Dr. Ashot Melkonyan, the director of the History Institute of Armenia’s National Academy of Science said that it would be naive to think peace can be achieved through concession of territories—a route that has become the trademark of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s administration since he signed the November 9 agreement to stop the military attacks on Artsakh.
Asbarez correspondent Nane Avagyan was recently in Armenia and met with Dr. Melkonyan, who describe in-depth the threats facing Armenia following the defeats suffered during the 44-Day War and the subsequent agreements signed by the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia.
NANE AVAGYAN: Following the 44-Day War and the in the process of implementing the provisions of the November 9 agreement, Armenia continues to make concessions to the enemy. At present, we are being forced to engage in a process of demarcation and delimitation of Armenia’s boundaries with Azerbaijan, which is again not in Armenia’s interests. On what principles, on the basis of what documents should the demarcation and delimitation be implemented?
ASHOT MELKONYAN: In the current situation, naturally, Azerbaijan will try to achieve the signing of an interstate agreement, by which Armenia will willingly or unwillingly recognize Artsakh as a part of Azerbaijan, and the best way to do so is the demarcation, or the drawing the border on the basis of specific documents. That is their agenda. This happens when the demarcation of borders between many post-Soviet countries is not resolved, because there is a question of what should be accepted as the basis of demarcation. First, there must be delimitation, clear understanding of which historic-political maps, based on which the parties must make a common decision, and only after can the parties carry out demarcation. If we are guided by the Soviet-era border and recognize it as the Armenian-Azerbaijani eastern border, we will de facto and de jure recognize Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan.
Former Soviet countries have not been able to resolve this issue with each other, and now the international community, including our strategic ally Russia, want us to resolve the issue of demarcation rapidly.
This must be unacceptable for us, because there is also a legal issue. We have not officially announced whether we are the legal successor of the first or the second republic. Logically, we are the legal successor of the second republic, and Azerbaijan, with its declaration of independence, has clearly stated that is the legal successor of the first republic of Azerbaijan, which means that it has no rights over Nagorno Karabakh. At the time, Nagorno Karabakh was independent, had its own bodies of government, a National Council, which in April 1920 officially declared Karabakh as part of Armenia.
Secondly, the Azeris have illegally invaded the territory of Armenia recently—occupied portions of Soviet Armenia—the Black Lakes region of Syunik, which is part of the Republic of Armenia. The Azeri have declared that as their own territory. Russia, as a mediator, states that the borders have not been clarified yet, and it is difficult to say whether the Azeris have violated the border or not, while all the maps of the Russian general headquarters, dated from the 1920s to the present, do not include any maps in which the Black Lake is located in Azerbaijan. Between 70 to 75 percent of the lake was ours. We left 25 percent to Azerbaijan so that Azeri nomads could live, but now the Azeris have occupied the entire lake, which means an overt invasion of the territory of the Republic of Armenia.
How can we demarcate when the problem is not yet settled at the level of delimitation?
N.A.: The so-called enclaves in Tavush and Ararat provinces are also being eyed by Azerbaijan. How were they formed and what is their significance for Armenia?
A.M.: The enclaves that are currently being discussed were formed in the mid-1920s for the following reasons: They were part of Soviet Armenia until 1926. In those years, the Azerbaijani side stated that most of the territories were in the mountains and foothills with some small waterways that were beneficial to cattle breeding, while the lands of Azerbaijan were lowland. They noted that the shepherds needed pastures, and that these areas should be given to them for cattle breeding. The highest governing body of the USSR Autonomous Republic, the Armenian Central Executive Committee, repeatedly complained that territories in different parts of Armenia were being taken from Armenia and given to Azerbaijan, but the Armenian side never got any response. During the first Artsakh war, Armenians managed to return some of these territories.
The infamous November 9 agreement does not mention the so-called Azerbaijani enclaves. An option which was developed by Azerbaijan, was circulated with an intention to force the Armenian side to return the enclaves, but it disappeared from the document. Now Azerbaijan has brought it back to the agenda, realizing that our two strategic ‘’paths of life’’ to Iran and Georgia pass through those territories. In one case, the road passes through the village of Tigranashen (Kyark) in the Ararat Province, which is located on the Yerevan-Meghri interstate highway and borders the Nakhichevan border. The other road passes through three main large villages in Tavush region, Sofulu, Barkhudarlu, and Voskepar, the so-called Azerbaijani enclaves.
At the same time, Azerbaijan never has mentioned the Armenian enclave of Artsvashen, which came under their control in 1992, and should be returned. Azerbaijani authorities do not say anything about unblocking the roads. As a gesture of goodwill, Azerbaijan could open the one road for us, setting an example to build trust with Armenia. However, they only demand that Armenia fulfill its obligations, and open the roads between Azerbaijan, Nakhichevan and the western areas. This is an unacceptable and one-sided approach, which, unfortunately, is not properly condemned by the international community.
N.A.: Aliyev continues his aggressive statements, expressing his aspirations for Armenian lands, regularly stating, for example, that Yerevan is also a historic Azerbaijani territory and that Azerbaijan must reclaim it. In response, the Armenia’s Prime Minister simply complains that Baku is hindering the establishment of peace. In such a situation, how dangerous is Armenia’s aspiration for peace?
A.M.: The false “peace” approach—when they say that peace will be established in exchange for conceding some territories—is naive. In 1918 and 1920, during the two Armenian-Turkish wars, when the Turkish army reached Erzurum, they announced that if we surrender Kars, the hostilities would stop, the Armenians handed over Kars. Then they announced that if we give Gyumri, they would stop the attack, but they reached the Ararat valley and on September 21 captured the village and the station of Sardarapat. By bringing these facts, I want to emphasize that the Turkish appetite escalates when they start eating. Don’t be naive, as we were back a hundred years ago, saying that if we give something to the Turks, then we will win. We will lose everything. It’s time to wake up.
There is a question of dignity and how you are perceived by the world when you speak with dignity on behalf of your country, as an integral part of the international community, and as a sovereign state.
Our people are being told that a new war will take place. However, whether or not there is a possibility of a new war is questionable, considering that Iran declares that the territorial integrity of Armenia is a matter of vital importance for them, demonstrating that Iran is ready for an active intervention. The approaches of the United States and Europe are much clearer. From time to time, the military officials in Russia announce that their strategic ally, Armenia, “cannot disappear as a state” in the region, and they regret that they did not intervene properly in the war and their ally Armenia lost. At the same time, Russia understands that there are obstacles that would never allow friendship between Russia and Turkey. All of this means that under these circumstances, Armenia has grounds to present itself from a dignified position.