"The developments of the last three weeks have proved that Armenia and Azerbaijan are far from signing a peace agreement, at least by the end of 2022. There is a danger that Azerbaijan may interpret this as a failure of the peace process and use this as a "moral justification" to launch a new large-scale aggression. If this happens, it will push Armenia and Azerbaijan further back from any chance to reach an agreement and deepen the mutual mistrust, writes Benyamin Poghosyan in this op-ed for commonspace.eu
In recent months Armenia – Azerbaijan negotiation process passed through several ups and downs. The September 13-14, 2022, Azerbaijani aggression seemed to jeopardize the fragile achievements reached during the three Brussel summits held in April, May, and August 2022. However, immediately after the ceasefire reached on September 14, there was a new push toward reaching a peace agreement. Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers met in New York in late September and Geneva on October 2; Secretary of the Armenian Security Council Armen Grigoryan had a meeting with President Aliyev’s top foreign policy aide Hikmet Hajiyev in Washington on September 27, 2022.
The EU’s efforts, together with a significantly increased American involvement, resulted in the Prague statement of October 6, attended by Prime Minister Pashinyan, President Aliyev, European Council President Mishel, and French President, Emanuel Macron. Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to recognize each other's territorial integrity based on the Alma-Ata declaration of December 1991, and a decision was made to deploy civilian EU observers in Armenia for two months. Meanwhile, during the September 27 meeting in Washington, the sides were reported to have agreed to sign a peace agreement by the end of 2022. Many perceived this goal as too ambitious, but the Prague statement seemed to validate the possibility of such a breakthrough.
Amidst the increased activities of the EU and the US, Russia re-inserted itself in the negotiation process, organizing a trilateral leaders' summit on October 31, 2022, in Sochi. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia signed the fourth trilateral statement, and Yerevan and Baku reconfirmed recognition of each other's territorial integrity based on the Alma-Ata declaration. A week later, Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers met in Washington and agreed to intensify negotiations to find a solution to the few remaining unsolved issues. The 30 days between October 6 and November 7, 2022, may have been the most active period of negotiations since the June 2011 failed Kazan summit. It seemed that Armenia and Azerbaijan finally found the necessary momentum, and a breakthrough was within reach.
Unfortunately, the reality was less bright and rosy. The day after the November 7 meeting of foreign affairs ministers, President Aliyev made several belligerent statements, again threatening Armenia with a new war and losses if Yerevan did not fully agree to the Azerbaijani views on the future of relations: There was no Nagorno Karabakh anymore; Azerbaijan destroyed Nagorno Karabakh during the 2020 war; Azerbaijan would never agree to any international involvement to speak with the Armenian community of Azerbaijan; Azerbaijani troops were located in Azerbaijani territory and would not withdraw even for an inch. These were the main ideas articulated by President Aliyev. However, the key message was a clear threat to Armenia: do whatever Azerbaijan wants, otherwise, you will suffer the same fate as you did during the 2020 war.
It is challenging to assess the reasons behind such rhetoric. Some experts believe that the primary target of that speech was the domestic audience. At the same time, some argue that Azerbaijan was unhappy with the results of the Sochi summit on October 31 and the ministers’ meeting on November 7. Regardless of the reasons, this rhetoric did not contribute to advancing the peace agenda. A few days later Armenian Prime Minister stated that Azerbaijan was preparing a genocide against Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh. In recent weeks Azerbaijani troops, on a daily basis, broke the ceasefire along Azerbaijan – Nagorno Karabakh line of contact and Armenia - Azerbaijan state borders. It resulted in military and civilian casualties from the Armenian side. Simultaneously, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense accused Armenia and the self-proclaimed Nagorno Karabakh Republic defense army of ceasefire violations. This pattern repeats the Azerbaijani behavior prior to the September 13-14 aggression.
President Aliyev continued his aggressive rhetoric during his meeting with the participants of an international conference held in Baku on November 25, 2022. He called Armenia a satellite state and argued that Armenians had psychological problems. During the same speech, President Aliyev stated that he would not participate in the meeting with Prime Minister Pashinyan scheduled for December 7 in Brussels because Armenia demanded to have President Macron along with European Council President Michel as participants of the meeting.
According to the Armenian side, the agreement on Macron’s future participation was reached during the Prague summit on October 6. Thus, Armenia did not put forward any additional or last-minute demands. The potential cancellation of the December 7 meeting will create complications for the continuation of the Brussels format, established back in December 2021, leaving only two functioning formats – Moscow and Washington. It will further insert the Armenia – Azerbaijan negotiation process into the orbit of the Russia – US confrontation, which would probably complicate the process more.
The developments of the last three weeks have shown that Armenia and Azerbaijan are far from signing a peace agreement, at least by the end of 2022. There is a danger that Azerbaijan may interpret this as a failure of the peace process and use this as a "moral justification" to launch a new large-scale aggression. If this happens, it will push Armenia and Azerbaijan further back from any chance to reach an agreement and deepen the mutual mistrust.
All international actors interested in maintaining this fragile stability in the region should send a clear message to Azerbaijan that the absence of a peace agreement by December 31, 2022, does not provide any "justification” to Azerbaijan to launch another large-scale attack. Meanwhile, the EU should put additional efforts to prevent the "death” of the Brussels format, simultaneously taking steps to decrease the likelihood of a new Azerbaijani attack. In this context, the right step will be to extend the deployment of the EU observer mission in Armenia beyond December 2022 and increase the number of observers. It will foment the EU’s image as an actor striving for regional stability.
source: Benyamin Poghosyan is the founder and Chairman of the Centre for Political and Economic Strategic Studies in Yerevan.
photo: Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia and President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan (archive picture)
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