It may appear that the primary obstacle to the signature of a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the different views of the sides on where to resume and finalize the process. Armenia wants to do that in Western platforms, while Azerbaijan wants to return to the Russian platform, use the 3+2 format, or have direct negotiations without any mediators. In this op-ed for commonspace.eu Benyamin Poghosyan says that "in reality, the roots of the current situation are more profound than simple geopolitical choices of venue."
The military takeover of the self–proclaimed Nagorno Karabakh Republic by Azerbaijan has raised hopes that it may facilitate the signature of the peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The logic behind this thinking was clear – the future of Nagorno Karabakh, and the fate of the Armenians living were the primary obstacles on the road toward peace. As all Armenians were forced to leave the region, and NKR de facto president Samvel Shahrmanyan signed a decree about the dissolution of the republic by the end of 2023, it seemed that the stage was set for quick signature of the Armenia – Azerbaijan peace treaty, and then a push forward in the Armenia – Turkey normalization process.
However, the reality appears to be different. Instead of fostering peace negotiations, the military takeover of Nagorno Karabakh resulted in an impasse in the process. Azerbaijan rejected to participate in the meeting in Granada, on the margins of the third European Political Community summit, arguing that the EU, France, and Germany had pro-Armenian views and, thus, could not be neutral facilitators. Baku indicated it was ready to resume negotiations in the "original Brussels format" by the end of October but also canceled that meeting. In mid-November, Azerbaijan rejected a US invitation to organize negotiations between Armenian and Azerbaijani ministers of foreign affairs in Washington, this time accusing the United States of having pro-Armenian sentiments. Simultaneously, Azerbaijan started to speak about the dangers of non–regional actors (the US, the EU, France, and others) involvement in the South Caucasus geopolitics, calling for settling the issues by the regional powers, using either Russian platform or 3+2 format. Baku also started to circulate the idea of having direct Armenia – Azerbaijan negotiations without any mediators, either in Georgia or near the Armenia – Azerbaijan border.
Meanwhile, Armenia continued to state that Yerevan was ready to immediately resume negotiations either in Brussels or in Washington and sign a peace treaty with Azerbaijan based on so-called "Granada principles," referring to the statement adopted in Granada by Armenia, France, Germany, and the EU. Simultaneously, Armenian officials argued that they did not hear about any Russian offer to resume negotiations in Moscow, despite several Russian officials recently reiterating Russia's readiness to host Armenia – Azerbaijan negotiations and a peace treaty signing ceremony.
It may appear that the primary obstacle to the signature of the peace treaty is the different views of the sides on where to resume and finalize the process. Armenia wants to do that in Western platforms, while Azerbaijan wants to return to the Russian platform, use the 3+2 format, or have direct negotiations without any mediators. This situation looks weird, given that Armenia is still an ally of Russia, while Azerbaijan has a strategic economic partnership with the West. However, in reality, the roots of the current situation are more profound than simple geopolitical choices of venue.
Azerbaijan was interested in signing the peace agreement with Armenia "to close the Karabakh chapter" and to have a legal document where Armenia has recognized Nagorno Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, thus preventing any future possibilities for Nagorno Karabakh Armenians to strive for autonomy or independence. However, after closing the Karabakh chapter by force, Azerbaijan lost its interest in the quick signature of a peace agreement. Now, the peace agreement should close the Armenia – Azerbaijan chapter, and Azerbaijan has no reason to hurry. Meanwhile, Armenia and Azerbaijan still have significant disagreements on some issues, and from the Azerbaijani perspective, a peace agreement can be signed only after solving them.
The list is quite long and includes issues related to enclaves, the special guarantees for Azerbaijanis who will pass via Armenia to reach Nakhijevan and Turkey, the problem of so-called "Western Azerbaijan," and the "guarantors mechanism." Azerbaijan not only wants to receive back so-called enclaves – several small villages inside Armenia, which are located on strategic highways connecting Armenia with Iran and Georgia, but apparently would like to have land access to them to end their enclave status. While recognizing Armenian sovereignty over Syunik, Azerbaijan argues that Armenia is not able to ensure the safety of Azerbaijani citizens and cargo that will pass Syunik to reach Nakhijevan and Turkey. There is a lack of clarity on what Azerbaijan wants, but Baku would probably like to see Russian or other third-country involvement. Baku demands that hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis should have the right to return to Armenia, while the Armenian government should guarantee their safety and rights. Furthermore, Azerbaijan is unhappy with the Armenian suggestion to include the dispute-solving mechanism and the "institute of guarantors" in the agreement, arguing that guarantors have their regional geopolitical interests and may exploit their status to achieve their narrow goals.
All these issues are very sensitive for Armenia and the Armenian government. It is challenging to believe that Armenia would agree to give to Azerbaijan not only enclaves but also additional lands to ensure Azerbaijani access to them. The Armenian government often reiterated that any involvement of third countries in overseeing the communications passing via Armenia is unacceptable. It believes that Azerbaijan created the concept of 'Western Azerbaijan" to prepare the ground for new attacks against Armenia. And finally, Armenia believes that the dispute-solving mechanism and "the institute of guarantors" are necessary to ensure that Azerbaijan will not violate the peace agreement as it violated the November 10, 2020, trilateral statement.
Thus, we currently have a situation where Armenia and Azerbaijan have differing views on the venue to resume the negotiations and the venue to sign the peace agreement, and they do not agree on some significant topics in the peace agreement. The peace process may stagnate in current circumstances, increasing the risk of limited or even large-scale military escalations as soon as Spring 2024. Perhaps the only way to avoid this scenario could be to intensify efforts by all mediators – Russia and the West – to bring back sides to the negotiation table.
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 and Azerbaijan president, Ilham Aliyev (archive picture)
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