In brief

Armenian election reinforces cautious rapprochement to Azerbaijan against the backdrop of Karabakh conflict

Former opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan’s movement wins vote with 70% of ballots

Nikol Pashinyan.
Nikol Pashinyan. Author:
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s My Step coalition won a landslide victory in the 9 December parliamentary elections in Armenia, an event that may open new hopes in the search for a peaceful solution between that country and Azerbaijan in their decades-long dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Pashinyan’s coalition, whose manifesto committed to fight corruption and entrench democracy while advocating economic liberalism, achieved an absolute majority (70% of the votes) and has thus cemented a political turn in the Caucasus country, after in spring this year a popular movement overthrew Serzh Sargsyan and placed then-opposition leader Pashinyan as interim prime minister.

“Pashinyan’s advent to power last May opened a window of opportunity regarding a relaunch of the peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” analyst Abel Riu told Nationalia, “and despite precautions by both sides, it is being said that a ‘reset’ is needed.” Rapprochement is now “reinforced” by Pashinyan’s election victory. “The coming months will be key to consolidating the negotiating momentum,” says Riu, who underlines that the situation on the Karabakh front is by now “fairly quiet, and channels of direct communication have been reopened in the diplomatic arena and also between military authorities on both sides.”

Crisis Group too believes the election could lead to renewed peace prospects, especially if Armenia and Azerbaijan give more weight to the practical needs of their citizens in bilateral talks.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a de jure Azerbaijani territory with an Armenian majority, declared itself independent in 1991. The Armenian-Azerbaijani war that followed ended in a ceasefire in 1994, which has remained in place until today, despite the fact that deadly clashes on the front are recurrent. During the war, the Armenian forces conquered seven Azerbaijani districts, which they annexed to Karabakh. The Azerbaijani government is asking for their immediate handover before any negotiations can be launched. “This remains the most delicate part,” Riu says.

It also remains to be seen if My Step’s victory could lead to an Armenian realignment in the Russian-European Union axis. “It might involve a turn,” Riu holds. “No bid exists a priori [on the Armenian side] to change its geopolitical orientation —Armenia will continue to militarily depend on Russia, as it belongs to Moscow-driven Eurasian Union and OTSC—, but it is true that Pashinyan will continue to try to make the most of potentials of relations with the European Union, especially in the economic field, taking advantage of the ratification of the Association Agreement, which is still in process. Such moves, along with investigations into corruption cases against Russian business interests in Armenia including Gazprom, spark distrust in the Kremlin.”