What is happening can be considered as real actions towards normalization of relations between the two countries. To what extent has this agreement brought the signing of a peace treaty closer? What to expect in the immediate future in the relations between the parties? These are the questions Minval.az asked Zahid Oruj, member of the Milli Majlis and head of the Social Research Center.
Could we say that with these agreements the two countries have laid the foundation for a peace treaty?
Over the past eight months, negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia have been held in the capitals of various countries and suspended, with attempts to escalate them to scandals or to shift them to the platforms of the OSCE Minsk Group. Against this background, we have seen the aggravation of relations between Azerbaijan and the United States and much more. But we have also seen new approaches in the diplomatic arena: a meeting of representatives of the two countries on the border without mediators and moderators, a meeting of deputy prime ministers of the two countries in Gazakh. For the first time, an agreement was reached between the countries at such a high level. The subject of the agreement is a secondary issue. Much more important is the fact that the sides have reached an agreement. Take for example the exchange of prisoners of war. During the last three years the issue of prisoners of war was used by Armenia against us. We called the detainees terrorists rather than POWs, and they called them otherwise. And here we have been able to exchange them without any issues at all.
Armenia’s support for Azerbaijan’s candidacy and our reciprocal actions to support Armenia on other international platforms are actions that even partner countries struggle to implement.
Besides, the agreement also allows us to find answers to pending environmental issues. Soon it will be exactly one year since the protest of environmental activists started on the Lachin road; the road was taken under control, and then we were able to resolve the issue of illegal extraction of natural resources of Azerbaijan. Now we are witnessing cooperation in the field of environment.
The agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia may become the foundation for signing a peace treaty very soon, and perhaps even opening communications and diplomatic recognition. Some kind of trade relations at the local level cannot be ruled out.
Today, when hostility is high between the two sides and there are phobias, it is difficult to remain calm. Too many outside forces have intervened, deliberately aggravating relations between our countries. This has always been the case. The 2020 war was a geopolitical revolution, when Western forces were pushed out of the region, and relations between Türkiye and Russia went so far as to establish a monitoring center in Aghdam, and there was even talk of dividing the region into zones of influence. As a result, the United States offered Armenia 2.6 billion dollars in aid to pull it to its side, and I consider this initiative a corrupt one. The West initially offered Azerbaijan 300 million euros, but after the protest of our head of state, the amount was increased to 2 billion euros. We have not received a cent of this money so far. All this is being done in order to bring the region back under their influence.
I have always said that the signing of a peace treaty would reveal the true enemies of the process. They are not even hiding anymore. Everyone has taken off their masks and is playing an open game. Now proxy wars are no longer being waged and those who used to manage the processes behind the scenes are at the outpost. That is why I view such an agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia as a historic event.
Incidentally, the rescheduling of the presidential elections in Azerbaijan to February 2024 can also be considered in this context. I regard this decision of the head of our state as stopping the attempts of various interested parties to destabilize the situation in Azerbaijan. After all, they were making their plans in anticipation of the 2025 elections. I am sure that this will accelerate the signing of a peace treaty between the two countries. So, we should be ready to hear unfounded accusations soon from the forces that are not interested in peace in the region.
Do you not view Armenia’s actions on the issue of the agreement with Azerbaijan as an attempt to play for time or to return its prisoners of war?
I don’t think so. The rapprochement with Azerbaijan will strengthen Pashinyan’s position in Armenia, which is something he badly needs now. This frees the Prime Minister from the influence of the West. Plus, the so-called public demand. After all, in the past, when Armenia occupied Karabakh and 7 neighboring districts, the Armenian public had completely different feelings about what was going on. Now they acknowledge that they were unable to hold on to these territories, and they ask themselves more and more often why they should continue to live in misery. Today, all those who support Pashinyan in Armenia are people who want peace with Azerbaijan and Türkiye. If Pashinyan takes a different position on the issue of peace with Azerbaijan, he will automatically turn into Sargsyan or Kocharyan. He is forced to bring the peace process to its logical end.
On November 28, Vahagn Khachaturyan and Alen Simonyan announced that they would not support and finance the separatist institutions of Karabakh—the president, government, parliament, local self-government authorities, etc. They believe that this harms the negotiation process with Azerbaijan and jeopardizes the security of their country. What are we to make of the actions of the parliaments of certain countries or officials of various countries, such as the American James O’Brien, who declare their support for the separatist regime in Karabakh? After all, the Armenians themselves have given up this practice. Do you know what the situation resembles? Imagine that Germany signed a surrender in World War II, and all of a sudden some other country declares that it does not recognize this surrender and intends to support the fascist regime in Germany, which apparently did not lose the war. Is this not absurd?
Armenia has gone on the offensive against Azerbaijan on international platforms. The recognition of the Rome Statute is part of this, as they want to put several hundred Azerbaijani military personnel on the wanted list so that they can be detained in the territory of third countries. They think that by doing this they will level the playing field against Azerbaijan, which detained the leaders of the separatist regime and filed criminal cases against them. Now the Armenians want to label our military personnel as persons who committed genocide against Armenians in Karabakh. And perhaps the Azerbaijani-Armenian peace initiative will help make them come to their senses and not take such peace-impeding actions in the future.
Extremist appeals and statements inciting ethnic strife are still being voiced in their parliament. The same can be said about the Armenian media. And in order to remove all these obstacles, certain steps will have to be taken. I am not so naive as to think that a peace treaty between the two countries will make all the problems disappear. Contacts will have to be established on the cultural level, in education and many other areas. Even the literature of both countries is full of hatred.
What do you see as the main threat to the peace process between Azerbaijan and Armenia? Maybe the issue is rooted in some geopolitical processes?
They are the only root cause. Neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia has internal forces capable of obstructing the peace process. In 1988-90, the Armenian people went to rallies with the slogan “Miatsum”. After a while, people saw that only certain people reaped benefits from their so-called political activism. Today, even the Armenian parliament has not given a legal assessment of Azerbaijan’s actions to liberate its territories in Karabakh in 2020. Yes, in their speeches they call it an invasion, but this is not an official assessment of the parliament. This means that Armenian MPs do not see the results of the war in Karabakh as aggression on the part of Azerbaijan. We conduct certain polls in Azerbaijan on all areas of Armenian issues and I can tell you that there are fewer and fewer people in our society who are hostile to Armenia and Armenians. The word “neighbors” is becoming increasingly frequent. This is very important because this word has not been used in Azerbaijan to refer to Armenians for 30 years.
Coming back to your question… After World War II, a new system of international relations was established in the world. I am sure that the war between Russia and Ukraine, the war between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East, global embargoes, sanctions, all this will enable us to build a new system of international relations. Chaos reigns in the world today, but it will end. And we want the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia to fade into history as well. I am confident that the worst thing hindering peace in our region is shifting the negotiations to all sorts of third-party platforms. The guarantee of peace between our countries should be sought neither in Moscow, nor in Washington, nor in the residence of Charles Michel.
According to experts, after the signing of the peace treaty, it will be necessary to develop and sign a number of auxiliary documents. There is also the issue of delimitation and demarcation of borders, building transportation communications, etc. Which issue will be the most challenging and will require the most efforts of the two sides?
That is a good question. Azerbaijan has never been at war with Georgia. On the contrary, the two countries have signed many cooperation agreements and there is even a treaty on military cooperation. Moreover, Georgia even offers itself as a peace platform for Azerbaijan and Armenia. At the same time, there is a controversial issue of the Keshikchidag cave and monastery complex, which Georgia calls the David Gareja monastery. There have been negotiations between the two countries on this topic for a long time, but it never caused a war, did it? And the agreement on the issue of principle between Azerbaijan and Armenia, i.e., mutual recognition of the sovereignty, borders, etc. can only exist if the sides give up the rhetoric that the opposing side does not have its own history, was created here by some outside forces, etc. That kind of talk only leads to alienation and breeds wars. These are positions of no value. There are many young peoples and nations in the world, and they have all the rights under international law.
The main thing today is mutual recognition. There will be no consensus between Azerbaijanis and Armenians all over the world. At least not in the immediate future. But the agreement will yield results. Think about it, literally a few days ago an agreement was reached with the Armenian side on the support for Azerbaijan to host COP29 and the world cannot believe it.
“How is it possible that Armenia would support Azerbaijan?” they ask in the West.
So, Armenia does not view Azerbaijan hosting this prestigious climate summit as a risk for itself. Although theoretically we can turn this against Armenia as well, and raise the issues of border rivers and many other things. We are not necessarily going to do that, but the very fact that Armenia supported us shows trust. It is trust that the two countries lack today.
Can we expect some new directions in our country’s foreign policy and specifically in the Armenian issue after the presidential elections in February 2024?
It took us thirty years to resolve the Armenian issue. That is why we would not want Azerbaijan to spend the next thirty years dealing with the same issue. We have liberated our land, but not our mind, as all our aspirations, thoughts, everything is focused on eliminating the aftermath of that aggression. I hope that a new era will begin soon and our society can already feel it. Armenians, I hope, are experiencing the same. They talk about the loss of 5,000 people, but if objective surveys were to be conducted among the Armenian public, I am sure they would show that the perception of us has also changed for the better.
Translated from Minval.az