A New Government Forms in Armenia: Prospects for Peace?
Snap parliamentary elections in late June portrayed Nikol Pashinyan as the “peace candidate” in contrast to the oppositional alliance led by former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan. On August 2, Pashinyan officially began his new tenure as prime minister after his party, Civil Contract, won 53.9 percent of the vote. While negotiating a permanent peace agreement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will take time and careful deliberation, there are concrete issues over which the purported “peace candidate” and Azerbaijan can work together to normalize relations in the interim.
First, Yerevan and Baku both agree on the positive impact of uninhibited trade and communications corridors for regional connectivity. The November 2020 ceasefire agreement listed unblocking economic and transport routes as conditions of the truce. Referring to Azerbaijan’s infrastructure projects in the liberated territories, Emil Majidov, advisor to Azerbaijan’s Minister of Economy, said that, “the new situation brings huge opportunities for the region, especially new connectivity opportunities that are important not only for Azerbaijan.” Benefits for the wider Caspian region include shortened cargo transit times with diversified routes, and thereby increased economic competitiveness.
Pashinyan likewise emphasized the importance of unobstructed trade during a cabinet meeting on August 12, stating “One of [the] issues which I believe can be solved rather quickly is the opening of regional communications, the agenda of regional unblocking.” Open communication channels advance the peace process by normalizing routine interactions between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Normalizing relations among inhabitants of villages in and around Nagorno-Karabakh is equally vital to reestablishing connections between neighbors. Creating mechanisms for locals to gather and discuss immediate issues related to everyday needs, like cattle grazing and shared water sources, is a means of forging compromises on the ground, even while peace negotiations among leaders are stalled. Russian peacekeepers have thus far been charged with mediating local disputes, such as missing livestock; yet in lieu of official structures with clear procedures, problems often remain unresolved, and moments of local reconciliation are missed.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could take the lead in establishing trust-building, de-politicized platforms for local mediations. A larger humanitarian role for the OCSE has been acquiesced to by Moscow and is a means for the organization to reverse its increasingly obsolete role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict since the Russian-brokered ceasefire in November. In contrast to Russia, the OSCE is less bogged down by perceptions of maintaining a favorable status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh for national security interests. This allows the organization to engage more impartially with both sides of the conflict, including empowering local NGOs to prepare for a future without the presence of foreign troops.
Indeed, both Azerbaijani and Armenian officials have voiced dissatisfaction with Russian peacekeepers in recent weeks. Noting the reoccurring ceasefire violations along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, Pashinyan called for the introduction of a multilateral monitoring mechanism to supplant the Russian force. Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense criticized Russian peacekeepers for not restricting the movement of armed forces in the region in a press release on August 11. The OCSE Minsk Group or the European Union, which recently expressed its readiness to help mediate the conflict, can actively follow up on Armenia and Azerbaijan’s discontent by engaging both sides in discussions about increasing their monitoring and humanitarian presence in Nagorno-Karabakh. The United States and Georgia, contributors to past mediations, can also serve as promising intermediaries.
Polarizing issues, such as border demarcations and the demilitarization of armed groups, are not the only building blocks of peace in Nagorno-Karabakh. Instead, opening transit and communication lines alongside establishing trust-building institutions at the local level are immediate initiatives that will increase regular interactions between both governments and people. While being the “peace candidate” is a heavy cross to bear, Pashinyan’s electoral victory does provide him with the public legitimacy to pursue initiatives aimed at normalizing relations, if he and his Azerbaijani counterparts chose to do so.
Image Source: The Official Website of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.