Hello and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong. In this Conversations on Groong episode we’re going to discuss with our guests a call to the Armenian government to form a fact-finding commission to fully analyze the profound defeat in the fall of 2020.
This episode was recorded on Friday, July 30, 2021.
The disastrous outcome of the 2020 War in Artsakh has left Armenians in Armenia and around the world with many unanswered questions. Many long-time held beliefs about the capability of Armenia to defend Artsakh, and Armenia itself, were shattered on November 9, with the signing of the trilateral ceasefire statement.
A group of more than 10 academics and researchers recently published a lengthy set of questions that are proposed as a basis for a fact-finding commission to investigate the causes and results of the war. The document can be found on the web at armeniacommission.org
Today, we’ll talk with three of the authors of this document. We have with us:
Dr. Simon Saradzhyan who is the founding director of the Russia Matters Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and also helps advance the center’s U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism. His research interests include national power, military interventions, arms control, counterterrorism, and the foreign, defense, and security policies of Russia and other post-Soviet states and their relations with great powers. Prior to joining Harvard, Dr. Saradzhyan worked as a researcher, consultant, and journalist in Russia for 15 years, including as an editor of The Moscow Times.
Arthur Martirosyan, who is a Senior Consultant with CMPartners. In 1994 Martirosyan joined the Conflict Management Group (CMG) and worked with Professor Roger Fisher on several projects in the former Soviet Union. From 2001 through 2008 he was the Director of the Momentum Program: Leadership and Negotiation Culture Change in the Former Soviet Union (FSU).
Tevan Poghosyan, is president of the International Center for Human Development in Yerevan. Mr. Poghosyan was an MP in the National Assembly between 2012 and 2017 from the Heritage party. From 1997 to 1999 he served as the Nagorno-Karabakh Public Affairs Office Director in Washington, D.C.
Simon: As the lead author for the document, could you give us a brief overview of this document. When was the idea conceived, and what were your motivations for this initiative? What was the process for coming up with the team, and the document?
Arthur: You are a conflict management expert, how did you want the fact-finding and analysis to proceed, for optimal results? What was your role in organizing this document?
Tevan: Regardless of whatever optimal desires we may have, this commission and its results are going to be a political process. Should this be a government commission? A non-government, so-called “independent” commission? What powers should it be vetted with? What would be the ideal constitution and timing for such a commission?
The idea of a commission is indeed a compelling one. And while the document has many questions on specific facts and incidents, the document is not very prescriptive on the exact structure of the commission or its specific mandate.
First, let’s evaluate what we have today in Armenia. The Civil Contract Party won a very comfortable majority in the recent parliamentary elections, in fact they’re just short of a super-majority. The two opposition parties in the parliament will be the Armenia Alliance (led by Robert Kocharyan) which includes the ARF and Reviving Armenia party, and the I Have Honor Alliance (led by Arthur Vanetsyan) composed of the Republican and Hayreniq parties.
Just this week, Alen Simonyan, a senior member of the Civil Contract party who is slated to become the incoming parliament speaker, announced that the party has decided to set up a commission to investigate the 44 day war, once the new session of the parliament starts. Specifically, Simonyan stated that Civil Contract intends to be the initiator of this commission and will include all extra-parliamentary political forces.
The two parliamentary opposition parties, which campaigned on the idea of setting up such a commission, have already expressed misgivings about the commission, arguing that such a commission should not be led by the party that was in political leadership during the war, and lost the war.
Tevan: Given the upcoming configuration of the newly elected national assembly, what are the chances of such a commission arriving at objective answers to the questions posed in this document? Do you have any concerns about the proposal from Civil Contract as it stands today?
Arthur: In your experience, what may be reasonable international examples of similar fact-finding commissions that you think Armenia could or should emulate?
Simon: As we monitor the news and progress made by this parliamentary commission, what would be some signals that you’d be looking for that things are heading in the right direction or the wrong direction?
Are there any alternatives to a government-run commission? Could such a commission be established by civil society, despite the limited access it would perceivably have access to? Whatever happened to the 2016 war commission?
The document is divided into two main sections, with the first section covering May 1994 - Sep 2020 and the second section covering the period of the war.
Our timeline begins with the signing of the May 1994 ceasefire in Bishkek under the leadership of Armenia’s first president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Power in Armenia switched hands three times, beginning with Robert Kocharyan coming to power in 1998 and serving for 10 years, then Serzh Sargsyan for another decade, and culminating with Nikol Pashinyan who took power in May 2018.
What are the general political environment and developments that took place during each of those leaders’ tenure? What were some major political developments that took place during this 26 year period that in your opinion have been pivotal to arriving at the military-political configuration that we had as of September 2020?
What do you think were some missed opportunities by Armenian leadership during the lead-up to September 2020, that you would focus on if you were in charge of this commission?
How did external drivers influence the outcome of the war? Did Armenia’s relationship with Moscow experience significant changes since Nikol Pashinyan’s accession to power that could have influenced the outcome of the war?
Can we pinpoint some major areas of concerns that you specifically have on how the war was executed?
As Armenia’s strategic partner, many consider Moscow’s position in the lead-up and during the war to be pivotal to its outcome. What are some questions to focus on in Armenia’s relationship with its northern neighbor?
Since publishing this document, have you been contacted by Armenia’s political leadership to discuss your proposal further?
Closing with a quote from Henry Ford:
The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.
That concludes this Conversation On Groong on the proposal of forming a commission to study Armenia’s failure in the 2020 Artsakh War.
We hope this Conversation has helped your understanding of some of the issues involved. We look forward to your feedback, including your suggestions for Conversation topics in the future. Contact us on our website, at groong.org, or on our Facebook Page “ANN - Groong”, or in our Facebook Group “Groong - Armenian News Network”.
Special thanks to Laura Osborn for providing the music for our podcast. I’m Hovik Manucharyan, and on behalf of everyone in this episode, I wish you a good week. Thank you for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
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