'For Pashinyan, it is a matter if not of hours, then of days now'
What the Armenian prime minister's mistake was, what the military took offense at, and how the story can end if Moscow intervenes in the process
The outgoing week was once again marked by an aggravation of the political crisis in Armenia — the military joined the opposition's demand for the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Thursday. Pashinyan decided to dismiss the head of the General Staff, Onik Gasparyan — and now something close to a military coup is happening in the country. The political opponents of Pashinyan are putting up tents near the Armenian parliament, his supporters have also again taken to the streets, and the hapless prime minister said that the situation in the country was managed and advised the General Staff to do their business. Doctor of Historical Sciences, expert in the field of military and ethnic conflicts Sergey Vostrikov discusses whether the crisis in Armenia will last for several more months and how it may end.
“The tension between the Armenia'a prime minister and the military was brewing”
Doctor Vostrikov, over the three and a half months of confrontation, the Armenian opposition has not broken Nikol Pashinyan, who, in their opinion, signed the agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh, which is shameful for Armenia. Now the military is also demanding Pashinyan's resignation. How serious is the situation if the army is involved in it?
For Pashinyan now, it is a matter if not of hours, then of days. It is clear that there is an escalation of tension inside Armenia. We see that the memorandum for the voluntary resignation of the prime minister was signed by more than forty senior officers of the General Staff of the country, on Thursday fighter jets flew over Yerevan, and almost there was a clash of supporters and opponents of Pashinyan. But we see that Pashinyan made one concession to his opponents, although he previously said that he would not meet his opponents halfway. He said that he called on the parties to sit down at the negotiating table and start a dialogue. But the question arises — who plays 'first violin'?
Now we see that the military-political and civil-political blocs have emerged in the opposition to Pashinyan. The representatives of the Dashnaktsutyun party prevail in the civil-political sphere: this party is the largest and oldest in Armenia. But the army in the countries of the former USSR — including Armenia — is the main factor in the struggle for power.
Well, the oppositionists told Pashinyan that they would set up tents in the centre of Yerevan, and then what? But if the army and the General Staff stand behind the opposition, it will be a convincing argument to sit down at the negotiating table and talk with Pashinyan about guarantees of his security, the dissolution of parliament, elections to the new parliament and guarantees of his participation in new elections.
But it is still unclear whether the army is with the opposition. Why did the military oppose Pashinyan? After all, there was no great friction between him and the generals. Did the words about Iskanders really hurt them so much?
Pashinyan's statement on Iskanders was just a trigger of the situation. The tension between the Armenia's prime minister and the military was brewing earlier — during the fighting in the autumn of 2020, and in the post-war period it was already strained relations. The questions 'Who is to blame for the defeat?' and 'What to do next?' were already acute not only for the opposition, but also for the officers.
He said that he called on the parties to sit down at the negotiating table and start a dialogue. But the question arises — who plays 'first violin'?
“The Armenians themselves missed the political moment of the settlement of the conflict in Karabakh”
Is Pashinyan to blame?
As for 'Who is to blame for the defeat?', the question is not to Pashinyan — the Armenians themselves missed the political moment of the settlement of the conflict in Karabakh. Seven years ago, Azerbaijan offered to return to it 20 per cent of the Azerbaijani territory occupied by the Armenians in the 1990s, as a result of the first war for Karabakh. They gave a guarantee of preserving the connection of Nagorno-Karabakh along the Lachin corridor with Armenia and recognition of the special status of Karabakh. But in Armenia, at that time, they said 'No' to such compromise. The leadership of the country decided that they would be able to maintain the independence of Karabakh, and this was a dizzying success. Besides, there was a lack of understanding in Yerevan of what was happening at neighbours after the 1990s.
And Azerbaijan was developing rapidly and intensively, in contrast to Armenia. Because among Armenia's natural resources, there is only clear water of Lake Sevan and Azerbaijan's Caspian shelf, where there is sturgeon, and under the water of the Caspian Sea, there is oil — a lot of it. And this allowed not only Baku to export oil to Turkey, but also the Azerbaijanis to become virtually one nation with the Turks.
Besides, Azerbaijan has been making huge purchases of equipment and weapons abroad since the 2000s — the country could purchase military equipment and weapons in a year like Armenia in 5 years. All this predetermined the outcome of the war — Azerbaijan actively used Turkish and Israeli-made drones, which suppressed the entire air defense system of the Armenian forces, and then destroyed many Armenian tanks and antiaircraft missile system.
The Armenians were hoping for their own built defence lines — they claimed they had experience. But they built only one lane, and they had to build a second and a third... In the end, everything cracked at the seams.
So why did everything break, as soon as Pashinyan hint at Iskanders?
Pashinyan's statement on Iskanders, of course, hurt not so much the military — it was a veiled nod in the direction of Moscow, an attempt to shit the blame. The Iskander complex, when it is launched, works very efficiently, and Pashinyan says that it exploded by 10 per cent — well, what kind of nonsense is this? If he didn't fall, he didn't fall. And what did he mean by 'exploded by 10 per cent'? The ravings of a madman. For the military, it was very offensive also because many of them were trained in military affairs in Moscow and are perfectly familiar with the work of Russian military equipment.
As for 'Who is to blame for the defeat?', the question is not to Pashinyan — the Armenians themselves missed the political moment of the settlement of the conflict in Karabakh
“There may be a confrontation in the country like Ukraine or Moldova”
What future scenarios of the situation in Armenia can emerge now, with the “inclusion” of the military in the political process?
There can be several scenarios. The first option is that the military will 'squeeze' Pashinyan until he resigns, with early parliamentary elections and a guarantee of security for him and his family members. This would be a quiet and peaceful option, and I have heard it is what Moscow is calling the Armenian military to do.
The second option is that everything may not be peaceful and calm, and the situation will turn into a confrontation between Pashinyan and the rest of his opponents. Still, he has many supporters — mostly young people, students, focused on Armenia's cooperation with the United States and Europe.
Those who blocked roads and everything else in 2018 — they have not gone anywhere, which means that a confrontation like Ukraine or Moldova may occur in the country. And this confrontation between the “Westerners” and the others can lead to a civil war, to an internal Armenian feud, and this is the worst option.
And finally, the third option is a failed coup, as was the case in Turkey in 2016 (such an unsuccessful attempt to seize power is also called an insurrection), after which the military is brought to a military tribunal or the military will have to flee somewhere outside of Armenia — to Lebanon or to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Which option is more likely?
Predicting is a thankless task here.
Why do you think Pashinyan does not leave, what does he hope for? Because the critical mass of his opponents is not visible on the streets? Or because there is no figure worthy to be his replacement and suits many political forces?
Pashinyan does not leave, because he, like Zelensky in Ukraine, is not an independent figure. I think he is managed by various puppeteers from the US Embassy. But at the same time, he is still tolerated by Moscow — after all, the agreement on the Russian peacekeeping mission in Karabakh is concluded only for 5 years. And although it implies a subsequent extension, the question arises — will this agreement be extended? This may largely depend on Pashinyan.
But won't the departure of the current head of Armenia bring even more radical forces to power? And such people may well come — and they can easily disavow this agreement. They will say, for example, that they are for Artsakh, that they will destroy everyone for it and everything else. But there's not enough strength to do it. Then what? Should Armenia fight for Artsakh with its own army? But even here, the forces will be incomparable, and Turkey stands behind Azerbaijan. And for Armenia, this is very fraught with the worst in military terms...
Manukyan is not a person who can consolidate society: he has many supporters, but also many opponents
“I think Moscow is already actively talking to all sides”
But there is authoritative Vazgen Manukyan in the opposition — he was prime minister in the early 1990s. He is considered the creator of the victory in Karabakh in the first war, and he does not seem to be considered a radical. But few people come to opposition rallies — many times less than for Pashinyan in 2018. Is the opposition weak in Armenia?
It turns out it is. In Armenia, a semi-stalemate situation has developed, when neither side can overcome the other. Manukyan is not a person who can consolidate society: he has many supporters, but also many opponents.
The thing is that many conflicts in the post-Soviet space are still intergenerational in nature — the next generation sees and evaluates many things differently. And the Armenian young generation does not see Manukyan as the leader of the future new Armenia — they see him as a representative of the old generation, a representative of the past, and they do not want to return to the past in the country.
Does the fact that on Friday we did not see any gestures from the military suggest that Moscow is involved in this process? Is it likely that the military can still be turned off by Moscow from the “game”, if I may say so?
I think that Moscow is already actively talking with all parties — there are consultations and contacts, and I think that situational centres are working to work out a solution to the current situation. The situation is very explosive.
Is Moscow able to do much in resolving the conflict in Armenia?
I think that in Armenia, with the external support of Moscow, a round table discussion should be held, and a nationwide one — perhaps with the involvement of the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, who is very revered there. And the church itself in Armenia is a very important internal force. A round table discussion is now the best option without shedding blood: after all, they need to deal not with the confrontation, but to improve the economy and everything else — the situation after the defeat in the war for the country is just a terrible one.
Are all the parties ready for this round table discussion now?
I have a lot of skepticism in this regard. Why? The thing is that among the young people who blocked roads in 2018, supporting Pashinyan then, as well as the opposition in the person of Dashnaktsutyun, there are also radicals, the extreme wing. And this does not give me confidence that such a dialogue will take place in Armenia.
But maybe it's time to think about a new leader — even if temporary, but authoritative for all Armenians?
This is also an important issue, but first of all, Armenia needs parliamentary elections in the coming months, and they must be very fair and transparent. But before that, the parties must agree that no one touches the military, no one touches Pashinyan and his supporters, and this is very important for peace in Armenia — even if the card of the current prime minister is almost played.