April War Fallout: Karabakh factor brings readjustments in Armenia’s domestic politics

Photo: Photolure

After the four-day war in Nagorno-Karabakh in early April calls for bringing those responsible for the situation to justice have been voiced more vigorously in Armenia. The matter concerns not only the level of preparedness of the army, but also allegations of corruption and mismanagement in the country as a whole. More than nine dozen Armenian soldiers were killed in the April 2-5 clashes with Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and critics claim Armenians would have fewer casualties had proper armaments been purchased and deployed.

These questions are now being voiced at the level of media, experts, NGOs and some political circles and no mass protests are held in this connection yet. Nevertheless, the powers that be seem alarmed by the prospect.

The first sign of this domestic political anxiety was the incident at the house of Armenia’s second president Robert Kocharyan that was reported last Friday. The Police said it was investigating an incident in which an unknown person threw a non-combat hand-grenade in the direction of the ex-leader’s house from a passing car. The grenade did not explode and no one was hurt in the incident.

Kocharyan refrained from giving a political assessment to the incident and his top aide rushed to downplay its significance, but deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia Armen Ashotyan condemned the attack, calling it an attempt to destabilize the country. In fact, the Republican Party sees forces that would want to destabilize Armenia.

Kocharyan has not announced any political plans, but he is widely perceived as the most viable alternative to the incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan.

Last year, Sargsyan conducted a constitutional referendum in Armenia, replacing the presidential form of government with the parliamentary one, and effectively canceling the presidential election in 2018 during which Kocharyan could hope to be again elected to the post. It seemed that Sargsyan had succeeded in neutralizing the second president and also the first president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, and, in an alliance with ARF Dashnaktsutyun, in securing a majority in next year’s parliamentary elections.

But the April war in Nagorno-Karabakh has brought its adjustments. Firstly, the Karabakh settlement has become more urgent, pressure on the Armenian authorities for concessions over Karabakh has increased, and the authorities have more reasons to worry. They cannot agree to territorial concessions because of a powerful resistance of the public that believes that the territories have twice been defended at the cost of blood in wars. But the rejection of concessions contains risks of an internal unrest that may be orchestrated by outside forces, such as Russia, that could be interested in bringing more “compliant” forces to power in Armenia.

Besides, after the April war it became clear that it will be difficult for the Republican Party to achieve victory in the 2017 elections with old methods – vote-buying, administrative resources, pressure from criminal oligarchy and others. Public ambitions and protest moods in society have increased as has increased people’s awareness of the right to power.

In order to retain power, the Republican Party will either have to take an unprecedented sovereign step and, say, recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, depriving the external forces of instruments of pressure on Armenia, or will have to retain power by reactionary violence and dictatorship.