Toward peace and normalization: the Armenian Parliament’s strategy for regional stabilization

In spite of rising tensions and the latest attacks against the sovereign territory of Armenia, the country is pursuing a mixed strategy of dialogue, cooperation with international partners and normalization of the relations with neighboring countries, specifically Turkey and Azerbaijan. For a more specific overview, we met Members of the Armenian Parliament Hripsime Grigoryan and Artur Hovhannisyan, from the ruling party Civil Contract.

By Domenico Nocerino and Valentina Chabert

What is the current internal situation of the country after the pandemic, and what are the challenges coming from the September aggression?
“After the 2020 Artsakh war, the government has decided to once again give the power to the people of Armenia, and people once again decided that the party Civil Contract would become the majority power. This shows once again that Armenia is a democratic country. As concerns the internal situation, we are experiencing an unbalance. There are problems with the opposition, but we tried to gather all our efforts for the protection of our borders. On September 13, Azerbaijan once again started an invasion of the sovereign territory of Armenia. Some part of Armenian territory has been occupied, plus we have people who are lost and more than 200 who are dead. During the 2021 elections, our strategy was to have peace with Azerbaijan, and still now we are trying to get there. In line with this, it is very important to keep the safety of Armenian people living in Artsakh, and we see a solution to this problem only through the recognition of our respective territories. We should also point out that Azerbaijan is making very hard the possibility to go through this path and to reach peace, but Armenia is still continuing its efforts. The positive input that we have is that OSCE assessment group is in Armenia now and I believe that this would decrease the potentiality of another Azerbaijani aggression.”.

Hripsime Grigoryan

Which has been the international reaction to the attacks of last September?
“More than one month has passed since our sovereign territory has been occupied, and the novelty is that the international community this time has decided to make a very targeted and specific call and has stressed out who is the aggressor, condemning the occupation of Armenian sovereign territory calling Azerbaijan to immediately withdraw its forces from the occupied areas. A very important change that we see is a very positive outcome of diplomatic efforts. The international community is very clearly stating its positions. But speaking about the international community, we have to stress that especially our western partners (the USA, the EU and single European countries, as well as organisations and the UN Security Council during the session organised upon the request of Armenia) have been stating their positions regarding the ongoing reality. Unfortunately, the security block of which Armenia is part – the CSTO – has not been effective in responding to Armenia’s request to providing the assistance to a State which has been attacked by another State. Also we are still continuing our efforts to understand which is the position of CSTO and Russia on these issues. My colleague also spoke of the peace efforts that the government is fostering. After the elections, we received the mandate to open an era of peace, not only for Armenia, but for the region too. We understand that in these turbulent times and in this region which is serving as the center of geopolitical conflict, it is of utmost importance to have peace and stability. However, it is of utmost difficulty to reach these goals. Therefore, our government has been very active in promoting peace talks and promoting dialogue with not only Azerbaijan, but also Turkey.”.

Artur Hovhannisyan

How is the normalization process with Turkey proceeding?
“As I stated, a normalization process with Turkey is going on. We both appointed a Special Representative who already met four times, and it is very important to do this without precondition. You can see that after the meetings the press statements released by both parties contain this very important notion of normalizing the relations without preconditions. Despite the official announcements, we are seeing that Turkey is very much coordinating the efforts with Azerbaijan, and we think that to be more efficient it would be important to see Turkey – Armenia relation normalization as a separate direction. In fact, Armenia-Turkey relation normalization would benefit Armenia-Azerbaijan relations and the other way around.”.

Does this mean that Turkey will recognize the Armenian genocide? These questions will come into topic during the normalization. At the moment, however, we are not talking about these issues that are the most complicated. We are limiting to tackle the very first steps of opening the borders and establishing diplomatic relations. Armenia is not putting any precondition, and the same is expected and officially done by Turkey. Once again, the normalization with Turkey would secondly benefit also the relations with Azerbaijan. From what we see from the Azerbaijani side, the normalization of the relations between Turkey and Armenia will be understood as a precondition, but from our side we do not want any precondition. Another very important issue in this view is the question of the opening of the corridor between the two parts of Azerbaijan through Armenia. We publicly rejected this corridor, but we have never negotiated over this. Our government is ready to open all of its roads for all the countries. The September aggression was an example to get to this solution by using force.”.

Is the issue of the corridor finding space among the topics covered during the negotiations?
“We are speaking about the deblocking of regional communications, and the basis for speaking about this is the November 9, 2020 Trilateral Announcement. The ninth point of this announcement – signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia – clearly states that there will be a road that would be connecting the eastern part of Azerbaijan to the autonomous region of Naxçivan, and the road would go through Armenia. The reason why we have to speak about this is that during the 90s war – the first Karabakh war – Azerbaijan has unilaterally blocked Armenia from the eastern side, and Turkey has blocked Armenia from the western side. Since the last decades, the infrastructure has been deteriorating and destroyed near railways, and the different roads that were connecting Armenia and Azerbaijan and also the roads going to Naxçivan have deteriorated as well. We are talking about the construction of new roads upon agreement. However, there can be no conversation and there is no legal basis for talking about and extra-territorial corridor. And this has been confirmed also by our international partners as well. Leaders and high official involved in the mediation of this issue – namely the US, colleagues from EU, Member States and Russia – have spoken about unacceptability of an extraterritorial corridor, hoping for a deblocking and for the sovereignty of the country in which roads are passing through. The November 9 announcement in its nine points also affirms that Russian Federal Security Forces are providing the security and overseeing the passage. Conflicts are not ended with one announcement or peace treaty, since it takes time to transform a conflict.”.

With respect to the agreement that you signed in November 2020, the geopolitical scenario of the world radically changed. Is there the risk that for the time being the international support could be only in words?  Aren’t you afraid that another military aggression could take place?
“I very much hear your concern that international law doesn’t work and the international order has been destroyed during the last year. We do understand that we are talking about a neighbor which has shown several times disrespect for the principles of international law and towards the principles that we have signed, included the prohibition of the use of force. They are doing it also now, there was an attack to the Armenian sovereign country, and I remark once again that we are not talking about Nagorno Karabakh now. Another large scale attack is possible, and there has not been a single day after the war that this risk of military aggression wouldn’t be there. This is the reason why Armenia is continuing peace talks, trying to show to Azerbaijan and to the entire world that peace has no alternatives. Deblocking would create the reasons for mutual interdependence, and additional security motives for keeping the situation stable would also become real. Therefore, we are trying first of all to do everything in our power not to be the non-constructive side despite the efforts of Azerbaijan. The second effort we are doing is that of consolidating international support. We have been quite successful in doing this, because the territorial integrity of a recognized sovereign State is a red line for the international community, and even more after the global events that have taken place this year. Here we have international support, but talking about Nagorno Karabakh is very different. This has never been a territorial issue, but an issue on the rights and security of people, including the right to self-determination.”.

Moreover, Armenia still is a strong democracy in the South Caucasus region.
“After democracy has been established in Armenia, our economy has had a very high growth. In all the indexes of economics and democracy, Armenia had a positive growth. In our region, talking about democracy and economic growth might be seen as a threat, and not only by Azerbaijan, but also unexpectedly by other third countries. We see support from the US and the EU on this side, since for Armenia democracy is one of the most important values. We can draw parallels with the Ukraine war. Armenia tries to open itself for the world: one of the examples is what we call the “Armenian crossroad”, a road that we are going to build from North to South. We are not only trying to open it for Iran and the North, but we hope one day to open it also from the East and the West, including for Azerbaijan and Naxçivan to be connected.”.

There have been news of protests by the population against the decision of Prime Minister Pashinyan to leave Nagorno Karabakh. What happened? And would you live Nagorno in exchange for stability? What would you do if the US and the EU would ask this from you?
“There has never been the case in which any Armenian official – neither the Prime Minister – affirmed the will to leave Nagorno Karabakh. There is no Armenian military force in Nagorno Karabakh, and we know that the Russian peacekeepers are standing there, guaranteeing the security of the people leaving in Artsakh. Therefore, there is no Armenian military security presence in Karabakh. When it comes to the issue of the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, the issue is there and it is unresolved. The reality is that people leave there, and their security and rights are threatened. When we speak about Armenia leaving Nagorno Karabakh, we need to rationalize what we mean: by no means we can leave the risks referred to the rights and the security of our compatriots living in Nagorno Karabakh. At the same time, this does not mean that we are not going to proceed with the normalization of the relations with Azerbaijan. On the contrary, we are on our way to normalize the relations between our two countries. Security and peace in our region can come only when diplomatic relations are established, and when conflicts are solved or in the process of being solved. There cannot be stability with unresolved conflicts, and we are not even in a frozen state of the conflict. We are not putting preconditions and are ready to proceed through different tracks. We are trying to form mechanism to discuss how to ensure the stability, the rights and the security of people.”.

Recently Iran was very active. How can it play a role in the stability of the region?
“We try to work with all our colleagues to try to reach stability, and Iran is one of our territorial neighbor with which we work. Despite the relationships between Iran and the West, Armenia considers Iran one of its warmest partners. We have a good relation with Iran, and the country plays a major role in stabilizing the region. Despite all the interests of the West, Armenia has its own interests, and the biggest one is to maintain its territorial integrity and preserve the rights of the Armenian people living in Nagorno Karabakh. We see that Iran makes many statements on how important is to keep the historical borders, making no changes specifically on the historical Armenian-Iran border. Here, we have the same interest. We are now communicating with EU, Russia, India, the US, so we are not trying to be just with someone, but to preserve our interests. Considering both the geographical position of Armenia, but also the challenges that Armenia and the region have been facing after the war, we believe that our position and our actions are very clear to our international partners.”.

What is the current government strategy to face corruption and improve economic conditions and living standards in Armenia?
“It all starts with the elections: once you have free, fair and transparent elections and a legitimate government, the reforms that it is undertaken have the greatest support from the people even if they are painful. The biggest effort we are doing internally is to bring reforms in all the fields that are vitally important for Armenia: the judicial and electoral reforms, as well as other reforms in the economy, the media and the tax system. Social and education reforms also play a fundamental role. Of course, we are considering also security and military reforms. We have to build or re-build the institutions to keep them working, and we will see the benefits in some years. Our priority is to keep being democratic with fair and transparent elections, whatever these elections are – either parliamentary or not. What is positive at the moment is that the judicial system is completely independent and is not facing any pressure neither from the government, nor from the executive.”.

Foto copertina: Armenian Parliament