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The Final Betrayal of Artsakh
Will Pashinyan Leave the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh at the Mercy of Aliyev?
“Alliances concluded with princes who possess neither the ability to assist you because of their distance form you, nor the power to do so on account of their poor organization, or for some other cause, offer more fame than real assistance to those who entrust themselves to them.”
- Machiavelli [Discourses, II.11]
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The ancient state of Armenia is in great peril, and many observers expect that a war with neighboring Azerbaijan could break out at any time. At issue is the ethnic-Armenian self-proclaimed Artsakh Republic, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh, which is within the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan. Following the 2020 conflict, which was disastrous for Armenia, Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, had to capitulate to the Azeris to get a cease-fire. The Russian-negotiated settlement saw Artsakh lose its outlying areas, reduced to being connected to Armenia by one road, known as the Lachin Corridor. This road has now been periodically cut off by Azerbaijan since the end of 2022, fueling an increasing humanitarian crisis which has been described as “genocide” by the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. As this has gone on, the feckless pro-Western PM has continued to insult and alienate Russia, the country which has been the guarantor of Armenia’s security throughout the post-Cold War era. In pulling close to the Americans and NATO, Pashinyin is also isolating his country from Iran, the only other friend in the region who might be willing to go to war to protect Armenia, both for geopolitical reasons and also because there are strong historic ties between the Armenian and Persian peoples. It appears that for one reason or another Pashinyan has decided that the Artsakh Republic is a problem to be sloughed off regardless of the severe costs to the 120,000 people who live there. Unfortunately, it seems likely that the Turkic peoples surrounding Armenia may seize more of the last remaining homeland of this most ancient race of men. Pashinyan, having learned nothing from Ukraine being used as a sacrificial pawn, has been extremely unwise to move towards relying on the United States for security instead of building up his country’s own armed forces with the help of Russia and Iran. In the event of an attack by Azerbaijan, it seems most likely that Armenia will find itself unprepared and with no one to come to its defense, and that he will abandon the Republic of Artsakh in an ill-fated bid to save Armenia.
I first wrote about the situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan last year, partially in the context of a desperate Europe turning to the despotate for oil in their scramble to find alternative sources following Western sanctions against Russia. If you are not already familiar with this conflict, I strongly recommend you read my prior article, as for the most part I intend to avoid redundancy:
There are a few clarifications I would like to make, having had a whole year to think about and observe the situation, though I will say quite a lot of Armenians read the article and found it to be incisive, if distressing. The first is that I should have emphasized the suspicion by many that the 2018 Armenia protests, dubbed the “Velvet Revolution” by Pashinyan, were a foreign regime change operation of the type which the National Endowment for Democracy and the international “NGOs” specialize in. It is probably true that foreign funded “civil society” groups had some impact, but this doesn’t change the fact that Armenia is generally considered to be a democracy with fair elections, and further that it had another election since then which left Pashinyan in power. It should be noted, though, that it is the very Western NGOs and intergovernmental organizations which make such proclamations about election integrity, so take from that what you will. The other thing I should have emphasized is that Armenia does have a reliable partner in Iran, but unfortunately cooperation with them drives the reasoning for Israel to provide advanced weapons to the Azeris. I would lastly add that though I try to remain neutral, and more importantly objective, in this particular conflict I cannot help but side with the Armenians, perhaps more than anything due to the antiquity of their race and the many times throughout history they have found a way to survive this type of situation.
In the time since the previous article was published, Nagorno-Karabakh has been under siege. On December 12, 2022, Azerbaijan blocked the Lachin corridor through the use of people who were called “environmental activists.” This is the only passage remaining between the region and Armenia, which is supposed to be kept open by Russian peace keepers as part of the ceasefire agreement that ended the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. Since then, it has been arbitrarily opened and closed, and the main electric supply has regularly been disrupted. The siege has now been ongoing for 9 months, and though some supplies are let in, it is increasingly a humanitarian disaster, which Luis Moreno Ocampo, the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, recently said in an expert letter that there is a “reasonable basis” to believe constitutes genocide. Azerbaijan’s position is that it must prevent weapons smuggling into Nagorno-Karabakh, and further that aid should enter the territory from its own Aghdam Road. The first problem with this is that this entrance, on the east side of the territory, can only be accessed from Armenia through a long journey on a slow, winding mountain road. The bigger issue, however, is that the Artsakh Republic has closed its border with Azerbaijan for almost 30 years, and this involves letting Azerbaijan into the territory. Azerbaijan has used its willingness to let aid in from its own side as evidence that it is not intentionally starving the region, but of course, entry into the territory is a key move towards integrating it into Azerbaijan. Following a new election within Artsakh, condemned on strong terms by both Azerbaijan and Turkiye, the sides reached an agreement which was meant to open passage from both sides. As of September 12th, it was reported that the Russian Red Cross was able to deliver aid from the Azerbaijan side but that the Lachin Corridor has remained closed; it was the first aid shipment the region has received in 3 months. Throughout all of this a huge number of international bodies have condemned the blockade and the ensuing humanitarian crisis, but few in a position of power are willing to get on the bad side of the oil-rich government in Baku and its powerful allies.
The bigger concern for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh is that Pashinyan’s government seems to only care about them insofar as is it is necessary for the public to allow him to remain in power. Pashinyan has said he recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, a reversal from his previous position before the disastrous 2020 war, despite that he claims recognizing Nagorono-Karabakh as Azerbaijan has always been the position of every Armenian Prime Minister. He claims now that the goal of his constant negotiations, which seem to just weaken Armenia’s position while not gaining it anything, is the peaceful integration of the ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan. However, polls are said to show overwhelming opposition amongst the Armenian public for recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan:
Protecting Artsakh also appears to be quite popular among Armenia’s large diaspora, and remittances are extremely important to the impoverished country’s economy, with over $5 billion received in 2022, around a quarter of the country’s GDP, though some of that unusually high amount is workers returning home from Russia due to the war and bringing all of their capital with them. All of this puts Pashinyan in a difficult position, but he is the one who has alienated everyone who might help his country. Azerbaijan’s leader, Aliyev, for his part, claims that the Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh has nothing to fear about integration into Azerbaijan. He won’t give them any special status and says, “They will live like all citizens of Azerbaijan. Their rights will be protected the way the rights of Azerbaijani citizens and peoples living [in Azerbaijan] are protected.” He has further said, “The rights and security of the entire population of Azerbaijan are guaranteed by the country’s constitution. Azerbaijan is a multinational country, and Armenians are not the largest ethnic minority.” This would all sound good, except that the Azerbaijani Constitution is a cruel joke if you know anything about the country. On paper, it would be one of the freest countries on Earth that protects every human right. In reality, the country was once described by Foreign Policy as, “a corrupt, authoritarian regime that outcompetes Russia and Iran in the race to the bottom on human rights,” and you know the people at Foreign Policy hate Russia and Iran. Freedom House, not a perfect organization, but a prominent one which ranks liberty within countries, gives Azerbaijan a 9/100 for the year 2022, meaning “Not Free.” For one clear example of the constitution not being followed, the Constitution of Azerbaijan guarantees total press freedom, whereas the organization Reporters Without Borders ranked it at 154 of 180 countries for press freedom in 2022, a modest improvement over prior years. All of this is to say that Aliyev’s claims that the ethnic Armenians who have been a thorn in his family’s side for decades would have their human rights respected is extremely dubious, especially from a leader who makes statements such as these:
The second really does not sound like someone who intends to respect their property rights as outlined in the Azerbaijani Constitution.
As this has gone on there have been various movements of troops and cross border clashes, including claims that Azerbaijan is firing on farmers trying to harvest wheat. Both sides have lost troops in periodic border clashes. The ethnic Armenian Syrian political commentator Kevork Almassian recently did a long interview with Alison Tahmizian Meuse, of the DeepStrat security group, about the whole situation and it is a grim and depressing story of utter mismanagement:
The primary conclusion is that Aliyev will ethnically cleanse the area or turn it into the next Gaza Strip, or perhaps some combination of the two. Pashinyan keeps saying that recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijan does not mean they are giving Azerbaijan permission to ethnically cleanse the people there. It seems to me like this is an awful middle ground, where Pashinyan will not fight for them and will not help them to evacuate, while over time in one way or another their community is destroyed. The reality is that he is functionally negotiating with Artsakh’s leadership on Aliyev’s side to get them to surrender, while Aliyev sees no reason to give any “guarantees” because his claim is that if they give up and re-integrate they will have the rights of all Azerbaijani citizens under that country’s phony constitution. It isn’t difficult to imagine them left under his rule and then rapidly finding their property threatened under some pretense or other, especially given that none of these people have paid property taxes to Azerbaijan for 30 years. That, of course is, if anyone could get them to agree to give up their independence. Further, no one is even considering relocating them to Armenia proper, or perhaps Russia, as that would be seen as a form of ethnic cleansing, though Aliyev has said in the past that if any country wants to bring them in and give them special status they are welcome to do so. This is a common way of managing nationalities in the Russian Federation, which has shown interest in bolstering its population by bringing in Boers and American conservatives, so it seems to me like at least one option worth considering, but which no one will discuss.
Throughout all of this, Pashinyan has found time to further alienate Russia- still technically it’s CSTO ally, security guarantor, and a country which has a military base on its soil. Most of all, Pashinyan has been going around saying depending on Russia for their security was a mistake; there is some reasonable-seeming evidence for that over the last few years, but his own hostility to Russia has been the primary cause of Russia’s tepid interest in protecting Armenia, most notably refusing to host CSTO exercises in Armenia and not participating in ones outside of Armenia, and recently recalling its envoy to the alliance. Now, Armenia has held a small drill with NATO on its soil, saying they can’t rely on Russia to protect them anymore. Unfortunately for the Armenian people, this drill wasn’t really even about how to defend Armenia, it was about how to suppress the population that Our Man in Yerevan should stay in power.
At the same time, Armenia offered a nominal amount of assistance to Ukraine, which was “delivered” by Pashinyan’s wife. All of this caused Russia to summon Armenia’s ambassador to complain. Unsurprisingly, Iran is also unhappy that Armenia is hosting NATO exercises. There may be something to the idea that Armenia should have taken a more multilateral approach to security instead of being so reliant on Russia, perhaps most of all actually fortifying its borders in advance of the 2020 disaster, but NATO is never going to genuinely take their side. The fact is that despite Pashinyan’s efforts at rapprochement with Turkiye, having begun speaking to Erdogan somewhat frequently, Turkiye’s power within NATO is as such that NATO will always choose Azerbaijan. On top of that, Israel, with all of its lobbying influence in the United States, likes Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijan has oil. It simply isn’t realistic to get the help from NATO which Armenia needs, and especially not which Artsakh needs. It’s actually an impressive feat of influence that the US has delayed the waiver it gives Azerbaijan every year to allow military aid despite the Nagorno-Karabakh situation, but everyone still expects it to go through. In short, Pashinyan is destroying Armenia’s relations with countries that could protect it for ones which can’t and won’t.
With all of these tensions, many predict war, and one that could not only swallow Nagorno-Karabakh, but also further shrink Armenia, already but a tiny shadow of its past glory. As of July, Pashinyan was saying that war was “very likely” and accused Azerbaijan of genocide in Nagorno-Karabakh. On September 1st there were yet more deadly clashes on the border. Both sides accuse each other of building up troops as well, and there is every reason to believe both are. Further, Twitter has been full of compelling looking footage that purports to show Iran building up troops on the border with Azerbaijan, though Iran denies having done so. Everyone seems to be on hair-trigger alert.
It is hard to imagine how Armenia and Artsakh can triumph without serious aid from Russia or Iran, which Armenia seems unwilling to ask for and is in no position to receive. The upside for the world at large is it makes it far less likely to turn into a regional conflagration, but it’s all bad for Armenia. The Western friends Pashinyan has sought to make will never turn on Aliyev, as he is a Kiev supporter with the oil for which they are desperate and their policy is already to ignore the abuses of his regime. There is at least some division within US politics, where Armenia does have its supporters, including some of the most hawkish politicians such as Robert Menendez, but at most this will stop the United States from actively aiding Azerbaijan.
Within Armenia and among the diaspora Pashinyan faces harsh opposition but it is too late for him to change course, if he wanted to, which there is no indication he does. His desire to align with the West is in some ways understandable in that Armenia is a poor country which has always been close to Greece and the founding traditions of Western culture, though it has been stuck between the Occidental and Oriental worlds for all of history. He seems to have drastically misread the direction the world is going, however, being as the Western leadership hates that very cultural tradition and is losing its global economic dominance. Making friends with everyone would have been a good move, except that Aliyev and his oil beat Armenia to the punch. In my view, with Russia being busy in Ukraine, and that relationship already deteriorated, the best move was to seek a security guarantee from Iran and accept the consequences which come from that, which of course would be the hostility of the United States. It isn’t a matter of whether Iran is good or bad, it is a matter of national survival. There are reports showing that there are citizens demanding Armenia hold military exercises with Russia and Iran, but it seems unlikely to happen. It’s going to be hard for Pashinyan to sell any of the likely future scenarios to the public, but he somehow remained in office after the early elections following the defeat in 2020. Either Pashinyan has a strong base that is not clear to outsiders, or perhaps Armenian elections are less fair than we are lead to believe. It may be true that it is easier for the diaspora to be brave, whereas those in Armenia see their grim prospects, because to see this discussed on the internet, Pashinyan would seem like a man with no supporters.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is that some people will hate you no matter what you do, and there is no use trying to please them [which, if you have my personality, is quite a lot of people.] This is true of the Turkic peoples towards the Armenians in a way that goes well beyond most ethnic conflicts. While I’m sure at times, in the centuries of conflict, Armenians have been brutal in warfare, Azeri claims of genocide appear to have mostly been made up in the ‘90s to build a national character based on animosity. The hatred that the Turks and Azeris have for Armenia is completely out of proportion to anything this small country, which has usually lost to the Turks, could possibly could have done to them. Azerbaijan never really even controlled Nagorno-Karabakh in its time as an independent state, so it being ruled by Armenians isn’t depriving them of anything they’ve ever had. One suspects that Turks and Azeris hate the Armenians because Armenians remind them of their own shame for what they’ve done to Armenians in the past. As Tacitus once wrote, “It is, indeed, human nature to hate the man whom you have injured” [Agricola, 44.] Similarly, if Pashinyan should betray Artsakh, and its citizens flee Aliyev’s rule, Armenians may find that they hate to see the erstwhile citizens of Artsakh whom their government has betrayed. Instead of trying to pull close to the West in hopes that they could talk the neighboring Turkic peoples into being nice, it was always the smart decision to stay close to the neighboring peoples who like Armenia, the Russians and Persians, regardless of whose wrath that brought forth. Having isolated Armenia in an ill-fated attempt to receive the perceived benefits of the Western political order, it seems that now, in one way or another, Pashinyan will be sacrificing the people of Artsakh to the Azeris, likely for no benefit to Armenia but that it was no longer viable to defend them. If Pashinyan says that Artsakh is Azerbaijan and Aliyev claims they will have full rights, there is little left to negotiate but their surrender. One suspects that Aliyev will then move on to trying to pick apart Armenia itself.
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