Sassounian: Why the Reelection of Aliyev Is in Armenia’s Best Interest

While visiting a youth camp on August 18, Pres. Serge Sargsyan was asked several questions on domestic and foreign issues. One particular question attracted the most attention due to the President’s unexpected answer.

When asked which candidate’s election in Azerbaijan’s upcoming presidential race is in Armenia’s best interest, Pres. Sarkisian surprised everyone by endorsing the reelection of incumbent President Ilham Aliyev.

Normally, when politicians are asked for their preferred candidate in a foreign election, they refrain from expressing an opinion or simply state that it’s the choice of that country’s voters. In this case, Pres. Sarkisian did not shy away from expressing his clear preference and provided the following explanation as to why Pres. Aliyev’s reelection in October for a third term is in Armenia’s interest:

“For Armenia, and not only for Armenia, neighbors that are on the democratic path of development are more beneficial. Hence, the conclusion that as a neighbor, and particularly as a negotiating partner, a democratic Azerbaijan is definitely more beneficial to us. But, if we set aside this consideration, the answer to the question is: The victory of incumbent President Ilham Aliyev would be most beneficial for us. We have gone through a long, albeit difficult, negotiating process and the path for a resolution is practically outlined, at least through public acceptance of the principles proposed by the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group. We have been actively negotiating for the last four years. Certainly, I wouldn’t say that the negotiating process is very active right now; nevertheless, we have made some progress, and if, after the election, Ilham Aliyev could muster the will and rise above his impetuous Armenophobia, I think this is the most acceptable and beneficial option for us.”

Pres. Sarkisian’s statement was promptly criticized both at home and, not surprisingly, in Azerbaijan. Opposition leaders in Yerevan were appalled that Armenia’s president would favor the reelection of Pres. Aliyev who has repeatedly threatened to attack Karabagh (Artsakh). They wondered how the authoritarian and warmongering president of Azerbaijan could be beneficial to Armenia. Azeri leaders were also unhappy with Pres. Sarkisian’s endorsement. Novruz Mammadov, Senior Advisor to Pres. Aliyev on Foreign Affairs, harshly condemned Armenia’s president for claiming that Aliyev’s reelection would be in Armenia’s best interest. In addition, Mammadov criticized Azerbaijan’s opposition parties for exploiting Sarkisian’s endorsement in their “dirty campaign” against Aliyev. Mammadov concluded by boasting that Azerbaijan’s president does not need Sargsyan’s support, because Aliyev enjoys the backing of such prominent world leaders as US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

While Sarkisian conditioned his support for Aliyev on the merits of continued progress in the Artsakh negotiations, one can think of additional reasons why Aliyev’s reelection is in Armenia’s best interest:

— Pres. Aliyev is a vulnerable leader who is universally condemned for being autocratic, corrupt and a major violator of human rights.

— Aliyev has wasted huge amounts of his country’s oil wealth in enriching himself, his family, and cronies.

— He has spent billions of dollars buying weapons that have not helped him recover a single inch of Artsakh territory.

— The reelection of an inept Aliyev is a liability for Azerbaijan and an asset for Armenia. If he loses the presidency, his replacement could be a more effective leader who can pose a clear danger to the security of Armenia and Artsakh.

— Sarkisian’s endorsement of Aliyev diminishes his credibility in the eyes of the Azeri people who would wonder why the leader of Armenia, demonized as the enemy of Azerbaijan, is supporting their president. Indeed, conspiracy theorists must be having a field day in Azerbaijan! Since Aliyev’s reelection to a third term is a foregone conclusion due to the country’s traditionally fraudulent electoral system, Pres. Sarkisian’s preference for Aliyev may not lead to his defeat, but would certainly cast a cloud of suspicion on his already tarnished reputation.

Finally, in international relations, it is important to have a predictable counterpart, whether friend or foe. Pres. Aliyev’s behavior toward Armenia and Artsakh has been thus far quite predictable. Giorgi Lomsadze, writing in EurasiaNet.org, has accurately depicted Pres. Sarkisian’s endorsement of Aliyev as: “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

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Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh $917 million of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

6 Comments

  1. I agree too, Aliyev is an asset for Armenia and a liability for Azerbaijan, although I don’t think the Azeris realize this because they are busy making themselves feel good with hating all things Armenian and preaching their false history to legitimize their transgressions against Armenia. And that is precisely what Aliyev is giving the ignorant public while laughing all the way to the bank. I may be wrong but I don’t think he will risk a war, he stands to lose too much, along with every member of his extended family.

  2. I wasn’t aware that Pres. Sarkisian knew much about the democratic path of development. But I agree with Mr. Sassounian that Aliyev’s “reelection” could be, counter-intuitively, in Armenia’s best interest. Great article!

  3. I agree with most of the analysis (both by Mr. Sassounian and Sarkissian) … except for:

    – Democracy in Azerbaijan is NOT in Armenian interests. In no democracy, a ruling party would survive after failing to deliver on an important promise for 20 years (to win back our internationally-recognized territories)! They’d be kicked out of the office to give someone else a chance.

    Also, yes, it is very smart of Sarkissian to “endorse” Aliyev … it does make Aliyev look silly and yet there is nothing he can say in response. Sarkissian is a smart dude, but, stil, so is Aliyev. Did you just see how he drove Sarkissian into Russia’s suffocating arms for the customs union? How did he do that? By being Putin’s dancing partner in pressuring Armenia (that recent visit by Putin was just a ploy to that end, and Aliyev went along, knowing full well that the visit had no other practical purpose at all) … So, shall we call it Even then, between Sarkissian and Aliyev?

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