An interview with Alexander Iskandaryan, an Armenian political scientist, Director of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute.
Thank you for agreeing to the interview, Alexander. Here is my first question: how strong are revanchist sentiments in the Armenian society today? Is there really nobody there who stand for peace with Azerbaijan?
If by revanchism you mean the desire to return the territories taken by Azerbaijan during the Second Karabakh War by military action, then there are no such sentiments in the Armenian society or they are marginal. Our society is aware that such a solution is impossible, that we do not have the resources for a victorious war at this time, and accordingly, there is not a single serious political force that would advocate it.
Of course, there were and are people in Armenian society who stand for peace with Azerbaijan. I believe they are in the majority. It is another matter that Armenians and Azerbaijanis see the parameters of this peace very differently, and the views of this peace differ even within Armenia and Karabakh.
Pashinyan won the June elections. According to the Armenian segment of social networks, those who voted for him explained their choice by saying that they voted not for Pashinyan, but against the return of Kocharyan and the “Karabakh clan”. Does this mean that the Armenian society chose the lesser of two evils, or do they still pin their hopes for a better future on Pashinyan?
Social media is a highly specific indicator of public sentiment and must be approached with great caution. The social bubbles reflected in it can warp reality. For example, if sociology is anything to go by, most of those who voted for Pashinyan do not represent the social strata that are particularly active in social media. There is no doubt, however, that negative voting (against, not for) was common in these elections both in the opposition camp and among Pashinyan’s supporters and associates. Of course, the Armenian society chose “the best of the worst”. This is one of the hallmarks of democratic elections as such.
History knows no ifs, but let’s pretend for a moment. Imagine going back 33 years, to February 1988, when rallies began in the then NKAO and in Yerevan for the separation of Karabakh from Azerbaijan. If those who attended the rallies at that time had known what it all would led to, I mean tens of thousands of people killed in the war, hundreds of thousands of refugees, the dire economic situation in Armenia, especially in the early 90s, large-scale migration from Armenia, and the outcomes of the Second Karabakh War—do you think they would have gone to those rallies anyway? It was sons and even grandsons of those chanting “Miatsum!” in 1988 who died in the last war.
History knows no ifs indeed. I remember those rallies very well. I don’t think people were fully and truly aware of the response to the rallies and slogans would get. I think most of them hoped that the problem could be solved in a civilized way, by the expression of the will of the people, such as public referendum. At least those were the hopes in February 1988. What if they had been aware? I don’t know, I find it difficult to speculate on the topic. Perhaps, if they had known in advance the scale and kind of the reaction that would follow, they would have been even more assertive in their demands. But it really is hard to tell.
Why is Yerevan so strongly opposed to the peace treaty and demarcation of borders with Azerbaijan? Anticipating your answer about the “undefined status of Karabakh”, I’m going to say right away that Baku sees this issue as resolved once and for all. This position has been repeatedly voiced by the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev—and everybody had a chance to see that he always stands by his words.
Because Armenia perceives what is happening on the line of contact not as demarcation, but as continued military pressure. Demarcation and delimitation are a type of parity negotiation process, not shootouts at the border. As for anticipation, this is not about who stands by what. Azerbaijan does not control about 4% of the territory it calls its own. There is a different legal field there, people there speak a different language, use a different currency, have different passports and a different identity, they consider themselves citizens of the “Republic of Artsakh” [quotation marks by editor], which Azerbaijan, in turn, does not recognize. I don’t believe Azerbaijan thinks that this will be the case “once and for all.” And if so, the issue has not been resolved.
Do people in Armenia understand the benefits they will get from unblocking communications and borders, as Azerbaijan proposes?
People in Armenia, in general, do not think that Azerbaijan cares about the benefits for Armenia. The common perception here is that Azerbaijan is pursuing goals of its own, namely, carving a corridor from the eastern Azerbaijan not even to Nakhichevan, but to Turkey.
How do you see the future of those residents of Karabakh living today in the territories that are temporarily the area of responsibility of the Russian peacekeepers? It should be obvious that the Russian peacekeepers are not there to stay forever, that they will leave Karabakh eventually. This means that the Armenians of Karabakh will inevitably face a choice—to become Azerbaijani citizens or to go to Armenia.
For now, I cannot imagine a solution to this problem, it will clearly remain in limbo for years.
Alexander, you were born and raised in Baku, and I have to ask you this as my last question: do you think it is possible for Armenians and Azerbaijanis to live together?
My personal biography has nothing to do with it. Even if I had been born in New Zealand, I would know that no conflict lasts forever, that they all end eventually. That the French can now live right next door to the Germans, and the Germans can interact with the Jews. That the Republic of Ireland can exist and the Irish can travel to Britain without a visa. Moreover, I know that even now there are places where Armenians live peacefully next to Azerbaijanis, for example, in Georgia or Iran. Of course, the war, the refugees, the casualties make it difficult for me to believe that this kind of social reconciliation can be quick and easy, but fundamentally, of course, I understand that people can fight, but they can also overcome the consequences of even the most horrible wars.
Interview by Bahram Batiyev
Translated from Caliber.az