Gayane Novikova: The Armenian side must continue the negotiations over the Nagorno Karabakh conflict resolution

Dr. Gayane Novikova, Director of the Center for Strategic Analysis, Yerevan, Armenia; Visiting Scholar at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

October 5, 2012

The extradition of Ramil Safarov, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, from Hungary and his immediate pardon by the Azerbaijani president, again questioned the ability of Azerbaijan to keep its promises. In your opinion, is it reasonable to continue negotiations over the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict with Baku?

The Armenian side must continue the negotiations over the Nagorno Karabakh conflict resolution first and foremost because there is an ongoing objective process, moving toward the establishment of new state entities. Even in the relatively stable and safe (from a security vantage point) European region in three states – Belgium, Spain, and Great Britain – there are discussions on independence of Flandreau, Catalonia, and Scotland, respectively. There were two referenda on the separation of Québec from Canada. In 2011 a new state – South Sudan – appeared on the world map. After twenty years of the de facto existence of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, and especially against the background of the above-mentioned geopolitical shifts, the possibility to change the NKR status from de facto to a de jure state is not perceived as something strongly negative. Moreover, a voicing of a possibility of recognizing the NKR has begun. Let me remind you that two American states, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, have adopted resolutions calling for President Obama and Congress to recognize the NKR.
This slow-moving process of pre-recognition of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic is a main threat for Azerbaijani domestic and foreign policy. The “Safarov phenomenon” was aimed to provoke Armenia to take overt and confrontational steps. Fortunately, in spite of the calls of some “hotheads” in Armenia, it did not happen. The withdrawal of any of the parties to the conflict from the negotiation table will be evaluated by the concerned external actors as a manifestation of aggression by the withdrawing side.

On October 10, the third anniversary of the signing of the Armenian-Turkish protocols, which have never been ratified, will pass. It is obvious that the reason for their non-ratification is Turkey’s obstinacy. The latter continues to link the opening of the border with Armenia to the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Do you see any prerequisite for reanimation of the process of normalization of the relationship between Armenia and Turkey?

No, I don’t see any prerequisite. Turkey has stated conditions, and is still articulating conditions, for the reanimation of the normalization process of bilateral relations with Armenia, first of all, the opening of the border, by positive – from the Azerbaijani view point – shifts in the Nagorno Karabakh negotiations. Let me stress once again: in Turkey’s policy the issue of opening the border with Armenia is further and further postponed because of its domestic problems and the day-by-day worsening developments in the Middle East. Against this background, the settlement of the Armenian-Turkish relationship undoubtedly will increase tension in its relations with Azerbaijan; possibly it will negatively influence internal developments in Turkey. Furthermore, no single external actor, more or less involved in the processes in the South Caucasus, can put pressure on Turkey in this very difficult period for every regional state. I suppose that in the foreseeable future Turkey will limit its activity to offering statements on the necessity to achieve progress in the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and on its firm support of Azerbaijan. It cannot venture anything more or anything different.

In your opinion, will the issue of Nagorno Karabakh be a main theme in the forthcoming presidential campaign in Armenia?

I hope that it will not. First, the resolution of this conflict is one of the strategic priorities of our state in the security field. It is dangerous to use this factor in electioneering. Second, it is almost the only issue around which a relative consensus is reached in Armenian society. Of course, each presidential candidate will include this issue in his/her agenda; however, I am not certain that any candidate has anything strongly different from the approaches his or her contender or contenders offer. The most irrational suggestion, such as an immediate recognition of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic by Armenia, can be voiced only by those candidates with the lowest support in the society and who are hoping to gain additional votes at the cost of populist statements, including in the field of foreign policy. Eventually, everyone understands that war is an alternative to peace.

Continuing with the theme of elections, let us ask your opinion in regard to concomitant circumstances surrounding the forthcoming elections. There is an opinion that the 2013 presidential election will be relatively quiet and low-key. After the May 2012 parliamentary elections, the statements that Levon Ter-Petrosian, the leader of the Armenian National Congress (ANC) will not run for the presidency are heard more often. To whom will he give the baton? Are we witnessing, in your opinion, the final stage of the dissolution of the ANC, which began one year ago?

I agree that the Armenian National Congress to some extent has lost its energy. It was unable to introduce a clear vision and a program, as well as to use in full the protest trends and moods in some strata of Armenian society. The ANC won only seven seats in Parliament – this is a very conspicuous indicator. There is no one in the Ter-Petrosyan circle to whom he could give the baton. It was the person of Ter-Petrosian that served as the ‘magnet’ – and not his program, vision, or approach, that is everything that creates an ideological platform for any political organization – that attracted (but did not unite) the various forces in the ANC. He did not prepare any successor who could replace him, and this is one of the weak sides of the ANC. The forces that are part of the ANC, although they have support from different segments of the society, entered into Parliament on the tide of protest moods stimulated and used by the ANC after the presidential elections of 2008. At that time the ANC was a relatively united political force. I do not think that the ANC will be fully dissolved in the foreseeable future, even though internal developments in this organization indicate growing disagreement among its members. For all the political forces under the ANC umbrella the existence of a protest potential in the society and its ‘simmering’ is of highest importance. The ANC can acquire this potential to its advantage only through the joint efforts of all its member parties and organizations.

The opinion exists that the “Prosperous Armenia” Party will not confront the authorities and will prefer to wait until the next presidential elections of 2018 to bring its own candidate to power.

The question is not whether “Prosperous Armenia” will confront the Republican Party in the presidential election of 2013. It does not yet have a real alternative figure to run for the presidency. Robert Kocharian, the second President of Armenia, is still in the shadows and, according to preliminary observations, has no intention to participate in this race. Vardan Oskanian, the former minister of foreign affairs and the founder of the Civilitas Foundation, found himself the focus of a trial. The article published on September 28, 2012, in “The Washington Post” did not improve the image of either Oskanian himself or the Foundation because it carried the wrong message that non-governmental organizations in Armenia are under strong pressure from the state apparatus. (I would argue that it is inappropriate to compare the level of participation of Armenian NGOs in the political and social life of the country with the developments surrounding NGOs in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Pakistan or anywhere else!) I would not exclude that the opening of the Oskanian case can be viewed in reference to political constellations, but I am sure that the former minister lacks the level of strong support among potential voters that would allow viable competition with the President-in-office in the forthcoming elections. There will be at least three candidacies, representing the Republican Party, the “Heritage,” and the Armenian Revolutionary Party “Dashnaktutyun.” For “Prosperous Armenia,” for tactical reasons, it would be advisable to take a timeout and to try, through dialogue with other representatives of a ‘constructive opposition’, to find and support a single candidate in the 2018 elections.

Who could become Prime Minister? There are rumors that a confrontation between the “Prosperous Armenia” and the ruling Republican Party was defused after the parties reached an agreement that Tigran Sargsyan will leave office after the presidential election?

“Prosperous Armenia,” which was established in 2004 as an alternative to the ruling Republican Party with the main goal to split the opposition, after only a few years has gained political strength and weight (to a large extent because of the charitable activity of its leader). Thus, the initial secondary political role already is not enough for this party. It will undoubtedly make claims for leading positions. It is worth mentioning that reaching a compromise on such issues, through behind-the-scenes negotiations, is a quite common practice, especially in societies without extensive historical experience with a democratic transformation.

My answer to the first part of your question in regard to the future Prime Minister is very simple: I don’t know.