Episode 278 | Recorded: September 10, 2023
Over the weekend the parliament in Artsakh elected a new president to replace Arayik Harutyunyan, who resigned a week earlier. Samvel Shahramanyan is an ally of former president Bako Sahakyan and has led the Artsakh Security Council during Harutyunyan’s presidency.
Shahramanyan stated that Artsakh must get status, and be connected via the Berdzor/Lachin corridor to Armenia.
More importantly, concerning the elections, the EU found itself in “interesting company” like Azerbaijan, Turkey, the organization of Turkic States, the UK, Ukraine, and others who explicitly condemned the elections or at a minimum stated that they don’t recognize the results.
Also important to note is that what Azerbaijan perceives as “opening” of the Berdzor/Lachin corridor is a return to the state previous to June 15, when Azerbaijani border guards were manning a checkpoint on the Hakari bridge. Meanwhile, the checkpoint itself is effectively a blockade. It is being used to kidnap Armenians and present challenges to delivery of aid and movement of people, with the aim of making life untenable, and force Armenians to flee Artsakh.
On Sunday, there was news that the Armenian side had accepted a plan to allow a single Russian truck via Aghdam/Akna, but that apparently fell through in the end because the Azerbaijani side didn’t honor its part of the deal.
As an aside to the Artsakh new presidential election process, we should note that all forces except Samvel Babayan’s “United Fatherland” party supported Sahramanyan’s election, although Babayan congratulated Shahramanyan the following day. Babayan supports opening Aghdam for aid to Artsakh, and has led his own negotiations with the Azerbaijani side and has argued in the past that Artsakh should offer cooperation with Aliyev to remove Russian peacekeepers, as a negotiation card.
Let’s drill down a bit on the EU policy towards Artsakh and Armenia over the past few years.
With the exception of France, the EU seems to have a very specific goal on Artsakh, which was expressed by Pashinyan in his April 2022 speech, where he said that the international community is asking Armenia to lower the bar just a little bit. The impression set at the time (at least for some) was that for this minor compromise, the international community would then strongly back Armenia and enact guarantees for the security of Artsakh.
Around those times, the principle of “self determination”, a widely recognized international principle, fell out of use from the announcements and speeches of EU policymakers. One time, Olaf Sholz mistakenly used it during a conference with Pashinyan, but the official record was quickly corrected, further indicating the systematic nature of the erasure of self-determination from the political agenda.
Pashinyan went to Brussels to explicitly verbally recognize Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan an act that many say contravenes the Armenian constitution and legislation. Yet, on the issue of rights and security, we’re seeing a further deterioration.
Even the EU Monitoring Mission, that is deployed solely in Armenia, doesn’t seem to have done much. First, Pashinyan announced that the EU is there to keep tabs on Russia and Armenians to assure them that we’re not the aggressors in border incidents. We then witnessed the EU monitoring mission being absent and not able to record incidents such as the one in Sotq earlier this year. Even during those incidents where the EU mission was clearly present, it doesn’t make any public statements about them, only saying that it’s only responsibility is to inform EU policy makers. When the EU monitors themselves were targeted by Azerbaijan, the EU mission went so far as to publicly deny that fact and only admit it when video of the incident leaked.
Last week, we covered the continuing deterioration of the Armenian-Russian relationship. And this week, things continued to head downhill.
Pashinyan held a lengthy interview with the Italian La Republicca, where among many other eye-opening statements he relayed that Armenia’s reliance on Russia as a security guarantor was a strategic mistake.
The next day Armenia announced that it would be participating in military exercises with the US called Eagle Partner 2023. Now, from a military exercise point of view these don’t seem to be very large, just a few hundred people participating, using only small arms. Russia heavily criticized the holding of these military drills, especially in combination with not participating in CSTO exercises.
Then, later in the week, Armenia announced that it would be sending aid to Ukraine. But more than that, Pashinyan’s wife Anna Hakobyan was selected to deliver the aid and participate in a conference. The visit included photo ops with Hakobyan shaking Zelensky’s hand.
Then, things got even worse when there was a verbal remote spat between speaker of Armenian parliament Alen Simonyan and press secretary of the Russian MFA Maria Zakharova. Zakharova used a pretty insulting joke to describe Armenian leadership’s blaming of security problems on Russia. Simonyan in turn said he doesn’t respond to mere “secretaries”, or something to that effect.
Over the past 3-4 days, there has been an enormous amount of images and video published by Azerbaijani social media users. Various analysts, including the one we trust, NK Observer on twitter, are predicting a high level of likelihood for a renewed war, potentially much larger than the 44 day war and this time the war will be in Armenia.
The Pashinyan regime warned that Azerbaijan is accumulating forces around Artsakh. Artsakh officials are also confirming that Azerbaijan intends to attack.
And over the weekend US Secretary of State Blinken warned against the use of force around Artsakh.
Alright, let’s wrap up our topics here. I’d like to ask each of you if there’s been something on your mind this past week that you want to talk about.
We hope you found our Week in Review helpful. We invite your feedback and your suggestions, you can find us on most social media and podcast platforms. Thanks to Laura Osborn for the music on our podcasts.
Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan is a senior fellow at APRI Armenia, a Yerevan based think tank,and the Chairman of the Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies. He has served as the vice president for research and head of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense Research University in Armenia. Dr. Poghosyan was a Distinguished Research Fellow at the US National Defense University College of International Security Affairs. He is a graduate from the US State Department Study of the US Institutes for Scholars 2012 Program on US National Security Policy Making. He holds a PhD in history and is a graduate from the 2006 Tavitian Program on International Relations at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Hovik Manucharyan is an information security engineer who moved from Seattle to Armenia in 2022. He co-founded the ANN/Groong podcast in 2020 and has been a contributor to Groong News since the late 1990s.
Asbed is founder of the Armenian News Network Groong and co-founder of the ANN/Groong podcast.