Over a year since the Armenian parliament set up a commission to probe the causes and course of the 2020 Second Karabakh War, precious little information has been shared with the public. Whatever it concludes will likely stay classified.
The parliamentary opposition has boycotted the commission's work, dismissing it as a sham aimed at absolving the government of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Yet its work continues. On February 23 the investigative commission got around to interviewing its first high-ranking witness: Eduard Asryan, currently the chief of the General Staff, who served as head of the Operations Department of the Armed Forces during the war.
Andranik Kocharyan, the ruling Civil Contract party MP who heads the commission, assured the public that the general "conveyed important information that could be decisive for our conclusion."
That could be the extent of what the public comes to know about his testimony.
Kocharyan said Prime Minister Pashinyan, who founded Civil Contract and who presided over Armenia's defeat in the war, would be summoned to the commission as well.
Individuals are testifying on a voluntary basis so far, he said, adding that he was working on changing parliamentary regulations to compel those who don't want to appear.
The Second Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan ended in November 2020 with a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement. According to official data, 3,812 Armenians died in the war, and 217 are considered missing.
After several months of recriminations and domestic turmoil, Pashinyan's party, Civil Contract, held on to its mandate in a snap parliamentary election in June 2021.
Since then, there have been calls from various parties for an investigation into the circumstances of the conflict, with Pashinyan’s supporters and the opposition publicly blaming each other for the war and law enforcement agencies opening criminal cases against individual soldiers. After extended rancorous debate, the parliamentary commission was established on February 10, 2022. It was tasked with studying the political, military and diplomatic aspects of the conflict, as well as assessing the activities of state institutions and persons responsible for managing the war. Initially, the term of the commission's activity was set for six months, but in October it was decided to extend that for another six months.
From the very start, it has faced legitimacy concerns.
The parliamentary opposition, which consists of two blocs, the Armenia alliance and I Have Honor, view the commission as pointless and boycott its work.
"The culprits of the war and the defeat in this war are the current authorities. This commission is called upon not to reveal the circumstances of the war, but to appoint the perpetrators. We cannot participate in this," Hayk Mamijanyan, chairman of the parliamentary faction of the opposition bloc I Have Honor, told Eurasianet.
To ensure broader representation on the commission, the authorities invited representatives of extra-parliamentary forces and relatives of dead servicemen to participate.
Later, the leader of the Liberal party, Samvel Babayan, who served as secretary of Nagorno-Karabakh's security council during the 2020 war, quit the commission. Explaining his decision, he said: "The rules of the game are not respected."
Two other political forces, Fair Armenia and Sovereign Armenia, whose leaders periodically meet with the prime minister within the format of consultations with extra-parliamentary forces, continue to work with the commission.
Mkrtich Harutyunyan, 58, from the Ararat region of Armenia, whose son Karapet Harutyunyan, 29, has been missing in action since 2020, told Eurasianet he is optimistic about the commission's work.
He hopes to find out details about the criminal case regarding the disappearance of his son, though he acknowledges that may not happen soon.
He has viewed videos showing PoWs captured during October 2020, around the time his son disappeared and believes Karapet is currently in Azerbaijani captivity.
Harutyunyan blames the higher army command for the capture of his son, who signed up as a volunteer.
"During the war in October 2020, our sons were taken by bus towards Zangilan and left there. They were taken prisoner. A criminal case has been initiated. There is an investigation. We, the parents, were assured by the director of the National Security Service of Armenia [Armen Abazyan] that very soon all the circumstances of the case regarding our sons would be revealed," Mkrtich Harutyunyan said. (Zangilan is a region of Azerbaijan that had been controlled by Armenian forces prior to the 2020 war.)
Over 2,000 criminal cases have been initiated on various episodes of the war. Experts say this approach is unlikely to yield a general picture of the causes and course.
"It is necessary to investigate and answer questions regarding the root causes of the military failures of the Armenian side. For example, how was the military-political situation in the region assessed before the start of the war, how good was the armament of the Armenian army, were there any omissions in the management of the army that led to irreversible consequences? How did intelligence work? It is also necessary to investigate the orders of higher-ranking military and officials during the war, which caused the death of many military personnel," Artur Sakunts, head of the Vanadzor office of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, said in an interview with Eurasianet.
Many doubt that the public will ever come to learn such details.
In 2019, before the Second Karabakh War, there was a similar probe into the four days of fighting in April 2016. Then, too, the authorities promised answers to the public's burning questions. But the findings of the probe were classified.
That probe was also chaired by Andranik Kocharyan, the head of the commission looking at the 2020 war.
Sakunts told Eurasianet: "We do not know what conclusion the authorities came to as a result of the previous investigation. In this regard, I do not think that this time the circumstances of the 2020 war will be fully disclosed and the society will receive answers to its questions."
Arshaluis Mgdesyan is a journalist based in Yerevan.