The short answer to that question is the Armenian political elite is against the Madrid Principles because for Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora the issue is not Karabakh independence, neither it is simply about Karabakh unification with Armenia. Instead it is about the events in Ottoman Eastern Anatolia in 1915. Negative Armenian reaction to Madrid Principles and to rapprochement with Turkey begins to make sense in that context.
Let’s leave aside the irrationality and absurdity of Armenia applying the implications of events in another region, at another time in history to present-day relations with Azerbaijan and the Karabakh dispute. It is a fact and one Azerbaijan should not ignore. For Armenians victory in Karabakh and conquest of additional territories served as a means to a perverse sense of vengeance against a proxy enemy. As tragic and tragically pathetic as that may be and whatever the rights and wrongs of Armenia’s conflict with Turkey are, it is us, Azerbaijanis, who have to deal with this fall out.
Karabakh, however, was never the main objective, merely a step along the way. The entire Armenian national ideology is predicated on acquisition of territories deemed as “historically Armenian”, in effect a Greater Armenia. This process began long before the events of 1915, so it would be pointless trying to “understand” and “feel the pain” – a natural aggressor will always find an excuse for his predatory instincts. In fact a historic sense of grievance informed most of the modern military aggressions.
Much of the debate in Armenian academic and social circles centres on the territorial issue. This is as true of the international “genocide” recognition campaign, as of Armenian strategy on Karabakh. The conquest of Karabakh and other regions, as well as the recognition campaign are simply stages in a long term vision.
In a debate on the pages of a respected quarterly journal Armenian Forum as long as ten years ago, various authors discussed the purposes of international “genocide” recognition and the consensus on the territorial compensation issue was concrete. The disagreement was on the means to achieve the end of getting Turkey to relinquish its “Armenian” territories. Khatchik Der Ghougassian, a moderate, argued that Armenia should normalise relations with Turkey as part of the recognition process and that doing so “would not mean ignoring other expectations associated with recognition”. Instead, it would merely be the beginning of a long process of negotiations.
More excitable author, Simon Payaslian, was a proponent of a more radical solution:
“Scenarios other than recognition would perhaps prove more realistic for Armenians to effectuate the objective of regaining their homeland. This would involve, for example, an opportunity provided by a regional war, whereby regional powers (Russia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, or a combination thereof) would be engaged in one major war or a series of military conflicts with Turkey and its allies.”
These are not ravings of a lunatic but are published comments of a respected author. And they do not sound too farfetched given recent history of the region and current situation with Iran’s nuclear programme. Payaslian’s views and mindset remain indicative of the nature of the debate in a country, whose president notoriously speaks in terms of “ethnic incompatibility” between Armenians and Azeris. He was not even aware of the implications of his words on a European audience – this is normal talk in Yerevan. Ten years after the Payaslian Exchange in the Armenian Forum we know whose side is winning in Armenia.
An agreement on the basis of Madrid Principles would provide Armenia with a kind of security guarantees only few states enjoy. An international peace-keeping force, almost certain to contain considerable Russian contingent, would replace Armenian occupying forces in all of the seven regions around Karabakh. These areas would remain demilitarised and free of Azerbaijani troops for decades. Armenia would keep its forces in Karabakh indefinitely – there are no demands for Armenian-Karabakh forces disarmament.
Azerbaijan, having signed the agreement, would never get away with military action and would never be able to pose any threat to Armenia. The risk and costs of doing so make it unthinkable. The legal framework of Madrid Principles would ensure that whilst Armenia could not make any territorial claims against Azerbaijan, Karabakh Armenians could proceed with their own independence through a democratic referendum. Even if all Azerbaijanis return to Karabakh (highly unlikely), Armenians would still constitute a majority in the province and would reasonably expect to win.
Moreover, if before 1988 Karabakh Armenians constituted part of the general Armenian ethnic minority in Azerbaijan, after Madrid Principles-based deal they would, under international law, indisputably constitute a national minority in Azerbaijan – situated as they would be in a territorially defined administrative unit under international jurisdiction. Their claim to independence would be legally waterproof – a situation that is not even near the reality today.
With such serious international security guarantees on offer Armenia should be in favour of Madrid principles. Instead it stalls the process and seeks to undermine it through military adventures on the line of contact in Karabakh – the most serious and recent one resulted in four Armenian and one Azeri soldier being killed.
The answer to this apparent paradox lies in the fact that Karabakh independence was never the objective – the purpose had always been unification with Armenia, which in turn is part of the larger plan that includes territorial claims against Georgia as well as Turkey.
The right of Armenian self-determination in Karabakh was raised only after the collapse of Soviet Union. It was a political move designed to legitimise the aggression perpetrated by Armenia against Azerbaijan. The issue between 1988 and 1991 was not Karabakh independence, but unification with Armenia – Miatzum was the slogan. It was irredentism, not separatism. Today independence is the only option for formalising Armenian control over Karabakh. Nothing short of that would be acceptable to Armenia.
To return seven regions captured in battle, major territories with resources and arable land that cumulatively comprise a buffer zone against the “Turkic enemy” – seems too costly. For Armenia, a nation that prides itself on its racial purity and boasts highest ethnic homogeneity rate in Europe (achieved through centuries of ethnic cleansing of minority populations) it is unthinkable that a single Azerbaijani should return to Karabakh. One Azeri in Shusha means failure of their entire endeavour. Ethnic cleansing in Khojaly and across Karabakh was as much of an aim behind Armenian actions in 1992, as it was in Armenian rebellion in Van in 1914 when most of the city’s Turkish and Kurdish inhabitants were slaughtered. If we are not careful there would be another date, few decades from now, perhaps in Nakchivan or Ganja. Aggressors cannot and should never be appeased.
Presence of foreign troops (especially non-Russian) in the adjacent to Karabakh territories is also unacceptable to Armenia as this precludes future territorial expansion against Azerbaijan and perhaps Georgian regions where Armenians make up ethnic majority. Any presence of Western troops in the region can threaten Armenian interests.
Status quo is the ideal scenario for Armenia. As time goes by and more colonists and settlers establish themselves not just in Karabakh but in Lachin and Kelbajar, and “NKR” gains more and more international recognition, pressure for independence would become immense. By that stage two generations of Armenians will have been born in “NKR” and two generations of Karabakh Azerbaijani will have been born in exile. This is a process that began with deportations of Azerbaijanis from present day Armenia and Karabakh in 1830s, continued through 1940s and 1960s and culminated in the final mass expulsion in 1988-1992. One hundred and sixty odd years and there is no trace of Azeri presence south of the ceasefire line, save for a few ruined mosques.
That is why Armenia will not agree to a peace treaty based on Madrid Principles, or to any other agreement. Peace is not the objective here. Territorial expansion and Armenian ethnic purity are the real goals.