Sunday, April 21, 2019


The war in Nagorno-Karabakh does not only occur in the South Caucasus. It also plays out in the United States with members of the Armenian diaspora and its organizations, such as the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), playing proxy for any number of issues. Though, to Nagorno-Karabakh, their posture has no basis in reality, for the territory occupied by Armenia is overwhelming recognized as belonging to Azerbaijan by a majority of governments of the world.

In international efforts to broker a peace, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) established a group of three powers, France, Russia and the United States, known as the Minsk Group. In turn, it formulated the Madrid principles in 2007-09 to guide a solution to the conflict.

These agreed upon principles call for the immediate return of Azerbaijani territories occupied by Armenia other than Nagorno-Karabakh; an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for its security and self-governance; a corridor from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh; a future determination of Nagorno-Karabakh’s legal status through a binding expression of will, the return of all internally displaced peoples to their residence and international security guarantees, including a peacekeeping operation. Period.

Seemingly coordinated with Yerevan, starting in 2016, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) began attacking the Madrid Principles as being somehow reckless or undemocratic. The ANCA’s real complaint, however, is that the Madrid Principles do not accept the idea that Nagorno-Karabakh is an independent territory. Of course, the Madrid Principles cannot accept Nagorno-Karabakh as independent because it is not independent by any measure.

Recently, though, the Armenian National Committee of America declared its opposition to the Madrid Principles pro forma. Driven by seemingly excessive nationalism, this statement not only demands Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence, it also contains all manner of spurious charges. Essentially, the ANCA wants Nagorno-Karabakh declared independent, legitimizing thereby the acquisition of territory by conquest and ensuring that there will never be a solution to this conflict.

The Armenian National Committee of America holds facts ever-undisclosed, held jealously away from the world, that since the ‘90s, including following last year’s Armenian revolution, the Nagorno-Karabakh war and the territorial claims growing from it have hijacked Armenian politics, leading to protracted demographic and economic crises.

Armenia is among the poorest nations of the world, cut off from all progress and prosperity its neighbors enjoy. Perhaps most closely held, Armenia is no friend nor ally of the U.S. and shares little of America’s values. Armenia, again, largely as a result of the war, is a vassal of Russia, menially supporting the Kremlin on the world stage and closely allied with Iran.

These crises spawned the 2018 revolution that promised major democratic and economic reforms. A year later, these promises remain unfulfilled. Armenia and its new prime minister, Nicol Pashinyan, failed to formulate an effective negotiating strategy to bring the peace that is a precondition of effective reform, end the hemorrhaging of its population, stimulate effective democratic reform and economic growth, and even possibly extricating itself from Moscow and Tehran.

Armenia continues to promote the idea that delegates from Nagorno-Karabakh should participate in the negotiations as members of an independent state or political entity. This demand, suspiciously close to the Armenian National Committee of America’s posture, guarantees that there can be no future negotiations because it prejudices their outcome from the outset. Neither do the ANCA’s and Armenia’s demands conform to the Madrid Principles that remain the only game in town and effective negotiating framework supported by the Minsk Group, Baku and Yerevan.

Although not in agreement on implementation, the principal actors have steadily negotiated on the basis of that document. Repudiating those principles and trying to force the Minsk Group or the OSCE to recognize an independent Nagorno-Karabakh, almost certain to unite with Armenia to create a greater Armenia that occupies Azerbaijani territory, is nothing more than a recipe for endless war. Certainly Armenians, except for the numerous war profiteers and extreme nationalists, will gain nothing from a renewed war.

Armenia’s government’s involvement with shaping this new ANCA document is unclear, however the resemblance between its demands and the Pashinyan government’s stated position regarding negotiations is quite clear.

Neither the Armenian National Committee of America declaration nor Mr. Pashinyan’s confused and contradictory stand on the peace process advance Armenian interests. In addition, Armenian Defense Minister David Tonoyan’s recent bellicose call for “war and conquest for new territories” undermines the fragile peace process even further.

Instead, this declaration is an invitation or demand for resuming the war, a war that it is not certain Armenia would win. All it would obtain is a legacy of bitterness and more economic catastrophe, certainly not democracy, prosperity or an end to the decline in its population.

If Armenia truly wants all those beneficial outcomes, it must recognize that a settlement acceptable to both sides is the precondition of domestic progress and rein in inflamed nationalistic lobbies like the Armenian National Committee of America.

• Stephen Blank is senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. He is a former MacArthur fellow at the U.S. Army War College.

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