The first meeting, mediated by President of the European Council Charles Michel on Dec. 14, 2021, continued with a video conference Feb. 4 between Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Important decisions were taken at the second meeting in Brussels on April 6 at Michel’s invitation. Although the parties are far from signing a peace agreement, for now, the process leading to the final deal started in Brussels. The attitude of Armenia, which did not fulfill its obligations in previous agreements, will affect the outcome of the process.
What was discussed in Brussels?
According to a statement by Michel, the leaders held negotiations on various issues, (i) including giving instructions to the foreign ministers for the preparation of the projected peace agreement between the parties, (ii) establishing a joint commission by the end of April to determine and mark the borderlines between the two countries in accordance with the Nov. 26 Sochi declaration, (iii) finding a solution to the humanitarian problems as soon as possible to increase trust between the parties and create an environment in which sides live together in peace, (iv) providing financial and expert support for the removal of mines, and (v) finding effective solutions for the establishment of railway connections between the two countries and restoration of the highway.
The European Council president welcomed steps taken for the construction of railways and encouraged the parties to find effective solutions for the construction of highways. The EU also expressed its readiness to support these projects through the Economic and Investment Plan and economic advisory.
While the parties agreed on the first two issues, they decided to continue negotiations and the peace process for the last two.
At the meeting, it was announced for the first time that the leaders would task foreign ministers to draft the final peace agreement. Azerbaijan had previously submitted a five-point proposal to Armenia for the preparation of the peace agreement. Although Armenia accepted the proposal, the country said that it will be ready for the peace talks only with additional clauses.
Azerbaijan’s five-item proposals are as follows:
i. States’ mutual recognition of each other’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, inviolability of international borders and political independence;
ii. Mutual confirmation that the two states have no territorial claims against each other and that they will not make such claims in the future;
iii. Refrain from threatening each other’s security, using threats and force against each other’s political independence and territorial integrity, and other situations incompatible with the purposes of the UN Charter;
iv. Setting borders and establishing diplomatic relations;
v. Opening transportation and communication lines, establishment of other relevant communication networks and cooperation in the fields of interest.
The first three articles in Azerbaijan’s proposal constitute the basic principles for the establishment of strong relations between states according to the UN Treaty. The last two articles are the obligations accepted by Armenia through tripartite declarations on Nov. 10, 2020, Jan. 11, 2021, and Nov. 26, 2021.
The joint commission, which is planned to be established by the end of April, will determine the borderlines that have not been determined for 30 years due to the Armenian occupation and will serve to ensure security at the border. Although the establishment of a commission between the parties on this issue was decided Nov. 26, 2021, in Sochi with the mediation of Russia, the Armenian side was demanding the withdrawal of the Azerbaijani army from the point where it currently stands and the creation of a demilitarized zone on the border as a precondition. However, as it is seen from the statement of the president of the European Council, this demand was not met by Azerbaijan or the international community. In fact, the Azerbaijani army established its own outposts on the border based on the maps of the Soviet period, which caused some transportation routes within Armenia to fall into the control of Azerbaijan again. Armenia, which is in a difficult situation in terms of transportation even within the country, lays down the withdrawal of Azerbaijani soldiers as a condition to get out of the hole.
One of the most important humanitarian problems in terms of establishing trust and peace between the parties is that Armenia refuses to provide Azerbaijan with the necessary information regarding the 3,890 Azerbaijanis who disappeared in the First Karabakh War. Azerbaijani authorities were informed about only 100 missing persons and their burial places were unearthed last year.
On the other hand, only 25% of the mine maps provided by Armenia contain accurate information. Thirty-seven people were killed and 161 others injured in the last year due to the mines laid by Armenia. Mines stand as the biggest obstacle to the return of Azerbaijani migrants.
The opening of transport and communication lines was one of the most important issues discussed in Brussels. However, no agreement has yet been reached on this issue. In fact, the issue was included in the tripartite memorandum released Nov.10, 2020. With the agreement signed in Moscow on Jan. 11, 2021, the two sides decided to establish a commission at the level of deputy prime ministers, including the Russian representative. Although the work of the commission was interrupted from time to time, the process continued until the last months.
Armenia objected to the concept of the Zangezur corridor, which is used by Azerbaijan, based on the Nov.10 declaration, to define a transportation route connecting the country to its Nakhchivan exclave. However, according to the declaration signed between the parties on Nov. 10, 2020, the passage from the corridor cannot be hindered, in other words, Armenia should not apply a customs regime. Azerbaijan declared that if Armenia avoids its obligations under the Nov. 10 declaration, it will apply the principle of reciprocity and impose customs duties on the Lachin corridor.
Before the Brussels meeting, Azerbaijan showed that it “does not put all of its eggs in one basket” by signing a memorandum of understanding with Iran for an alternative route to the Zangezur corridor that will pass through Armenia. If that transportation line project is implemented, Armenia, which has been isolated from regional projects for 30 years, will also lose the Zangezur corridor.
One of the most important issues for the negotiations in Brussels is the fulfillment of the terms of the Nov. 10 tripartite declaration.
One of the most important obstacles to the peace process between the parties is the fact that the armed Armenian forces have not been expelled from the region where Russian peacekeepers are located.
In the fourth article of the tripartite declaration, it was stated that Armenian armed forces should retreat after Russian peacekeeping troops enter the region.
Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after meeting with Aliyev, said Armenian gunmen should be removed from the region. Unfortunately, Russian troops, who came to the region to ensure peace and security, allowed trenches to be dug here and allowed soldiers to wander around with guns. Azerbaijan, which has given priority to the diplomacy option, for now, may have to consider a limited military operation option in the future if the problem is not resolved peacefully.
Matters out of negotiation in Brussels
It was noteworthy that two issues were not among the topics discussed in the meeting in Brussels.
First of all, the statement released after the meeting did not mention the phrase “Minsk Group,” which Armenia still insists on despite it having failed to end the occupation for 30 years. Even the EU, which had always shown the Minsk Group as the place for the solution to the issue until the Second Karabakh War, started to take the initiative in the new process.
Indeed, the Minsk Group is no longer needed as Azerbaijan fulfilled the group’s task of carrying out UN Security Council resolutions. Moreover, the Azerbaijani side does not accept the mediation of the Minsk Group.
According to international law, the consent of both parties is needed to appoint a mediator in solving problems. Even the visit of the OSCE chairman-in-office and Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau to Azerbaijan and Armenia ahead of the Brussels meeting could not revive the Minsk Group.
Secondly, the meeting in Brussels shows that the ongoing diplomatic process is more focused on the Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization process.
In other words, issues such as the “Nagorno-Karabakh problem” or “the guarantor role of Armenia in the protection of the rights and laws of the Armenians ” were not discussed during the meeting.
According to lobby information, Pashinyan attempted to bring these issues to the agenda, but Aliyev did not allow it.
Azerbaijan considers the situation of Armenians living in Karabakh as its own internal issue and refuses to negotiate the issue with a second party, including Armenia.
The Pashinyan government, on the other hand, is trying to bring Azerbaijan and Russia face-to-face on the issue.
Speaking at a Cabinet meeting after the Brussels meetings, Pashinyan claimed that the issue was not on the agenda as it was between Azerbaijan and Russian peacekeepers, not Armenia.
As a result, important decisions were made and important issues were negotiated in Brussels regarding the peace agreement between the two sides. It can be said that Brussels has taken an initiative in the region. The importance of the region for Brussels has increased especially after the Russia-Ukraine War.
The South Caucasus is important for the EU as it offers alternative energy and transportation lines. After the Russia-Ukraine War, the EU’s need for alternative energy sources increased and the bloc started to attach more importance to the political stability in the region’s rich in energy resources.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his support for the new process by calling each leader before his visit to Brussels.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov also welcomed the process.
Establishing peace and regional cooperation between the parties will also positively affect the Turkiye-Armenia normalization process.