BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s office on Friday, once again, neither denied nor confirmed that Pashinyan will travel to Moscow on Monday for Karabakh talks with the presidents of Russia and Azerbaijan, Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev. Similarly, official Baku has also dodged the issue.
For days some opposition forces and social media outlets have said that Pashinyan will meet with Aliyev in Moscow to finalize the points of the November 9 agreement that ended military operations in Karabakh but saw the surrender of territories in Armenia and Artsakh to Azerbaijan. These reports also warn that Pashinyan may make further concessions to Azerbaijan.
Some social media posts are also claiming that the national security chiefs of Armenia and Azerbaijan have held secret talks and allegedly have finalized the details of an agreement to be signed by Armenia’s leader. Justice Minister Rustam Badasyan denied claims on Friday that he and his office have received the document for further examination.
The unconfirmed claims about the Moscow meeting apparently have concerned President Armen Sarkissian who on Friday reiterated his appeal from November to the authorities to be guided by Armenia’s national interests when negotiating or concluding any agreement with other parties.
“The President calls on the relevant authorities to be guided only by national interests, ensure accountability before the public and unwaveringly observe the provisions of the Constitution and laws of Armenia, as well as the norms and principles of international law for implementation of aforementioned agreements [November 9 agreement] and when reaching verbal agreements,” said a statement from Sarkissian’s office.
In a bombshell announcement immediately after the signing of the November 9 agreement, Sarkissian announced that he was not consulted before the agreement was concluded and urged holding national interests above all else when reaching agreements that impact Armenia’s citizens and its national security.
This potential meeting has also raised grave concerns for the National Salvation Movement, a coalition of opposition forces that are demanding Pashinyan’s resignation and proposing a national accord government, headed by their candidate for prime minister, Vazgen Manukyan, that will be responsible for organizing snap parliamentary elections. Manukyan chaired a session of the National Salvation Movement on Friday when the concerns about the rumored Moscow meeting were voiced.
Armenia and Armenians are still reeling from the November 9 agreement, with its succinct and often vague provisions that have pitted lay citizens against Azerbaijani forces who have been deployed to claim territories in both Armenia and Artsakh that were not delineated in the document. Just this week, residents of Syunik’s Shurnukh village were forced to evacuate their homes after being given a terse deadline by Azerbaijanis now on the border with Armenia. The events in Shurnukh were the latest test to Armenia’s sovereignty and jolted its citizens to the core.
There are countless unanswered questions about the November 9 agreement and Pashinyan, who seems to have signed the document unilaterally, has either refused to answer those questions or has not been asked the critical ones. The prime minister, who on several occasions since his election has declared that he would bring any agreement regarding Artsakh or Armenia’s national security to the people has blocked the people from the process. Instead he has invented a narrative whereby he bears the least blame and constantly deflects responsibility from himself onto others.
One of the key questions that no one has asked Pashinyan, nor has he reflected on it, is whether he knew about Ankara’s robust role in the post November 9 processes, including a military pact signed by Russia and Turkey on November 10, which called for the deployment of Turkish troops to Azerbaijan to man a ceasefire monitoring post, which according to Aliyev will be headquartered in Aghdam, one of the territories relinquished to Azerbaijan.
Ahead of the potential meeting on Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mehmet Cavusoglu said, “Turkey can finally normalize its relations with Armenia as a result of the [Nov. 9] agreement and that Armenia and the people of Armenia will only benefit from it.” Less than a month ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while attending a “victory” parade in Baku, invoked the memory of Armenian Genocide perpetrators, saying they have “found peace” as a result of Azerbaijan’s brutal attack against Artsakh.
Another thorny issue is the demarcation of borders, which has emerged as an acute security threat to Armenia since the implementation of the November 9 agreement began. Another question that Pashinyan has skirted is whether he knew that there would be concessions of territory in Armenia proper. If so, why weren’t mechanism put in place to mitigate harm to citizen’s property, life and well-being?
The murky border issue presumably falls under the agreement’s ninth point, which calls for the opening of transportation links between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which will have free access to Nakhichevan. In his attempts to rationalize the agreement, Pashinyan, on numerous occasions, has raised—and praised—the possibility of having direct transport links with Russia and Iran through Azerbaijan via rail links in Nakhichevan and Baku.
On Thursday, Aliyev, once again, discussed opening a “Nakhichevan corridor” through Armenia, which foreshadows that residents of Meghri might one day wake up to Azerbaijani troops forcing them out of their homes.
“Of course, Armenia is interested in the possibility of transporting Armenian cargo through the territory of Azerbaijan to the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran and vice versa. We are interested in the possibility of the transfer of the Armenian cargo through road and railway transportation to the Russian Federation, whereas to the Islamic Republic of Iran—especially through railway transportation. In this context, Armenia, naturally, is ready to ensure transportation between the eastern part of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic,” said Pashinyan’s spokesperson Mane Gevorgyan on Thursday.
“Once again, I would like to call attention to the fact that the word ‘Meghri’ or the word ‘corridor’ in reference to any territory of the Republic of Armenia is not indicated in the statement of November 9,” Pashinyan said Friday in a Facebook post claiming that his priorities in the implementation of the document are the safe return of captives and hostages, as well as the exchange of remains, as well as the opening of transportation links to Azerbaijan.
Then there is the status of Artsakh, discussion of which all but vanished with the November 9 document. Putin himself said that there would be no discussion of Karabakh’s status, while Aliyev has said that Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan.
Thus far Pashinyan’s lack of transparency has been detrimental to Armenia and Armenians. This potential meeting in Moscow is fraught with more dangers and challenges for the future and security of our homeland and our Nation. Pashinyan has the misguided notion that Russia will guarantee Armenia’s security that is why he pledged his complete allegiance to Moscow in his New Year message to the Armenian people.
All indications suggest that there will be a meeting in Moscow on January 11, despite Pashinyan’s efforts to tip-toe around it. Given the damage inflicted on Armenia and Artsakh by the November 9 agreement, should Pashinyan be left up to his own devices to negotiate anything else on behalf of Armenia? Or, will we wake up on January 12 to find more territories in Armenia have been surrendered to Baku.