The Battle for Armenia Continues?


The results of the parliamentary elections held in Armenia on Sunday, June 20, turned out to be very unexpected for everyone involved. Clearly, no one anticipated that Nikol Pashinyan's Civil Contract party would be able to get 53.92 % of the votes. Due to the specifics of the Armenian legislation, this does not guarantee the right to form a government, as it requires 54% of the votes. Still, Pashinyan's victory was unconditional.

His main opponent, former President Robert Kocharyan, who headed Armenia electoral bloc, received only 21.04% of the votes. The electoral bloc I Have Honor that was led by another former president, Serzh Sargsyan, will also have seats in the parliament. He scored 5.23%, which is not enough for electoral blocs to get into parliament, as they need to gain at least 7% of the votes. However, the current legislation requires at least three political forces to be represented in the parliament, so I Have Honor will become a part of it.

Quite predictably, Kocharyan refused to accept the election results. From a technical standpoint, Pashinyan's party did not score 54% of the votes that the complex configuration of the Armenian political system requires, which leaves Kocharyan the opportunity to bargain with the authorities. Pashinyan himself announced that he is going to start forming the government anyway, despite lacking 0.08% of votes.

Thus, this situation may continue the harsh confrontation that took place during the elections. Since Pashinyan does not have enough legitimacy, Kocharyan together with Sargsyan will try to use this fact to their advantage. Considering the fact that the opposing parties did not stand on ceremony with each other during the elections, it will be quite challenging for them to achieve compromise, if possible at all.

Undoubtedly, what piques the most interest in the current elections in Armenia is the fact that Pashinyan was able to win them, despite having such unfavorable circumstances. After all, he was leading the country during the lost war with Azerbaijan over Karabakh. It was Pashinyan who signed the November treaty with Azerbaijan and Russia, which resulted in the loss of a large amount of territory, and the rest of Karabakh was left in an extremely vulnerable position. The Armenian military opposed him, which led to a severe crisis at the beginning of this year. Pashinyan was accused of incompetence, the elder political elites were against him. Among the claims was the consent to the opening of the so-called Zangezur corridor, which should have connected Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhichevan through Armenia. Allegedly, in order to achieve this, Pashinyan wanted to transfer the territories of Armenia, not Karabakh.

To sum up, Pashinyan's departure from the political scene seemed to be the most logical scenario. It can be claimed that he was the most unfavorable politician in Armenia. Nevertheless, he won, and this is the biggest mystery of modern Armenian politics. Why did the citizens of Armenia vote for a politician who suffered a humiliating defeat during the recent war for Karabakh?

There was another important circumstance against Pashinyan, which, under other circumstances, theoretically should have played a decisive role. His rival, Kocharyan, was clearly supported by Moscow officials. Given the power of its propaganda machine and its huge impact on the Armenian economy, it was an extremely significant factor. On the other hand, Armenians are very influential in the Russian state media. In addition, large Armenian and Russian businesses are closely connected with each other. Kocharyan himself has been a member of the board of directors of Yevgeny Yevtushenkov's “System” company since 2009, and left only in May 2021 in order to participate in the elections.

It is important to note that, during the elections, Kocharyan promised to change the terms of the Karabakh agreement without using military forces. It is clear that he was transparently hinting at the capabilities of Moscow. Otherwise, why would Baku agree with the changes to the November 2020 agreement, which was already beneficial for them before that? In other words, Kocharyan’s hint was quite obvious.

Theoretically speaking, Russia can strengthen Armenia's military capabilities to such an extent that Azerbaijan would be motivated to negotiate. Perhaps, this is exactly what Baku was afraid of. Consequently, in June, just before the Armenian elections, the establishment of Turkish military bases in Azerbaijan was announced. This way, the Azerbaijanis clearly tried to neutralize in advance the effect of Kocharyan possibly coming to power, and Russia's likely subsequent actions to strengthen Armenia militarily.

By the way, it is quite likely that this was one of the reasons for Pashinyan's final victory. Of course, Armenian voters are patriotic, and no one in Armenia liked the result of the war for Karabakh. At the same time, ordinary voters always have a more conservative mindset. It appears that they do not want a revanchist policy to be realized, which would be inevitable if Kocharyan came to power.

Kocharyan and the other former President Sargsyan both themselves come from Karabakh. It can be safely assumed that the interests of this region are of critical importance for them. Therefore, their victory would mean that the resources of Armenia would be directed to a more active policy towards Karabakh. Relatively speaking, Kocharyan's victory would mean the triumph of the idea of revenge and, ultimately, the transition to a new stage of a long confrontation with Azerbaijan. For Armenia, this would mean a struggle of attrition. Moreover, Armenian conscripts would have to serve in Karabakh again, as it was before the recent lost war. Considering the crushing defeat suffered last time, Armenian society would not see much sense in it.

From this perspective, Pashinyan is more convenient for the Armenian society. Due to the fact that it was he who signed the peace treaty, he will definitely not support the policy of revanchism. But even if he wanted to, Moscow would not support him, as he is clearly not trusted in Russia. Therefore, we should not expect that once Pashinyan comes to power, Moscow will suddenly start supplying additional supplies of weapons to Armenia, as they do not have the necessary level of relations for that yet. Hence, the policy of revenge becomes impossible.

It seems that the Armenian society is tired of the Karabakh conflict in its current form. Of course, Armenian people will continue to prove their historical rightness in this conflict, but they no longer want to take risks, especially since they do not see any special benefits from it. In this regard, Pashinyan, who lost the war, is more convenient than the politician Kocharyan, who is inclined to revenge.

In addition, the powerful pressure from the Russian mass media most likely led to the opposite effect. It is quite possible that the Armenian society did not take it too positively. When a certain point of view is being imposed from the outside, and even the friendliest country shows its sympathy to only one side of an intense internal political conflict, rejection may arise. Even more so, the former ruling elite of Armenia is not very popular in society because of unpleasant information regarding its activities in the past.

To conclude, the results of these elections in Armenia should be interesting to everyone in the post-Soviet space. Politics in this country is very competitive, tough and extremely emotional. Because of it, the Armenian political sphere should be thoroughly analyzed. Furthermore, we are talking about a country with an almost mono-national population. There are no such conditions in other post-Soviet countries. 

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