Political developments in Armenia ‘create new dynamics’ in Karabakh peace talks – Dennis Sammut

10:54 • 17.05.18

A key problem in the current developments around Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) is that they are too much focused on the form and process without enough attention to substance, according to Dennis Sammut, Executive Director of LINKS (Dialogue, Analysis and Research) and Member of the European Policy Center.

In an interview with Tert.am, the expert highlighted the existing real chances of flexibility in the peace talks as real opportunity for future progress. He also commented upon Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s recent statement insisting on Artsakh’s return to the negotiating table. Mr Sammut said he finds any changes in he format indispensable if they assist in the prospect for peace.

Mr Sammut, what is opinion on Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

The exciting developments in Armenia in the last weeks have an impact on the whole region, and certainly create a new dynamic in the process of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. They introduce some new opportunities, but also one or two additional risks. Armenia’s leaders since 1998 have hailed from Nagorno-Karabakh, and had their original political base there. This made it impossible for anyone to accuse them of selling out Karabakh in the negotiations. Pashinyan is well aware he does not have this luxury, and that his opponents will not hesitate to use the Karabakh issue against him if he gives them the chance.

His main immediate objective is to tackle the domestic agenda – this is what most people out on the streets were protesting about, which is why Pashinyan emphasises continuity as regards foreign policy, security, and Karabakh. Of course everyone is expecting early elections in Armenia sometime later this year. At this point Pashinyan will need to spell out his policy clearly on these issues too, but for the next few months the emphasis as regards the Karabakh issue is likely to be on continuity.

Mr Pashinyan stressed at his press conference in Artsakh the importance of investing every possible effort towards returning Artsakh to the negotiating table. Do you think it is possible to realize this idea in the visible future? And do you expect any consequences in case the Armenian side insists on its position?

One of the problems around the process of the Karabakh conflict resolution is that there is too much emphasis on form and process, and not enough on substance. The issue of the representation of the Armenian people of Nagorno-Karabakh in the discussions is a question of when, not if. Of course you need to be very naïve to believe that anyone will try to impose a solution for Karabakh that does not have the support of the people of Karabakh, Armenians and Azerbaijanis.

The present negotiating format is one that has been agreed between the sides in the conflict and the international community, therefore it can only be changed if and when everyone agrees. I am a great believer in the virtue of flexibility in negotiations. Armenia wants to change something, and probably Azerbaijan wants to change something too. If it helps the prospect for peace, mutually agreed changes to the format can and should happen.

At this point I do not think Armenia under Pashinyan will insist on the inclusion of Stepanakert in the negotiations to the extent that it will pull out of the discussions if this does not happen. As I said earlier, for the next months at least, Pashinyan will promote continuity in this sphere.


Nikol Pashinyan promised to rely on new approaches in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement process. Do you think there is any need for such new approaches in this process? 

One needs to see what these new approaches will be. Of course there is plenty of scope for new approaches, even without changing the core positions. If the sides are true to their words, and really want a peaceful solution, they know there are some things that need to be done: confidence-building measures – military and civilian; less hostile rhetoric; better people to people contacts; stricter compliance with the cease fire; and a more robust process of negotiations, including expanding the format and sticking to a tighter time table. All these things can happen, and should start happening now – slowly at first, but gradually expanding as the negotiations start giving results.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov recently expressed his country’s readiness to return to active negotiations within the shortest possible timeframes.  The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group are scheduling a meeting with the Armenia’s new leadership in June.  What are your predictions and expectations from the upcoming discussions between mediators and the parties?

There will be a new team on the Armenian side in the negotiations, for the first time in ten years. This changes the dynamic of the discussions to a point. Personal chemistry matters to some extent. Azerbaijan was hoping that by now the political processes in Armenia surrounding the constitutional transition would have been concluded so that the negotiations could restart in earnest, but now the situation is unlikely to settle down before the end of the year. This will create some frustration in Baku. A meeting between Aliyev and Pashinyan should take place as soon as possible – but of course it has to be well prepared, but I am sure the two foreign ministers will meet soon. The channels of communication must remain open.


Hripsime Hovhannisyan


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