By Galib R. Mammadov
Nicol Pashinyan came to power in 2018 after a long rally and combat with Serzj Sargsyan. After his successful political campaign, he managed to achieve a revolution and to become country's Prime Minister. In Armenia it is believed his campaign has been funded by George SOROS who successfully completed the so called velvet revolution.
Thus, many Armenian activists started to see organizations' s support as a national threat to Armenia. Such gossips started to shell a shadow to Pashinyan's leadership in the eyes of Armenian citizens. Recent clash of Nagorno Karabakh conflict raised even more anger against the current government and Pashinyan even may face an impeachment. His political mistakes brought the country a huge damage in terms of economy. Also, he is facing being an anti-hero of Armenian nation who ended negotiations with Azerbaijan that were successfully preserved by prior leaders of Armenia.
Relations between two countries worsened after Armenia occupied Azerbaijani territories between the years of 1988 and 1994. Since 1994, the Karabakh conflict remains unresolved even after international mediation. Armenia occupied more than 18 percent of Azerbaijani territories as a result of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, displacing approximately 800,000 Azerbaijanis from their territories. Additionally, the United Nations recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan Republic and has four resolutions that call on withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied districts of Azerbaijan. Turkey and Azerbaijan closed their borders with Armenia a result of the conflict.
The Armenian leader Nico Pashinyan promised to convert Armenia into democratic country and to create a free civic society. That was his major card against prior leaders of Armenia which lead to his victory. But if we compare the 2 years difference it has only very slight differences (score: 27/100 vs 33/100) in terms of democracy. Armenia still remains partly free country, according to the Freedom House index. Another major card of Armenia was an economic growth of the country. Pashinyan promised his voters to transform an Armenian economy to fast growing and dynamic economy. But if we look at the World Bank overwiev and compare the years of 2017 and 2020 we see no difference (GDP growth 7.5% vs 7.6%). Moreover, pandemic hits very hard at Armenia, therefore in June of this year there was a 7.5% decline in GDP compare to the same month of the last year. Artak Manukyan, an economist and a member of parliament, told: "It's clear that the 2020 decline will linger, affecting the economy for two more years. In 2023 there is a chance to fully return to normal." But it is very evident that with the recent war in the Azerbaijani territory of Karabakh, return to normal is not likely for Armenia in the near future.
But why the conflict is escalated and transformed to a full blown war? During his visit to Karabakh, Pashinyan made his most important mistake by his statement: "Karabakh is Armenia, period." Also, his visit to Susha for inauguration of so called President of Nagorno Karabakh which is not recognized by the international community including Armenia was not politically right. Such actions by Pashinyan killed all the constructive of negotiations and made the war inevitable. That statement created hopelessness' in Azerbaijani government and society and took both countries to a war. Pashinyan shifted from an Armenias policy of status quo in this conflict and provocated the escalation.
Nagorno Karabakh conflict has always had a huge role in Armenia's economic failure. Thus, Armenia was bypassed from region's economic projects and its borders are closed by two of its neighbors (Azerbaijan and Turkey) as a result of the conflict. The Armenian government argued that "Armenia should not be bypassed as a transit country in Baku Jeyhan Pipeline." (Joseph R. Masih, and Robert O. Krikorian (1999). Armenia at the crossroads. Amsterdam: Overseas Publishers Association. P 126) Therefore, Azerbaijan and Turkey proposed an option of withdrawal from occupied Azerbaijani territories (Tuncay Bayatli. The Implications of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline Project. Winter 2005. p 12). If Armenia withdrew from the occupied areas, they would benefit from transit fees and develop its weak economy. Participation in the project would also increase the country's importance in the region. Pashinyan's even more radical policy regarding the conflict brought a war to the already economically ill country. Thus the Armenia's economy is enough fragile to overcome implications both as a result of COVID-19 and a full blown war with Azerbaijan. Pashinyan's destructive approach to the negotiations over the conflict added up to the country's problems. It seems like economy of the country will be far from normal for decades now.
After the escalation, of the conflict Pashinyan desperately tries to take the conflict into a larger scale. He said in one of his speeches: "Armenia is fighting for international security". Such populist statements are used to call regional powers to a war which undermines a peace and security in the region. Such claims seem very unrealistic, thus all regional and global players know that Armenia is not in a position to guarantee international peace and security. The reason of such statement is to attract regional powers such as Turkey and Russia into this war which is actually a threat to region's security. Any intervention by a third country to this conflict may end with regional or a global war.
Moreover, Pashinyan conducts provocative missile strikes to Azerbaijani cities that located outside of occupied by Armenia Azerbaijani territories. Azerbaijan's second biggest city of Ganja was targeted by Armenian forces and took the lives of civilians. The major aim of Pashinyan here is to manipulate Russia and bring into conflict Turkey. War, but on a larger scale will catastrophically damage Armenia which is already in a critical state. That will definitely cause an anger in Armenia against the Armenian government. Such military strikes and populist statements damages Armenia's reputation in the International community and current Armenian government may face international military crime charges for targeting civilians in surrounding Azerbaijani cities.
Pashinyan's aggressive policy regarding Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will reflect on the welfare of his citizens. Also, Armenia has lost a tremendous amount of soldiers and military means. This will cause an anger and protests between Armenian citizens. The difference between Azerbaijani and Armenian people is, Azerbaijani people protest for war to retake occupied territories. It means Azerbaijan's military operations would not cause any internal problems for Azerbaijani government. But in Armenia the situation is different. It is evident that Armenian society does not want any war, thus status que is beneficial for them. Pashinyan political mistakes took his country to a devastating war with Azerbaijan. The consequences of such war will be socio-economically painful not only for the Armenian people, also for Pashinyan himself. Taking into account, casualties, military equipment and positions losses, Pashinyan will face a tremendous decline in popularity and may even lose his power.
Galib R. Mammadov / Independent expert
MA in International Relations
Washington University in St. Louis