After the meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries in Arlington, Virginia, USA, on May 1-4, with the mediation of US Foreign Minister Antony Blinken, and the further meeting between President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Brussels, Belgium, on May 14, with the mediation of Charles Michel, the parties have returned to the diplomatic table.
It is thought that the Arlington meeting encouraged the Brussels process. Moreover, US officials made clear that the recent Brussels meeting was also a positive one. The United States believes that the talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan are an important step forward, as State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel stated at a press briefing on May 15. Charles Michel, President of the Council of Europe, referred to the Arlington meeting positively and said the momentum should be maintained to take decisive steps towards the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
As seen from Michel’s statement, it is understood that important negotiations were held at the Brussels meeting, paving the way to a final peace agreement.
We understand that the parties mutually supported the territorial integrity of both countries in the Brussels meeting. According to Michel’s statement, the leaders confirmed their unequivocal commitment to the 1991 Almaty Declaration and the respective territorial integrity of Armenia (29,800 km2) and Azerbaijan (86,600 km2). In this sense, it is very important to acknowledge Armenia’s recognition of the area of 86,600 km2, which includes the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, at the Brussels meeting. There is a second issue that is important in this regard. This is the eight enclaves of Azerbaijan that are still under occupation by Armenia. These villages are included in the area of 86,600 km2 that Armenia has to liberate.
In terms of the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, it can be said that an important development has been achieved in terms of eliminating uncertainty in the field of connectivity, although not for the first time. Positions on this topic have now come very close to each other, in particular on the reopening of the railway connections to and via Nakhchivan. The countries’ respective teams have been tasked with finalizing an agreement in principle on the modalities for the opening of the railway connections and the necessary construction works, together with a concrete timetable. They also agreed to draw upon the support of the World Customs Organization in completing this work. Here, the intention to implement the rules of the World Custom Union is a new phase in the relationship between the parties. It is understood from this that the transport routes between the parties will be opened, but the establishment of a customs checkpoint is proposed. As a matter of fact, President Aliyev suggested that the parties should accept the principle of reciprocity in relation to the Lachin road and Zengezur corridor.
Humanitarian issues were also discussed between the leaders. Two Azerbaijani servicemen who lost their way a few months ago are being held as prisoners in Armenia. These two soldiers may be exchanged for two Armenian soldiers. Nevertheless, unfortunately, people are still dying from mine explosions in the liberated Azerbaijani regions, and Armenia should share genuine landmine maps with Azerbaijan. According to the latest data, 298 civilians were seriously hurt in those territories; of these, 54 died and 244 were injured.
The future of the population living in the Karabagh Economic Zone of Azerbaijan was included in Michel’s statement. In this regard, no definitive statement was made regarding the establishment of an international mechanism, which is Armenia’s demand. Michel expressed his thoughts on the cooperation of Azerbaijan with the international community and the transparent implementation of the process, and Azerbaijan did its best to make progress on this matter positive and transparent. President Aliyev has declared many times that the international agreements signed by Azerbaijan and the constitution of Azerbaijan act as guarantors for the rights and security of all Karabagh residents.
In this regard at the beginning of April, the central administration of Azerbaijan twice invited the residents of Karabagh to Baku to discuss any problems openly, but they refused to come. Some separatist groups living in Karabakh have captured the will of the people and want negotiations to continue only through the Russian peacekeepers. However, Azerbaijan is strongly opposed to the presence of a third party in the process of reintegration of the Armenians of Karabagh, whom it defines as its own citizens. The central administration of Azerbaijan cannot create a more positive agenda without meeting directly with the Karabagh residents. Obstacles to the realization of this meeting should be removed.
It was the strong involvement of the West that revived the peace process. The main reason for this, beyond the ever-increasing importance of the South Caucasus, was the fact that the lack of a resolution has increased the influence of Iran and Russia on Armenia. But if the US and EU want real peace in the region, they should encourage Armenia more to take practical steps: To refrain from hostile rhetoric, to respect the sovereignty of Azerbaijan, to fulfill all the conditions of trilateral agreement and to change some principal laws.
Dr. Cavid Veliev is the head of a department at the AIR Center. He worked previously for the Center for Strategic Studies (SAM) under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan as a researcher (2009-2015) and afterwards as the head of Foreign Policy Analysis Department (2015-2019). Dr. Veliyev also served as an editor in chief of Caucasus International Journal between September 2017 and January 2019.