Why Pashinyan seeks to dissociate himself from making decisions on Karabakh issue

Why Pashinyan seeks to dissociate himself from making decisions on Karabakh issue

Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is increasingly demonstrating inconsistency in resolving the Karabakh issue. At the same time, a person who managed to sweep away the seemingly unshakable 'Karabakh clan' from power, cannot but realize that delaying the problem will further weaken Armenia.

Pashinyan continues to pursue a controversial foreign and domestic policy. If at first he insisted on holding only peaceful protest actions, then he urged to seize government quarters or block the entrances and exits of the court buildings. During the Vienna meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Pashinyan recognized the desirability of holding negotiations based on the Madrid principles, although in 2017 he called for any negotiations to be stopped if they provided for the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories. Now Pashinyan, who wouldn't mind to appear as a peacemaker, continues to support Armenian Deputy Defense Minister David Tonoyan, who does not hide his militaristic convictions and aspirations to recognize the "Armenian people's victory" in the Karabakh war.

Before the "velvet revolution" Pashinyan was categorical in this matter. After the April 2016 escalation of the conflict, referring to the "Karabakh people's civil opinion", he made a tough statement, in which he questioned the feasibility of Armenia’s maintaining the ceasefire, arguing it with conducting "shock therapy" against Azerbaijan. Now Pashinyan wants to solve the conflict through dialogue, as the conflict is gradually "taking away" the sovereignty of the republic.

It’s easy to talk about the Karabakh problem from the position of a national patriot. Being the republic's prime minister is another thing. Therefore, in the view of Nikol Pashinyan, like any other Armenian politician, changing a position depending on his status is quite normal. Investigating the crimes committed by Robert Kocharyan, Serzh Sargsyan, Seyran Ohanyan against Armenians and Azerbaijanis, carrying out a political vendetta in parallel, the Prime Minister will not recall the 2004 attack on the chief editor of the Haykakan Zhamanak newspaper, his previous position. By the way, according to Pashinyan, that crime was ordered by Gagik Tsarukyan. But for the prime minister, it is enough that Tsarukyan does not support the renaissance of the 'Karabakh clan', and the rogueness of Armenia's most famous politician-businessman is not dangerous.

The image of a people's representative, a person close to civil society, is of great importance for Nikol Pashinyan. Image loss in the case of non-polar decisions is an extremely unfavorable outcome for its reputation. In this regard, the prime minister is ready to resort to obviously unrealizable initiatives. This concerns, first of all, the attempts to include representatives of the separatist regime in the negotiation process, knowing that neither Azerbaijan nor the mediators will support such an initiative. For 15 years of being in power, the previous Armenian administration never tried to change the format of negotiations, realizing the futility of such a proposal.

Pashinyan’s personal participation in the negotiations runs the risk of becoming a political failure for him. For this reason, he needs someone to take a decision-making responsibility. Pashinyan considers the self-proclaimed Karabakh authorities to be unreliable people, as they remain associates of the 'Karabakh clan'. Armenia's President Armen Sargsyan is also unreliable, despite the fact that he has extensive experience in the diplomatic service - Pashinyan isn't sympathetic to Sarkisyan, and their political relations cannot be called partnership. The Prime Minister needs the support of an experienced, authoritative politician, and this role could be claimed by ex-President Levon Ter-Petrosyan, with whom Pashinyan has reliable contacts.

Ter-Petrosyan is a great option for the PM - he is less popular than Pashinyan and especially Sarkisyan, who ranked higher than the 'national PM'  in the popularity rating, based on the result of the opinion poll held by the International Republican Institute (IRI, the U.S.). Ter-Petrosyan is respected by the Azerbaijani side and has all the necessary tools for the Karabakh settlement. However, under current Armenian legislation, the president cannot engage in foreign policy, and especially make decisions on the Karabakh settlement. Therefore, cautious talks in parliament about the need for constitutional changes and a return to the presidential form of government are not accidental. Given the public mood and general European democracy trends, Pashinyan and his team will not risk returning to the previous form of government. However, as a consensus, they may try to make the necessary amendments through the National Assembly and give the future president the right to conduct foreign policy, thereby expanding his powers. This is of great importance for maintaining Nikol Pashinyan's position and his political longevity. Thus, the Prime Minister will be able protect himself and dodge the Karabakh issue that is vital for the Armenian policy.