In an interview with the Turkish Anadolu Agency on March 11, 2022, Azerbaijani Foreign Affairs Minister Jeyhun Bayramov stated that Baku had sent a new five-point document to Armenia on the normalization of relations and was awaiting a response from the Armenian side. Hours before this statement, the Armenian side, through the spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry of Armenia, announced that Armenia may soon apply to the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to initiate peace talks with Azerbaijan: “The signing of the agreement should be surely preceded by a negotiation process. Since mutual statements have not yet developed into a concrete negotiation process, as the two countries do not have rich experience of direct negotiations, Armenia will probably soon apply to the mediators—the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs—to initiate the peace negotiations with Azerbaijan. The issue is currently being elaborated.” These two statements signaled the start of a new, lengthy and difficult phase in the post-war Armenia-Azerbaijan process.
Since the end of the 2020 Artsakh War, both Azerbaijan and Armenia have repeatedly spoken of their willingness to sign a peace treaty. While the Armenian authorities believe that the establishment and/or development of normal relations with neighboring countries is key to lasting peace, stability, security and economic development in the region, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev openly announces that Syunik and Sevan are Azerbaijani territories and that Azerbaijan will deploy its troops wherever they wish.
On March 12, 2022, Azerbaijan published those principles that were presented to Armenia as a basis for negotiations aimed at normalizing relations. On the face of it, these principles, in line with international law, seem harmless enough. However, reading between the lines inevitably leads us to the bitter truth: official Baku is consistently thwarting all post-war negotiations and existing formats, as the sole agenda of Aliyev’s regime is the total annihilation of Armenians from Artsakh, and possibly even the Republic of Armenia.
Denying the Existence of Artsakh
In particular, Azerbaijan continues to base the normalization of relations with Armenia on the false narrative of the non-existence of the Artsakh issue, and sees the realization of that agenda through Armenia’s recognition of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and acceptance of the latter’s sovereignty and inviolability of state borders. Therefore, the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict remains the focal point of the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. While the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs and Armenia stress the need for a comprehensive settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within the framework of the Minsk Group co-chairmanship in order to establish regional peace and stability, Azerbaijan is guided by the exact opposite logic: the non-existence of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is at the core of regional peace and stability.
Border Negotiations With a Gun to the Head
Secondly, Baku brings up delimitation and demarcation of borders with Armenia. Someone without background on the issue might miss the subversive connotation in this proposal. As a result of the Pashinyan-Putin-Aliyev trilateral meeting in Sochi on November 26, 2021, a document was signed setting out in black and white what needs to be done to begin delimitation and demarcation between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In particular, the parties agreed to take steps to increase the level of stability and security on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and to push for the delimitation of the state border between Azerbaijan and Armenia and the establishment of a bilateral commission on demarcation. Let us recall that the need to increase the level of stability and security on the border was conditioned by the fact that the Azerbaijani Armed Forces invaded the Republic of Armenia beginning on May 12, 2021 and regularly resorted to hostilities in the following months. Essentially, even in Sochi, the parties agreed that, without mutual trust, it would be impossible to enter the practical phase of delimitation and demarcation. Following the Sochi summit, Yerevan, through Moscow, put forward proposals to Baku on increasing security and stability on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. However, Azerbaijan rejected the “synchronized withdrawal” of troops and the creation of additional security mechanisms. Indeed, increasing the security and stability on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border would hinder Azerbaijan’s real policy of exerting pressure on Armenia through both the threat and the use of force.
Hand Over More Land
Thirdly, Baku proposes the opening of transport and other communications. This topic is perhaps one of the most discussed in post-war Armenia, as the Turkish-Azerbaijani tandem continues to push the false narrative of the so-called “Zangezur Corridor” under the guise of unblocking regional transportation links. After months of negotiations at the level of the Deputy Prime Ministers of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan, the parties managed to reach common ground on the technical issues of unblocking transportation links. Important political agreements were also reached during the December 2021 meeting in Brussels initiated by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel. In particular, following the talks, the senior European official announced that the parties had reached an agreement on proceeding with the restoration of rail communication, but not road transportation. The official communique emphasizes that the process will be based on the principle of appropriate border and customs controls and on the principle of reciprocity.
In order to document the agreements reached and drive the process forward, the Armenian side sent a package of proposals to Azerbaijan, Russia and international partners regarding the unblocking of roads, while Azerbaijan hastened to thwart this agenda as well. Baku proceeded to contradict the Brussels agreements, regarding the whole process as a single package and presenting the precondition of opening the highway and the railway at the same time.
Internalization of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Agenda
An analysis of these events shows that the principles under the Azerbaijani five point document refer to those agendas that have been a matter of multilateral negotiations and meetings mediated by Russia and Western partners and thwarted by Azerbaijan itself.
Armenia has been making efforts for a long time to internationalize the issues of the Armenia-Azerbaijan agenda as much as possible. These efforts to involve international partners in the post-war process would significantly limit Azerbaijan’s prospects of resorting to the use of force. In the current situation, official Baku is forced to move forward with false constructivism, the manifestation of which is this document presented to Armenia, with all the provisions that have been consistently violated or rejected by Azerbaijan itself.
A Human Rights Basis
On March 14, 2022, Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement, according to which Armenia responded to the proposals of Azerbaijan, and applied to the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to organize negotiations on the signing of a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, on the basis of the United Nations Charter, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Helsinki Final Act. This statement is significant in several respects.
To begin with, there is an unwritten rule in diplomacy: before submitting a written proposal, consultations, meetings, negotiations and awareness-raising efforts take place on bilateral and multilateral platforms to assess the risks associated with the proposal, the manageability of those risks, and the likelihood of success. Therefore, if the Armenian authorities formally applied to the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs for negotiations on a peace agreement with Azerbaijan, then official Moscow, Paris and Washington were at least informed in advance and at best were favorable to the proposal of the Armenian side. This, in turn, means that while the “collective West” is consistently tightening the noose around Russia due to the Ukrainian crisis, OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs Russia, France and the United States consider it realistic to work together on the Armenian-Azerbaijani agenda.
Secondly, the mandate of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs concerns the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In that case, an objective question arises: will the current mandate of the co-chairs be reformulated to cover the Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization agenda as well?
Thirdly, it is noteworthy that the Armenian side bases the signing of a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan not only on the United Nations Charter and the Helsinki Final Act, but also on another document, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The United Nations Charter is the backbone of the world order that emerged after World War II. Its underlying principles were later embodied and further expanded on in other international legal documents—on the one hand preserving the purpose of the United Nations and that of the Charter and, on the other hand, developing and expanding the fundamental principles of the United Nations. For example, the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), which would later become the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and within the framework of which the OSCE Minsk Group was created in 1992 and OSCE Minsk group co-chairmanship in 1995, was established on the basis of Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter as the main mechanism for the prevention of crises in Europe, the resolution of existing conflicts and recovery in post-conflict situations.
The Helsinki Final Act was adopted on August 1, 1975, in parallel with the establishment of the CSCE. This fundamental document of the architecture of European security established the ten principles that guide relations between participating states. Three of these principles: Refraining from the threat or use of force, Territorial integrity of States, and Equal rights and self-determination of peoples, have been presented as the three main principles for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within the OSCE Minsk Group, since the Madrid Document of 2007. At present, the Co-Chairs and Armenia use the term “well-known principles” when referring to these three principles in the context of a comprehensive settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It is noteworthy that, by unleashing war against Artsakh, Azerbaijan in fact violated the principle of refraining from the threat or use of force, restored its so-called territorial integrity and attempted to quash the right to self-determination of peoples. Therefore, every time the Co-Chairs and Armenia make a reference to the “well-known principles”, it comes as a cold shower for Azerbaijan.
As for the ICCPR, it emphasizes the right of all peoples to self-determination and that “by virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” At the same time, it should be noted that this Covenant should be the subject of a thorough professional analysis in the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the normalization of Armenia-Azerbaijan relations. It is dubious, to say the least, that to date there are no professional discussions in the public sphere to reveal its pitfalls and advantages, to raise public awareness and to ensure the accountability of the current authorities. By contrasting human rights and human security to Azerbaijan’s state policy of evicting Armenians from Artsakh, intimidating and annihilating the Armenians of Artsakh, Armenia can lead the process to “remedial secession”. At the same time, we need to understand the costs if this strategy fails. A decisive factor in this matter will be the outcome of the case filed by Armenia against Azerbaijan at the UN International Court of Justice in connection to the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. At the same time, it is important to grasp the cost to be paid if this tactic fails, especially at a time when Azerbaijan has deprived the population of around 120 thousand in Nagorno-Karabakh of vital gas supply and is repeatedly carrying out military operations against the Armenians of Artsakh within the area of the Russian peacekeeping mission.
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