Here’s the full text of the written interview that I gave to Dutch journalist Laura Oorschot, who incorporated some of the insight during her appearance on blckbx’s livestream on this subject on 22 September.
- How would you describe Pashinyan’s political position at present?
Pashinyan is in a very difficult position after this week’s events since many among the population consider him a traitor to their national cause, which they regard as extending into Azerbaijan’s Karabakh Region. He came to power in what can be described as a Color Revolution that he fueled through a combination of nationalist and liberal rhetoric. The 2020 conflict and the latest one discredited his nationalist credentials, while his orders to break up protests after both discredit his liberal ones.
- You speak in your Substack about the Armenian diaspora. Could you briefly explain what is meant by that and how their influence affects the current conflict situation in Karabakh?
Pashinyan’s political predicament is worsened as a result of other problems on the home front that are also largely of his own making. The Armenian diaspora communities, particularly those in France and the US, are considered to exert powerful influence over society and the state nowadays. As it turns out, Pashinyan was the one who helped facilitate their rise to power after he entered into office, but now he’s practically become their palace hostage due to the influence they wield within the state.
Earlier, he exaggerated threats to Karabakh’s Armenian population, especially in the event that Azerbaijan fully restored its writ over that region. Now, however, he’s walking that back as evidenced by him downplaying reports of mass casualties on Thursday as not corresponding to reality. This narrative reversal can be interpreted as his first tangible act of defiance against the diaspora lobby. Unless their own stance shifts in response, they might react by encouraging more protests against him.
These groups are obsessed with preserving the prior status quo whereby Karabakh’s Armenian population remained outside Azerbaijan’s writ, and it’s they who agitated the most this week for America to militarily intervene via ANCA’s related “digital advocacy campaign”. For that reason, they’re not expected to change their position on this issue, hence why it’s foreseeable that they might ironically organize a Color Revolution against Pashinyan after he came to power via these same means.
- How does this influence affect US foreign policy towards the Caucasus Region in general?
A sizeable share of the US-based Armenian diaspora resides in California, which is one of the Democrats’ strongholds, and one of their main supporters in Congress is Adam Schiff of Russiagate infamy. This lobby, mostly represented by ANCA although some comparatively less influential groups also exist, therefore assumed that their location and connections would imbue them with disproportionate sway over the Biden Administration. That turned out to be a mistake, however, as recent events prove.
ANCA’s “digital advocacy campaign” demanded a prompt US intervention to stop what they alleged was an ongoing “genocide”, which would naturally entail forcefully suppressing Azerbaijan’s air defenses and therefore amount to a de facto declaration of war against it like the 2011 NATO War in Libya. The Biden Administration is too focused on the NATO-Russian proxy war in Ukraine and returning to the former Obama Administration’s “Pivot to Asia” to redirect valuable finite resources to the South Caucasus.
Without intending to, this largely pro-Democrat lobbying group actually ended up discrediting the Biden Administration ahead of what’s expected to be very fierce elections next year by alleging that a genocide of Christian minorities was taking place at the hands of a Muslim country yet the US refused to stop it. ANCA should have known that the US doesn’t have the excess military-logistical capacity to wage war against Azerbaijan and by extension risk it with fellow NATO-member Turkiye, Baku’s top ally, too.
Had they soberly assessed the military-strategic situation across the world as it objectively exists and kept in mind the tense partisan climate ahead of next year’s elections, then they probably would have moderated their rhetoric in order to avoid inadvertently discrediting the incumbent administration. Their influence has therefore been counterproductive not only for their political cause in the South Caucasus, but also for their favored US political party in general.
- The EU is talking about sanctions against Azerbaijan (after the same counterproductive sanctions against Russia), they want to stop the gas supply from the country. How do you think Azerbaijan will respond to this? Will this unite Turkey/Russia/Azerbaijan/Iran?
Seeing as how the conflict ended so swiftly and Pashinyan himself just downplayed reports about mass casualties, it’s unlikely that the EU will reach the consensus required to impose sanctions against Azerbaijan, especially those in the energy sphere. They hope to rely more on that country for their energy security via the Southern Gas Corridor after “decoupling” from their prior disproportionate dependence on Russian gas supplies.
On the off chance that a consensus is reached to sacrifice the bloc’s objective national/energy interests in pursuit of vague ideological ones, then Azerbaijan could in theory redirect its pipeline exports to other markets. Prices could then rise further in Europe, and this would harm its economic recovery and risk socio-political instability, with the latter being most acute in countries with upcoming elections. In that case, Azerbaijan’s ties with Turkiye and Russia would certainly intensify, and those with Iran might too.
- Does China play a role in this whole story?
China’s only tangible interest in the South Caucasus is economic since it envisages the region functioning as part of its Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) for integrating Eurasia. The best-case scenario from Beijing’s perspective is that the 3+3 platform of the region’s three largest countries – Russia, Iran, and Turkiye – cooperating with its three smallest ones – Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan – leads to more trade and connectivity. The quickest way for that to happen is for Armenia to reach a peace deal with Azerbaijan.
- And what about the Middle Corridor?
The Sino-Turkish Middle Corridor that transits the South Caucasus, Caspian Sea, and Central Asia – facilitating trade, investment, and integration among all the transit countries – is already in effect since Turkiye and Azerbaijan are connected via Georgia. If Armenia fully complies with the Moscow-mediated November 2020 ceasefire and particularly its last part about unblocking regional economic and trade corridors, then the Middle Corridor could become even more efficient and thus beneficial for all.
- Generally speaking, how do you think that this recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh will influence geopolitical dynamics between the East and the West?
The South Caucasus can no longer be easily divided-and-ruled from afar by third parties without any direct stakes in the region after the successful resolution of the Karabakh Conflict. While the Russian-Georgian ones over Abkhazia and South Ossetia still exist, which Moscow and a few others recognized as independent states but Tbilisi and most of the world still consider Georgian, they’re not all that influenced by the US like the Karabakh Conflict was via the US-based Armenian diaspora (ANCA).
That’s not to say that one or both Russo-Georgian ones won’t ever re-erupt, since it’s possible if the hardcore pro-American anti-Russian opposition comes to power (including via the Color Revolution that some authorities there have accused them of plotting), but just that the risks are minimal for now. Considering this, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the South Caucasus’ future since truly regional economic integration might finally be able to happen to the benefit of all its people.
Armenia just has to agree to a peace treaty with Azerbaijan, which entails full compliance with the Moscow-mediated November 2020 ceasefire and in particular the last part about unblocking regional trade corridors, for this scenario to unfold. Therein lies the challenge since it’s unclear whether Pashinyan has the courage to do this, not to mention whether he’ll even remain in power long enough if the ongoing protests are weaponized by the diaspora and/or foreign governments to overthrow him.
Nevertheless, even if Armenia regrettably decides to remain left out of these processes through a doubling down of its self-isolation policy, the Middle Corridor can still scale to become a greater geo-economic force as can the North-South Transport Corridor between India-Iran-Azerbaijan-Russia. These two transregional corridors comprise non-Western countries, including some pretty large and powerful ones, so their continued development can lead to closer Eurasian integration over the long term.
Should everything proceed in that direction, and it’s likely to do so due to the Karabakh Conflict no longer being a viable divide-and-rule variable while the two Russo-Georgian ones are unlikely to explode again (at least anytime soon), then it could accelerate the global economic shift to the East. The closer that these countries become via trade and connectivity, the more difficult it’ll be for third parties outside this broader space to sow problems among them, thus leading to the East’s further consolidation.