Opinion: Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations are at a crossroad

Armenia – Azerbaijan negotiations have reached a crossroad, says Benyamin Poghosyan in this op-ed for commonspace.eu. "Azerbaijan lost its interest in Western platforms, criticizing the EU for its alleged "pro-Armenian approach" and indicating its willingness to go back to a Moscow-led format or launch direct bilateral talks with Armenia using Georgia as a venue. Armenia seeks to avoid Russian mediation efforts, simultaneously seeking to increase its cooperation with the EU and the US. Under current circumstances, hopes for signing the peace agreement by the end of 2023 are quickly fading away. Meanwhile, the pause in the negotiation process creates additional dangers for new military escalations, especially around the so-called "enclaves," which Azerbaijan portrays as "Azerbaijani territories occupied by Armenia." The EU and the US should increase their efforts to bring back Azerbaijan to Brussels and Washington formats, while Armenia should consider the option to re-start negotiation with Azerbaijan through Russian mediation."      

When, after imposing a 9-month long blockade, Azerbaijan launched a military offensive against the self-proclaimed Nagorno Karabakh Republic on September 19, 2023, forced its President Samvel Shahramanyan to sign a decree of dissolution of the Republic by the end of 2023, and effectively kicked out entire Armenian population from the region, experts and politicians started to explore the consequences of this move on Armenia – Azerbaijan negotiation process. Started immediately after the end of the 2020 Nagorno Karabakh War, it already had  its ups and downs. Dominated by Russia at the beginning, then through alternative platforms in Brussels and Washington, it seemed that negotiations slowly moved in the right direction – the signature of a peace agreement. When Armenia recognized Nagorno Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan in October 2022, many thought the step cleared a path towards peace.

However, the Armenian government was demanding an international presence in Nagorno Karabakh to ensure the rights and security of Armenians, as well as the establishment of an international mechanism for Baku – Stepanakert direct talks. Azerbaijan vehemently rejected these claims, and there was a feeling that after several rounds of talks in Washington and Brussels, negotiations reached a stalemate. The war in Ukraine and the collapse of Russia – West relations have created additional obstacles, as the negotiation process has become a sort of geopolitical competition between Russia and the West. It seemed that the West had the upper hand in this competition. In 2023, Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders met twice in Brussels, and the foreign ministers with their teams took part in two rounds of negotiations in Washington, working on the text of the peace agreement, while there was only one brief meeting of leaders in Russia in May 2023.

Under those circumstances, some believed that the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh was the primary obstacle to the way of the peace agreement. According to this logic, the military takeover of Nagorno Karabakh by Azerbaijan and the forced displacement of the entire Armenian population from the region, despite being a tragedy in itself, would facilitate the peace process under the Western umbrella, resulting in the signature of a peace agreement in Brussels by the end of 2023. At the margins of the third European Political Community summit, the meeting in Granada seemed to be an excellent place to finalize the details of the future agreement.

However, it appeared that after securing zero consequences from the West for the forced displacement of Armenians from Nagorno Karabakh, Azerbaijan lost its interest in Western platforms. President Aliyev canceled its participation in the Granada summit, and according to different sources, the primary reason was the alleged pro-Armenian stance of France and Germany. Azerbaijan thought that they could not be an honest broker of negotiations. Azerbaijan demanded Turkish President Erdogan's participation to balance pro-Armenian Europeans, but this demand was not accepted. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan indicated that it was ready to continue participating in the "original Brussels format", and sides agreed to have another Brussel summit by the end of October 2023. However, a few days before the meeting, Azerbaijan canceled its participation in the summit, allegedly because of a lack of time.

In parallel with distancing itself from the Western platforms, Azerbaijan launched active consultations with Russia. Azerbaijani foreign minister Bayramov had several phone calls with his Russian counterpart in October 2023. They agreed that the only base for the conflict settlement was the trilateral Armenia – Azerbaijan – Russia statements. President Aliyev met with President Putin in Bishkek during the CIS summit and discussed the Armenia – Azerbaijan negotiations process. Several voices from Azerbaijan started to talk about the necessity of settling the issues in the South Caucasus by regional states – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Turkey, and Iran, repeating the Russian and Iranian narrative that Western involvement in the South Caucasus will only exacerbate the situation. Through the active efforts of Russia and Iran, the second meeting of the 3+3 (3+2) format took place in Tehran in October 2023, and an agreement was reached to hold the next summit in Turkey in the first half of 2024.

While Azerbaijan made efforts to decrease its involvement in Western platforms, Armenia took steps to reduce its presence in Russia-facilitated formats. Prime Minister Pashinyan and Foreign Minister Mirzoyan did not attend the CIS summit in Bishkek, where Russia hoped to organize trilateral negotiations. Recently, the Armenian defense minister did not participate in the CSTO defense ministers summit, and Secretary of the Security Council Armen Grigoryan missed the meeting with his CIS counterparts. Simultaneously, Armenia increased its engagement with the West. Prime Minister Pashinyan participated in the sixth annual Paris Peace Forum, and Secretary of Security Council Armen Grigoryan took part in the Armenia-Europe Conference, held in Brussels on November 9-10, 2023. Armenian foreign Minister Mirzoyan will participate in the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting on November 13.

Thus, after the forced destruction of the self-proclaimed Nagorno Karabakh Republic, Armenia – Azerbaijan negotiations have reached a crossroad. Azerbaijan lost its interest in Western platforms, criticizing the EU for its alleged "pro-Armenian approach" and indicating its willingness to go back to a Moscow-led format or launch direct bilateral talks with Armenia using Georgia as a venue. Armenia seeks to avoid Russian mediation efforts, simultaneously seeking to increase its cooperation with the EU and the US. Under current circumstances, hopes for signing the peace agreement by the end of 2023 are quickly fading away. Meanwhile, the pause in the negotiation process creates additional dangers for new military escalations, especially around the so-called "enclaves," which Azerbaijan portrays as "Azerbaijani territories occupied by Armenia." The EU and the US should increase their efforts to bring back Azerbaijan to Brussels and Washington formats, while Armenia should consider the option to re-start negotiation with Azerbaijan through Russian mediation.       

source: Benyamin Poghosyan is a Senior Fellow on foreign policy at APRI Armenia and the founder and Chairman of the Centre for Political and Economic Strategic Studies in Yerevan. 
photo:  Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan met with European leaders in Granada in October. Aliyev refused to attend.

The views expressed in opinion pieces and commentaries do not necessarily reflect the position of commonspace.eu or its partners.

              

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