"Inciting hatred against Azerbaijan is hindering Yerevan's progress towards peace"
Armenian blogger on Caliber.Az
INTERVIEWS 01 December 2023 - 15:12
Caliber.Az presents an interview with Armenian blogger, activist and public figure Ishkhan Verdyan.
- Mr Verdyan, as far as I know, due to criminal prosecutions you left Armenia and currently reside in Istanbul. Why did you choose Istanbul? How long do you intend to stay there? Do you hope to return to Armenia someday?
- Let me start by saying that Istanbul has such excellent living conditions that any Armenian can live here comfortably without even knowing Turkish. I enjoy all these benefits, I have a normal job, having moved here with my family, and I am working. Of course, I would like to return to Armenia, but it is impossible, my return to the Motherland is fraught with arrest and other troubles due to the fact that I recognised Karabakh as the territory of Azerbaijan. But I do not despair, on the contrary, I am waiting for the moment when I will have an opportunity to move to Karabakh. I have already applied to the president of Azerbaijan with a request to grant me Azerbaijani citizenship and the opportunity to live in Khankendi, so I am waiting for this moment. I consider it to be a natural process in the context of the programme of reintegration of Armenians, which has been put forward by the Azerbaijani leadership. This is how I plan my future life in Azerbaijan, I expect to do business and creative work in Khankendi.
- Your plan is wonderful and quite realistic. Although against the background of the propaganda of hatred towards Azerbaijan in the Armenian media, one can hardly expect a sensible approach in Armenian society. Isn't it?
- You know, the situation in Armenian society is very complicated. In general, no one in Armenia wants war, because the people are already tired of losing their loved ones, and relatives. Therefore they are in favour of peaceful coexistence with their neighbours. However, the point is the following. Suppose earlier the Karabakh issue was topical, now, after it has returned under the legal control of Azerbaijan. In that case, Armenians are afraid of a new war on the territory of Armenia itself. They are afraid of Azerbaijan's attack on Armenia, of Syunik [Zangezur] being torn away. All these fears are artificial and are created by the press. The propaganda of hatred towards Azerbaijan is so strong that it prevents the Armenian government from promoting a peaceful agenda.
- By whom and from where is this propaganda being directed?
- The Karabakh clan is represented by former Presidents Serzh Sargsian and Robert Kocharyan. For you to understand the scale of their capabilities, I would like to point out that all significant media outlets in Armenia belong to this clan and work under their dictation. Accordingly, it is the Karabakh clan that shapes public opinion in Armenia.
- Are you saying that there is no state agitation policy in Armenia?
- Yes. Pashinyan's government does not pay attention to public opinion, so there is no state campaign policy as such in Armenia. In fact, the state campaign programme must be present, someone must be engaged in refuting the fake stuff in the media, it is very important for bringing the narratives of state line to the masses. Otherwise, a vacuum is formed, which is successfully filled by the Armenian opposition, which unlike the authorities knows how to work with public opinion. For this reason, the Karabakh clan is actually imposing fierce propaganda on the Armenian people. You must agree that if you pour into the ears of the people from morning till night fears that Azerbaijan will attack Armenia, it is clear that people will think about self-defence, about the upcoming war, and not about peace at all. Unfortunately, this is the way things are in Armenian society today, and this is a big disadvantage of Pashinyan's policy.
- Pashinyan could have easily resolved this issue if he wanted to, but he doesn't. Could it be that the propaganda of hatred towards Azerbaijan is still in the hands of the Armenian government?
- Since coming to power, Pashinyan has disregarded public opinion and shut himself off from his people. The paradox is that he is a former blogger himself, he had excellent streamings and the number of subscribers was over a million. So he has both the capacity and ability to establish a dialogue with his people. And the fact that he ignores this fact, in my opinion, is a huge fatal mistake.
- What is Pashinyan's main mistake in Armenian politics?
- The trouble with Pashinyan is that he is, alas, not a politician, but a manager, who is perfectly capable of solving socio-economic problems. On the other hand, even though Pashinyan is opposed by the Karabakh clan, he has no competitors in the political field. Roughly speaking, if there is a choice between the Karabakh clan and him, the people will vote for Pashinyan. In this sense, he is absolutely calm and believes that he will always win against the former leaders of the Karabakh junta, so he doesn't worry about such nonsense as public opinion. To put things in their proper names, he doesn't care about public opinion, he has no idea what it is and how to work with it. Instead of conducting a competent political campaign himself, he went on the defensive.
- Does Pashinyan have political rivals within his team? Or maybe he has a successor capable of replacing him in case of force majeure?
- There are no political successors in Pashinyan's team, although there are very smart people there. But since he has closed the whole political field on his personality, none of them has a chance to move forward. So, if something happens to him and he drops out of Armenian politics for a couple of months, no one will be able to replace him, and the country will begin to experience an internal political collapse.
- Recently, Serzh Sargsyan has become more active. You have already noted above that the Karabakh clan has no chance of returning to power. What then does Sargsyan hope for?
- The fact that Sargsyan and Kocharyan have no chance to return to power is unequivocal. Their goal is to overthrow Pashinyan, not to come to power. Both Sargsyan and Kocharyan do actually not care who will govern the state, it is important for them that their protégé promotes the agenda of the Karabakh clan. They understand that if Pashinyan succeeds in signing a peace treaty with Azerbaijan and the possibility of normalising relations with Turkey opens up, the Armenian people will have many questions and justified claims against Kocharyan and Sargsyan, which neither of them will be able to answer. And since Nikol Pashinyan is pushing the peace agenda, it will be enough to remove him alone for Armenia to refuse to sign the peace treaty. All the resources of the opposition have been thrown at this goal.
- If Nikol Pashinyan, as you said, is promoting a peaceful agenda, then for what purpose does he accuse Azerbaijan of "ethnic cleansing" in Karabakh and torpedo the process of reintegration of Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijani society? Where is the logic?
- Indeed, the Armenian leadership accuses Azerbaijan of carrying out "ethnic cleansing". Of course, these accusations have no evidentiary basis. Certainly, Armenian politicians need to change their aggressive rhetoric towards Azerbaijan, they should stop calling Khankendi "Stepanakert" and the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan "Nagorno-Karabakh". And only after all these conventions are fulfilled by Pashinyan, it will be possible to argue that Armenia really wants peace with its neighbours. At the moment, I do not see any special desire on the part of the Armenian leadership to make peace with Azerbaijan.
- Is this because of fear of losing power?
- In principle, Pashinyan has no problem holding on to power. Look, all the protests organised by the opposition ended in nothing. That is, the Armenian opposition has no electoral potential. The problem is in Pashinyan himself, in his phobias.
- Why is the Armenian leadership promoting the "Crossroads of Peace" project?
- It is a self-promotion, an indicator of the Armenian prime minister's readiness for peace before the international community. But, on the other hand, if it is implemented, Armenia, Azerbaijan and neighbouring countries in the region can benefit. The only problem is that Pashinyan is promoting this project in the wrong place. He is taking this document to the UN, when he should be discussing it with the direct stakeholders - Azerbaijan and Turkey.
- Why does Armenia shy away from the reintegration programme proposed by Baku?
- The reintegration programme for Karabakh Armenians proposed by Azerbaijan is a real nuclear bomb for Armenia. I will explain why. If it starts working, it will ideologically destroy Armenia. After all, it will turn out that Armenians can live in Azerbaijan, that they will get all the rights promised by President Ilham Aliyev. And it means that all the propaganda of Armenia for many years will be destroyed.
- And the last question. Do you know approximately how many Armenians are left in Karabakh now?
- According to the latest UN information, there are about one thousand Armenians left in Karabakh.
- Thank you for this interesting conversation!
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