By Hrachya Arzumanian
The crisis in Armenia continues to deepen and expand. Taking advantage of the Armenian government’s inability to control the situation in the country, Azerbaijan seeks to quickly solve the problem of demarcating the border with Armenia in its favor. After the Artsakh catastrophe, the society in Armenia has not been able to overcome the state of shock and the ruling political force has focused for more than a month on retaining power instead of addressing the military-political, socio-economic and moral-psychological challenges and threats to the Armenian people and their statehood.
The state of the army remains difficult, having to solve many critical problems urgently. First of all, there is the task of forming a new territorial defense system after the loss of the military infrastructure of Artsakh, which has been built for 25 years and cost the Armenian people several billion dollars. In the conditions of a temporary and unstable ceasefire, it is urgently necessary to make a defense system in Armenia capable of stopping the further advance of the Azerbaijani army under the pretext of border demarcation, etc.
As mentioned earlier, the Armenian side places too high hopes on political and diplomatic methods of solving international problems, in contrast to Azerbaijan, which understands the secondary nature and subordination of political and legal processes to military methods during wartime (1). Azerbaijan understands that the signed ceasefire is conditional in all points except those concerning the deployment of Turkish and Russian contingents on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia repeats the previous 25 years’ mistake, treating the ceasefire as a guarantee of territorial integrity while watching with surprise the Azerbaijani troops’ appearance on its territory. Although the signed truce requires the belligerents to stop at the positions on which they were present when the ceasefire was signed, Azerbaijan does not intend to fulfill this condition. This could be clearly seen in the case of several villages of the Hadrut region that remained under Armenian control when the ceasefire was signed and which the Defense Army was forced to leave under Azerbaijani onslaught after the conclusion of the armistice.
Azerbaijan will continue to resort to military steps if the Armenian armed forces do not begin to intercept its encroachments upon Armenia’s territory. However, the military leadership, deprived of political leadership support, is unable to fulfill its tasks of protecting Armenia’s territory. Military-political relations in Armenia are built on a hierarchy and subordination to the political leadership, which excludes the adoption of military-political decisions independently. The lack of political leadership orders has led to paralysis, which is eroding and destroying Armenia’s military security system. As a result, the task of protecting Armenia’s borders is transferred to the local bodies of territorial administration. In its state development, Armenia is thrown back into the late 80s and early 90, the period that gave the birth of the Third Republic.
Not only the armed forces but the executive branch have found themselves in a state of paralysis and inability to make decisions. The situation is such that the institutions of government are working out of inertia. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Security Service (SNB) managed to retain control, which allows is to maintain law and order and stop the actions of radical forces and provocateurs. However, law enforcement bodies are forced to solve a difficult task since one of the political coalitions “17+” uses street fighting methods to pressure the authorities. Today, law and order forces maintain control over the situation; however, its stability mainly depends on the unfolding crisis’s dynamics and depth.
The judiciary remains also paralyzed as the Constitutional Court was discredited before the outbreak of the war. Presently, it does not have the necessary authority to stop the country’s uncontrolled development of processes.
The church institutions of Armenian people are also discredited as a result of ill-conceived statement made by the Catholicos who failed to take into account the context and timing of his statement. The already precarious position of the Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church, undermined in previous years by demands of his resignation, makes it extremely difficult to influence the destructive processes in Armenia.
The only institution of state power that retains legitimacy is the office of the President of Armenia, who has minimal capacity to influence political processes due to limitations imposed by the constitutional framework. Today, the President of Armenia has only one option, which is to organize a dialogue between the warring parties, public and political circles. The President of Armenia is the only state person capable of conducting a dialogue and gathering representatives of Armenia’s political and public forces around a table to discuss ways out of the crisis. The presence of such an option gives hope and chance, similar to the one that was available during the “Velvet Revolution” of 2018. The President can take on the functions of the guarantor of the transition period if public and political forces turn to him with such a request. In general, according to Armenia’s Constitution, the powers available to different government branches are extremely unbalanced and do not allow finding a way out of the constitutional or political crises; as such, this problem needs to be addressed in the future.
Thus, under the prevailing conditions, one can speak not only of a political but of a national crisis that may develop into a crisis of Armenia’s state sovereignty. The Armenian statehood is close to a state of paralysis under conditions of a war, which is fraught with catastrophe not only for Artsakh but also for Armenia’s statehood. We can talk about several options and possible scenarios for the processes unfolding in Armenia under the current conditions.
Analysis: options and scenarios for overcoming the crisis
Option 1. Recognition by the government of the national crisis and taking steps to overcome it
Scenario 1. Within this option’s framework, Nikol Pashinyan admits his responsibility for the military defeat and the ensuing national crisis. In this case, Armenia gets the opportunity to develop and implement a roadmap for overcoming the crisis by methods utilized by world democracies under similar circumstances. When the political force guilty of the crisis declares the course’s failure and calls early elections.
Before early elections can be held, the electoral legislation must be changed. Unfortunately, Nikol Pashinyan and his party (which has a majority in Armenia’s Parliament) did not make changes to the electoral code and the law on parties as promised in the Velvet Revolution days. As a result, already under the conditions of a national crisis, it is necessary to carry out the changes required to eliminate the election results’ ambiguity and get a parliament that reflects society’s present state.
Under such an option, considering that a significant part of society does not trust Nikol Pashinyan’s government, a transitional government is required to prepare for early elections. Additionally, representatives of the opposition forces and the 17+ bloc, who are also not trusted by society, cannot be allowed to form the transitional government. Armenia and the Armenian statehood need a transitional period, a government and a prime minister to whom the society would entrust the preparation and conduct of early elections.
Finding a politically neutral prime minister who can rally a government of professionals/technocrats to address the national crisis is the main challenge in this scenario. Suppose the Armenian society can find such a person and form an interim government. In that case, it will be possible to move on to solving the next problem – convincing Nikol Pashinyan to cede power to the provisional government and agree with the need for early elections.
Option 2. The coming to power of a political bloc 17+
Nikol Pashinyan’s inability to initiate the process of overcoming the crisis by preparing and holding early elections increases the chances of the 17+ political bloc to break through to power by force within several scenarios.
Scenario 2. In this scenario, the political bloc 17+ pressures and /or bribes the Armenian parliament’s deputies by forcing them to dismiss the Armenian prime minister and appoint their candidate, who is currently Vazgen Manukyan. In this case, the process of the violent change of power remains within the framework of constitutional norms and procedures for the change of power. Armenia manages to stay within the framework of the constitution. The country has time to solve the Armenian statehood’s urgent tasks by overcoming the paralysis, restoring control, and preparing early elections.
However, fragile support within the society and the lack of confidence within the 17+ bloc in its ability to win in truly transparent elections will call into question both the timing of the elections and its results. It will be quite tricky for the 17+ political bloc to convince the public that the elections were genuinely transparent and fair because it would include political forces that falsified elections during their term in power in previous years. It also raises doubts about the bloc’s ability to follow the path of creating a government of professionals/technocrats.
As a consequence, this scenario should be characterized as less favorable than the first one. In this case, Armenia does not begin to resolve the crisis but only stops its acute phase and postpones the solution later in the future.
Scenario 3. In this scenario, the political bloc 17+ carries out a coup d’etat, relying on the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Security Service. They take responsibility for Armenia and remove Nikol Pashinyan from power. This is undoubtedly a less acceptable scenario and approach to resolving the national crisis, striking a severe blow to Armenia’s image as a country unable to overcome the crisis within the constitutional framework. In this case, the Armenian diplomacy will face the challenging task of explaining the aggressive steps undertaken by law enforcement agencies to the international community. Careful steps will be required to minimize the damage from an unconstitutional change of government. The first step should be the immediate appointment of the date for early elections and the initiation of the process of constitutional amendments to the electoral legislation. In this case, law enforcement agencies play the role of guarantors of the transition period, not that of actors of the political field, a position that is being fulfilled by the members of the 17+ bloc.
Scenario 4. In this scenario, the political bloc 17+ resorts to direct pressure on Nikol Pashinyan through violent means-a coup d’etat. As a result of this course of action, there will be severe damage to the Armenian statehood and cause a split within the society between the supporters of Nikol Pashinyan and the 17+ bloc. This scenario’s results can hardly be called positive as it will become impossible to talk about the possibility of institutional changes in Armenia that will allow it to overcome the crisis. The damage caused by such a gross violation of the constitution will be challenging to stop and restore. It won’t be possible to assess whether the new government will agree to take the path of early elections or switch to authoritarian methods of government.
Option 3. Formation of an alternative to Nikol Pashinyan and 17+
Scenario 5. This approach to overcoming the crisis remains a potential one today when the Armenian society can form an alternative to Nikol Pashinyan and the 17+ political bloc. Realizing that both political forces have no right to be in power after the military defeat since they are responsible for the Artsakh catastrophe, the society initiates the process of forming an alternative that will lead the way out of the national crisis.
In this case, the time factor begins to play a critical role. The unfolding crisis requires making a decision on a time scale of days and weeks while forming a new social and political force takes months. Today in Yerevan, the processes of self-organization of society are underway. Groups of citizens concerned about the future of Armenia are being formed. It is impossible to say at this stage how much this process can be accelerated. The self-organization of the Armenian society is supplemented by the process of self-synchronization, which allows moving from the activity of individual groups to a pan-Armenian public initiative. In any case, it is necessary to speak about a public, not a political initiative, when challenges and threats formulated are aimed against the whole nation and Armenia’s national state sovereignty.
Within this theoretical possibility framework, a transitional government of professionals/technocrats is being formed by relying on broad popular support, which can develop a roadmap for overcoming the crisis. A critical element of this scenario would be the achievement of a public consensus on the prime minister’s identity in transition. Considering the state of society and the depth of the crisis, we can talk about a public figure, not a political figure, a person with the necessary moral and ethical authority that the society could entrust him with the formation of a transitional government and holding of early elections. The prime minister should not be seen as a professional or a politician, but as a moral authority capable of calming the society and ensuring the transitional government’s legitimacy. The coming weeks will show whether the Armenian society, especially in Yerevan, is capable of following this path.
Thus, the deepening national crisis threatens the state sovereignty of Armenia. Today, the current government does not want to follow the path of initiating a transitional period and calling early elections. Under such conditions, the group of political forces 17+ can increase pressure on the authorities to force the resignation of Nikol Pashinyan without having support in the Armenian society. On the political field of Armenia, a situation has developed when two political forces that do not have the trust of society are fighting for power – the current government that admitted defeat in the war and the Artsakh catastrophe and the 17+ political forces bloc, also responsible for the state of Armenian statehood and the results of the war. In this sense, one can speak of an apparent contradiction, since both political forces are guilty of the current situation and the methods mentioned above of overcoming the crisis do not reflect the interests of the Armenian society and people. From this point of view, one can speak of a dead end and the danger of a deepening of the crisis.
Whether the Armenian society is able to form an alternative and find a way out of the current impasse in the struggle for power by creating a pole of social forces that will be able to overcome the national crisis largely depends on the ability of the Yerevan society, the capital of Armenia, to self-organize in the face of severe time pressure. How such a public alternative could be built and on what kind of principles and approaches are topics for separate work.
- Arzumanian, Hrachya. “The Dilemma of War or International Law in the History of the Artsakh conflict,” Ararat Institute for Near Eastern Studies, 21 December 2020. On-line access 21 December 2020 https://araratinstitute.org/2020/12/18/3159/
Author’s Bio: Hrachya Arzumanian, Doctor of Political Science, PhD in Computer Sciences. Academic Fields: Complexity thinking in Policy, Strategy, National Security and Military sphere. The author of ten books and more than 300 papers, articles and reports. Former Adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Artsakh (2006 to 2020). The chief of branch on preparation of work of Security Council of Artsakh (2006-2008). The Chief of IT Service of Artsakh Defense Army from 1995-2001.