Elections in occupied Karabakh: why generals are doomed to be defeated

Mamikon Babayan, exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
Elections in occupied Karabakh: why generals are doomed to be defeated

In 2020, the unrecognized by any state in the world, including Armenia, the self-proclaimed ’Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’ plans to hold presidential elections. Thus, these will be the ‘elections’ in one-fifth of the Azerbaijani territory: Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions that were occupied as a result of the military expansion of Armenia. (See also Who's going to lead occupation regime in Karabakh - economist or diplomat). The leadership of the self-proclaimed NKR ignores the rule of international law hoping to prove its legitimacy and justify military aggression over time. One of the ways to push the new status is to hold the 2020 elections.

The occupation regime’s ex-Minister of Defense, Samvel Babayan, well-known bandit and criminal, can become an unexpected candidate for the post of head of the unrecognized republic. Babayan is a symbol of post-war Karabakh, where the Karabakh clan has comfortably settled down. The military personnel who served in East Germany, an active participant in the Karabakh war and founder of the ‘NKR’ armed forces was extremely useful for the occupation authorities. In due time, Babayan was an influential figure: he could easily appoint his brother as a minister, and then help him win the election and become a mayor of Stepanakert, or delegate his appointees to the Armenian parliament who served him faithfully in the RPA faction.

Babayan’s rich biography includes not only military ‘services’ provided to the occupation regime, but also a ruthless struggle for power in an attempt to establish a dictatorship in the ‘NKR’. Babayan is involved in dirty financial transactions, he was also caught abusing business partners. This is only a small portion of what made the disgraced general leave Karabakh and settle in Russia. General Babayan was sentenced to 14 years in prison for the attempted in 1996 murder of the then head of the occupation regime, Arkady Ghoukassian, but less than in five years, in 2004, he was pardoned. Samvel Babayan is one of those ‘Karabakh heroes’ who noticeably improved their well-being as a result of the conflict, while hundreds of thousands of Armenians and Azerbaijanis experienced unprecedented horrors of the war and its consequences.

It would seem that Samvel Babayan’s reputation can not be ruined by anything, but he succeeded to do so. After the 2016  four-day war, Babayan returned to Karabakh, where a small group of people demanded his appointment as the Minister of Defense. Believing in his another ‘finest hour’, Babayan did not behave as an ordinary soldier. He decided to take advantage of the discontent over the fact that the April war claimed many lives, and initiated the movement ‘Voice of the People’ to justify his appointment to a leadership position. This became an aggravating factor for restoring Babayan’s reputation since such an attempt to revive a political career was perceived by people as speculation on emotions.

Babayan is hardly supported by the Karabakh ‘elite’, he is rather an outcast. The general is of little interest to Yerevan, but he may be useful since he knows the Karabakh clan affairs well enough. Moreover, without support from Yerevan, Babayan is doomed to a fiasco in the elections, even though some of the Karabakh Armenians are ready to support him. Obviously, for the dictator who became the first Defense Minister of the unrecognized republic at the age of 30, then the lieutenant general at 31, and received the highest ranks of the unrecognized republic at 32, it’s hard to put up with the fact that at 51 he can be beaten up and rejected by society due to his criminal reputation.

The second ‘hero’ candidate is Vitaly Balasanyan, the former Secretary of the unrecognized Karabakh Security Council. He was born in Askeran, graduated from the local high school, served in the Soviet Army, and then, in 1990, graduated from the Cooperative Trade College in Yerevan. The participant of the war who fought for the separatists, Balasanyan, owes much of his political career to Dashnaktsutyun’s support. He was elected to the party administration structure on Dashnaktsutyun’s party lists - the party considered occupied Karabakh as a springboard for its propaganda.

Balasanyan is a member of the clan ‘elite’ and has recently criticized Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. The Velvet Revolution in Armenia removed President Serzh Sargsyan from power, and Balasanyan decided that he should not lose his patrimony - occupied Karabakh. After the resignation, Sargsyan first time appeared in the public at a military parade in Karabakh. Balasanyan realized that his days were numbered because the new government would not endure the old team of Serzh. The best defense is offensive, and before the election, Vitaly Balasanyan seeks to unite all Sargsyan’s supporters and Pashinyan’s opponents.

Balasanyan constantly emphasizes that Nagorno-Karabakh is a separate republic, and the opinion of Yerevan, although important, cannot be regarded as an order. Despite all the merits for the regime, Balasanyan splits unrecognized Karabakh and Armenia. He actively supports a provocative information campaign against probable Pashinyan’s supporters in Karabakh, trying to prove that Yerevan’s nominee  will devalue the ‘sovereignty’ of Karabakh and turn it into one of the regions of Armenia.

Numerous political intrigues in Karabakh are also attributed to Balasanyan. It is believed that, becoming the Secretary of the Security Council, he strengthened the power of Bako Sahakyan with his support, restrained the ambitions of Araik Harutyunyan and blocked the former head of occupied Karabakh, Arkady Ghukasyan’s return to a leadership position.

Anyway, Balasanyan supports a formidable resource of the Karabakh conflict ‘veterans’, despite the fact that many experts call him the main provoker of a new war in Karabakh who wants to cast the blame on Yerevan.

Balasanyan is connected with Babayan at least by the fact that he and similar ‘veterans’ remained on the sidelines and kept silence when ‘gallant general’ Samvel annihilated his opponents by establishing a dictatorship. All the so-called generals, who after the war took care primarily of themselves and their well-being, are in Samvel Babayan’s shadow.

Each of the candidates, in his own way, fulfilled the prerequisite to be admitted to the elections, namely, they participated actively in the occupation legitimization. But for the majority, both former senior officials of the occupation regime are associated with the manifestations of feudal politics which still fetters Karabakh depriving it hope for the conflict resolution.