Hello and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong. In this Conversations on Groong episode, we’re going to talk about the regional challenges facing Armenia, and how the foreign policy establishment can meet these challenges.
This episode was recorded on Friday, February 25, 2022.
Recent polls show that Armenians perceive Turkey and Azerbaijan to be the greatest threats to their country’s security.
Azerbaijan’s president routinely uses military threats to force Prime Minister Pashinyan into concessions, whenever negotiations do not progress according to his logic, and has been spending his petrodollars to advance racist anti-Armenian views and Fake news wherever and whenever possible, most recently in Yerevan proper.
Turkey, having provided the military and political cover for Azerbaijan in the 44-day war, is now using this moment of extreme Armenian weakness, to demand maximal pre-conditions for so-called “normalizing” ties with Armenia.
How is Armenia’s foreign policy establishment meeting these challenges? Is it ready to meet these challenges?
To talk about these issues, we are joined by:
Tatev Hayrapetyan, who is an expert in Azerbaijani studies and holds a PhD in History. She was an MP at the 7th convocation of Armenia's National Assembly. Being involved in the activities of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs she was also a member of the Armenian Delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. She is mainly focused on domestic developments in Azerbaijan, particularly examining the impact of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict on internal politics. She is co-author of one monograph, the author of two monographs, and more than 40 scientific and analytical articles.
You were elected to the National Assembly in the early parliamentary elections of December 2018, as a member of the My Step (Իմ Քայլ) Alliance, which supported Prime Minister Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party after the so-called “Velvet Revolution” events in May 2018, to form the ruling alliance in the parliament until June 2021.
● What attracted you to My Step, Pashinyan, and the events of May 2018?
● What was your experience with civil society work before May 2018? Were you considering a life in politics?
● How did you end up on the December 2018 MP list? Who recommended you to the Prime Minister?
● Were you satisfied with the political life in Armenia throughout 2019 and 2020, leading up to the 44-day war?
● What led to the war? Was the war unavoidable?
● We’ve all had that “face the mirror” moment after the war, to come to terms with where we are right now. Can you describe how you felt during, and after the war, both as an Armenian, and also as a parliamentary representative of the ruling party, which lost the war and suffered the loss of nearly 4000 Armenian lives?
● After the crushing defeat in the war, you did not leave the ruling party, or resign from parliament. However, you did not participate in the June 2021 early parliamentary elections. Have you parted ways with My Step and Civil Contract? Why?
● Are you tending towards any political parties?
● What are your thoughts about the current government, and the direction of the country?
In a IRI poll that came out a month ago, results indicated that 88% of Armenians feel that Turkey is the greatest security threat to Armenia, and 81% believe that Azerbaijan is. All other countries are comparatively negligible.
There are two other poll question results: one indicates that Armenians put Turkey and Azerbaijan at the bottom of their list of countries to improve relations with. They want our relations improved with our strategic partner Russia (53%), then the US, France, and China. And the other result indicates that only a third of Armenians polled think that the country is going in the right direction, while a majority now think we’re going in the wrong direction. This is a major change since 2018.
The question is this: Armenia’s foreign policy is trying to make friends with our enemies, completely contrary to the wishes of the Armenian people as the poll indicates, so naturally Armenians think our country is headed in the wrong direction. Why is the government doing this?
Does Pashinyan’s government even have the option of changing course, when the terms of its direction were given to it by the winners of the war in 2020?
Fig. 1: From IRI: Public Opinion Survey: Residents of Armenia - Dec 2021
Without rehashing the last 16 months of negotiations, violence, loss of territorial integrity, and so on, let's fast forward to one of the latest interactions between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Tatevik, you just published a comprehensive article on EVNreport.
On February 4, Prime Minister Pashinyan and President Aliyev had a teleconference summit facilitated by French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel. Following this, Azerbaijan released 8 Armenian POWs, and also the EU announced a €2 billion financial aid package for Azerbaijan, as part of an economic investment plan. Throughout 2021, Aliyev had complained about the lack of financial aid parity with Armenia from the EU.
● First of all: What were the topics discussed at the summit on February 4, and what agreements were reached?
● Why should there be EU financial aid parity between democratic Armenia and Aliyev’s dictatorship? Why would the EU facilitate €2 Billion to a country flush with petro-dollars, and which kills and tortures its opposition?
○ Is the 2 billion a quid pro quo for Azerbaijan in exchange for something? What?
Reportedly Pashinyan agreed to help Azerbaijan to deal with its so-called quote-unquote “missing persons” from the first war in Karabakh, 28-30 years ago. This is the second time since the war that Aliyev has injected negotiating points that were not part of the trilateral November Agreement. The first was the issue of the minefield maps.
● How is Armenia agreeing to all these new conditions? Is Azerbaijan a master negotiator, or are Armenians terrible negotiators?
● How can Armenia agree to introduce brand new topics into the dialogue, especially when they no longer even have control of the lands where the events of the first Karabakh war happened?
● We’ve already read in Azeri media that Aliyev is injecting terms like “missing persons”, or “mass graves”, and so on. Does our government realize the legal trap that Azerbaijan is setting, because the ramifications in international justice of such terminology being applied to Armenia can have bad consequences.
On Monday, Putin signed declarations to recognize the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. Then on Tuesday Aliyev was in Moscow and met with Putin, and they signed a declaration to elevate their relations to an allied level.
● Many Russian analysts think that this agreement contains nothing new from the 2008 agreement they already had. What do we know about the content of the Putin-Aliyev meeting? And what does it mean for Armenia?
● Do you see any relevance in Putin’s recognition of the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, to the case of Artsakh?
There is as of yet no response from the Armenian side, but the opposition has blamed the authorities’ diplomatic failure, especially in managing its relations with our strategic partner, Russia.
● What should the Armenian “response” be? What does Armenia need to do to manage relations with Russia better?
We rarely hear about the domestic politics in Baku. After the war, if we were to read their propaganda, we would think that Aliyev single-handedly won the war; with a little help from Erdogan. You have actually written about how Aliyev has done everything to take full and sole credit for winning the war.
● How has the 44-Day war changed Aliyev’s regime and his rhetoric?
● Has the war changed the Aliyev clan’s financial bottom line?
Now and then we hear that there is domestic pressure on Aliyev that he is compromising too much with Armenians.
● What are the domestic pressures on Aliyev?
We know that there is a heavily repressed, one can even say, brutalized opposition in Azerbaijan.
● Is it a legitimate political opposition? Are they represented in parliament?
● Is there popular unrest? What are the issues that fuel popular discontent?
● How does Aliyev deal with these issues?
● Does Aliyev have weaknesses that Armenia can exploit?
● Is Armenia a bogeyman to rally Azeris around a perceived external threat and forget about the lack of democracy at home?
In June 2021, Aliyev and Erdogan signed the Shushi Declaration which heightened collaboration between Turkey and Azerbaijan in defense, energy, gas corridor and talked about the so-called “Zangezur Corridor” in a manner which the Armenian MFA stated was “a provocation against the security and peace in the region.”
● Can you talk about the importance of this declaration vis-à-vis Armenia’s security, and how we should be responding to this threat?
● Do you think that Azerbaijan is preparing for war, this time against Armenia, in order to control all the territory that divides Nakhichevan from Azerbaijan?
In the past week Artsakh’s parliament passed an important bill that it says is in response to the Shushi Declaration, and deals with defending its Occupied Territories. Earlier this week when the opposition Armenia Alliance (Hayastan Dashinq) moved to discuss the Armenian parliament’s response to the declaration, the ruling party boycotted the parliament session and thus blocked the discussion.
● How can Armenia support the Artsakh government?
● How can Armenia defend Artsakh given the current situation, and going forward?
I’ve always thought that the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is too inert and unresponsive, for my taste. A lot of anti-Armenian things happen around the world, these days particularly from Turkey and Azerbaijan, and then there’s no response from Armenia. But before 2018 there seemed to be a degree of institutional stability and establishment-building.
Since 2018, the MFA seems to have been nearly dismantled. Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan left after the war, then in May 2021 FM Ara Ayvazyan resigned in frustration, then three out of four of his deputies also left, then for months there was no new appointment, then for a month there was the temporary appointment of National Security Chair Armen Grigoryan as Deputy Foreign Minister, and finally Ararat Mirzoyan, who had no diplomatic background prior to his appointment.
● Why is there so much turnover in the MFA, and do you think we have the right people in place in the ministry now? Can the foreign ministry deal with the extremely challenging problems facing Armenia, and are the right people in the establishment?
● Does the establishment have the right talent in the pipeline? The right educational system to generate the needed talent? Does it have a strong and professional connection to the various policy expert think-tanks of all perspectives?
● Do PM Pashinyan and FM Mirzoyan have a complete understanding of Armenia’s long term national interests? Do they know what they’re doing? Because after the 44-day war, I can say with a high level of certainty that the Diaspora does not have any confidence that they do.
● How do we rebuild Armenia’s Foreign Affairs establishment, to successfully navigate through the country’s challenges?
That concludes this Conversations On Groong episode. As always, we invite your feedback, Thanks to Laura Osborn for the music on our podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channel on YouTube, Like our pages and follow us on Twitter. On behalf of everyone in this episode, we wish you a good week, thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you soon.
Tatevik Hayrapetyan, Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, Artsakh, Nagorno Karabakh, 44-day War, War in Artsakh, Ararat Mirzoyan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MFA, Foreign Minister, Civil Contract, My Step, Azerbaijan, POW, War, Corruption, Arsen Kharatyan, Sos Avetisyan, Ararat Mirzoyan, Armen Grigoryan,