2012 Armenian Parliamentary Elections: (5) For Armenian Political parties, Karabakh remains the elephant in the room

The 2012 Armenian Parliamentary elections are very much focused on domestic politics. The economy, Armenia’s declining population, crime and corruption, and broader issues related to governance, dominate the discussions. It is a combat of ideas, but more a combat of personalities, with a dozen senior politicians and their teams vying for the support of the electorate. One issue that has not proven divisive during the campaign so far is that of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian political forces have withdrawn into their comfort zone of rhetoric offering the electorate little choice, and worse, offering few indications as to how they are going to deal with an issue that is likely to come to a head in one way or another during the course of the next parliament.

In the fifth part of its series of briefings on the 2012 Parliamentary elections in Armenia, LINKS Analysis looks at  how the parties contesting the election are addressing the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh and what the campaign tells us on the way that Armenian politicians will deal with this issue in the future.

None of the eight political parties and one bloc that are contesting the 6 May Parliamentary Elections has made Karabakh issue the centre piece of the campaign. All declare support for an independent Nagorno-Karabakh and deride Azerbaijani claims over it. It is a broad consensus that has emerged over the last decade, and which has to a large degree taken discussions of the Karabakh issue out of the political debate.

There are of course nuances in the statements of the parties and their leaders. President Serzh Sargsyan and his ruling Republican Party of Armenia promise to continue tough negotiations within the framework of the Minsk Group and continued military readiness to repel any possible Azerbaijani aggression.

The smaller opposition Heritage Party has revived its idea of extending formal diplomatic recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic – even though this suggestion did not have much support when they proposed it some time ago in the Armenian parliament.

The leader of the Armenian National Congress, and former president of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan has developed his own formula of dealing with the issue, based no doubt on his own bitter experience when he was forced out of office by military figures who did not agree on his negotiating position on the Karabakh conflict in 1998. Ter-Petrosyan now says that he will never sign any agreement on the conflict that is not also signed by the leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh, thus neutralising any criticism that he may somehow sell out on the Karabakh cause. Ter-Petrosyan also dismisses the so-called “Madrid Principles” as a basis for a solution, saying that these were the same principles that he had resisted during the OSCE Lisbon Summit in 1996.

Both Sargsyan and Ter-Petrosyan have talked in general terms about bringing the Stepanakert authorities in as part of the negotiations, although many observers feel that such a development will be by and large cosmetic, and by itself will not change in any way the dynamic of the negotiations.

An interesting addition to the scenario is the return of Armenia’s veteran diplomat, Vartan Oskanyan to the political scene, as one of the leading personalities in the Prosperous Armenia Party. Prosperous Armenia is sometimes described as the political vehicle of former President Robert Kocharyan. Oskanyan served as Kocharyan’s foreign minister throughout his term in office. A role for Oskanyan in any future Karabakh negotiations is possible, and will be by and large welcomed by interested sides.

In truth none of the politicians want Karabakh to become an issue in the current election campaign because this will require them to give answers which they don’t have, or prefer not to disclose, on how they are going to deal with the decisions that need to be taken in the coming years. For Armenian political parties Nagorno-Karabakh is the elephant in the room that they will have to deal with sooner or later.

Many observers of the conflict think that the situation around Karabakh will come to some sort of defining moment in the course of the next five years. This could be either a breakthrough in the negotiations brought about by international pressure, or an escalation of the low intensity hostilities that continue on a daily basis on the front line. An all-out war is also possible but unlikely. In any scenario Armenian politicians will have to take a stand. Whatever that will be they are not sharing it with the Armenian electorate, who on this issue has very little choice between the positions of the parties, and can only guess what the position of the different parties will be in any future scenario.

The question that is often is asked is “do the Armenians in Armenia proper really care about Nagorno-Karabakh?” There is no doubt a degree of conflict fatigue and many Armenians would prefer their country to focus more on its development. However this does not mean that people do not care what happens with Karabakh, and politicians need to take this into account all the time.

Armenian politicians will  have to do this whilst trying to understand why despite the fact that unresolved conflicts affect other post-Soviet countries – Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan, and despite the fact that out of the four Armenia is the only one that claims “victory” in the conflict, the other three countries have found a way of moving on, whilst for Armenia Karabakh continues to be a responsibility which the Armenian state carries on its back leaving it with little room for manoevre. Changing this situation to a more realistic and sustainable one is going to require from Armenian politicians courage and vision. For the moment, if they have any, they are not telling anybody about it.

This is the fifth in a series of briefings on the 2012 Parliamentary Elections in Armenia, prepared by LINKS Analysis. This article may be quoted and/or reproduced in part or full as long as a clear attribution to the source is included with a reference to this website.

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Read previous briefings on the 2012 Armenian Parliamentary Elections:

(1) The Context

(2) The Choice: The parties of the governing coalition

(3) The Choice: Levon Ter-Petrosyan hopes his four year struggle will bear results

(4)  Smaller parties may have important role if they can pass 5% threshhold

source: LINKS Analysis (c)

2 thoughts on “2012 Armenian Parliamentary Elections: (5) For Armenian Political parties, Karabakh remains the elephant in the room

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