Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This show was recorded on Monday, October 10, 2022.
Here are the major topics we’ll touch on today:
● Meetings in Prague
○ At last week’s first-ever European Political Community meeting in Prague, there were multiple meetings between the leaders of Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. We’ll talk about all that means for the security and status of Nagorno Karabakh, the civilian EU monitoring of the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and more
● Pashinyan Consolidating Power
○ We’ll then discuss some very questionable appointments by the National Assembly, installing essentially ruling party apparatchiks to key judicial and election oversight positions, undermining important democratic institutions in Armenia.
● Personal Statements
○ Finally, we’ll have a couple of personal comments from show participants.
To talk about these issues, we have with us:
Benyamin Poghosyan, who is the Chairman of the Yerevan based think tank Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies,
The first meeting of the European Political Community took place in the Czech capital Prague on Thursday. On the sidelines of this meeting, Pashinyan met with Turkish president Erdogan, which was a first for them. Pashinyan also met with Azerbaijan’s president Aliyev separately and then also in a 4-way meeting in the presence of EU co-president Charles Michel and French president Macron.
● What is the “European Political Community” meeting?
Pashinyan’s meeting with Erdogan was relatively quick, and both leaders reported that they confirmed their desire to swiftly implement the agreements reached by the two special reps of Turkey and Armenia for the so-called Normalization process. At this point that means opening the borders for cargo by air, and land border crossings for citizens of third countries.
● Are these statements commensurate to summit-level result expectations?
● What was each side expecting to achieve through this first-ever meeting?
As we know, Erdogan has very clearly reiterated that Turkish-Armenian Normalization is completely dependent on a completely pro-Azeri outcome in the so-called “peace negotiations” between Armenia and Azerbaijan. And at the end of their Prague meeting, Erdogan replied to a press question about next steps in the process with: “We will do what we’ve always done.”
● Should we assume that this meeting with Pashinyan was mostly an international photo opp for Erdogan, perhaps to stymie third countries from pressuring him on Armenian issues?
Pashinyan also had a 1:1 meeting with Aliyev, who on the day of the meeting shared a provocative tweet, saying “we will restore Karabakh and Zangezur”.
After the meeting, a vague reference about “some progress” on transport links, which would be part of an eventual “peace” plan. Aliyev put out a boilerplate statement about making progress towards a peace agreement, while at the same time complaining that Pashinyan will not give him a certain road that it wants. Pashinyan tweeted the following morning that Aliyev “did not respond positively” about his proposal on unblocking regional communications.
Reportedly Aliyev rejected many of Pashinyan’s points about “opening all communication links between the two countries”.
Also important to mention is that throughout the week Azerbaijan kept spreading fake reports about Armenian cease-fire violations.
● What is the nature of Pashinyan’s proposal about “unblocking of all regional communications with full respect of our sovereignty and legislation”?
● Why is Aliyev rejecting this?
○ Armenia has apparently expressed that it sees the 29,800 sq. km as its borders.
○ Armenia has indicated that it is ok with not mentioning anything about the status of Artsakh in the so-called “peace agreement”.
○ What are the other major points that Armenia
● Russian deputy PM Overchuk last week signaled Russia’s support for “full respect of sovereignty” in the South Caucasus.
A separate, important 5-hour meeting held in Prague was a 4-way meeting that included Pashinyan, Aliyev, Macron, and Michel.
After this particular meeting president Macron announced that the EU will be sending a civilian monitoring mission to the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, in an effort to ease the constant violence due to Azeri attacks and invasion of Armenian lands.
The statement also said: “Armenia and Azerbaijan confirmed their commitment to the Charter of the United Nations and the Alma Ata 1991 Declaration [by former Soviet republics] through which both recognize each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. They confirmed it would be a basis for the work of the border delimitation commissions and that the next meeting of the border commissions would take place in Brussels by the end of October.”
The statement didn’t mention anything about Armenian POWs in Baku.
● Aliyev, who had previously rejected such monitoring missions, reportedly agreed to “cooperate” with Armenia’s facilitating of this mission. What does this mean?
● What is the significance of the Alma-Ata 1991 Declaration?
● Previously, Macron and France officially had demanded that Azerbaijan withdraw to starting positions. Does EU’s participation in such a format legitimize Azerbaijan’s occupation of Armenia. Compare the EU’s and West’s reaction to Russia’s occupation of Ukraine and Azerbaijan’s occupation of Armenia.
● Where will the unarmed monitors be located? Will Azerbaijan withdraw from occupied positions?
● Apparently, the monitoring mission - to clarify it is unarmed - will only last 2 months. Is there a possibility for the extension of such a mission? How effective do you think this will be?
● Are we seeing Armenian officials “lower the bar” yet again? Is it possible that Armenia may not be able to support Artsakh even financially, as it is doing today?
● What role could the OSCE MG have in this, and what international guarantees could be provided to Artsakh to secure its existence? Let’s also remember that Azerbaijan in the past has said that the Minsk Group has outlived its usefulness and should be disbanded.
● Despite the news about a temporary EU monitoring mission, given that there’s no significant agreement yet, how likely do you think is the chance that Azerbaijan may restart open warfare?
It seems that future meetings related to this “peace” plan are being moved to Brussels. For instance, the next meeting of the demarcation and delimitation commissions will continue to be in Brussels. The European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell stated that the meeting of 44 countries in Brussels, without the presence of Russia, was an attempt to seek a new world order that doesn’t involve Russia.
In response to news about the meetings in Brussels, Maria Zakharova, spokesperson of the Russian MFA said that Russia has in the past made suggestions to the sides for a comprehensive peace, but Russian analysts more and more believe that Russia is yielding the initiative in the South Caucasus because it simply doesn’t have the bandwidth for it while the war in Ukraine is in progress.
After Brussels, both Pashinyan and Aliyev traveled to Russia for an informal meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). At this meeting, Pashinyan had no meetings with Putin. No Armenian-Azerbaijani issue was on the agenda, as far as we’re aware.
In the past world powers seemed to use Artsakh to find areas of agreement and collaborate on solutions. Now world powers seem to be trying to use the conflict to score points against each other.
Pashinyan has indicated that the peace plan he will sign may not mention Nagorno Karabakh. In Prague there was mention also that Baku and Stepanakert may discuss their own modus vivendi. Baku has not denied such a possibility.
Armenia seems to be officially washing its hands of the Artsakh Cause. Previously, Armenian officials had already expressed the idea that security of Artsakh is entirely upon the Russian peacekeepers. However, this week we heard statements that go further. For instance, this week, a Civil Contract MP Edward Aghajanyan stated that: “Armenia no longer has the opportunity nor resources to safeguard the rights of the people of Artsakh, including security.”
Two major appointments have consolidated Pashinyan’s and his ruling Civil Contract party’s rule in Armenia. On Friday, Civil Contract loyalist Karen Andreasyan was appointed as the chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council. At the same time, the parliament also appointed Yeranuhi Tumanyants, also a party loyalist, to another vacant position on the SJC.
At the same time, Pashinyan loyalist Vahagn Hovakimyan, was appointed as the chairman of the Central Election Committee, together with six other loyalists who were also appointed to the committee.
All of these appointments have been widely slammed by the opposition, as well as by international watchdog organizations, as moves that undermine the independence of the country’s judicial system with undesirable government influence; and similarly with the CEC appointment which nearly subordinates the election process to the prime minister.
The CEC appointment may also be illegal, since the constitution requires that its members not be partisans; now Hovakimyan resigned from the ruling party just last week and now claims to be neutral, and objective.
● Hovakimyan had been an employee of Pashinyan’s Haykakan Zhamanak (Armenian Times) family newspaper since the late 90’s. When Pashinhyan became an MP, Hovakimyan became his assistant. But now he is fair and balanced!
● What are your thoughts about these appointments, and your concerns about judicial independence, and the risks to future elections in Armenia?
That was our Week in Review and we hope you found it helpful. We invite your feedback and your suggestions. You can find us on most social media and podcast platforms, or our website Groong.org. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channel on YouTube, Follow us on Twitter, and Like our Facebook page.
Thanks to Laura Osborn for the music on our podcasts. On behalf of everyone in this episode, we thank you for listening. Stay well, we’ll be back next week.
Benyamin Poghosyan, Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh, Artsakh, Azerbaijan, Prague, South Caucasus, Turkey, Russia, Corridors, Borders, Peace Negotiations, Nikol Pashinyan, Ilham Aliyev, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, European Political Community, Emmanuel Macron, Charles Michel, OSCE, Minsk Group, Zangezur, Syunik,