Op-Ed: Another way or the highway

By Haig Kayserian – Armenia Media | Wednesday, 10 November 2021

By Haig Kayserian

Last week, a traumatised global Armenian nation was treated to the latest in a set of perverted images that should finally cause us to collectively wake up, throw up and stand up.

It featured the presidents of genocidal Turkey and Azerbaijan, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ilham Aliyev, laying the foundations of a highway they declared would breach the Republic of Armenia’s borders from their already-occupied territories of the Republic of Artsakh.

Turan reported Erdogan asking Saleh Mammadov of Azerbaijan’s state highway agency: “You are going to the Armenian border, aren’t you? Will you go further?” Mammadov responded: “Yes, we will move to the other side. With God’s help, we will go all the way to Istanbul, to Europe.”

The highway threatened by this display is part of the greater “Zangezur Corridor” that Aliyev says will “unite the entire Turkic world”, sparking unavoidable comparisons to the pan-Turanism (or pan-Turkism) ideology that led the Young Turks to committing the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Genocides in 1915.

Sadly, Armenians have become accustomed to the realisation of this sort of expansionist rhetoric since then, when much of historical Armenia was occupied by the Ottomans. We were reminded again last year, when Azerbaijan attacked Artsakh with the help of big brother Turkey, and subsequently walked away with most of Nagorno Karabakh after ethnically cleansing tens of thousands in the process.

What Turkey and Azerbaijan do is not in the control of Armenians. However, Armenians can control how they wish to mount a defence against such an offensive. Unfortunately though, Armenia seems a global nation that is on a losing streak, a rut that we cannot snap out of.

Arguably the biggest loser of this regrettable series of defeats, especially accounting for his impressive yet populist rise to power rallying against corruption less than four years ago, is Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

In another softball interview given on state television this week, the man who violently threatens his own political opposition continued his comparatively weak-as-wet-lettuce approach to his butchering external enemy.

Pashinyan affirmed that all roadways are being considered by the Armenian Government, including the one that Erdogan and Aliyev celebrated above. Additionally, he danced around every opportunity criticise Azerbaijan, respectfully asking them to stop border skirmishes in order for demarcation and delimitation of borders to start.

He also said that the process that will redraw these borders have nothing to do with the status of the Republic of Artsakh, which would be decided through the separate OSCE Minsk Group process. He also said opening up economic ties with Armenia’s aggressive neighbours, Azerbaijan and Turkey, would also be treated as a separate case, sensationally stating Ankara’s suggested 3+3 framework was acceptable for future cooperation with the genocide-denying dictatorship.

Further, Pashinyan never referred to the Republic of Artsakh by name and said he had a mandate from the Armenian people to sign anything for peace to ensue.

While there have no doubt been many contributors to the biggest capitulation in Armenian history signed one year ago, the “biggest loser” title is based on a series of irrefutable facts:

  • Despite his bellicose rhetoric in the lead-up, Pashinyan was ultimately unprepared for the war on 27th September 2020;

  • He pulled back the professional Armenian army from participation in Artsakh barely 10 days into said war, leading observers to believe this was the first of many concessions;

  • He repeatedly lied that he was winning the war in almost daily social media appearances;

  • He lost the war in an utter capitulation on 9 November 2020 a day after declaring “the battle for Shushi continues”, even conceding territories that Azerbaijan’s army still had not reached and were never up for bargaining in pre-war negotiations;

  • He released all Azerbaijani prisoners of war but did not receive the same in return. Then, to secure the release of a few dozen of the hundreds estimated to be in Baku’s captivity, Pashinyan conceded strategic maps which accelerate Azerbaijan’s ability to settle on the occupied Armenian territories;

  • He responded without force when Azerbaijan encroached on the territories of Armenia proper, allowing the offending army to make permanent camp in what were consistently inhabited Armenian villages and towns for millennia;

  • He has continued to pull back troops to avoid confrontation, even calling Armenian towns by their made-up Azerbaijani names and declaring himself ready for border demarcations using extinct Soviet maps as a guide.

In saying all of this, and many that have no doubt been forgotten, the only victory Nikol Pashinyan has managed since the war began over a year ago was in the country’s 2021 parliamentary elections, where his party won a reduced majority to govern for a further five years.

While acknowledging that a win is a win, Pashinyan’s reduced majority is not something to be sneezed at. A drop from 70.4% in 2018 to 53.95% in 2021 is an unprecedented slide in popularity for an Armenian leader.

Considering that since these 2021 polls, Azerbaijan has further embedded itself into Armenian lands, an exodus has begun of citizens leaving for pastures abroad, and Pashinyan’s impotent handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has led the largely unvaccinated nation into another wave of infections and hospitalisations, it would be safe to assume the 53.95% has only reduced rather than increased.

While a win is a win, this was a win against opponents led by forces backed by Armenia’s previous two heads of state – Robert Kocharyan’s Armenia Alliance and Serzh Sargsyan’s I Have Honour Alliance – which together managed to conjure only 26.33% of the vote despite well-resourced campaigns in an election that only managed to attract the participation of 49.37% of eligible voters.

Sadly, when objectively analysing the electorate since the polls, it would be difficult to make the case that this Opposition has capitalised on Pashinyan’s continuing slide to consolidate their place as a serious alternative leadership for the Armenian people.

This is an Opposition frustrated by their characterisation as the “formers” of the country’s corrupt past, but this is a label that has fairly or unfairly stuck. The Opposition is similarly frustrated that years of propaganda – from Soviet times to today – has perceived them as unelectable. The Opposition also feels elections should be less about individuals and more about ideas and ideals, but Armenia’s history – as well as the geopolitical trending of the region – favours identity politics focused around individuals.

Despite the challenges facing the Opposition, a paradigm shift is a necessity. Armenia needs another way or it will be a highway that represents hell for the country’s security and sovereignty.

“Another way” could mean that the current Opposition finds its course to deliver the mass outcry needed to unseat Pashinyan. There have also been some murmurs in Armenia that lend weight to a third way. Ruben Vardanyan, Arman Tatoyan, Abraham Gasparyan and others all have supporters backing them towards greater political ambition.

Whether or not these people, the current Opposition, or others are the ticket to extended freedom for Armenia remains to be seen. What should not be overlooked by “another way” is that populism and individualism will play an integral part to collate the masses. It has only been individuals – Levon, Raffi, Nikol – who have managed to mobilise the masses towards movements that have threatened to shift the status quo.

If, as Putin confirmed, Shushi and Hadrut were never up for bargaining in negotiations before this war, then the sovereign territories of Armenia were most certainly not either. As Azerbaijan and Turkey are openly threatening to build a road in Armenia’s internationally recognised borders, surely a new leadership – one that was not part of the defeats and surrenders of 2020 – will give Armenia the best chance at reaching a more amicable outcome through negotiations. Surely a new leadership will have a better chance at bringing Armenians together to accept what would be that amicable outcome.

This is needed now more than ever. A pro-Armenia, pro-Artsakh, pro-Diaspora, unifying populism. Another way or the highway.