Staunton, June 7 – One the arguments that the ancient regime in Armenia used to keep the population in line was that stability was necessary to maintain the security of the country, Tigran Khzmalyan says. That idea was overthrown in Armenia by the protests that brought Nikol Pashinyan to power; it is now being rejected by Armenians in Karabakh.
That doesn’t mean that the position of either Yerevan or Stepanakert will change, but it suggests that there may be more room for discussing alternative futures than in the past when any indication that someone was prepared to shift even slightly from the official line could get that individual purged from public life.
And to the extent that both Armenia and occupied Karabakh become more democratic, it is entirely likely that both will back their arguments for national self-determination of Armenians within the borders of Azerbaijan with assertions that the two Armenian states are democratic as opposed to the authoritarian system in Azerbaijan.
In a Kasparov.ru commentary, the Yerevan analyst argues that “Armenia for the first time since the end of the 1990s is returning to the positions of a democratic state” and that the wave of social protests in Armenian-occupied Karabakh indicate that similar attitudes are returning to that region as well (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5B186189EE4A6).
And these events of the last two weeks in Karabakh may be even more important, Khzmalyan says, because for the last 30 years, the position of the rulers of Karabakh has exerted “a decisive influence on the development of events both in Armenia and in Azerbaijan” and “played the role of detonator in the collapse of the USSR.”
“Last week in Stepanakert,” the Yerevan analyst says, protests grew and led to the ouster of the head of the security police and other officials. “These events became a serious domestic challenge for the new [Armenian] prime minister Nikol Pashinyan who came from Yerevan and appealed to [the people of Karabakh] to remain calm and begin dialogue.”
The significance of this is only clear if one recognizes that Karabakh in contrast to Armenia has for centuries been far more militant, even militaristic than the latter, Khzmalyan says. It was that militarist tradition which explains why this “’Armenian Sparta’” won out against the Azerbaijanis 30 years ago.
But “the price of victory became the super-militarized and quite hermetically sealed sovereignty of [Karabakh], the result of which turned out to be not so much the declared reunification of [Karabakh] and Armenia but more the reveerse – the establishment of political control of ‘the Karabakh clan’ over Yerevan, which finally took form in 1999.”
“After the palace coup and forced early retirement of Armenia’s first president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan,” Khzmalyan says, “the second and third leaders of the country became Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan, people from Nagorno-Karabakh.”
It is with them, he continues, that are behind “the political stagnation, economic corruption, the colonization of the country by Russian monopolies, and mass emigration” Armenia has suffered. That “knot” was cut through in early May in Yerevan; but it did not spread to Karabakh until early June.
Then “everything changed. The mantra about ‘stability in the name of security,’ already rejected in Yerevan, ceased to convince people in Stepanakert,” Khzmalyan says. As in Yerevan, that has led to a housecleaning of senior officials. Only Bako Saakyan, president of “the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh,” remains.
He is “the last of the Mohicans of the generation of 1988,” Khzmalyan points out, and he “judging by everything has lost his customary support of earlier years from the siloviki and now must deal directly with parliament, in which the democratic opposition is acquiring growing influence.”
Besides the influence this will have on politics there, the analyst argues, it will also affect talks with Azerbaijan. Now, the Armenian side will invoke democratic legitimacy and not just the right of nations to self-determination to make their case. That is likely to win more support for Armenia in the West, while making the situation more difficult for Baku.