Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This week we’re going to talk about the following major topics:
● Azerbaijan’s Incursion into Syunik
● Lavrov visits Yerevan and Baku
● Electoral Politics
To talk about these issues, we have with us:
Tatul Hakobyan, who is the coordinator of the ANI Armenian Research Center, which focuses on contemporary Armenian issues. He is a columnist at Aliq Media, and author of three books - Karabakh Diary: Green and Black; Armenians and Turks; and his most recent book, The Valley of Death.
Emil Sanamyan, who is a senior research fellow at USC’s Institute of Armenian Studies specializing in politics in the Caucasus.
Dr. Artyom Tonoyan, who is a research associate at the University of Minnesota's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, with specialties in religion and politics and nationalism in the South Caucasus, and Russia.
Hello and welcome everyone!
Earlier this week the Azerbaijani army crossed into Armenia in three different locations on the Eastern “internationally recognized” border with Azerbaijan.
The most widely reported incursion was in Syunik, with Azerbaijan penetrating 3.5km deep into Armenia around Mt. Mets Ishkhanasar and adjacent Sev Lake (Black Lake). In Gegharkunik province, Azerbaijan is reported to have advanced in Upper Shorzha by 2 km and also Kut village by also 1.5-2 km.
In the South, George Tabakian, who is a regular
guest of ours, estimated that Armenia has lost around 1200 hectares of land. In
Verin Shorzha, Razminfo’s very rough estimate is 1500 hectares. Hrant
Mikaelian, another regular guest of ours, estimated
the loss of land at 4000 hectares in total. That is more than 50% of land area
of Glendale, CA and about 10 times as much land as was lost during the April
This comes after months of complaints that the borders of Syunik Region were not guarded, or barely even manned. An entire week before this, on May 5, Edgar Elbakian, based on a video publicized by Azerbaijani sources, sounded alarm bells that while Soviet maps show that 70% of Sev Lake lies in Armenian territory, the enemy demonstrated that they have full control over the lake.
And all of this happened without even firing a shot! If we are to believe various news reports, the incursion was only noticed by shepherds in Armenia who were grazing their flock.
What are our impressions and what do you think are Azerbaijan’s motivations?
While there are claims of “negotiations”, Azerbaijan seems to be entrenching.
Armenian analyst Suren Sargsyan for one, hypothesized that Turkey may be behind this in order to discredit Russia and force Russian military out of the region.
What are Armenia’s options?
In the aftermath of the events, Armenia’s response was initially muted. Towards the evening a meeting of the National Security Council was held and after midnight Pashinyan made a statement where he finally confirmed the incursion, but the response was mild. He said that Armenia wouldn’t tolerate it, but at the same time went to lengths to explain that Azerbaijan argued that Azerbaijan was using fake maps as a pretense.
The following day, another NSC meeting was held and Pashinyan indicated that (and I may be paraphrasing), “We would like Azerbaijan to leave just as they came.”
Meanwhile the defense ministry seems to be content reporting about the status of Azerbaijani troops. Today, they confirmed that the Azerbaijanis are still there!
Emil: There are some that argue that Armenia’s response was appropriate and that gives us a diplomatic advantage. What do you think?
○ “Expects Azerbaijan to withdraw”, however also mentions the term “disputed territories”
○ Does the US think Syunik is disputed?
○ The strongest-worded response came from Paris. Macron in a tweet in multiple languages, including Armenian, said:
■ "Azerbaijani armed forces have crossed into Armenian territory. They must withdraw immediately. I say again to the Armenian people: France stands with you in solidarity and will continue to do so."
○ Jonathan Lacote, French ambassador to Armenia posted a Shiraz poem
○ Reports of offers of military aid and UNSC involvement, but no action yet.
○ All words, no action?
○ Mentioned “disputed territories”, bothsidism
● Russia is complicated because
Are Armenia’s interactions with Russia and CSTO throughout this process adequate?
The US response was the most curious. While they said they wanted Azerbaijan to withdraw, their response about “disputed territories” was curious.
Lacote likes Shiraz poetry, but does France have any ability to help Armenia?
The incident was initially reported by low-reputation media, while more responsible media sent queries to the MOD for information.
● MOD was slow to respond.
● Initial response was denial, then ambiguity and misleading information.
● NSS threatened those who spread false information.
● Meanwhile, pro-govt media and commentators accused the media of spreading fake news.
● Pashinyan finally announced the incursion into Syunik (only) after midnight.
Tatul: Do you think that the media covered this event adequately? What was the government’s role in informing the public?
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was in Yerevan on May 6 and 7, and this past week he was in Baku.
What was special this time that could not be solved over Zoom calls, and needed a personal visit? What major topics were discussed in Yerevan and Baku?
Two weeks ago US president Joe Biden momentously Recognized the Armenian Genocide. The day before that, Secretary of State Tony Blinken extended the waiver on Section 907 of the US Freedom Support Act, allowing the US to send assistance to Azerbaijan. These two actions seem to have reinserted the US back into the South Caucasus politics in a way that is irritating Russia. What’s your assessment of these power games around the Caucasus?
One of the ways in which the US is poking at The Bear is by talking that the November Agreement is a ceasefire and not a final peace agreement, and the latter can not be achieved without a final status for Artsakh. France agrees, and of course Armenia as well. Russia doesn’t really want to talk about this issue now. Why not? If not now, when?
The political landscape in Yerevan is reshaping daily in the weeks before the early parliamentary elections expected on June 20. The main forces preparing for the elections are looking to be:
● The Civil Contract party with Nikol Pashinyan as their leader. Civil Contract has decided to shed the My Step alliance and run on its own as a political party.
● Today first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan announced that he will be running as the leader of the ANC.
● Former President Robert Kocharyan is forming an alliance including the ARF Dashnaktsutyun and the Armenian Revival party.
● The Republican Party of Armenia and Artur Vanetsyan’s Hayrenik party, with no official candidate for prime minister yet, even though there are rumors that it will be Vanetsyan.
● The Prosperous Armenia party with Gagik Tsarukyan in the lead.
● The Bright Armenia party with Edmon Marukyan in the lead.
Emil: With the threshold for coalitions being at 7%, does it really make sense for the Republican Party to form a bloc with Hayreniq, given that collectively they’re polling at about 2% right now? The threshold for a single party to get into parliament is 4%.
On May 7 Armenia’s first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan publicized a call which he claims to have made earlier in private to Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan. The call also had a scathing assessment for Pashinyan remaining in power, where he said that if Pashinyan retains power, it will be worse than any threat Armenia has from Turkey or Azerbaijan.
There were some preconditions attached though. For instance, one of them was for all three former presidents to renounce any intentions to seek leadership in Armenia. Both the 2nd and 3rd presidents rejected that offer but just today the ANC had its congress, and it was announced that the ANC will run with Levon Ter-Petrosyan running as the PM candidate.
What is going to be Levon Ter Petrosyan and the ANC’s strategy in the upcoming elections? Whose votes will they steal?
Regardless of who wins the elections there’s going to be a very tough road ahead. There is a huge amount of rebuilding the state as well as the nation.
Many commentators in our press have asserted that early elections are the best solution for Armenia. But is it really? Pashinyan is ahead in the polls, and he may well stay. Will it be possible to move forward in that scenario?
We talked to Tevan Poghosyan two weeks ago and he had just accompanied Armenia’s Ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan to Syunik, and Tatoyan had categorically rejected a political path for himself. Yet, he is the most popular public figure in Armenia! Which public figures have a chance to pull Armenia out of the abyss?
That concludes our program for This Week in Review episode. We hope it has helped your understanding of some of the issues from the previous week. We look forward to your feedback, and your suggestions for issues to cover in greater depth. 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. On behalf of everyone in this episode, we wish you a good week. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channels, Like our pages and follow us on social media. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
Tatul Hakobyan, Emil Sanamyan, Artyom Tonoyan, Syunik, Incursion, Gegharkunik, Kut, Verin Shorzha, Azerbaijan, War, Sev Lake, Black Lake, Turkey, Meghri, Kapan, Goris, MOD, media, Lavrov, Yerevan, Baku, Armenian Genocide, Section 907, Elections, CivilContract, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Armenian National Congress, Robert Kocharyan, Serzh Sargsyan, Arthur Vanetsyan, Gagik Tsarukyan, Edmon Marukyan, Arman Tatoyan