In a special analysis for BNE Intellinews, Carmen Valache cited RSC staff on the July hostage standoff in Armenia and on recent developments regarding Nagorno-Karabakh. The article, entitled, “Peace a distant prospect as Nagorno-Karabakh prepares to celebrate independence anniversary,” first cites RSC Analyst Haykak Arshamyan on the July incident, in which a group of three dozen gunmen seized a police station in Yerevan.
As the gunmen were supporters of radical opposition figure Zhirayr Sefilian, who has been imprisoned since his arrest in June, Arshamyan explained that Sefilian’s agenda is “a bit complicated and unclear,” in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Armenian Servce. Dr. Arshamyan added that the broader implications of the incident “reflects the multitude of complaints that the Armenian public has against the government: one third of the population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank, remittances from abroad have been falling, thus further eroding Armenians’ purchasing power, and government corruption is perceived to be widespread.”
The article then cited RSC Director Richard Giragosian, who explained that the July protests and attack added to the Sarkisian Administration’s “pronounced degree of unpopularity, general mistrust and a deepening lack of legitimacy.” He added that, “nevertheless, the government remains strong and able to sustain the closed political and economic system over the short term, although the parliamentary elections in 2017 will pose “an unprecedented test, because the ruling elites seem both willfully ignorant of the need for reform and dangerously reckless in demonstrating their arrogance of power.”
Commenting on the recent formation of several “axes” or “cooperation triangles” in the South Caucasus region, such as Georgia-Azerbaijan-Turkey, Russia-Azerbaijan-Turkey, and Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran, where Baku is seeking to push Armenia further into isolation, hoping to extract concessions in the peace negotiations from a desperate Yerevan, Giragosian stated that he was “unconvinced by the effectiveness of Azerbaijan’s recent diplomatic outreach, which he believes does not yet represent a serious shift in the region.” Furthermore, to counter Baku's moves and Russia’s ambivalence, the Armenian government has pursued an unexpected line to escape its isolation, and that has been the diplomatic and particularly military rapprochement with the West, he added.
Giragosian also noted that “Armenia’s diplomatic brinkmanship has consisted of two distinct moves. The first was a demonstration of Armenian independence, with the dispatch of senior Armenian military officials to a meeting with NATO in the immediate wake of the Azerbaijani April attack, aimed at reminding Moscow that Yerevan has more options and greater opportunities beyond an institutionalized role as a vassal or supplicant state for Russia.”
He added that “the second was far more innovative, involving the threat to recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. This move represented a bid to garner greater leverage and wield diplomatic pressure on both the mediators and Azerbaijan, especially as any such recognition would immediately and irrevocably collapse the peace process. Yet this was also designed to pressure Moscow, which was seen as dangerously shifting further away from Yerevan and closer to Baku.”
The complicated balance of power in the Caucasus and the episodes of domestic instability make the prospect of a peace settlement in one of the longest-standing territorial conflicts in the former Soviet Union as distant as ever. “If an agreement is ever to be reached, an enfeebled Yerevan will have to prepare the population for the eventual return of at least some of the Armenian-held territories to Azerbaijan,” Giragosian said.
Giragosian concluded by saying that “the Azerbaijani and Armenian sides remain simply too far apart for such a settlement to take place in the foreseeable future. Baku has requested the unconditional return of Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied territories all along, offering little in the way of a compromise and instead focusing on isolating Armenia in regional politics in order to increase the pressure on the regime. Even if Armenians were prepared to make concessions and return the occupied territories, which they are not at the moment, the offer would still fall short of Azerbaijan's demands.
As for Russia, it will have to tread carefully in its relations with Armenia, Giragosian adds, as Armenians are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the unequal terms of the partnership and the Kremlin’s ‘disrespect’ of its alliance with Yerevan in favor of Baku.
The silver lining, if there is one, is that Yerevan has been pursuing a more diversified foreign policy, away from Russia and more focused on strengthening its ties with NATO and the EU. While rejecting outright any intention to seek NATO membership, Yerevan has nevertheless struck bilateral agreements with countries such as France, Germany, Greece and the US, and has been actively cooperating with NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme.
“In a strategic sense, Armenia is becoming more successful in maximizing its strategic options, and is now beginning to challenge the dangers of its over-reliance on Russia as its primary security patron and partner,” Giragosian added.