Staunton, May 5 – Many have been speculating about the approach the presumptive incoming Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan is likely to take in relations with Moscow; but a potentially more important question may be what his position will be concerning discussions about the resolution of the Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan.
According to experts surveyed by the Kavkaz-Uzel portal, Pashinyan’s position has been evolving as he approaches office from one even more hard line than most Armenian politicians to the current consensus in Yerevan that the conflict must be resolved by the Minsk Group after Baku drops its territorial claims on Armenia (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/320052/).
Pashinyan’s position on the Karabakh conflict requires close attention because his political opponents, including those linked to Serzh Sargsyan, have put out the word that Pashinyan has said that Yerevan can’t hope to conduct talks with Baku without giving back to Azerbaijan “’the liberated territories.’”
When Sargsyan’s press secretary brought that up in the parliament on May 1, Pashinyan responded that these words are “disinformation.” He declared that he had “published 15 times a screenshot of the article” where these words supposedly exist in order to show that they aren’t there. He said he regretted that his opponents were continuing to spread untruths.
“In 2013,” Kavkaz-Uzel reports, Pashinyan “was the only member of the fraction of the Armenian National Congress who supported the proposal by the Heritage faction to recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh.” He was much criticized by others at the time but declared that he would “’vote against [their] pragmatic despair.’”
In recent months, he has moved away from that hardline position, something that reflects both the consensus about the conflict that has emerged since the April 2016 war and his own evolution as he approaches the highest office, the news agency suggests.
Stepa Safaryan, the head of the Armenian Center for Strategic and National Research, says that Pashinyan likely is prepared to make concessions but only “when Azerbaijan changes its policy and stops making territorial claims on Armenia.” Until that happens, he will not make any “unilateral” concessions.
But Safaryan pointed out that “it is still too early to draw conclusions about the positions of Pashinyan and his command.” Those will be defined only after the upcoming elections. And that means there is unlikely to be any movement at all in Yerevan’s dealing with the Minsk Group and Baku.
After the elections, however, things may change, the analyst says. “With a new legitimate authority, Armenian, having experienced democratic changes, will enter the talks with a stronger position.” That may mean that Pashinyan will insist that Karabakh be a party to the talks as a precondition for progress. He has spoken in favor of that since at least 2016.
A second expert, Ruben Megabyan of the Yerevan Center for Political and International Research says that one should not make too much of what Pashinyan has said as a private citizen. Once he is prime minister, things will be different. “It is quite normal when an individual changes positions when his status changes.”
And Yerevan political commentator Akop Badalyan says that Pashinyan is unlikely to depart very far from the consensus that has governed Yerevan’s approach since April 2016. But he warns that nothing may become clear quickly: For the incoming prime minister, “Karabakh is not an immediate issue.” He has other things he has to worry about first.