Does Pashinyan’s Victory Bring Stability or Chaos?

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The conclusion of the Second Karabakh War with the victory of Azerbaijan created a social and political crisis in Armenia. Armenians, who blamed Nikol Pashinyan for the defeat of the war, started protests which were difficult to terminate. This situation brought along the failed coup attempt because of Pashinyan’s resistance to stay in office. Although the Armenian leader removed this attempt, his confrontation with both President Armen Sarkisyan and the Constitutional Court created an unmanageable situation in the country. Therefore, in this process Pashinyan not only with the public opposition; it has been seen that is also confronted with all state institutions at the same time. Pashinyan, who thought that it was necessary to reassure the people in order to overcome the aforementioned problem, resigned in order to hold an early election and participated in the elections held on 20 June 2021 as the candidate of the “Civil Contract Party”.

The prominent candidates in the elections were Nikol Pashinyan and Robert Kocharyan. In this sense, the Armenian elections took place as a race between Pashinyan, who came to power with the Velvet Revolution and is known as a pro-Western leader, and the “Armenian Alliance”, which nominated former President Kocharyan as a joint candidate and came to the forefront with their pro-Russian rhetoric. Accordingly, the elections meant that the Armenian people would make a geopolitical choice. Because it was predicted that if Kocharyan came to power, he would receive the support of Russia causing he would return to reoccupy policies in the Karabakh conflict.

In this atmosphere, the polls before the elections indicated that there would be a very close rivalry between the two leaders, and even the predictions were that Koçaryan would win election. However, the elections, contrary to expectations; It resulted in Pashinyan’s landslide victory. Because Pashinyan received 53.92% of the votes and completed the election first. His closest rival, Koçaryan, came in second with 21.1% of the vote.[1] In addition, the “I Have Honor Alliance”, to which Former President Serzh Sargsyan was a candidate, passed the election threshold with 5.23% of votes and gained the right to be represented in the Armenian Parliament.[2]

The most significant reality revealed by the election results is that despite the chaos caused by the protests and the coup attempt, the Armenian people kept their faith in the Velvet Revolution and believed that Pashinyan deserved another chance. This is due to the fact that despite the pro-Russian bureaucratic structure in Armenia, especially the younger generations believe that it would be more appropriate to turn to the West for the future of the country. In other words, the Armenian people, suffered by poverty and tired of being isolated from the international community, have made it clear that they do not want war and fighting. Because the Armenian community gave open support to Pashinyan, whom the opposition held responsible for the defeat of the war.

One of the reasons for the support in question is Pashinyan’s convincing the public that he was not to blame for the defeat of the war. During the campaign, the Armenian leader stated that the policies implemented by the past governments both made the Armenian Army weak and caused the negative reaction of the international community. In fact, Pashinyan stated before the war that the seven regions in Karabakh should be returned to Azerbaijan in spite of criticism. The resulting picture shows that Armenia suffered a more severe defeat than Pashinyan’s theses and lost many of its soldiers. Therefore, if Pashinyan’s suggestions had been accepted in the past, such a heavy defeat would not have been encountered today. Despite Pashinyan’s statements, the support he received shows that the Armenian people are also in favor of moving away from traditional policies.

Armenia has a historical opportunity to move away from the aforementioned policies and integrate with the world. The name of this opportunity is the “The Platform of Six” proposed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey, and Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan. It can be said that if the Yerevan administration, led by Pashinyan, accepts to be included in the platform, it will contribute to the regional cooperation processes and integrate into the transportation and energy corridors. This will not only increase the welfare of the Armenian people, but will also mean the start of normalization with Turkey and Azerbaijan, which is the first step to be taken in terms of opening up to the West.

Yerevan’s normalization of relations with Ankara and Baku depends on two preconditions. These are: Armenia respects the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and abandons the so-called genocide allegations against Turkey. In a sense, Armenia should abandon living with the perception of identity built on traumas thought it happened in the past and can adapt to the reality of the day and can find the opportunity to build the future. As a matter of fact, a truth cooperation in Turkey-Armenia and Azerbaijan-Armenia relations will contribute to regional peace and security, as well as increase the welfare of the peoples of the region. In terms of all these opportunities, it is a great chance for Armenia that the Civil Contract Party comes to power alone. However, it is still unclear whether Armenia can take advantage of this chance.

As stated above, Pashinyan’s mental thought is shaped by the ideas that aim to liberalize his country and integrate with the West. In this direction, the Armenian leader proposed the return of seven regions before the Second Karabakh War. However, despite being an elected leader, Pashinyan did not have the power to change the mandated structure in the country on his own. For this reason, after the war defeat, pro-Russian social segments, especially the army and bureaucratic institutions, forced the Armenian leader to resign and there were developments leading to the election. The election results, on the other hand, reveal that the Armenian people want to eliminate the mandate mentality which has come from the Cold War in the country. But despite the great public support behind him, Pashinyan’s path is not easy at all. As a matter of fact, whether will Armenia achieve stability in the upcoming period or not is unclear.

The comments that the chaos in the country will increase are related to the allegations of cheating. Because the “Armenian Alliance”, which nominated Koçaryan as a candidate after the elections, remarked in a written statement “The opposition’s crowded rallies and the government’s activities with few people point to completely different feelings. Hundreds of signals from polling stations pointing to organized and planned fraud are a major sign of lack of trust.”[3] expressions were used and this alliance declared that they would not recognize the election results. This means that street protests can start again. Moreover, the groups united around Kocharyan may provoke a coup attempt by provoking pro-Russian groups in the military bureaucracy. In other words, it is highly probable that the early elections held with the aim of overcoming the instability in the country will not be enough to end the chaos.

Based on the opposition’s claims regarding the elections, Pashinyan has two options. The first of these is that the Armenian leader acts as a profile that is compatible with the traditional understanding of politics, and in a sense, he reconciles with the established order and is positioned in a line that will not confront Russia too much. Even if, Pashinyan likely to maintain his power more comfortably in this scenario, he cannot have absolute power. The second scenario is that Pashinyan, as an elected leader, who sees the belief of the people in the Velvet Revolution, struggles with the mandate order in the country and turns to the West in accordance with both his own thoughts and the expectations of the majority of the Armenian people, and in this sense, he takes steps to normalize Armenia with his neighbours in the region positioning it as an actor open to regional cooperation. This option points to a picture in which the possibility of a public movement and a coup attempt may come to the fore, as it may lead to a much harsher revenge in domestic politics. Therefore, although it is certain that Pashinyan won the election, it is still early to say that the political crisis in the country has been overcome.

[1] Emre Gürkan Abay, “Ermenistan’daki Erken Parlamento Seçimini Paşinyan’ın Partisi Kazandı”, Anadolu Ajansı, https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/dunya/ermenistan-daki-erken-parlamento-secimini-pasinyanin-partisi-kazandi/2280248, (access of date: 22.06.2021).

[2] ibid.

[3] “Son Dakika Haberi: Ermenistan’da İlk Sonuçlar: Seçimi Paşinyan’ın Partisi Kazandı”, NTV, https://www.ntv.com.tr/dunya/son-dakika-haberi-ermenistanda-ilk-sonuclar-secimi-pasinyanin-partisi-kazandi,K-eiL_Y-20OCFDGJba0SCA, (access of date: 22.06.2021).

Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
ANKASAM Uluslararası İlişkiler Uzmanı