While addressing the Armenian parliament this week, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reiterated that he is ready to recognize Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan, an announcement that has sparked outrage across Armenia, Artsakh and the Diaspora.
“Azerbaijan has made it clear: if you do not recognize our territorial integrity, we will not recognize yours. Meaning, if you don’t recognize that Azerbaijan is 86,600 square kilometers, then we don’t recognize that Armenia is 29,800 square kilometers,” Pashinyan said in the National Assembly.
Pashinyan raised the number 86,600 during a four-and-a-half hour press conference on May 22. He said that Armenia is ready to recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity of 86,600 square kilometers.
“Azerbaijan’s 86,600 square kilometers includes Nagorno-Karabakh, but it should also be said that the issue of the rights and security of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh must be discussed in the Baku-Stepanakert format,” said Pashinyan.
Pashinyan has previously said that Armenia is prepared to recognize Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. However, this is the first time he has explicitly said that Artsakh would be included within Azerbaijan’s borders. While addressing the National Assembly on April 13, 2022, Pashinyan said that he is prepared to “lower the bar” on the status of Artsakh in negotiations on a peace treaty with Azerbaijan. During a meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev mediated by the EU on October 6, 2022, both sides recognized each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
“This conversation takes place in front of the eyes of the international community. When Azerbaijan continuously attacks Armenia, and we have dialogue with the international community, Azerbaijan says that Armenia does not recognize our territorial integrity either and attacks us,” Pashinyan said in parliament on Wednesday.
Azerbaijan has launched several rounds of border attacks on Armenia proper since both sides reached a truce on November 9, 2020 ending the war in Artsakh. Azerbaijani forces have reportedly captured around 215 square kilometers of Armenian territory in the past three years.
The figure 86,600 was first introduced during a trilateral meeting in Brussels between Pashinyan, Aliyev and European Council president Charles Michel on May 14. Michel said that the leaders “confirmed their unequivocal commitment” to each other’s territorial integrity. He added that he “encouraged Azerbaijan to engage in developing a positive agenda with the aim of guaranteeing the rights and security” of the Armenians living in Artsakh.
“I also raised the need for a transparent and constructive dialogue between Baku and this population,” Michel said.
The talks followed several days of negotiations held in Washington between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenian authorities said that the ministers failed to reach agreements on the creation of an international mechanism to oversee talks between Artsakh and Azerbaijan and recognition of Armenia’s territorial integrity.
Azerbaijan has repeatedly dismissed the idea of international mediation of talks between Baku and Stepanakert or of granting Artsakh a special status within its borders.
“The Karabakh region is the sovereign territory of Azerbaijan, and like other ethnic minorities living in Azerbaijan, the rights and security of Armenian residents will be ensured within Azerbaijan’s internal legislation,” Aykhan Hajizada, spokesperson of Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, said on May 15.
Last month, Aliyev said that the Armenians of Artsakh should “either accept Azerbaijani citizenship or find another place to live.”
“We have repeatedly stated that we will not discuss our internal affairs with any country. Karabakh is our internal matter,” Aliyev said.
During his Monday press conference, Pashinyan added that there should be “international guarantees during negotiations, considering that the issue of the rights and security of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh can be forgotten, and Azerbaijan continue its policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Azerbaijan has placed Artsakh under blockade since December 2022, closing the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor, the sole route connecting Artsakh with Armenia and the rest of the world. The region’s 120,000 Armenians have been cut off from access to food, medical supplies, electricity and natural gas.
Pashinyan’s announcement was met with outrage from Artsakh leadership. The Artsakh National Assembly adopted a unanimous statement calling on “all Armenians not to allow the current authorities to take a part of the motherland Armenia,” threatening that this would “inevitably lead to the loss of Armenian statehood.”
“For us, any statement of Nikol Pashinyan ignoring the sovereignty of the Republic of Artsakh and the right of self-determination of our people, and any document drawn up on its basis, is unacceptable and worthless. Artsakh will never give up its unwavering struggle,” the statement reads.
Former Artsakh State Minister Ruben Vardanyan also denounced Pashinyan’s announcement. “Pashinyan does not have the authority to make decisions on behalf of the people of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh. His statement reflects his personal opinion, which he is trying to enforce on the people,” Vardanyan tweeted.
Opposition politicians within Armenia have called for street protests to remove Pashinyan’s administration from power. Ishkhan Saghatelyan, Armenia Alliance MP and former speaker of the National Assembly, said that the opposition will launch a united “popular resistance” to prevent the “surrender” of Artsakh and Armenia.
“[The authorities] are not legitimate. They do not reflect the will of the Armenian people. Therefore, any effort to get rid of these authorities and save the country is legitimate, be it civil disobedience or an uprising,” Saghatelyan told reporters on May 23.
Meanwhile the West has indicated its support for Pashinyan’s announcement. During a hearing of the US House Subcommittee on Europe, Erin Elizabeth McKee from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) welcomed Pashinyan’s statement as a sign of “progress.” She called it an “important first step that the team had put on the table.”
Pashinyan and Aliyev plan to meet in Moscow on May 25 and in Chișinău on June 1.