IN DEPTH: Azerbaijan Prepares for War, but Armenia falls into Radical Pacifism

Interview with Former Director of the National Security Service of Armenia, David Shahnazaryan

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Ex-Director of the National Security Service of Armenia David Shahnazaryan

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Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan will hold talks in Vienna on March 29 to resolve the Karabakh conflict. This will be the first official meeting of Aliyev and Pashinyan, before the heads of the two countries met only on the margins of various international forums. Although the meeting in Vienna, according to Pashinyan’s statements, will take place without a “special agenda”, the leaders of the republics have something to discuss. The Armenian side sets the task to involve Nagorno Karabakh as a full party to the negotiations, with which Azerbaijan categorically disagrees. Yerevan also raises the question of specifying the six elements of the settlement set forth in the “Madrid document” – from determining the status of Nagorno-Karabakh by the will of its inhabitants to returning the territories around Artsakh (Armenian historical name of Nagorno-Karabakh) under the control of Azerbaijan.

Former Director of the National Security Service of Armenia, David Shahnazaryan, in this interview outlined his vision of the current stage of the Karabakh settlement the day before the Vienna meeting of Aliyev and Pashinyan.

– Mr. Shahnazaryan, what are your expectations from the official meeting of the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Vienna, taking into account the statement of Nikol Pashinyan about the desire of the Armenian side to return Karabakh to the negotiating table and specify the Madrid principles?

– Regarding the fact that this is the first official meeting of Pashinyan and Aliyev, there are many conventions here. The meeting in Vienna can be considered official only in the sense that it will be held for the first time as part of the efforts of the troika of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs ( Russia, USA and France.  – hereinafter). Before that there were three meetings, but they were held on the margins of other forums. Although I believe that all previous meetings were official and the definition of “informal meeting” here, to put it mildly, is not appropriate.

As for the question of expectations, everything is quite complicated here. Pashinyan declares the need for the direct participation of Nagorno-Karabakh in the negotiations. The aspiration is, of course, natural and laudable, but the method and tools used by it are detrimental to the realization of the goal itself. Such a question is not solved by means of only loud statements, as Pashinyan does. To put it mildly, Pashinyan’s arguments ( in particular, that he himself cannot represent Nagorno-Karabakh, since the citizens of Artsakh have not elected him ) are vulnerable. And his statements that the whole world, including Russia, should adapt to what happened in Armenia, the so-called velvet revolution …

So, let’s say, initially an attempt was made to apply “revolutionism” in foreign policy, including in the Karabakh settlement. In the words of the famous classic, “this is more than a crime – it is a mistake.” As a result, we lost the agenda formed after the “April war” of 2016 ( following the results of the meetings of the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Vienna and St. Petersburg in the same year ), namely the increase in the number of international observers in the conflict zone, the introduction of special electronic equipment for recording cases of ceasefire violations and applying international mechanisms to investigate them. This agenda is completely lost, and Pashinyan is lost.

To connect Karabakh to the negotiations, it is necessary to apply other levers and methods, and not just to make statements.

– What are the levers and methods in question? What is Pashinyan doing wrong?

– In the negotiation process, so far I see some of Pashinian’s punctures. As for the mechanisms, institutions and methods: in order to bring Nagorno-Karabakh to the negotiating table, they need to be created. I don’t want to go into details, because a lot is not worth talking about. I can say one thing. It is necessary to activate and expand efforts to recognize the Republic of Artsakh as a subject of international law. For this, it is necessary to activate the work of our diaspora organizations, set them up to lobby the interests of Artsakh to recognize its independence at the international level. In other words, to increase the international subjectivity of Artsakh, to seek its international recognition.

It is noteworthy that during the joint meeting of the security councils of Armenia and Karabakh in Stepanakert, the President of the Artsakh Republic Bako Sahakyan in his speech stressed the importance of international recognition of Artsakh, and Pashinyan did not even say a word about that. The work on the international recognition of Artsakh must first be carried out in the United States and France. It is necessary to create parliamentary groups promoting the international recognition of Artsakh. Activate the Foreign Ministry of Nagorno-Karabakh, organize various hearings with the participation of representatives of Artsakh at international platforms, etc., etc. Push this issue in the international press, in the United States and Europe.


Armenia is now absolutely not involved in the information war, where Azerbaijan is constantly strengthening its position. But all this must be done not in the framework of the negotiation process itself, in parallel. It can be said that the process of returning Artsakh to the negotiating table should take place in parallel with the negotiation process. All this is now not something that is not done, I am sure, our authorities, unfortunately, do not even know about it.

I want to remind that in the 1990’s we were able to officially bring Nagorno-Karabakh to the negotiating table, to ensure that the international community recognized him not only as a party to the conflict, but also as a full participant in the negotiation process. I have in mind the results of the 1994 Budapest summit and the OSCE Prague Document 1995, an armistice agreement in May 1994, an agreement on measures to strengthen the cease-fire regime (February 1995). The last two documents were signed by three parties – Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. So now these documents, unfortunately, have been replaced by some arrangements in the elevator in Dushanbe ( meaning the informal conversation of Pashinyan and Aliyev on the margins of the CIS summit in the capital of Tajikistan on September 28, 2018 – ed ).

Although the tension in the conflict zone did indeed decrease after these agreements, Azerbaijan used this time to strengthen its fortifications along the front line both with Artsakh and on the Nakhchivan sector of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

It is appropriate to recall here that because of the so-called revolution in Armenia on the Armenian-Nakhichevan contact line – why the “contact”, since there is no clear border, there has not been a delimitation since the Soviet times — we lost control over several thousand hectares of territories. Azerbaijan has significantly advanced its positions.

– The Armenian leader says that Yerevan should be explained the meaning of the Madrid principles and elements. He points out that the document is interpreted differently in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Pashinyan wants to abandon the “Madrid heritage”, his arguments are convincing?

– No. Firstly, there are many positive and negative things in this document for Armenia and Artsakh. You should always look for a positive, increase its component, at the same time reducing the negative consequences. That is the essence of politics, diplomacy and negotiation skills. Tactics and strategy of negotiations. Our authorities have neither the one nor the other now. The fact is that the “Madrid Document” cannot satisfy only the interests of one side.

Secondly, as a party to the conflict, Armenia should have its own vision and its clear position, interpretation, and not turn to international mediators to explain the essence of the document to you. The “Madrid Document” is only a philosophy of resolving the conflict, it contains principles (the right of peoples to self-determination, non-use of force or threat of force and the territorial integrity of the state ) and elements – from determining the international status of Nagorno-Karabakh through the will of its inhabitants to returning the territories around Artsakh control of Azerbaijan. On the basis of this philosophy, the “Big Treaty” should be worked out. After all, before the mediators put forward not a conflict resolution philosophy, but specific draft agreements (package, step-by-step versions and the “Common State”).

I am very sorry that the Armenian leadership does not understand this. It is absolutely clear that neither Pashinyan, nor Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan do not own the topic. This is evident from their vocabulary. They are simply neither morally nor diplomatically prepared for these negotiations. And during this time, Baku achieved great diplomatic successes, and not as a result of some of its actions, but at the expense of the failures of the Armenian side. Again, the previous agenda has been lost, the trilateral documents have been replaced by some incomprehensible oral agreements in Dushanbe. And, as noted above, Azerbaijan used the moment to strengthen its fortifications along the front line. And now, after the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the mediators state about the need to prepare the Armenian and Azerbaijani society for peace. Here another question arises: it turns out, the political leaders agree, but the society does not? Despite the fact that after all this, Azerbaijan is intensively preparing for war.

– You spoke about the need to increase subjectivity of Artsakh at the international level and work on the international recognition of its independence. These and other methods, in your opinion, may lead to Karabakh becoming a full participant in the negotiation process. But after all, over the past 10–15 years, this tactic has been applied. As a result, Karabakh not only did not become a participant in the negotiation process, but we also received the “April war” of 2016.

– This tactic was poorly used. Despite the fact that I have always criticized the previous authorities, but let’s objectively look at the situation. In 2007, when the Madrid Principles were adopted, let’s agree that this was a real success for Armenian diplomacy. Indeed, before this, the world community, including the OSCE Minsk Group, put forward only one formula for resolving the conflict – on the basis of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

In addition to its territorial integrity, the Madrid Document also speaks of two other principles – the right of peoples to self-determination and the non-use of force or threat of force. This radically changed the situation. In 2015, in December, in Vienna, at a meeting between Serzh Sargsyan and Ilham Aliyev with the participation of intermediaries, measures were taken to strengthen the truce regime at the front line. Already then, after the “April war” of 2016, at meetings in Vienna and St. Petersburg, steps were agreed to strengthen confidence-building measures, which we have already mentioned above. The position of the previous authorities on the conflict resolution formula was generally reduced to the following – the territory in exchange for recognition of status. Moreover, status meant the status of Nagorno-Karabakh outside Azerbaijan.

Today’s authorities have not even proclaimed a conflict resolution formula. They only declare that they will not do and what they intend to undertake is not clear. It’s been 11 months. To confirm all the time about the participation of Karabakh is not a concept, a formula for resolving the conflict. The authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh proclaimed their concept that they are ready to negotiate a peace treaty with Azerbaijan. This is very close to the position of the former authorities of Armenia.

– The Armenian authorities say that they want to clarify the basis of the negotiations, because in the “Madrid Document” each of the parties sees what they want to see.

“I don’t understand that at all.” The Armenian authorities should have their own base, their own interpretation, instead of going and asking the “big uncles” to explain what is said in this document. Exaggerating a bit, of course.

Baku for some reason clearly states that it understands the Madrid principles. And the Armenian leadership says: we will go to Vienna and let them explain how to understand these principles. And before that, Pashinyan said that there was an agreement on a meeting with Aliyev, but there was no agenda. This begs the question: where are you going without your agenda?

We are dealing with complete political and diplomatic incompetence – we simply do not have a topic or problems. Not only Pashinyan, but Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, judging by his numerous statements. Is confused in terms of “peace”, “security”, “status”, “threat”. He talks about peace talks with Baku, then Pashinyan declares that we did not negotiate, but there was an exchange of views …

Unfortunately, for the first time in all the past years and decades, the Armenian authorities do not have their own concept of resolving the Karabakh problem. Moreover, at present there is a situation when Armenia acts from one position, and international mediators and Baku from another. In previous years, the picture was completely different: Armenia and the co-chairs of the Minsk Group held the same position, and Azerbaijan – the other. Then Yerevan said that Baku is not only against Armenia, but also of the international community. Now, as a result of the irresponsible actions of the Armenian authorities, the roles have changed: Armenia has become, as it were, a destructive side, while Azerbaijan has become constructive. An example is the statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrovwhen he can be said for the first time, in January of this year, he said the following: “I think the statements of the Azerbaijani authorities about their readiness to find a solution to the conflict deserve full support. We hope that Armenian friends will reciprocate. ” Thus, Russia, albeit in the most delicate form, but for the first time indicated who is the “destructive” side of the conflict.

In addition, in the past at least 10 years, Baku has almost always opposed the format of the OSCE Minsk Group on the Karabakh settlement. But official Baku welcomed the statement by the co-chairs of March 9. Armenia’s reaction was received by the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, but it was so confusing that it was impossible to understand anything.

This is what populism in foreign policy can lead to, which is Pashinyan’s main weapon in domestic policy. This is very dangerous not only for the Karabakh settlement, but for the Armenian statehood as a whole. If during the “April war” both the countries co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group and the world community as a whole passively supported us, then in a future war, which we cannot avoid, I am not sure that this configuration will be the same.

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