Staunton, June 15 – One of the most important sources of the continuing tragedy of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is that the political systems of both countries are still dominated by elites rooted in places which not surprisingly have generated the most intensely held nationalist passions.
In Azerbaijan, the political elite has been dominated by those like Aliyev father and son who trace their lineage to Nakchivan, the non-contiguous part of the Republic of Azerbaijan; and in Armenia, the corresponding political elite has been dominated until very recently by presidents and others form Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian-dominated region of Azerbaijan.
Because passionate nationalists are more likely to arise and be supported in such marginal and mixed areas, the elites of the two countries have found it impossible to reach agreement on the conflict between them, precisely the kind of poison pill that Stalin inserted into the situation more than 90 years ago when he drew the borders.
That was one of the reasons the author of these lines proposed nearly 30 years ago what has become notorious as “the Goble Plan” for the Karabakh dispute, “a plan” that would have eliminated these two seedbeds of nationalism by ensuring that Nakchivan was linked by land to Azerbaijan proper and Karabakh became part of Armenia.
That has not happened and is now unlikely to, but the problems of nationalism arising in Karabakh and Nakchivan has not gone away. And ever more analysts are seeking to find a way around it. One of the most promising recent developments is the rise of Nikol Pashinyan in Armenia who is contesting “the Karabakh clan” in all parts of the Armenian political system.
Nadja Douglas, a scholar at Berlin’s Center for East European and International Research, is focusing on that issue. In an interview to Germany’s Caucasus Watch, she says that the Karabakh “clan’s” distrust of Pashinyan has its roots in his expression of doubts about the four-day war in 2016 (caucasuswatch.de/news/1725.html).
He has even called for setting up a parliamentary committee to investigate that war, something highly offensive to the leader of the Karabakh clan, Douglas says. But by doing so, she continues, Pashinyan has drawn red lines for Karabakh leaders and their supporters in Armenia: Stepanakert “must not interfere in the internal affairs of Armenia.”
While the strength of the Karabakh “clan” in Armenia politics should not be overrated given Pashinyan’s position, Douglas says that there is little reason to expect rapid progress in talks between Yerevan and Baku given that the nationalists on both sides can easily intervene and torpedo any plan based on concessions.