The Poverty of Militarism: The ‘Velvet Revolution’ and the Defeat of Militarist Quasi-Ideology in Armenia


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Mikayel Zolyan

In the last years before the Armenian “velvet revolution,” the ruling elite of Armenia suffered from a severe lack of legitimacy and public trust. The government tried to fill this vacuum by resorting to a militarist quasi-ideology, represented by the so-called “nation-army” concept. Under the pretext of national mobilization, this concept advocated consolidation of society around the political leadership. By spring 2018 it seemed that the “nation-army” concept had helped the government to achieve its objective—provide a quasi-ideological legitimization to prolong President Serzh Sargsyan’s power. However, in April of 2018 Sargsyan’s government was swept away by the wave of mass protests that crossed along various layers of Armenia’s society. The military mostly remained neutral throughout most of the “velvet revolution,” with the exception of an episode in the morning of April 23, the day of Sargsyan’s resignation, when soldiers from the regiment of Armenian peacekeepers joined the protests, unarmed but in uniform. If Sargsyan’s government had hopes that the military would come to their aid, these were clearly misplaced: the “velvet revolution” showed that “the nation-army” concept had failed to inspire the military, just as it failed to inspire the civilian public. The unpopularity of the ruling elite and widespread corruption undermined the efficiency of the use of the “nation-army” concept for legitimization of the existing system, paving the way for the “velvet revolution.” Of course, while the defeat of “nation-army” militarism is certainly good news for both Armenia and the whole region, it would be premature to expect immediate advances in the solution of the Karabakh conflict. However, in the long run, Armenia’s change of government creates an opportunity for new approaches, which, in perspective, could lead to progress in peaceful conflict transformation.

Discourses of War And Peace Within the Context of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: The Case of Azerbaijan


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By Lala Jumayeva

One of the factors that influences the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiation process, and may in the future derail the peace talks, is the bellicose rhetoric utilized by the Armenian and Azerbaijani officials.  The constant build-up of military power in Azerbaijan is a factor that both triggers the government’s adherence to bellicose rhetoric and affects Armenia’s security dilemma. Armenia, in turn, feels a necessity to respond to the ongoing militarization process. Following the April war in 2016 the Armenian side racked up its own antagonistic rhetoric and militarization. This bilateral military mobilization has become a vicious circle that is first and foremost used by third parties (such as Russia, the US, and Iran) for their own agenda, and it negatively impacts the ongoing peace talks by creating mistrust between the sides.
In his inauguration ceremony in April 2018, President Aliyev claimed that not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also the territory of the contemporary Armenian Republic was historical land of Azerbaijan (Aliyev 2018a). Certainly, by making such a statement, which was mainly for an internal audience, the Azerbaijani government did not intend to threaten the sovereignty of the Armenian Republic; however, in Armenia it was understood as a threat to its sovereignty. Later in the same month, the Azerbaijani government hoped for a constructive change in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process as a result of the political processes happening in Armenia after the presidential elections. This unexpected change of political power in Armenia through the “velvet revolution” took the Azerbaijani government by surprise. There have been a number of statements by local and international (mainly Russian) experts, such as Markov, Sobhani, and Tropinin on the opportunities this power change could have provided for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, hoping that Pashinyan’s stance on the ways of the dispute’s settlement would be different from Sargsyan’s. Throughout the widespread protests and the consequent “velvet revolution” in Armenia, the Azerbaijani government restrained from any adverse or bellicose rhetoric towards Armenia within the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during and right after the revolution. Yet, as was mentioned above, there were concerns in Armenia that Azerbaijan could use the momentum and resume war in Karabakh.  However, after the new government in Armenia revealed its stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, demanding that the de-facto Nagorno-Karabakh authorities be included in the negotiation process, Baku doubted that there would be much of a substantial change in terms of the peace process.

Policy Recommendations


By Lala Jumayeva and Mikayel Zolyan

The recent change of the government in Armenia presents a unique chance for “restarting” the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.

To policy makers in Armenia and Azerbaijan

The governments of both sides of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should improve the negotiating climate by moderating their militarist and antagonistic rhetoric and eliminating hate speech and hostile discourses. The Armenian and Azerbaijani leaderships should strive to increase the transparency of the peace process and ensure the inclusion of the societies in the peace process through various dialogue programs. While progress in the negotiations may seem unlikely in the short term, a change of rhetoric, and, subsequently, a change of the atmosphere around the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, can be gradually advanced.

More specifically, the governments should:

To the European Union

-The activities of the EPNK should be continued;

-The peacebuilding activities should be strengthened via implementation of vocational (professional) exchange trips both to Armenia and Azerbaijan where an exchange of ideas, knowledge, experience and culture could be provided. The aim of these trips will be adding a non-political dimension to the peace process.

* The cover photo of this paper is an art work of Judith Brisson, called “La Nouvelle Croisade/The New Crusade.”