I wanted to write about this a long time ago, even before the war. But the Artsakh war, its devastating result on the Armenian nation and its political ideology prompted me to raise provocative questions and arguments. What kind of Artsakh do Armenians dream of? Is there a legal status defining its institutions and borders? As the war and recent geopolitical developments have narrowed our view, we still need to discuss it.
For me, the status of Artsakh in our national vision has become somewhat of a paradox. Even before the 2020 war, many intellectuals, both in Armenia and in the Diaspora, were lecturing on the ânot one compromiseâ narrative and that Armenia has an invincible army that can reach Baku. Some believed this account, either because they were convinced that Azerbaijan would not wage such a destructive war, or because they were unable to analyze Russian-Turkish relations in Syria and Libya. Most were not convinced that what happened in the Middle East and North Africa cannot be repeated in the South Caucasus. The outcome of the war came as a huge shock to them, but also to many of us who believed this story either out of conviction or for ideological reasons.
After the war, these same people began to spread the following story: âWell, we should have entered into a mutual compromise and moved forward with the Lavrov planWhere, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, special status was to be granted to Artsakh, and Armenian forces would cede the five adjacent regions to Azerbaijan and retain the districts of Lachin and Karavajar until that time. that a final status on Artsakh be decided after a referendum. Meanwhile, peacekeepers (probably Russian) were to be deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, Baku and Yerevan were not ready for mutual compromise and were blinded by their official accounts. Although this plan was discussed and put forward after the 2016 war, if accepted during this period, the Armenians could have avoided a major war, isolating Azerbaijan, barring Turkey from entering the South Caucasus. .
Two other plans were also mentioned in the 1990s. The first and oldest is the “Goble planâ, Named after the American diplomat Paul Goble, who proposed it in 1994. This plan is based on the exchange of territories between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Goble plan provides for the restitution of the liberated areas around the Autonomous Oblast of Nagorno-Karabakh (NKAO), as well as the exchange of part of the Meghri region in southern Armenia (border with Iran ) against the Lachin corridor. As a result, Baku would receive an earthly connection with Nakhichevan, and Yerevan – with Artsakh. One variant of this plan was supposed to compensate Armenia for the loss of access to Iran by ceding Yerevan a “corridor” to the Iranian border west of Nakhitchevan. However, many Armenian politicians, including former Prime Minister Vazken Sarkissian, warned against this plan and argued that Meghri and the border with Iran are crucial for Armenia’s political existence, and that ‘by being surrounded by Turkish countries, Armenia would be crushed by Turkey.
The other plan was proposed by the ECOS, the basis of which was the gradual return of the liberated territories, the possibility of bringing in OSCE peacekeepers and the postponed status of Nagorno-Karabakh, which should be decided by the Azerbaijani-Armenian commission with international mediation. In 1998, the idea of ââcreating a confederation was also launched on the table. This would include Azerbaijan and the Republic of Artsakh on an equal footing in one state. However, both were rejected.
Speaking of our ideology (Free, Independent and United Armenia), Artsakh including Shahumian and Kantsag are part of historical Armenia. An internal debate cannot take place on this; however, the policies and art of the state are based on realism. There are two choices. One is based on idealism and romanticism and the other is based on realism. The struggle to restore Artsakh’s 1994 borders to this point is pure fantasy. The Armenian government has abandoned the national cause of Artsakh, and the authorities of Artsakh are unable to make a political decision without the “green light” from the Russians. A realistic outcome in the future would be to fight for the restoration of at least the 1988 NKAO borders plus the Lachin corridor. However, recent clashes in Syunik and Gegharkunik have proven that without Lachin and Karvajar, the national security of Armenia and its eastern borders would be threatened and Artsakh economically isolated.
Moreover, let us not forget the occupied regions of Nagorno-Karabakh from Shushi, Hadrut or Talish in the northeast. Even during the negotiations, Azerbaijan always asked for a special status for Shushi. With the signature of June 15Shushi Declaration“, The liberation of Shushi is at stake and impossible without the direct intervention of Russia. For now, Moscow has no plans to revise the status quo, unless Baku takes provocative measures that would threaten Russia’s interests in the region. In addition, to consolidate his power in Shushi and Artsakh, Aliyev plans to resettle Azerbaijani refugees in the city.
So, can we imagine an Artsakh without his heart and his Shushi fiefdom? Shushi is not just an emotional city. It is also a strategic city where whoever rules it can reign over Artsakh. Azerbaijan has understood this concept very well.
Painfully, we have to rethink and revise our strategy towards Artsakh. Over the past decades, we have continued to insist on “Nagorno-Karabakh self-determination”, but I think that slogan in the diaspora and in our diplomatic and lobbying circles has become a bit of a clichÃ©, and its date has gone. expired. If we continue with this narrative and trend, if the demographic balance within the Nagorno-Karabakh borders of 1988 changes in favor of Azerbaijan, we would lose all our efforts to guarantee the security of Artsakh and of his Armenian identity. For this reason, we must work and push for the self-determination of Armenians in Artsakh. However, the outcome of the recent war changed the balance of power in favor of Azerbaijan and made the future status of Artsakh more complex.
Three scenarios may arise in the future for the status of Artsakh.
- The Russians can offer the Armenians in Artsakh an option to either be part of Azerbaijan and have special status under Russian security with a land corridor connecting Armenia. This would satisfy the current leadership of Azerbaijan. Given the current balance of power in the region, which is not in Armenia’s favor, Yerevan must push for two-track diplomacy and try to activate the mandate of the OSCE Minsk Group to avoid anything. price such a plan, as the Armenians of Artsakh would not be able to survive physically and politically under the authoritarian regime in Baku.
- Russia could offer the current Artsakh territories to become part of Armenia in exchange for a peace plan. Will we accept it? Considering the loss of Shushi, Hadrut, Talish and the election results, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan could sell this scenario to the people and present himself as a “peacemaker”. If the people, at least the majority, had the option of choosing war or in this scenario painfully avoiding another war, many would vote for that scenario. However, at the moment Moscow is not ready to resolve this conflict.
- Painful as the above scenarios are, Russia could afford to swallow the Armenian-populated region of Artsakh and declare a Russian sovereign region, like Abkhazia and South Ossetia. If Artsakh Armenians are left with two options – join Azerbaijan or Russia – their choice is clear. But that could spark a clash between Russia and Azerbaijan.
What Armenians lack today are Machiavellian diplomats capable of analyzing an adversary’s weakness and maneuvering around him. It is clear that the Russians have re-frozen the conflict and imposed the current status quo to avoid another catastrophe with Turkish involvement, thus keeping Turkey out of the diplomatic channel. However, Turkey is in the region. The Russians are also there, and they have no plans to leave the region anytime soon. However, it is up to Armenians to abandon their wait-and-see approach and become initiators. The strategy in which the Armenian leaders engaged from 1994 (with the exception of Levon Ter Petrosian) – “let us postpone the question of the statute, keep the current status quo and buy time” – has proved catastrophic. We need visionary state leaders, not populists or pessimists. We must come up with a unified vision defining the status of Artsakh and guaranteeing the security of the Armenians who live there.