“World War III is on its way in the form of hybrid warfare” – Nikol Pashinyan’s interview to German ARD TV channel
Question: I would like to start from 2018, when the tide of democratic protest resulted in a peaceful change of government in Armenia. Did you think that a war would break out two years later?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - In fact, as I was still a member of parliament, I do not remember whether it was in 2015, 2016, or maybe in 2017, I predicted that the war was inevitable. Why, because war has always been Azerbaijan’s goal. And why was the war sought by Azerbaijan, because it was not prepared for finding a compromise-based solution to the Karabakh issue. Because compromise means you have to step back from your maximalist objectives.
Azerbaijan's not being ready to compromise was vividly evidenced in 2011. I mean the Kazan process, when in fact a document was tabled by which the Armenian side agreed to hand over 5 regions in exchange for Nagorno-Karabakh receiving an interim status, which might be determined later through a referendum or a plebiscite.
And this was a significant concession from the Armenian side, because it contained some uncertainty for the security of the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh. But the Armenian side took that step, the document had already been negotiated, and it was ready for signing, but at the last moment Azerbaijan refused to sign the document.
And this is not just a separate episode, but a methodology, a modus operandi for Azerbaijan, because what appears to be acceptable for Armenia and Karabakh following the logic of compromise turns out to be unacceptable for Azerbaijan, which toughens its position. This has always been the case with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has always been prepared to resolve the Karabakh issue through military means.
A provocation took place on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border in July, 2020, which led Azerbaijan to realize that its armed forces were incapable of resolving the Karabakh issue, and consequently it had to turn to mercenaries and terrorists for assistance.
And what happened next? In August, mercenaries, terrorists, a large number of Turkish military equipment, specialists and soldiers moved from the Syrian territories under Turkish control to Azerbaijan, where they launched a joint offensive on Nagorno-Karabakh.
Question: What did you mean by saying “Karabakh is Armenia” during a visit to Nagorno-Karabakh as it was seen as a provocation by Azerbaijan?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - You see, it has to do with the background of the Karabakh issue. Unfortunately, at some point the international community lost track of the Karabakh issue. Meanwhile, at the time when the Karabakh issue emerged, it was seen as a manifestation of Soviet Union’s democratization in Europe and around the world, which ultimately lead to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
The Karabakh issue arose in 1988, when Gorbachev undertook to rebuild and democratize the Soviet Union. And the Armenians of Karabakh, who have always been more than 80% of the population in Nagorno-Karabakh, decided to benefit from the opportunity provided by the ongoing democratization process to restore their violated rights through a completely peaceful political struggle.
What rights do I mean? In the 1920s, with an 80 percent of Armenian population, Nagorno-Karabakh was handed over to Soviet Azerbaijan instead of Soviet Armenia. In 1988, the Supreme Council of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region decided to reunite with Soviet Armenia, which was its legitimate right. A similar decision was adopted by the Supreme Council of Armenia. The Soviet Union and Azerbaijan responded with violence to these absolutely peaceful political decisions, first by organizing massacres of Armenians in Sumgait and then in Baku.
Now about whether Nagorno-Karabakh is Armenia. Armenia means a country where Armenians live, a country of Armenians. Those who have ever been to Nagorno-Karabakh have seen Armenian churches dating back to the 5th century and later. The first Armenian school was opened in Nagorno-Karabakh; 80% of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh has always been Armenian. You say “provocation...,” but the point is that Azerbaijan has always considered a “provocation” the fact there are Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, which made it resort to aggressive actions, shell civilian settlements. In fact, they are fighting against that “provocation.”
In general, let me tell you that the existence of Armenians itself is considered a “provocation” by some countries, including Turkey where - in the Ottoman Empire - the Armenian Genocide was perpetrated in 1915 and vast areas were evicted of Armenians through genocide.
My assessment is that Turkey has returned to the South Caucasus 100 years later to complete that criminal plan. I do not consider it a manifestation of anti-Armenian sentiments; it is just the continuation of Turkey’s expansionary, imperialistic policy, because the Armenians in the South Caucasus are the last obstacle on their way to expanding towards the north, to the east, and to the south-east.
I see this in the context of the policy that Turkey is pursuing in the Mediterranean, in Syria, Iraq, Greece and Cyprus, as well as in the context of those Turkey-backed acts of terrorism we can today witness in Europe.
Question: When you stood in opposition some years ago you were against Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Union and you were ready to protest against it. After becoming Prime Minister you started working closely with Moscow. After all, are you pro-European or pro-Russian?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Yes, I voted against Armenia’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union, but first there was an episode in my parliamentary activity when I also voted against the process of Armenia’s withdrawal from the Eurasian Economic Union. And assuming the post of Prime Minister, I decided with our people that there will be no geopolitical upheavals after the revolution.
In fact, it was a collective decision. Let me state that U-turns in foreign policy can often be very dangerous. And yes, today we are a member of the Eurasian Economic Union; last year Armenia was the presiding nation, and I personally chaired the Eurasian Economic Union, the presidency of the Eurasian Economic Union was quite effective, because we signed a number of new agreements. But we are cooperating with the European Union as well, since our democratic agenda has not changed at all.
Question: You are in regular contact with Putin. What specific support do you expect from Russia?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan – We are actually getting the assistance we expected from Russia; we do not have any reservations as to Russia’s compliance with its security-related commitments to Armenia.
But on the other hand, we understand that Russia is first of all an OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing nation, and therefore is supposed to maintain a neutral position on the Nagorno Karabakh issue. Russia has good relations with Azerbaijan. Of course, this is not a simple situation, but we are satisfied with the quality of Russia’s fulfillment of its obligations to Armenia.
Question: What about Russian peacekeepers in Kharabakh?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - This is a key issue. I said that the deployment of Russian peacekeepers is acceptable for us. The issue here is not so much political, but practical, because we should bear in mind that Russia is closer to and present in our region. I mean that peacekeeping implies operative response.
Russia is present in the region, Russia knows the region, I can even talk about language-related communication bottlenecks assuming that with peacekeepers coming from other countries there would be communication-related problems, problems arising from the nuances of knowing the region and mentality. We do believe that Russian peacekeepers will be the most effective in this regard.
Question: Azerbaijan suggests deploying Turkish peacekeepers.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - I have already said that Turkey is a country that brings terrorists and mercenaries into the region; it is difficult to conceive that it can promote any peaceful or peacekeeping process in the region.
Question: How do you explain the shelling of Ganja and other cities, as well as the use of cluster bombs against peaceful settlements in Azerbaijan?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - First of all, I wish to highlight the fact that when there is any minor explosion in an Azerbaijani town, the Government of Azerbaijan takes the locally accredited ambassadors and journalists to the scene and shows them the aftermath. But no diplomatic representative has ever been to Stepanakert, Martakert, Martuni, or Askeran. Note that I am talking about the cities and not about villages in Karabakh.
International journalists had a hard time visiting there, but today those cities are actually half-ruined. As for the Azerbaijani cities, I would like to state that first of all the continued shelling and bombing of cities in Nagorno-Karabakh has not received any international response. In other words, no one even tried to stop it, while the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army, having legitimate military targets in some settlements or neighborhoods, launched retaliatory strikes.
Question: What would you say about the civilians killed in Azerbaijan, the cluster bombs used over there as evidenced by the human rights watch in Barda?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan – Let us see whether those killed in Stepanakert were civilians or not. In other words, we just need an explanation as to why civilians are perishing in general. If you were satisfied with what I said about civilians being killed in Stepanakert, Martakert, Martuni, then the same can be said in answering your question, as it does not matter at all where civilians are being killed. If the explanation regarding Stepanakert satisfies you, then it should suffice to have a formula for civilian casualties suffered in any city around the world. Please note that I am not satisfied with such interpretation.
Question: But ... it was immediately announced on both sides that civilians were being killed.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan – I have no objections to that? Nobody argues with that, at least in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. But let us look at the statistics; let us look at the chronology.
Question: Last time when you met with Mr. Aliyev was in Munich during the Security Conference in February. What are your conditions for holding substantive talks with Azerbaijan?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - It is normal to talk about negotiations during the war, but it is not realistic. In fact, the terms of the talks were discussed and agreed upon in the October 10 statement adopted in Moscow, which was later reaffirmed.
The Moscow statement was adopted through the mediation of the Russian President. Then, with the mediation of the presidents of France and the United States, it was reaffirmed, and in fact, mutually agreed.
I mean, if there are agreed points, what is the point of setting conditions for each other, because in the end it was accepted jointly? In other words, there is no need to set other conditions. The conditions are set therein and we consider those conditions acceptable.
Question: Do you think that the OSCE Minsk group is the right format to find a solution?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Yes, of course. We think that this is the only format where this issue can be discussed and decided. This does not mean at all that the international community should not support the Minsk Group co-chairs’ efforts. The international community should support the Minsk Group, which is currently the only internationally accepted framework.
Question: Do you wish to have more involvement on the part of the European Union? For instance, bringing in peacekeepers from the EU?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - I have already answered the question about peacekeepers, because we must also take into account the positions of other countries in the region. We need to make sure that peacekeepers actually bring stability to the region, instead of instability and upheavals.
I think Russian peacekeepers are the most suitable and the right players in this process. As for the European Union, I have repeatedly noticed in my interviews that the European Union, yes, can support the process by clearly stating who initiated the war; who brought mercenaries into the region.
By the way, we already have two mercenaries captured by the Karabakh Defense Army; they comprehensively described the foregoing developments in their testimonies. This is a very important detail.
For example, one of the mercenaries has a fourth-grade education, the other mercenary is not literate at all; that is, he can neither read nor write. These people were brought in from Syrian territories under Turkish control. This fact alone points to breaches of educational censorship, since people who do not even know the alphabet have been fed up with unholy values, inspired that there are enemies living here…
At the same time, we all want to make it clear that Turkey has recruited these people in the regions under its control in Syria, moved them to Turkey and then to Azerbaijan, after which it transported them to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone for a monthly pay of 2,000 U.S. dollars. There is a USD 100 reward set for those who would behead the “unfaithful.”
Do you not see any resemblance to other events taking place elsewhere? This is why I believe that World War III is on its way in the form of hybrid warfare that is spreading in all directions. This war is equally directed against Christians, against Muslims, against Jews.
I want to explain why I feel that it is directed against Muslims as well, firstly because the wrong image of Muslims is being shaped all over the world. Secondly, illiterate and, let me say, narrow-minded people are being used for specific political objectives, and we just know who does it.
We see the same phenomenon in Nagorno-Karabakh, we see the manifestation of the same phenomenon in Vienna, Canada, France, and we see it in Russia with slightly different manifestations. Over the past one month, we have seen several reports of terrorist groups operating in the North Caucasus that have been effectively destroyed by Russia’s law enforcement agencies.
By the way, this proves that this war is equally directed against the Muslims as we see quite a valuable reaction coming from Arab countries, we can see a valuable reaction coming from the Islamic Republic of Iran, because the presence of such individuals in our region is considered as a threat to national security by the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as by many Arab countries.
Question: How do you see Iran’s role in helping to end this war?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - You know that Iran is our neighbor and is naturally worried about the regional developments. I noticed above that our position is that the OSCE Minsk Group is the format in which the Karabakh issue should be discussed, but this does not mean that the international community should not support the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.
Question: And my last question: your government promised democratic reforms and a fight against corruption. Do you think it is still possible?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - There is increasingly greater demand for reforms and anticorruption efforts. You may wonder whether I am satisfied with the results we have achieved in the fight against corruption? No, I am not satisfied, but I know why we have not been effective enough, because, in fact, the systems and mechanisms that have been entrenched in the corrupt reality for more than 20 years were conceived to safeguard corruption.
We have witnessed during all this time that the structures that exist prevent us from fighting corruption effectively and achieve a satisfactory level of return of embezzled funds. But all the same, we decided that we should not deviate from the law, we would go the way of improving institutions, legislation, which will obviously prolong the process.
I think the fight against corruption has taken shape and matured in the Armenian society, since people see that many issues have not been addressed for years due to corruption.
Armenia has no alternative, yes we must fight corruption, we must build democracy, but today the number one issue on our agenda is the ongoing aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh, which of course has a national security component, but as I said there is also an international security component, because Russia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Arab countries, the European Union and the United States see a security threat in it.
The aforementioned countries have many differences in their mutual relations, but at least in the current situation, the involvement of Turkey-backed mercenaries and terrorists is equally deplored by everyone. This is a matter of international security. Of course, we are doing everything possible to ensure that democracy is not impaired, but I do not think martial law is the best environment for democracy. Therefore, we must do everything to get out of the state of martial law as son as possible and return to normal life. Unfortunately, it does not depend solely on our efforts, but at least we will do our best for it.