of 1919, the first and last Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) meeting of the First Republic of Armenia convened in Yerevan. Why ARF? Because they were the governing power. It lasted about two months and is known as one of the longest meetings in the history of ARF.

And the main topic of dispute was Karabakh. When we read the memoires, we see that they found the Karabakh issue to be the leading one from the viewpoint of Armenia’s statehood.

There was only one person among these politicians who was for Karabakh being a part of Azerbaijan. Everyone else was against and opposed the British proposal. The British proposed to give up Karabakh and Zangezur [now Syunik province of Armenia], after all we were able to keep Zangezur, and we’ll help join Nakhijevan and Kars to the Republic of Armenia. This option was proposed by them. Was it a good one or a bad one - it’s a subject of discussion.

We rejected the British, maybe to the better. I don’t know. But what did we gain? After all, Karabakh remained in Azerbaijan, under the name of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) which was a success in its own, because we might not even have that. Just like we lost Shahumyan region.

KH: Yes, if Shahumyan was an autonomous entity, it could have preserved its...

TH: Drawing administrative borders is also important. We could not keep Nakhichevan and lost Kars. Now let’s soberly analyze it. What was the correct choice, what was the best one? The same applies to the Nagorno Karabakh settlement. It’s not me and you saying what we concede, and what we keep.

KH: Yes, statesmen are different from politicians in that they are ready to risk their political career and pay the price of their own political downfall.

TH: Moreover, going back to whether we can maintain the current status quo, these 42,000 sq km, and these are rhetorical questions, can we keep it? I don’t know, the history will show. After 50, 100 years… maybe we can keep it, maybe we lose it all.

KH: The question whether Azerbaijan is ready for peace is also a rhetorical one. Or is it even ready for a change in status quo?

That is the issue. When on one side they do not want to talk about peace at all and even start the April War, of course the answer is very precise - we have no territories to concede. That’s it. And the conversation is over. But 20, 10 years ago, you mentioned Kocharyan’s name, right? During the first years of Kocharyan’s presidency no one wanted to hide that there would be territorial concessions. And only later the change took place.

In 1990-s all of the leaders of Armenia, even the nationalistic circles, used the term “occupied territories.” Then they started using “security belt”, then “buffer zone”, “liberated areas”, then a “part of the constitution” [according to 2006 constitution adopted by Nagorno Karabakh, all the territories controlled by NK forces outside of former NKAO are considered a part of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic].  

Recently, I was present at a meeting where Karabakh’s leader Bako Sahakyan was upset and said, “Why do you call it Kashatagh [Kelbajar] region, why do you single it out? Kashatagh and Berdzor [Lachin] are a part of the whole Artsakh Republic.” With this, I showed the change in Armenian perception.

I want to return to the question - do we need a solution or not? Is the solution today’s status quo? There needs to be courage to start a debate about these issues. A discussion, because Robert Kocharyan, Levon Ter-Petrossian and Serzh Sargsyan have done that. What have they discussed exactly? They’ve said: “Yes, we agree to concede six and half regions” and came back and spoke of “Armenia from sea to sea” to the society. Is this a statesmen way of thinking? Why do you use different languages from different tribunes?

You use one language when going to the Diaspora, a completely different one with the international community, speaking of concessions, using the term “occupied territories.” And coming back to Armenia, they were speaking of “liberated motherland.” I think these questions deserve a healthy debate in the Armenian public. We need to at least have this first level.

Translated by Zara Poghosyan

Edited by Syuzanna Petrosyan

In picture: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev at CIS summit in Dushanbe, September 28, 2018.