On July 15, 2023, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan at the sixth round of trilateral peace talks in Brussels mediated by European Council President Charles Michel. In his lengthy statement following the meeting, Michel “commended the leaders for their strong commitment to the peace process and encouraged them to take further courageous steps to ensure decisive and irreversible progress on the normalization track.” He then added: “And even though our meeting took place in the context of a worrying increase in tensions on the ground, I noted important momentum in the political discussions and efforts.” (Emphasis added).
Just one week later, Azerbaijan hosted its first “Shusha Global Media Forum” gathering 150 participants from around the world. At the opening ceremony, Aliyev offered the following comments on the ongoing Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process: “At the moment, we have three international actors who are providing the assistance – the United States, Russia and the European Union. […] But so far, it did not end in any result. Because Armenia needs to make, I think, one of the final steps. They already made several steps after the war, I would say that these were not the steps, which they made voluntarily. […] We could not force them to comply with international law for 28 years. We managed only to force them by force. […] But how many times are we supposed to send messages? How many times can we hint? Was it not enough? The Farrukh operation, the situation on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan in May 2021, the situation on the border in September 2022, and the border checkpoint. Well, how many messages should we give to them? Are they really so slow-witted?” (Emphasis added).
With all due respect, Mr. President, it should be rather evident that Armenia has received your messages loud and clear: if they don’t give you every single thing that you want, you’ll kill and destroy them. Copy that.
Which is why Armenia has already made more concessions than it can bear, while seeming to get little more than mounting insult and injury from Azerbaijan in return. This, against a background of Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockade of the Lachin Corridor since December 2022, slowly starving the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh in what Pashinyan has coined “an ongoing process of genocide”. And yet, according to Article 52 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT), “a treaty is void if its conclusion has been procured by the threat or use of force in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.” This means that the provisions of any eventual peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan secured under the present circumstances will have no legal force (Article 69(1) of the VCLT).
Which is also why I can’t help but wonder what mediators in Brussels, Washington and Moscow seem so delighted about after every round. Aliyev has repeatedly and explicitly confessed to using violent and deadly coercion throughout peace negotiations with Armenia, in blatant violation of the most fundamental principles of international law and relations. Michel’s statement last week shows that he is well-aware of the “context of worrying increase in tensions on the ground” in which peace talks have taken place. The Washington round of talks immediately preceding Brussels similarly began with the killing of four Armenian servicemen. In fact, one is hard-pressed to identify any round of Armenia-Azerbaijan peace negotiations since the November 9, 2020, ceasefire which hasn’t been tainted by the threat or use of force by Azerbaijan.
Some might think that a bad peace treaty is better than none at all. But history has shown otherwise. Germany hated the 1919 Treaty of Versailles so much that it caused World War II. When Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, the then French President and German Chancellor put forth a rushed peace plan in February 2015 (also known as Minsk II) which Ukraine was forced to accept due to its weak military position. That has clearly not ended well. So if we know that a quick path to peace is not necessarily a lasting one and ignoring Article 52 of the VCLT carries its own risks, then helping Azerbaijan shove an unjust treaty down Armenia’s throat while holding a gun to its head is just not going to work.
There’s also no denying that there is probably some competition as to which mediator will secure a signed treaty first. With the last round in Brussels having apparently come close, Moscow immediately jumped in to try to regain its position as the sole venue where any peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan should be finalized and signed. And with a conflict as thorny and protracted as that between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, dreams of a Nobel Peace Prize can’t be too far off. Previous winners for brokering peace and mediating resolutions of armed conflicts include Jimmy Carter (2002), Martti Ahtisaari (2008), and Juan Manuel Santos (2016). Unfortunately, the way things are going, the more relevant example in the Armenia-Azerbaijan context risks becoming the likes of Abiy Ahmed Ali, who similarly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for achieving a peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea, but then used the alliance to start the next Tigray War.
To be sure, the aim of this article is certainly not meant to convey that lasting peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan is impossible – quite the contrary. But these things take time. And while there’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of competition among different international actors to help move a much-needed peace process forward, they might do well to start viewing the process as less of a sprint and more of a marathon. It is also important to recognize that the classical peacebuilding approach focusing only on top-down political mediation is inadequate and sometimes even counter-productive, especially when there are no women involved, as in the present case. This, despite evidence showing that women’s participation increases the probability of a peace agreement lasting at least two years by 20% and a peace agreement lasting fifteen years by 35%.
It’s still not too late to turn things around and get this process on the right track. In order to do so, however, it is absolutely imperative that international actors and mediators step up their pressure on Azerbaijan, which must include the threat of sanctions in response to further military action against Armenia and continued refusal to unblock the Lachin Corridor. It is simply no longer reasonable to expect Azerbaijan to be reasonable. Anyone serious about wanting to secure lasting peace in the region should back their words with robust actions to compel Azerbaijan to cease its bellicose rhetoric and agree to an international presence to help secure the rights and security of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh while mediating meaningful dialogue between Baku and Stepanakert. Anything short of this is doomed to fail.
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Intoxicated by his success on the battlefield, Ilham Aliyev is betting on further exercises in uncontrolled power politics, combining unlimited claims to Armenia and Artsakh with open challenges and threats to international players.Read more