Armenia, Azerbaijan heading towards a deal?

Armenia, Azerbaijan heading towards a deal?

What to expect from the Pashinyan-Aliyev meeting in Brussels

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev are scheduled to meet in Brussels on 6 April. The meeting brokered by President of the European Council Charles Michel will be the fourth one held between the top Armenian and Azerbaijani officials since the war in 2020 and the second arranged by the EU. While the first two were organized by Moscow and held in January and November of 2021, the third and the last one so far, was held in Brussels in December of the same year.

Text: Tigran Zakaryan

Armenia’s Stance 

Yerevan has not publicized its position on the upcoming talks, apart from stating that the points offered by Azerbaijan on mutual recognition of territorial integrity, opening borders, and establishing diplomatic relations were not reflecting the full agenda of bilateral relations. Armenia’s stance is that the issue of the Karabakh status should be part of the talks, and this is obviously a critical point in all Armenian-Azerbaijani talks since the early 1990’s.   

Head of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Relations Eduard Aghajanyan, commenting on the upcoming talks in Brussels, said that  “Sensitive issues will be on the table” without elaborating further if the status of Karabakh will be discussed. 

Meanwhile, the issue of border demarcation and delimitation itself, belonging to purely Armenia-Azerbaijan relations and included in the mutually acceptable agenda, itself is sensitive enough. Yerevan has to resist Baku’s possible claims to return the enclaves, which by the outbreak of the conflict in 1991, were part of the Azerbaijani SSR, and push the agenda of exchanging them for the Armenian enclave of Artsvashen (occupied by Azerbaijan since 1992). The value of the enclaves is, in fact, that they mostly lie on strategic roads connecting Yerevan with the south and northeast of the country.  

 

Talks that cannot or should not be avoided? 

It is evident that Baku would not miss any opportunity to force Armenia into signing a document officially renouncing any claim of having a right to protect the people living in Karabakh, which is currently under the Russian peacekeeping mission. In the meantime, the fact on the ground is that Armenia currently has no leverage of substantiating such a claim. Since November 2020, only Russia can assume such a role, and it will do it inasmuch as it matches the political expediency imagined by the decision-makers in the Kremlin. 

Yerevan can and so far has adopted a “foot-dragging” strategy; however, its efficiency and chance of unhampered implementation are questionable in many instances. After all, there is no guarantee that rejecting to sign or at least a promise to sign a peace deal (no matter how painful its stipulations), Yerevan will not be forced to concede to even harsher demands and ultimatums. Undoubtedly, there are red lines that are important to keep for Yerevan, the chief ones being the full state sovereignty over its territory and territorial integrity. 

Yerevan also has to seek any form of understanding with another key player in the region, Turkey, which makes such efforts even more complicated by declaring that their outcome will depend on the progress of negotiations with Azerbaijan. It would be logical to assume that currently Ankara – albeit odd it might sound – is interested in a certain distance of Armenia from Russia and Yerevan might seize this interest of Ankara, although it is clear that both parties in those talks will keep Russia in their view, unless something dramatic happens for Moscow in its conflict with Ukraine.

 

Pressures from within 

Meanwhile, Yerevan faces challenges not only from global and regional players but also from within. For the present government in Armenia – which until the war in 2020 claimed not to yield an inch of the territories controlled by 1994 – it is an almost impossible task to try and convey the idea that a peace deal with Azerbaijan is possible under the current conditions. 

Meanwhile, at a sizeable rally held by the parties represented in the parliament’s opposition factions on the eve of the talks, MP from the opposition I Have Honor faction Anna Mkrtchyan articulated the red lines beyond which concessions would be unacceptable to them. The list of demands included some – albeit arguably – realistic demands, such as ensuring a land corridor between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and withdrawal of Azerbaijani forces beyond the lines established by the 9 November 2020 truce agreement, excluding the provision of any “extraterritorial” land corridors to Azerbaijan. 

The point on the relations with Turkey is somewhat ambiguous and leaves room for multiple interpretations. It states that no agreement with Ankara should question the fact of the genocide and expulsion of Armenians from their homeland. In fact, no government in Armenia since independence has ever considered yielding to Turkish demands to legally renounce any “claims of a genocide”, not even under Levon Ter-Petrosyan who strongly opposed to the idea of turning Armenian genocide recognition into a cornerstone of Armenia’s foreign policy. On the other hand, the part referring to the territories could be an allusion to recognizing the Kars treaty and the borders established by it, which in principle was not rejected by any government of Armenia. The current border existing between the two states is a fact on the ground to be reckoned with. 

Meanwhile, the opposition’s demand to take steps to return to the 1994 OSCE’s format of peace talks and “ruling out any status of Artsakh in Azerbaijan” are nothing more than wishful thinking, taking into consideration that the authorities in Yerevan have few if any resources to buttress those demands after the disastrous defeat and the ensuing “creeping war”.
The same applies to the demand of not signing any peace deal with Azerbaijan which would “undermine the unrestricted implementation of Artsakh’s right to self-determination” which is the core of the talks since the beginning.

 

Is peace better than war? 

For having a more or less tenable peace it is necessary that all parties to the conflict believe that the war could be costlier than peace. In this case, Baku can sign up to this principle only in case of a full-fledged war against Armenia, but not any military action in Karabakh. Unfortunately, the fate of the latter is in the hands of Russian-Azerbaijani and to some degree Russian-Turkish relations and to a minor degree depend on Yerevan-Moscow relations. 

Armenia needs to convince its partners in Russia and the West that the current situation is not a peace and ignoring or violating the fundamental rights of the Armenian population in Karabakh will seriously undermine the regional stability.