Armenia’s former President Robert Kocharyan demonstrated his strong pro-Russian course, as well as bellicose rhetoric against the Armenian government in an interview with the Russian journalist Vladimir Posner on the Russian state-owned TV channel in Moscow this week.
Kocharyan served as Armenia’s second president in 1998-2008 and now gears up to return to power by winning the upcoming snap parliamentary elections scheduled on June 20, 2021 in Armenia.
The ex-president explained that namely the policy of the sitting political leadership of Armenia led the negotiation process with Azerbaijan to a dead end, after which the Second Karabakh War broke out and ended up in what he believes a “shocking” ceasefire agreement.
Armenia lost its decades-old illegal control of the territories in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan in the wake of the 44-day-long war from September 27 through November 9 last year. Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 occupied settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha in the Karabakh region. Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan as part of the ceasefire agreement.
The Azerbaijani territories fell under Armenia’s occupation during the First Karabakh War in the early 1990s that was attended personally by Kocharyan. He participated in the capture of the Azerbaijani city of Shusha in 1992 and was actively engaged in brutal ethnic cleansing policy against the indigenous Azerbaijani population of the Karabakh region. In 1994-1996, he led the bogus separatist regime established in the occupied Azerbaijani lands.
"Kocharyan has always been proud of the occupation of Azerbaijani lands, including Nagorno-Karabakh, and the killing of innocent people, and presented it to the Armenian people as his service [to motherland],” said Baku-based political analyst Shabnam Hasanova. “During and after his reign, Kocharyan was promoting fascist ideology [and] compared himself to Garegin Nzhdeh and was proud to fulfill a supposed historical mission in front of the Armenian people.”
For Armenians, Garegin Nzhdeh, founder of the extreme ultra-nationalist-racist and de-facto fascist movement known as Tseghagron, is a national hero. But history introduces him as a Nazi collaborator, who covertly channeled Armenian youth into Nazi's notorious paramilitary organization SS and other elite German military forces. Nzhdeh was captured by Soviet intelligence forces in 1944 and sentenced to 25 years in prison on betrayal and espionage charges.
Ex-president Kocharyan touted Russia’s attitude, which he believes played a crucial role in preventing the worst-case scenario for Armenia in the last year's war. According to him, Russia did everything possible to stop the war, including the initial proposal put forward by President Vladimir Putin on October 19 but rejected by Yerevan. Kocharyan emphasized the anti-Russia hysteria in Armenia, which he believes was being stirred up even before the war.
Kocharyan revealed he strives for power and looks forward to defeating Pashinyan in the elections to be held in Armenia on June 20. The former president signaled that in case of the return to power, he would reinvigorate the good, old ties with Russia which suffered setbacks during the reign of pro-Western Pashinyan administration.
“I have never hidden my attitude towards Russia. Much has been done during my presidency to strengthen these ties. I have never tried to play on all shades and on all fronts,” he said referring to his relations with Moscow.
Kocharyan has earlier said that the post-war relations with Moscow should be brought to another level, however, under the current leadership of Armenia, it is impossible to establish an effective and close dialogue with Russia. The pro-Western policy of PM Pashinyan does not sit well with the pro-Russian ideas of the former president, who has urged the Armenian citizens to support the demands for the resignation of the country’s PM in February.
Some analysts believe that Kocharyan’s so-called “political reincarnation” is part of the plan developed by the Kremlin, which is not satisfied with the pro-Western activities of the Pashinyan administration.
Professor at the Baku-based Western Caspian University, Fikret Sadikhov says it is obvious that the discredited figure – Robert Kocharyan plays not for Armenian voters, but for the political circles of Russia. Everything in this realm is based on a policy of checks and balances, and Kocharyan's going on air at the state-owned Russian TV channel on the eve of Pashinyan's visit to Russia is also no coincidence.
“Moscow makes it clear to both Kocharyan and Pashinyan – without Russia, they are nobody and nothing. And Pashinyan will have to work very hard to prove his loyalty. So, “the Sword of Damocles” in the person of Kocharyan will hang over Pashinyan and his team for a long time,” Sadikhov explains.
In 2018-2019, Kocharyan was arrested three times on the charges of an overthrowal of the constitutional order in 2008. Then, Kocharyan was preparing to leave the office and transfer power to his close ally Serzh Sargsyan, who was announced as the winner of disputed presidential elections. Supporters of presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrosyan organized rallies in the capital Yerevan to protest the election results, which they believed were anti-democratic and fraudulent. Kocharyan reportedly ordered the suppression of the rallies. Ten people were killed and more than 250 were injured in the wake of intervention of the armed forces in the marches attended by thousands.
Kocharyan was released on a bail of $4 million in 2020. While in jail, he said he was destined to "liberate Armenia" from the current government headed by PM Pashinyan. He reportedly received support signals from the Kremlin during the period of his arrest.
Kocharyan is known as a leader of pro-Russian political circles in Armenia for his services and aspirations to strengthen Yerevan’s relationship with Moscow. During his presidency, he reportedly conceded strategic facilities in Armenia to Russia in return for the country’s state debts, a move that deepened Armenia’s economic and financial dependence on its northern neighbor.
Tofig Zulfugarov, the former foreign minister of Azerbaijan, believes that ongoing developments hint at Russian interest in Kocharyan’s winning the upcoming elections in Armenia.
“[Kocharyan’s] interview with Posner is a sign that Russia is betting on R. Kocharyan in the elections ... And this means that N. Pashinyan will remain and continue the policy of distancing Armenia from Russia,” he wrote on Facebook.
Meanwhile, media reports that President Putin and Kocharyan held discussions last week in Moscow. The Russian president’s spokesperson Dmitriy Peskov confirmed a phone conversation between the two, which he described as part of their “frequent communications.”