An Old Prime Minister For A New Country: An Uphill Battle For Post-Conflict Armenia

The Armenian and Russian defense ministers, Harutyunyan and Shoigu, met on 28 May to discuss the possible deployment of Russian border guards on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. This was reported by the Yerevan Dicastery, according to which the deployment should take place in the provinces of Gegharkunik and Syunik. Harutyunyan noted that Armenia is acting in accordance with and is willing to respect the appeals of its partners to peacefully resolve the border issue. This while adding that Yerevan’s position on the conflict has not changed: Azerbaijani Armed Forces “must leave the Armenian sovereign territories without any preconditions.”

Meanwhile, Armenia has reconfirmed Nikol Pashinyan as its prime minister, as he won 53.9% of the votes in the early legislative elections on 20 June. According to official data from the National Electoral Commission, his Civil Contract Party clearly surpassed Alliance Armenia, the movement of former President Robert Kocharyan, stuck at 21%. Allegations of fraud notwithstanding, Pashinyan called the early elections. This was an attempt to end the political crisis generated by recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and November peace agreement, which caused months of protests nationwide.

Now, the incoming Parliament could decide to either fully restore Pashinyan or opt for a new one, but his confirmation seems the only logical way forward. It might seem so in light of the support the leader has enjoyed over the past three years. However, it was on the contrary, very unlikely, especially considering the election campaign in which the entire opposition has tried to blame the responsibility for the military defeat on Pashinyan. Following the official announcement of the results, he called upon his supporters to celebrate the new “steel mandate” via social media. This was intended to coincide with the populistic strategy that constitutes the heart of his political action and distinctive feature of his leadership.

Former heads of state of the young post-Soviet republic, dating back from the aftermath of the independence declaration to today, all gathered against Pashinyan in an unprecedented electoral combination. Kocharyan, Sargsyan and Ter-Petrosyan, as well as another dozen different political parties and platforms, were united mainly by the desire to make Pashinyan pay the price for the defeat. The only one to contrast him, however, was Kocharyan, the first president of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno Karabakh in 1994 and the second president of the Republic of Armenia. Together with the old Soviet-trained apparatus, there were also all those political forces that The Velvet Revolution had disengaged from power and that now hoped to regain control over the state.

The Azerbaijani president’s hammering propaganda also weighed heavily on the electoral debate. Trying to do everything in his power to further humiliate the defeated enemy, Aliyev appeared at the inauguration of the military trophy park in Baku and celebrated the victory with a corridor of helmets and vehicles abandoned by deceased or fleeing Armenian soldiers. What really impressed the Armenian administration was, however, Aliyev’s decision to invite his friend and ally Erdogan to Shusha just a week after the vote. In Shusha, the presidents of Turkey and Azerbaijan signed an agreement for joint action in the event of a military attack, sending a clear message to all those who thought they could exploit the desire for revenge in an electoral key.

Another looming presence in the debate was Moscow. Officially, both leading candidates were pro-Russian, and could not have been otherwise, given the country’s economic and military dependence on Moscow. However, among Pashinyan’s supporters there is growing malcontent because of Putin’s decision not to support Yerevan decisively, but to limit himself to imposing a ceasefire after months of Azerbaijani incursions. Therefore, Pashinyan wins again, but merely a mandate that will be almost entirely absorbed by the commitment to lead the country in an uphill negotiation that will probably lead to further humiliations. In 2018 Pashinyan was the so-called “Man of the people,” the paladin who saved Armenia from the totalitarian drift of then-President Sargsyan after months of popular protests. Ironically, less than three years later, he is now the target, with people demanding his resignation.

Luca Giulini


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