During his December 24, 2021 press conference, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan made several statements and assertions on the current situation in Nagorno Karabakh and his vision for its future. He rejected the idea to demand the withdrawal of Azerbaijani forces from any territories, which they captured during the 2020 Karabakh war, including the territories of the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (the entire Hadrut region, several villages of the Martakert, Martuni and Askeran regions and Shushi city). According to Pashinyan, the Azerbaijani population which lived in the former NKAO (according to the 1989 Soviet Union census, Azerbaijanis made up 22.4 percent of the NKAO population, while the number of Armenians was 76.4 percent) had the right to return, and the capture of Hadrut region, Shushi and other territories created the possibility for the realization of that right. This narrative puts Armenians currently living in Nagorno Karabakh in a perilous situation, as the de facto new line of contact fixed by the November 10, 2020 trilateral statement established a tiny entity which is not viable neither politically nor economically. However, according to Pashinyan, Armenia will not demand independence even for that small entity of approximately 3,000 square kilometers. The prime minister stated that Nagorno Karabakh lost all chances not to be part of Azerbaijan back in 2016. So, if there were no such chances when the territory of the unrecognized Nagorno Karabakh Republic was 11450 square kilometers, there definitely could be no chances now. The prime minister stated that his vision is to see Armenians living in Karabakh safely and securely, which means that Armenia is ready to move forward and sign a peace treaty with Azerbaijan if Baku provides some guarantees for the security of Armenians. Theoretically, it could be a written guarantee put in the peace treaty with no status, or it could be some status of cultural autonomy for Nagorno Karabakh within the November 10, 2020 statement borders, providing Armenians the opportunity to study the Armenian language in Azerbaijani schools or have several hours of daily Armenian language broadcasts on Stepanakert radio.
Nevertheless, this will mean only one thing in real life: no Armenians in Artsakh. Everyone who has at least a basic knowledge of the history and current stage of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict understands very well one thing – if Azerbaijani troops, officials and population enter Stepanakert, Martakert, Askeran and Martuni, it will very quickly, within days if not hours, force Armenians to leave or be killed. The current situation in the Shushi and Hadrut region, where you will find zero Armenians 14 months after the end of the 2020 Karabakh war, is vivid, albeit not the only, evidence confirming this reality.
Thus, during his press conference, Pashinyan sent an indirect message to the Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh to use the remaining few years of the Russian presence to prepare their safe landing out of Nagorno Karabakh, either in Armenia or anywhere else. Otherwise, if either in 2025 or 2030 they face a situation similar to what the Armenian population of Shushi, Hadrut, Karvachar or Berdzor faced in November 2020, they should blame themselves and not the government of Armenia. If nothing changes, many Armenians will heed this advice, while simultaneously Azerbaijan will relocate the Azerbaijani population in the territories of the former NKAO currently under its control. Very soon, within a maximum of 10 years and within the borders of the former NKAO, Azerbaijanis will become a majority, thus significantly changing the region’s demographics compared with 1989. It will make the deployment of the Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno Karabakh senseless. With the withdrawal of the Russian troops (which may happen in 2030 or later), remaining Armenians will leave, and Artsakh will be transformed into another Nakhichevan with zero Armenian population.
Meanwhile, the position of the Armenian government makes the continuation of the work of the OSCE Minsk Group senseless. The cornerstone of the activities of the Minsk Group was the issue of the status of Nagorno Karabakh. Suppose Armenia says that Karabakh has zero chance not to be part of Azerbaijan, and the only issue is the security guarantees of Armenian nationals living in Karabakh and holding Azerbaijani passports. In that case, this is not the problem for the three permanent members of the UN Security Council. They are not going to negotiate the number of hours of Armenian language classes in Azerbaijani schools in Karabakh or the possibility to have Armenian language broadcasts on Stepanakert radio.
There are several explanations why the Armenian government pursues this policy. One is based on geopolitics. According to this narrative, Armenia and Azerbaijan, under the auspices of the US, agreed to implement a policy to eventually push out Russian troops from Nagorno Karabakh by decreasing the number of Armenians living there and making the deployment of peacekeepers senseless. It could be a part of the US policy of containment aiming to decrease the influence and positions of Russia in the post-Soviet space, in this particular case in Azerbaijan. While in exchange for support of this policy, the US will turn a blind eye to authoritarian trends in Armenia, which became more clear after the local elections in late 2021 and will continue to provide funding to the Armenian government through USAID, World Bank and IMF and will push the European Union to provide loans via EBRD and EIB. In this scenario, the current Armenian government may secure its position for another decade, either by winning the 2026 parliamentary elections or changing the constitution in 2022, bringing Armenia back to the semi-presidential system of government and winning presidential elections of 2023 and possibly of 2028.
Another explanation is more straightforward and more prosaic. The current government wants to enjoy the benefits of being in power – state-funded luxury cars, state-funded business trips, state-funded homes, plus the possibility to be part of lucrative business deals – without problems and complications. The existence of the Artsakh problem may prevent them from enjoying that power. That is why the best solution is to forget about Artsakh and eventually make Artsakh another chapter of Armenia’s tragic history.
Are there any possibilities to prevent the realization of this scenario? A significant part of Armenian society – due to the lack of reliable sociological surveys (it is impossible to say they comprise 30 percent, 50 percent or 70 percent of the population) – is indifferent to these developments. Due to the global rise of the consumer society as well as targeted propaganda in the Armenian media for the last 25 to30 years, the ultimate goal of life of this part of the society is to drive 10-year-old BMWs or Mercedes instead of 20-year-old Opels and to spend their holidays not in Kobuleti (Georgia) or Hurghada but in Cyprus or Greece. Their attitude will be either indifference or, if they feel that at the end of the day this scenario may bring additional money to Armenia and personally to them – American money, European money, Turkish money or Azerbaijani money, they may support this vision.
Meanwhile, there is another part of Armenian society, and also quite significant, which is ready to take actions and even sacrifices to prevent the loss of Artsakh. However, this part needs leaders who are ready to organize. In this context, the ultimate responsibility lies on the shoulders of individuals who have relevant capacities and capabilities to rally this part of Armenians around them. People like Nubar Afeyan, Ruben Vardanyan and others can play a role here. They have the experience to launch different pan-Armenian initiatives – The Future Armenian, Armenia 2041, FAST and IDEA foundations. However, the goals of these initiatives are relatively vague and lack the simplicity to involve significant numbers of people. The first step towards the prevention of the loss of Artsakh could be the establishment of the “Save Artsakh” fund with a straightforward goal – to have at least 30 percent more Armenians living in Artsakh in 2027 than now and at least 50 percent more Armenians living in Artsakh in 2030 than now. This simple and clear goal will unite significant numbers of Armenians both in Armenia and the Diaspora, including the middle class. One of the options to increase the population of Artsakh could be the offer of a financial bonus for every Armenian who would like to relocate to Artsakh to do the work which he is doing now in Armenia or abroad. The development of IT technologies has created a situation where many people work remotely from their homes, and there is no significant difference if you have access to the internet in Yerevan, Moscow, Paris, Los Angeles or Stepanakert. The fund may sign contracts with participants offering them a financial bonus in the form of paying them an additional salary if they agree to go to Artsakh and work from there remotely, or do the offline jobs, such as teaching, construction, etc., for a fixed amount of time starting perhaps from three months and reaching a year or even longer. The “Save Artsakh” fund could also pay the rent for these persons while they live in Artsakh.
This is only one option, and definitely, there could be others to boost population growth in Artsakh. If Artsakh has at least 50 percent more Armenians in 2030 than now, it will ruin the Azerbaijani strategy to change the demographic situation and eventually transform Artsakh into another Nakhichevan. Russian troops will probably be deployed in Artsakh at least until 2030, so the basic security of Armenians living there will be guaranteed. Meanwhile, if the Armenian population increases, it will provide a solid base for Russia to keep its troops in Artsakh after 2030. The upcoming green economy revolution and the relative decrease of the role of oil and gas after 2035 may create problems and trigger instability in Azerbaijan, thus forcing Baku to shift its focus on the domestic situation and probably abandon its plans of destroying Artsakh.