TODAY.AZ / Politics

Day 25: Environmental vigil elucidates Armenia's losing battle

05 January 2023 [17:59] - TODAY.AZ

By Azernews

By Orkhan Amashov

Entering its fourth week, the ongoing environmental vigil of Azerbaijani protestors on the Shusha-Khankandi Road has already spawned some results, albeit remaining short of achieving its main targets, to date. The management of Base Metals, a company engaged in the illegal extraction of Karabakh’s natural resources, is reported to have halted its operations and, due to the constant presence of the demonstrators at the critical spot within the route connecting Khankandi with Armenia, instances of its use for non-humanitarian purposes have been virtually negated.

Such an interim eventuality is encouraging to a measured extent only as, in the absence of clearly-defined new arrangements enabling ecological monitoring to be undertaken by Azerbaijani experts on the Gyzilbulag gold and Demirli copper-molybdenum deposits inside the zone under the temporary control of the Russian ‘peacekeeping” contingent and the direct involvement of Baku in controlling the new Lachin Road, any currently discernible positive dynamics may easily be reversed through the lack of further progress.

The government in Yerevan and the separatists in Karabakh have, so far, resorted to a modus operandi with three visible strands. Firstly, the central element of the Armenian response appears to be a dismissal of the legal and environmental concerns of the Azerbaijani protestors with an effete wave of a hand, calling the whole process a ‘sham’.

Secondly, it is vital for Armenia to portray the limitations imposed on movement along the route as a “humanitarian disaster for 120,000 residents”, thereby gaining some new leverage for the clapped-out theory of “remedial secession” as being the only salvation for the region’s population. Thirdly, via the perpetuation of such a narrative, Yerevan wants Karabakh Armenians to be the object of cosseting and mollycoddling by the global community and to internationalise the issue, whereas the geographical scope remains solely located within the jurisdictional environs of Azerbaijan.

“Remedial secession”, following the failure of “miatsum”, the latter being the misguided concept of the unification of Karabakh with Armenia and the so-called self-determination attempts for the region’s population, happens to be the last vestige of aspiration to which the gradually submerging Nikol Pashinyan seems to cling, in the vain hope of enhancing his negotiating stance vis-à-vis Baku. What constitutes the fundamental weakness of Armenia’s “blockade theory” is that, in addition to being resorted to at every opportunity when its diplomatic-military fortunes appear to be plummeting into uncharted depths, its factual gist is no longer met with sufficient unfettered credulity by outsiders, even by those habitually favouring the Armenian outlook.

It is an undeniably true that something very critical has changed about the way the new Lachin Road has functioned since 12 December, the first day of the protest. The route is no longer readily available for the illegal transportation of weapons, munitions, mines and for the movement of the separatist leaders themselves, although its humanitarian regime remains largely intact. From a practical point of view, any restriction on movement caused by the ongoing eco-protest serves the purpose of negating further instances of the misuses predating 12 December and advancing its humanitarian functionality. Therefore, no restriction has been imposed on the route militating against the prescribed regime emanating from the 10 November 2020 tripartite declaration.

To Armenia’s credit, however, whilst participating in a wide-scale diplomatic tug-of-war with Azerbaijan in different international fora, it has managed to achieve more support for its “humanitarian blockade” account than Baku has managed to attract regarding the ecological consequences of the illegal exploitation of its natural resources. However, Yerevan’s main failure is that it has not succeeded in garnering any tangible or meaningful support for its stance in such a way that could have brought substantial pressure on Azerbaijan, with France failing miserably to push through a deeply pro-Armenian UN Security Council statement on the situation enveloping the Lachin Road on 31 December.

Another takeaway from the eco-protest is that it has shone a glaring light on the deep cracks existing within the structural entirety of the unrecognised ‘NKR’, displaying frictions between its leading figures. Ruben Vardanyan, the so-called first minister of the illegal entity, is widely perceived to be alien to Karabakh Armenians and his relations with the self-styled separatist leader Arayik Harutunyan, who was not availed with the opportunity to make any statement during the 25 December rally held in Khankandi, and Vitaly Balasanyan, whose role within the gang is defined as “secretary of the security council”, leave much to be desired on the account of accord.

It is also noteworthy that the situation around the Lachin Road has exacerbated anti-Russian sentiments within Armenian society, causing the deterioration of Yerevan-Moscow relations to sink to an unprecedented low, with Pashinyan actively voicing his disgruntlement over perceived Russian inaction regarding the protest. The relations between Armenia and the Karabakh separatists, despite the visible manifestations of their united “humanitarian blockade” theory, are less than perfect and unlikely to improve at present, given Vardanyan’s close association with the Kremlin. The latter prefers to keep the factual basis of this firmly under wraps for the sake of maintaining a pretence of diplomatic aloofness, and, for the tycoon, his present role is key to keep alive his further political ambitions involving the pinnacles of Yerevan’s crater-fissured political landscape, with dormant consequences for Nikol Pashinyan himself.

Back to the question as to where this eco-protest, which started on 12 December, could lead. When I put this to Dr Farid Shafiyev, Chairman of the Centre of Analysis of International Relations a week ago, his answer was that, amongst other factors, Azerbaijan should gain some official and permanent control element over the Lachin Road, otherwise no scenario, including one involving military confrontation, cannot be excluded.

As Neil Watson, British Journalist, reflected: “The eco-protest situation encapsulates the unresolved issues between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia in microcosm. If this issue can be resolved, according to international law, the outstanding issues inhibiting peace can be overcome.”


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