Elkhan Aleskerov: "Armenia is incapable of waging war against Azerbaijan"
The first official meeting between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, dedicated to the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, was held on Friday in Vienna. Both sides, as well as the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, praised the outcome of these talks. At the same time, next day, Armenian Defense Minister David Tonoyan, while on a visit to the United States, said that Armenia was refusing to liberate occupied territories "in exchange for peace” and is ready for a “new war for new territories”. This provocation was condemned by the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan, and in three days there was no reaction from official Yerevan to the Minister's statement. Head of the BakuNetwork Expert Council, Elkhan Aleskerov, discussed Vienna meeting and prospects of Armenia's aggressive policy in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.
- What do you think about contrast between Aliyev and Pashinyan's statements on need to take humanitarian measures to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Tonoyan's statement on transition of Armenia to new "war" formula?
- First of all, it should be noted that negotiations were extremely positive. For the first time ever, President and new Prime Minister officially sat down at the negotiating table to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement, and the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs and Foreign Ministers contributed to their meeting. It should be noted that after a series of Pashinyan’s demands and attempts to introduce a “third party” to the settlement process, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs and leading countries of the world said that it's impossible to change the negotiation format. Pashinyan's attempt to push the so-called separatists of Nagorno-Karabakh - who are part of the Karabakh clan, previously led Robert Kocharyan, former Prime Minister who is currently imprisoned - to the negotiating table has failed.
As a result of these negotiations, parties didn't make official statements, but there is an important aspect - parties agreed to hold humanitarian events. Indeed, if we're talking about peace negotiation process and creation of a peaceful atmosphere for settlement, the humanitarian factor, in particular the issue of exchange of prisoners of war, is extremely relevant. Previously Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev offered Pashinyan to exchange prisoners of war based on the "all for all" principle, widely accepted in the world. Unfortunately, Armenian side then refused to exchange prisoners, which hindered the establishment of peaceful atmosphere around negotiation process. In any case, this issue was raised at the meeting. I think this will be an important element of future negotiations, and after exchange of prisoners of war the settlement process will proceed in a more confidential atmosphere. Foreign Ministers were also instructed to continue negotiation process in the current format.
Unfortunately, against this background, Armenian Defense Minister Tonoyan made an extremely inadequate statement. It's nonsense, because, first of all, Tonoyan doesn't have the authority to make such political statements that don't fit Pashinyan's actions. This indicates that there's either inconsistency of positions, or an attempt by Defense Minister to thwart peace talks between political leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Second of all, he openly declares that he gave instructions to seize new territories, personally confirming the fact that Armenia is occupying Azerbaijani territories, that there are no so-called "self-defense forces of Nagorno-Karabakh" on the occupied lands, just Armenian army, which he ordered to prepare plans for the new offensive operation. Third of all, Tonoyan showed that Armenia is not interested in the right of Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh to self-determination, because he focused solely on territories. That's how Armenian Defense Minister proved that Yerevan is waging an aggressive territorial war against Azerbaijan.
There's also the fact that Tonoyan made this statement in New York, in other words, he wanted to get support from Armenian diaspora in the United States. He said that just to get more money from them. There are also other reasons for his statement, because due to attacking Azerbaijani side and occupying Azerbaijani lands, Armenia cannot get any approval from the international community, which means that Defense Minister either tried to make a provocation, or is simply bluffing to create confusion and damage negotiation process between leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Overall, it's simply an expression of hostility. I think that Tonoyan's statement should be condemned by the Minsk Group co-chairs as inappropriate to peaceful nature of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement.
- Is there any possibility that there's some truth to David Tonoyan's statement that Armenia is currently able to begin offensive operation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, taking into account strengthening of Azerbaijani security?
- David Tonoyan is not a military man, and he's not able to assess the state of Armenian army, although he has been in charge of the Defense Ministry for some time. There are no offensive units in Armenia, Armenian army is at front-line positions in the occupied territories. Overall, no Minister of Defense in the world would openly declare plans to prepare offensive units and begin offensive operation to seize new territories in addition to already occupied ones. This statement simply doesn't fit the logic of the world military theory.
In addition, Armenia has no advantage at the contact line or in any other sectors. Armenia is incapable of waging war because it's in disastrous economic situation: there's lack of finances, lack of prospects for the future. In the end, Tonoyan made a very inappropriate statement, which only brings chaos into the conflict settlement process and, at best, gives Pashinyan's team opportunity to earn some points in the eyes of radical part of Armenian society.
- How do you think Armenia should build its foreign policy, taking into account the fact that military option of the conflict settlement is unavailable for it?
- Theory and practice show that development of Armenia largely depends on peaceful relations with Azerbaijan, especially because Nagorno-Karabakh is located on the western side of the ridge of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains. Armenia itself is in an economic crisis, and it's very costly for it support itself and, at the same time, support occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Trends that have existed over the past 20 years show that Armenia as a state is fading away. People just leave the country. At the same time, Yerevan has to spend resources on the unnecessary transportation of military from northern and eastern borders of Armenia to semi-desert, burned-out area near Aghdam, where they must be fed and supported all the time. Armenian politicians are turning the country into hopeless region, and this leads the country to a dead end, in which there is no future. Even nearest neighbors are turning their backs on the republic — a recent visit of new Georgian President to Azerbaijan and Armenia showed this well, since Salome Zurabishvili officially said that Armenia is occupying Nagorno-Karabakh. Earlier, Georgia avoided these statements. Similar statements were recently made by official Iran.
In other words, Armenia as a state is becoming incapable, no one relies on it economically and no one is interested in closer cooperation politically. Previously, Yerevan’s tactic was to strengthen relations with Moscow by all means, but after the change of power, Armenian government began to do what no reasonable government that needed support from the outside would have done - withdrew its general from the post of CSTO Secretary General and now blocks initiatives of more powerful states on the appointment of a new one. Armenia has damaged military bloc it really needed. And this situation was created by Pashinyan, who doesn't have a clear concept of state development.
The hope that Pashinyan will behave like democratic leader elected by the people didn't come true, because he was appointed as acting Prime Minister at a time when parliament was surrounded by his supporters. Less than 50% of voters participated in the parliamentary elections, and statements that he has support of 70% of citizens are false, because over 50% of voters simply didn't vote. Now Pashinyan makes foreign policy mistakes, which are preamble of his domestic political mistakes. Economic situation doesn't help his case, and all promises are just temporary. After some time, even citizens of Armenia themselves won't treat him as a serious leader of the country, if he doesn't deal with key problems of Armenia. The number one problem that hinders any development of the republic is of course the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Yerevan's intention is to continue to occupy Azerbaijan's territory no matter what.