On September 25th, former commander and Minister of Defense of the Republic of Artsakh Samvel Babayan declared to correspondents from 24News that he was already in Armenia, despite previously stating on August 8th that he would be the last person to leave Artsakh. He noted that he would answer all questions related to his departure from Artsakh in an upcoming interview.
The next day, Babayan gave an interview to Petros Ghazaryan on the air of the Public Television of Armenia and made a series of bombastic claims and demands which have shaken Armenian society and introduced theses that have become the subject of intense public interest and debate. Babayan continued to give interviews to other reporters and media companies, advancing the same talking points and taking a rather peculiarly pro-government angle to the tragedy which took place in Artsakh. Babayan has also reportedly been central in inciting the intense, violent protests which took place in front of the Artsakh Representation Office in Yerevan.
Babayan’s entire case to the media, as sensational and attention-grabbing as it may be, is ultimately built atop a house of cards. His carefully constructed medley of crass lies and manipulations serve the function of confusing the Armenian public and promoting the de-facto authorities in Armenia.
This article will systematically analyze Babayan’s manipulations and posit a potential explanation for his irresponsible and dangerous behavior.
Manipulation #1: Samvel Babayan’s Arrival in Yerevan and the Media’s Responsibility for the Arrests of the Political Leadership of Artsakh
Babayan’s account of his ‘escape’ from Artsakh has generated a firestorm of attention in Armenian society since he revealed his presence in Yerevan on September 25th.
During his interview with Ghazaryan, Babayan noted that he passed the Azerbaijani checkpoint on the Hakari Bridge, exited his vehicle, shook hands with the Azeri border guards, then reentered his vehicle and crossed into Armenian territory. Babayan specifically noted that the border guards did not check any identification documents and did not recognize him due to their youth. Thus, Babayan comes to the conclusion that there was a surprisingly lax regime at the Lachin Corridor enabling even a famous Artsakhi politician like him to cross into Armenia.
This thesis was immediately shattered just the following day, when Ruben Vardanyan was arrested on the Hakari Bridge. Vardanyan’s arrest was followed days later by the arrests of Arkadi Ghukasyan, Bako Sahakyan, Arayik Harutyunyan, and several other high-ranking officials. How Azerbaijan managed to correct the lax regime apparently operating on Hakari within a day was quite confounding. Border guards were still not checking identification documents yet somehow Vardanyan was identified and Babayan was not. Was it because of Vardanyan’s public stature? It is hard to believe that this is the reason for Vardanyan being arrested and Babayan getting through scot-free.
Babayan’s calls during the interview for the immediate arrests of these figures immediately took on a very dark and depraved undertone. Babayan remained silent for several days before returning to give an interview wherein he ranted about how the “5th column” opposition media was responsible for Vardanyan’s arrest.
According to Babayan, the opposition media had made a ruckus about Babayan’s entry into Armenia, leading to Azerbaijan realizing that they could conduct arrests and “make a show” out of it. This is a despicable manipulation. The idea that somehow Azerbaijan had not realized that they could use the circumstances of the forced displacement of Artsakh Armenians to arrest high-ranking political leadership and were waiting on Armenian media to point it out is completely ludicrous. Still, even if we accept the fundamental argument Babayan is making – that public scrutiny of his escape led to Azerbaijan cracking down on political leaders – his entire case still falls flat on its face.
Let us not forget that it was Babayan himself who said to media members that he was in Yerevan. Then it was Babayan himself who one day later gave an immensely provocative and stunning interview on public television, where he specifically drew attention to how he shook hands with all of the border guards, who unbeknownst to them were apparently shaking hands with an enemy of the state.
So the question arises: how is the “5th column” opposition media responsible for the arrest of Ruben Vardanyan if it was Babayan himself who drew maximum attention to the circumstances surrounding his entry into Armenia? If we accept the fundamental core of Babayan’s argument, then this means that it was Babayan’s criminal irresponsibility that alerted the Azerbaijanis and enabled them to arrest Vardanyan and the others.
Of course, we should not simply accept Babayan’s words. His statements blaming opposition media are clearly sensational sleights of hand meant to explain how he made it to Armenia, whereas other leaders did not. By making these loud pronouncements, Babayan evades the question by scapegoating media companies who did nothing but do their jobs. Meanwhile Babayan slyly uses this cover to avoid additional scrutiny which would expose the real factors which led to him being allowed to leave Artsakh and enter the territory of the Republic of Armenia.
Manipulation #2: Accusations of Treason and the Signing of the Decree Dissolving the Republic of Artsakh
Babayan’s explanations for the tragic catastrophes which befell the Republic of Artsakh in September of 2023 place the primary blame on President Shahramanyan and the previous authorities of Artsakh, who were all allegedly acting as a unified front. Babayan on multiple occasions referred to these individuals as plain agents of foreign (Russian) influence.
As evidence of these stunning claims, Babayan cites two main pieces of evidence which according to him prove wartime treason:
- The President of Artsakh’s signing of a document which contained a stipulation calling on Armenia to remove its troops from Artsakh’s territory
- The authorities of Artsakh giving up untold amounts of weaponry to the Azerbaijani side.
Both of these points may appear to be valid on their faces, but ultimately Babayan’s recounting of events is manipulative and does not fully correspond to reality. The terms of the ceasefire agreement and the dissolution decree of course represent catastrophes of untold proportions. The abandonment of military equipment and the inclusion of an erroneous point stating that the Republic of Armenia maintained a troop presence in Artsakh are enormous blows to Armenia’s diplomatic and military positions.
However, these documents were clearly signed under duress. The besieged Republic of Artsakh, whose soldiers and civilians alike had subsisted in conditions of near-starvation during 9 months of blockade, lacking fuel, power, and the ability to properly communicate between regions and military outposts were suddenly facing an all-out invasion by a numerically, technologically, militarily, and strategically superior foe. Azerbaijani soldiers had complete control over the situation on the ground and were in immediate proximity of civilian settlements, who were protected by the severely depleted, yet absolutely heroic Artsakh Defense Army. The Republic of Artsakh received no military assistance whatsoever from the Republic of Armenia. They were left alone, fighting a force which even Armenia was unable to defeat on the battleground in 2020.
The expectation that such a force would be able to resist this brutal invasion without support from Armenia is patently absurd. The authorities were simply compelled to sign whatever document was on the table at that point in time. President Shahramanyan was in no position to be able to contest the inclusion of anti-Armenian points therein. The primary and absolutely urgent imperative was to cease hostilities before the bloodthirsty Azerbaijani troops inflicted more casualties and entered major civilian centers.
The movement of civilians here reflects the most salient point. Without any intervention from Armenia, Russian peacekeepers, or the mythological “international community”, the lives of 100,000 Artsakhi Armenians were under immediate threat with absolutely nothing protecting them from untold brutalities at the hands of highly-trained and vicious Azeri soldiers.
Rather peculiarly, Babayan noted in an October 13 interview that Nikol Pashinyan was absolutely correct in choosing not to enter the war to protect the people of Artsakh. Furthermore, Babayan blamed the Artsakh authorities for improperly organizing and conducting the defense of the republic in September of 2023. The expectations that Babayan had of an isolated, besieged, starved Artsakh are of course patently absurd. Babayan simply makes this point in order to further justify the policies of the de-facto authorities of the Republic of Armenia.
It may be difficult to imagine worse terms for Artsakh and its people than we ultimately received. However, as brutal, humiliating, and anti-Armenian the ceasefire document and the following dissolution decree were, we must not lose sight of the fact that the violent genocide of 100,000 was very much a real possibility had hostilities not been stopped and the calamitous statements been signed.
Manipulation #3: Maximalism, Corruption, the Former Regime, and the De-Facto Authorities
Beyond the accusations of wartime treachery that he made, Babayan also made audacious statements about treasonous and irresponsible conduct displayed by the incumbent regime in Artsakh as it related to the “negotiations process” and the alleged mass corruption that they had been engaged in for decades.
Babayan accuses the previous authorities of unrealistic maximalism, noting that “only independence” was acceptable to them. Just a few sentences later however, Babayan contradicts himself by criticizing the leadership for opening the Aghdam road temporarily despite them assuring the public that they would not do so. Harutyunyan and Shahverdyan did everything possible to avoid war, even taking unpopular steps like temporarily opening the Aghdam road. The situation required such unpopular decisions and Babayan now chooses to ignore the authorities’ measured approach in order to concoct a false impression of Artsakh being run by maximalist maniacs.
Criticism is warranted. However, in not one interview since arriving to Armenia has Babayan made a single criticism of Pashinyan’s decision to recognize Artsakh as Azerbaijani territory without receiving even so much as a single credible guarantee for the rights and securities of the people living there. The entire process is blamed on the Artsakh authorities, who through their apparent maximalism and decision to conduct a regime change enabled and justified Azerbaijan’s use of force. The role of Pashinyan’s regime in completely legitimizing the actions of Azerbaijan have received no assessment from Babayan, who is more than content with proclaiming that he is satisfied with the policies adopted by the regime and placing the lion’s share of the blame on President Shahramanyan, who assumed power just 10 days before the onset of hostilities.
Babayan also trots out familiar Nikolakan talking points, accusing the Artsakh authorities of being involved in gross, mass corruption and suggesting means for remedying the situation. He calls on the Armenian authorities to seize the property belonging to the political leadership of Artsakh in Armenia and transfer it back to “the people”. Babayan here essentially acts as a Civil Contract operative, trumpeting claims of corruption and making populist calls to redistribute wealth to the lower classes. Babayan has learned the art of cheap populism from his master quite astutely. He is a learned protege.
In fact, everything for Babayan, just as it does with Pashinyan, revolves around corruption and simple thievery. National issues are secondary. It is difficult for them to fathom that the former authorities had any priorities besides their own personal enrichment. This degenerate mindset leads to Babayan making the absurd claim that the authorities of Artsakh committed what he refers to as an act of treason in order to destroy a set of documents in Stepanakert which substantiated their corruption. All national issues according to Babayan are secondary to a grand conspiracy in which all that matters is the authorities hiding the traces of their personal enrichment, even at the expense of signing away Artsakh. Apparently, the authorities needed to abandon their homeland simply in order to burn some documents in Stepanakert.
Just as with Nikol, this is Babayan projecting his own selfishness and greediness onto others. Only that, along with the broader motivation of muddying the waters to protect Pashinyan and get rewarded with a government post can explain Babayan spinning this web of laughable lies. Most shamelessly, Babayan engaged in these character assassinations and dishonorable conduct while the current and former leadership of Artsakh had not yet arrived in Armenia, signaling to the enemy that they were still in Artsakh and soiling the credibility of those whose lives were still in danger.
Manipulation #4: The Mysterious Autonomous Republic
Samvel Babayan also made the shocking claim that Azerbaijan had agreed to give Artsakh the status of an ‘Autonomous Republic’, which would even entail the maintenance of an Artsakhi National Guard. This Autonomous Republic would consist of an area of 4400 square km, encompassing the same borders as the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. This means that in conditions of complete blockade, staggering military imbalance, and clear indications of complete non-intervention from Armenia, Azerbaijan would agree to grant Armenians autonomous self-rule even over areas in the former NKAO occupied by Azerbaijan during the 44-Day War. According to Babayan’s version of events, from a position of absolute strength, having been given carte blanche from the de-facto authorities in Armenia to determinant the fate of Artsakh, Azerbaijan would lift the blockade, allow Armenians back into Shushi and Hadrut with an official National Guard, and define the borders of a self-governing Armenian republic.
The exact terms of this mysterious “Autonomous Republic” have of course been kept deliberately vague by Babayan. While he was very willing to disclose the framework of this status in his interview with Ghazaryan, Babayan grew testy when questioned by a reporter on the terms of the negotiations on October 14th, barking at him to “close the topic”. Babayan’s continued reluctance to publish the “23 points” he negotiated with Azerbaijani authorities is perplexing, especially considering that the Artsakh chapter has been closed for the time being.
It is a vast understatement to say that the existence of a framework amounting to an Autonomous Republic status for Artsakh is a ridiculous proposition. Azerbaijan had zero incentive to grant autonomy to the Armenian population, given its position of strength and the lack of any deterrent forces to aggression. Babayan even admits as much. He claims to have known prior to the war starting in September that the Russian peacekeeping forces were not going to intervene in the event of military aggression by Azerbaijan. Despite being aware that neither the Russian peacekeepers nor the Republic of Armenia could deter an Azerbaijani invasion, Babayan still apparently had faith that Azerbaijan would make substantial concessions to a starved, depleted Artsakh. Babayan would either have to be an abominably foolish politician to believe that Azerbaijan would go to this step, or he is blatantly lying. The latter is, of course, a far, far more likely option.
Manipulation #5: Azerbaijan’s Intended Outcomes and Constructiveness
Babayan must make these fallacious points because accusing Artsakh authorities of maximalism allows him to blame them for the ensuing war. Babayan conveniently sidesteps the fact that even despite the authorities doing everything possible to avoid war, including meeting the critical Azerbaijani demand of opening the Aghdam road (temporarily), Aliyev still resorted to military force.
Babayan conceals the reality that Aliyev from day one was planning to use force to – in his mind – finally solve the Artsakh issue. The beginning of the blockade and Azerbaijan turning to European negotiating platforms to secure Armenia’s recognition of its territorial integrity are clear precursors to the eventual military aggression that Azerbaijan undertook. Furthermore, the Azerbaijani emphasis on symbolism demonstrates the meticulous planning and clear intention for unleashing this cascade of violence and tragedy. The first meeting in Yevlakh between representatives from Artsakh and Azerbaijan occurred on September 21st, Armenian Independence Day. Aliyev made sure to visit Stepanakert and hoist Azerbaijan’s flag over the occupied city on the 20th anniversary of his assumption of power in Azerbaijan. According to Babayan, are these mere coincidences? If the Artsakh authorities had simply given up political power to him, would Azerbaijan forget their fetishization of humiliating symbolism and instead make enormous unilateral concessions? The answer to these questions is obvious.
The 20-year trend of Aliyev’s aggressive and undiplomatic politics would apparently suddenly come to a crashing end upon Babayan assuming political power. According to Babayan’s recent interviews, this miracle is apparently still possible. It just requires Babayan to become the leader-in-exile of the Republic of Artsakh. He is content with stirring the hopes of the public by speaking about the possibility that even after completely ethnically cleansing Artsakh, Azerbaijan would yet consider returning to the “Autonomous Republic” framework and guarantee the return of Artsakhi Armenians. Why Azerbaijan would reopen an issue which it considers settled and wish for thousands of Armenians to return to a territory which they did everything in their power to ethnically cleanse is a mystery.
When asked the obvious question of why Azerbaijan would agree to grant autonomy to Armenians, Babayan notes four things that they would receive in return:
- Solving the Artsakh issue
- Peace in the region
- Solving issues related to Armenia-Turkey and Armenia-Azerbaijan relations
- The opening of communications in the region
Babayan is not an idiotic enough figure to believe that the same Azerbaijan which is now demanding more Armenian territory in the form of the concession of eight enclaves and a corridor is earnestly interested in pursuing peace in the region.
This is especially true with regards to Artsakh, unfortunately. Babayan is shameless enough to even imply in that same October 13th interview that Azerbaijan is protecting the homes of Armenians in Artsakh and keeping it free from Azerbaijani occupation because they desire Armenians to return to Artsakh. This is a blatant manipulation. Even a cursory survey of the behavior of the Azerbaijani side even limited to the month of September exposes the reality that Aliyev and his barbarian military did everything in their power to forcibly and completely displace the Armenian population of Artsakh. The residents of Artsakh received text messages from Azerbaijani numbers in September asserting that they were on the territory of Azerbaijan. Such acts are clearly part of a broader Azerbaijani terror campaign. Even after the ceasefire agreement was signed on September 20th, Azerbaijani troops attempted to breach the city of Stepanakert and place their flag in the city center. The motivations of such an operation are clear: terrorize the Armenian population and make the entrance of their savage hordes seem inevitable. In September there were also countless reports of Azerbaijani slaughters taking place in various villages in Artsakh and videos proliferated across Azerbaijani Telegram channels depicting war crimes against civilians. Much of these videos were fortunately not recent and were instead sourced from 2020, but this speaks to a concerted, organized effort to engage in all fronts of the hybrid war and subject Armenians to informational terror in order to compel them to leave their ancestral homeland behind within days.
Despite the undeniable facts at hand, Babayan continues to assert that Aliyev is a constructive partner, not only in terms of bestowing self-governing status upon Artsakh before the war but also in today mulling over the prospect of allowing thousands of Armenians to return to the very location where he desecrated the Artsakh flag.
Babayan’s recent interviews represent another shameful chapter in his and his allies’ political careers. At the most tragic time in the Third Republic’s history, Samvel Babayan chose to foment division, spread blatant lies, and manipulate Armenians.
His actions amount to a slimy attempt at attaining power, as he paints himself as the only person capable of engaging with Azerbaijan. His revelations that he negotiated with Azerbaijan is a development which must be thoroughly investigated. It is outside the scope of this analysis to comment on whether Babayan was genuinely an authorized negotiator with Azerbaijan. It seems unlikely, but this requires further investigation and more testimonies from other relevant actors like President Shahramanyan. If it comes to light that he was engaged in negotiations with the enemy without explicit authorization granted by the Artsakhi leadership at the time, he must face prosecution and be subjected to the harshest legal consequences.
Babayan’s scapegoating of “opposition media ”, the current and former authorities of Artsakh, and the former Presidents of Armenia are the clearest signs yet of Babayan officially and finally accepting his role as yet another manipulative operative of Civil Contract. In almost hilariously flagrant fashion, Babayan’s core talking points are merely crude reproductions of Pashinyan’s. The previous authorities are guilty, every leader before Nikol was engaged in nothing but treason and kleptocracy, and the most recent addition to the Nikolakan playbook: Russia controls the opposition and is seeking to conduct regime change.
This final one is an innovation of Nikol’s which he turned to in order to paint himself as the guarantor of Armenia’s sovereignty and independence as he faced unprecedented weakness leading up to the Yerevan municipal elections and the loss of Artsakh thereafter. Babayan has become an important mouthpiece to spread this idea, claiming even that “more than half” of the Armenian population are Russian agents. Babayan’s primary goal is to turn on a firehose of blame, dousing everyone including Russia, President Shahramanyan, Arayik Harutyunyan, Bako Sahakyan, Arkadi Ghukasyan, the “opposition media”, Serzh Sargsyan (especially), Robert Kocharyan, and countless others in the loss of Artsakh. In other words, Babayan blames everyone but the person who is objectively the most responsible for the fate of Artsakh: Nikol Pashinyan.
Babayan smears all those who could possibly serve as a counterweight to Pashinyan, and is now essentially campaigning against the return of the former leaders of Artsakh to Armenia. He may not be engaged in this treachery openly, but by painting them as traitors, claiming in an October 13 interview that they do not have knowledge of state secrets, and saying that Armenia should not have a specific, targeted approach towards freeing them, he creates the conditions which would result in them being imprisoned for longer. He is working on behalf of Pashinyan to loosen the Armenian public’s trust and respect for the imprisoned officials which could counter the Armenian regime’s narrative, leaving Pashinyan unscathed.
Perhaps the greatest irony in Babayan and Pashinyan’s antics is that these same people who for weeks were exclaiming that the opposition would be using the people of Artsakh as a political tool are now using Artsakhis to undermine Shahramanyan and prop up Pashinyan. Babayan’s brazen companionship with Nikol and his joyful strolls around Yerevan with such vile creatures as Andranik Kocharyan and Gurgen Arsenyan will ultimately result in severe judgment against him – both in the courtroom and in the annals of history.