Karabakh Discourses in Armenia Following the Velvet Revolution


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By Anahit Shirinyan

Although Armenia’s Velvet Revolution had a domestic focus, the emergence of a leadership that has come into power on a democratic platform holds repercussions for the foreign policy in general and for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in particular. Since coming into power in May 2018, Armenia’s Pashinyan has made a number of announcements that offer a glimpse into his policy, and that most probably will comprise Armenia’s updated position over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Pashinyan has argued a few times that he can only speak on behalf of Armenia at the negotiations; the people of Karabakh do not participate in Armenia’s elections, and they should be represented by their own elected representatives.  He has on several occasions stated that he is ready to compromise, but only after Azerbaijan drops its military rhetoric and acknowledges the Karabakh people’s right to self-determination. At the same time Pashinyan has also stated during rallies that he will not sign any deals without talking to the people of Armenia, even if he reaches what he deems as a fair deal at a negotiation.

It is worthwhile to note that in October 2018 an agreement was reached between Pashinyan and Aliyev to reduce tension and open a line of communication between the sides.  This process can help create a more constructive environment for talks if the sides demonstrate political will to uphold them. However, there is also a reason to be skeptical as past agreements on confidence building have not been implemented. In order for the Velvet Revolution to prove an opportunity for the peace process, both sides would need to have an input towards that end.

Perceptions in Azerbaijan of the Impact of Revolutionary Changes in Armenia on the Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Process


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By Zaur Shiriyev

The first five months of interactions between the post-revolutionary Armenian government and the Azerbaijani side were complex: they raised and then reduced the hopes among the Azerbaijani public for change. The most important element, despite the ups and downs, misperceptions, and contradictory statements, is that the new Armenian government has the capacity to lead the way toward the conflict’s solution.  This is because the majority of the public and the leadership in Baku believe that the previous Armenian government benefited from the legacy of the Karabakh war, whereas the new leadership is more open and has officials who bring experience in peace building. There is an opportunity for building trust in order to move forward on conflict resolution. The two sides reached an impressive preliminary agreement on the ceasefire regime and operative channel, but they also reached the limit of mutual misunderstandings. Any further contradictory moves or developments that damage the fragile trust could be devastating.  In the near future, especially after the snap elections in Armenia, it is important for the Azerbaijani side to see that the Armenian government has a vision for peace. Articulating a plan to prepare the Armenian public for peace is necessary to reassure Azerbaijani society.



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By Anahit  Shirinyan  and  Zaur  Shiriyev

To the governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia

Rhetoric, communication, and public debates

  • Messages are not geared only to domestic audiences. Any populist, bellicose rhetoric targeting domestic audiences also reaches the other side and creates a negative image of the other. Moreover, it may generate responses not only in rhetorical forms but also in the form of actions and overreactions where the snowball-effect escalation is likely. The sides should therefore refrain from employing hardline and war rhetoric.
  • In October, two new Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokespersons, who are both women, were appointed in Azerbaijan and Armenia. This is a fresh opportunity to introduce a more nuanced rhetoric overall when commenting on issues related to the conflict. The two sides should explore ways of increasing engagement with their media and encouraging better cooperation with online and traditional media agencies.
  • The two sides should differentiate between society and government. The sides, considering that mutual “messaging” is inevitable, should ensure that “warning messages” do not target people—the Armenians and Azerbaijanis as a whole. Similarly, the sides should refrain from using language that dehumanizes the other.
  • Given that the sides may be at different thinking “frequencies,” the possibility that rhetoric and action will be misinterpreted is high. For example, what may be intended as a gesture of goodwill might be interpreted as condescending or a mere PR stunt by the other side. It is therefore crucial that messages and discourses are formulated clearly and the risks of misinterpretation are measured and avoided.
  • The sides should combat misinformation by refuting it in a timely and operative manner, and not allow it to stir more antagonism and enmity.
  • The sides should start opening up public debates on what is discussed at the negotiations table. Each side should not expect talk of compromises if they are not debating compromises at home.

Mutual Symbolic Gestures

  • The merit of small symbolic gestures should not be underestimated, and gestures of goodwill should be accepted as such. Such gestures could be allowing mutual visits to sites of memory or maintaining each other’s graves situated in their respective territories. Public diplomacy activities will also help build trust and create a more conducive atmosphere.
  • Both societies are eager to see tangible results, such as the implementation of the 2014 Paris agreement on the solution of problems related to prisoners of war, hostages, and missing persons. The release of detainees and hostages from both sides would be welcomed. Both sides are open to this in theory, as reflected in the Vienna statement in May 2016, which reiterated support for the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The modalities—how to improve and support ICRC’s work—are necessary. This can bring tangible results on a small scale and help transform the human face of the conflict.
  • Although there is skepticism in Azerbaijan towards the Armenian first lady’s “Women for Peace” initiative, there could be merit in exploring its possibilities. The Armenian side could in turn explore ways of being more proactive in reaching out to Azerbaijani mothers.  This initiative can transform from being a women-led peace campaign into participation at the negotiations table and peacebuilding.

To the international community and international donors

  • The international community and mediators could help advocate these recommendations among respective parties and encourage change of tone and rhetoric as well as give a green light to public diplomacy initiatives at the highest level. The latter, in particular, would ensure there are no official or unofficial obstructions for such initiatives.
  • International donors could support trainings for media representatives on conflict transformation and conflict-related vocabulary to promote more sensitive messaging in the media outlets of the two countries.

To the media and opinion makers

  • Media and opinion makers should be mindful that they are generating discourses and therefore are responsible for the language and tone they use when covering the conflict. They should refrain from comments that dehumanize the other.

* The cover photo of this piece is a painting by Constantine Godwin, titled “Guarnica revisited”. It is taken from Saatchi Art.

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