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In Armenia in 2018, Nikol Pashinyan was swept into power through a movement called the ‘Velvet Revolution’ (Citation). A coalition of different societal forces worked together to unseat the regime due to their discontent with the state of politics (Citation). The rise of Pashinyan represents a move to a more democratic Armenia after twenty years of “semi-autocratic” rule in Armenia (Citation). His “My Step” coalition won 70% percent of the vote and two-thirds of National Assembly seats in the 2018 Armenian election which led to a peaceful democratic transition of power (Citation). This new government has numerous implications for foreign affairs, especially as they attempt to pursue strong relations with Russia and the US, but there are significant repercussions for the relationship with Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh in particular.
It has been argued that the ‘Velvet Revolution’ has created an opportunity for both Azerbaijan and Armenia to build trust and find a solution to the conflict (Citation). John Bolton, the US National Security Advisor, has remarked that this is the “most opportune moment” to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (Citation). Pashinyan is the first Armenian leader to not come from Nagorno-Karabakh and that could give him an advantage in negotiations. Furthermore, an “operative connection” has been established between the two countries which will allow information to be easily passed in merely half an hour (Citation). Pashinyan has proposed that any solution reached over Nagorno-Karabakh must be acceptable to Azerbaijan, Armenia and the people of Nagorno-Karabakh (Citation). This has given some people hope that a peace agreement will be signed and a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will be found.
Despite all of these hopes, there are still roadblocks to a future resolution of the conflict. The rhetoric that has been used by Pashinyan has made it clear that Armenia is still the guarantor and protector of Nagorno-Karabakh and thus there can be no territorial concessions to Azerbaijan in relation to Nagorno-Karabakh (Citation). Pashinyan has also used nationalist undertones in some of his speeches which could fan the flames of nationalism and make a resolution harder given that the public may find any concessions to Azerbaijani government unacceptable and may not accept them (Citation). A further complication to any future agreement is the lack of trust between Armenia and Azerbaijan which makes any agreement, especially one that potentially weakens the national security of the other nation, extremely difficult to achieve (Citation). This would appear to mean that there are several impasses to a future settlement and so a peace agreement is far off.
There are possible ways to break through this impasse. The Armenian government could make clear their red lines and aims for Nagorno-Karabakh to the Azerbaijani government whilst the Azerbaijani government could attempt further democratization and an improved human right record so that peaceful coexistence with Armenia would appear a realistic possibility. These moves would help to work on the progress that the ‘Velvet Revolution’ promised and may well result in a peaceful solution to Nagorno-Karabakh.
By Joe Watts-Morgan