YEREVAN – Without Turkey’s involvement, there would be no war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told EFE in an interview, adding that a diplomatic end to the conflict was off the table if Baku continued to push a military solution.
Pashinyan’s face betrays the situation’s seriousness when answering questions about the fighting over the enclave, which erupted Sept. 27 and has cost the lives of thousands on each side, both military and civilian, according to the latest estimates.
It is the first conflict Pashinyan, 45, has faced since taking office in 2018.
You have recently acknowledged, on a number of occasions that the situation on the frontline is difficult. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev claims to capture new territory every day, it seems. Do you have anything to add to that?
It is important to understand that the situation on the frontline is quite challenging. The people of Nagorno-Karabakh are defending themselves using all means available to them and the people of Armenia, using all means available to them, are supporting them.
You have always said the only solution to the conflict is a peaceful one. However, on Wednesday you said that at that moment you could not see a diplomatic end to the problem in Nagorno-Karabakh. What has changed?
Nothing has changed in my position. We have always said and keep saying the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh must be resolved only by peaceful means. I said something else, that Armenia has always been and is ready – and Karabakh, too, is ready – for a peaceful, diplomatic resolution of the issue, but we have one difficulty: the compromise to which Armenia agrees is no longer something to which Azerbaijan agrees. There is a need for compromise, for the parties to make their position more flexible. This is nothing new.
This was always the case. It is proven with specific facts going back to 2011 when Armenia lowered its original bar a little bit and sought compromise. From that point on, Azerbaijan does not agree, demands more. And, in parallel, military pressure is occurring and it is in this context that I said that in reality, a diplomatic solution is not feasible in these conditions, because the other side does not want a diplomatic solution.
The other side wants a military solution. So we need to focus more on the military objective, so as to achieve a diplomatic solution. That is the story.
Azerbaijan has a strong ally in this war in the form of Turkey. What about Armenia? Russia has a security pact with Armenia, do you think Moscow is doing everything to meet its commitments within the framework of its strategic alliance with Yerevan?
First of all, we need to acknowledge that Russia is Armenia’s strategic partner and, in this sense, we feel Russia’s support. But Russia is also a co-chair country in OSCE Minsk Group and its mandate, its mission, is to be a mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh resolution, a mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh. And so, its positions and its decisions fit within this range. And we do feel Russia’s support indeed as Armenia’s strategic partner. We do feel Russia’s mediation efforts. We see these mediation efforts for establishing stability in the region and achieving a peaceful resolution.
Unfortunately, these efforts are not producing results yet. For the simple reason that Azerbaijan does not respect its commitments, namely the commitments stated in the Moscow declaration (the Oct. 10 ceasefire) and it is obvious by the way that Azerbaijan does not do it because of Turkey’s encouragement and Turkey’s position. Every time, Turkey states that Azerbaijan should not stop the fighting and should opt for the military solution of the issue. This is a key factor. Azerbaijan is, instead of focusing on its commitments, focusing more on Turkey’s statements.
In your opinion, who is able to stop the bloodshed in Nagorno-Karabakh? Russia? The United Nations?
There is a format for talks and it is the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, made up of Russia, France and the United States. The answer to your question has to be thought of in that context. Of course, Russia stands closer to the region. Russia has greater influence and greater leverage and it has greater possibilities. So, I believe that the other co-chairs in the OSCE Minsk Group should support and encourage Russia in performing this function.
In what conditions would Armenia be willing to recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh? Would it do so without the backing of the international community?
Of course Armenia can take that decision at any time. But that decision would be much more meaningful if Armenia were acting not as a stand-alone country but as a member of the international community, as one participant in a continuing process. And now we see around the world, also with the encouragement of the Armenian diaspora, a movement has begun for the international recognition of Artsakh (the Armenian name for the de facto republic of Nagorno-Karabakh).
But I want to highlight that this recognition is not at all within any logic of separatism. It is not related to separatism. In Nagorno-Karabakh – and this is how the Karabakh movement originally began – the Armenians in Karabakh are facing a survival threat, an existential threat. So we emphasized the principle of remedial secession. People want independence not because that’s just something they want on a whim. But it is a vital necessity because what is happening now, what has happened in Nagorno-Karabakh already, is essentially a process of genocide. And this is a very important subtlety to be borne in mind.
I’ve just come back from Nagorno-Karabakh and one of the biggest fears for the people there is genocide. Do you feel that the international community is aware of this?
We, using all possible means, are speaking up about this problem. In dozens of cities around the world, there are demonstrations, rallies, protests which are speaking up about it. The international community needs to know that there is really a serious threat and that threat is a serious threat not just for the context of Nagorno-Karabakh, but that in parallel there are geopolitical threats, because this is an attempt, through genocide, to continue Turkey’s imperialistic policies.
And this threat hangs not only over Nagorno-Karabakh, but really over all of the Armenians in the South Caucasus. Because the Armenians in the South Caucasus are the last remaining obstacle in Turkey’s path towards continued imperialistic policies towards the north, the east, and the southeast. And this must be seen in the context of the policies Turkey is carrying out in the Mediterranean against Greece and Cyprus or in Syria and Iraq and Libya.
We must also acknowledge that without Turkey, this war would not have happened. First of all, the Turkish military is unofficially participating on the side of Azerbaijan. They are involved in this process. Their own UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles or drones) called Bayraktar are being used, and Turkey is the one that recruited mercenaries and terrorists and transported them to Azerbaijan to launch the attack on Nagorno-Karabakh.
Does the alleged presence of these groups in the region pose a threat to the international community?
It is now a proven fact that they are being used there. We have also published official materials and there are other materials on the internet that unquestionably prove this fact.
Your Minister of Foreign Affairs is currently flying to Washington to hold meetings. What do you expect from the talks with the US?
That visit was planned a long time ago. And as I said, the US is one of the co-chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group and the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs are the format where the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should be resolved. And I think the co-chairs need to exert a greater effort to bring Azerbaijan to a constructive field.
If it is not stopped now via diplomatic means, is there a real danger that this conflict will grow into something bigger and involve more regional players?
That threat has existed from day one and it continues to exist. So long as the war has not been stopped, that threat will persist.
Why are Russia and the European Union not more actively involved in finding a diplomatic solution?
As I said, there is one reason and that is that Azerbaijan has decided not to stop the war, not to stop the war despite its own commitments, its own undertakings. And as I told you, the reason for that is Turkey’s destructive and aggressive posture.
The war goes on and the international community must clearly condemn Turkey’s involvement and the involvement of terrorists in this process and take specific measures, including sanctions, to contain Turkey’s aggressiveness and Azerbaijan’s aggressiveness. And the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs need to make a more active and practical effort.