Illustration by Roubina Margossian.
On April 6, 2022, on the initiative of European Council President Charles Michel, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev held a meeting in the format of a working dinner in Brussels.
At the onset of the meeting, 43 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) from all the major political groups, led by François-Xavier Bellamy (France-EPP) and Loucas Fourlas (Cyprus-EPP), addressed a letter to Charles Michel and Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The main concerns of the MEPs related to Azerbaijan’s policy of ethnic cleansing in the territory of Artsakh. They call on the EU leaders to use their leverage to urge Azerbaijan to stop its aggressive policy, immediately withdraw its military forces back to their initial positions, and stop any action that could endanger the indigenous Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. However, the negotiations seem to have gone down a different path.
After more than 4.5 hours of negotiations, the announcement from the heads of the Armenian and Azerbaijani press secretary offices is very restrained. Pashinyan’s office released a statement that reads, “Based on the results of the meeting, an agreement was reached to set up a bilateral commission on border delimitation between Armenia and Azerbaijan until the end of April, envisaged in the agreement reached in Sochi on November 26, 2021, which will be authorized to deal with security and stability issues along the border.” Moreover, The Prime Minister of Armenia and the President of Azerbaijan instructed their foreign ministers to start preparations for bilateral peace talks between the two countries.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of Azerbaijan emphasized some nuances, which shed light on the context of the negotiations. They noted that: “Following the meeting, an agreement was reached to instruct the heads of the foreign affairs agencies of Azerbaijan and Armenia to begin work on a future peace treaty, based on the initiative put forward by Azerbaijan a year ago and the basic principles presented by Baku some time ago.” One of the basic principles of Baku’s 5-point proposal is the recognition of each other’s territorial integrity, implying that Armenia abandon Artsakh’s attempts to gain a recognized status independent of Azerbaijan.
The MFA of Armenia had answered this proposal by applying “to the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship to organize negotiations for the signing of the peace agreement between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan based on the UN Charter, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Helsinki Final Act.” The Helsinki Final Act includes the principle of the self-determination of peoples. Following the statement, the EU took the initiative to organize a meeting, instead of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship, which includes France, Russia and the United States. The implication is that the OSCE Minsk Group format is no longer operating, with the EU taking on its responsibility.
Charles Michel released his own statement following the meeting, which noted “both President Aliyev’s and Prime Minister Pashinyan’s stated desire to move rapidly towards a peace agreement between their countries.”
The main outcomes of the meeting are the following:
- To form a joint border commission by the end of April 2022 to start the process of delimitation. According to international law, delimitation is the legal process by which two sovereign nations establish and describe in writing the location of their common boundary, mainly as the result of negotiations. For delimitation, it is mandatory to recognize the exact boundaries of the states. The commission’s mandate will also include security and stability issues along the border.
- The status of Nagorno-Karabakh was not discussed. There is not a single word in any of the statements by the three parties in the negotiation about the status of Artsakh. While Baku is proposing recognizing territorial integrity as a condition for starting negotiations, the Armenian side is not raising the topic. Of course, it’s hard to predict what is taking place behind the scenes, but the fact remains that there is no mention of the ongoing tense situation in Artsakh because of Azerbaijani provocations and military operations.
- As Michel stated, each side has expressed willingness to sign the agreement rapidly, despite a host of unresolved issues. Is it beneficial for Armenia to try and expedite the process? The international community is preoccupied with Ukraine, and not paying attention to the humanitarian crisis and the aggressive policy of Azerbaijan towards the people of Artsakh. Such urgent steps will most definitely not guarantee fair and comprehensive solutions for Armenia.
- The OSCE Minsk Group has been sidelined since the 2020 Artsakh War. The Minsk Group format was the most balanced and preferable one for Armenia and it is one of the rare platforms where Russia and the West cooperate. After Azerbaijan launched the war in 2020, however, Russia took the initiative and became the main mediator. After this “shock”, the EU has started to make gradual attempts to have its place on the negotiation table. One of the attempts was in December 2021 in the scope of the Eastern Partnership’s 6th Summit when Pashinyan and Aliyev had a meeting again coordinated by Charles Michel.
Why is the EU taking the initiative now while being an observer during the course of the Artsakh war and even afterward? The EU’s immediate neighborhood is on fire, security issues at its borders are critical, there is a looming migrant crisis knocking at its door and suddenly Armenia and Azerbaijan appear on the EU agenda. In the meantime, with Russia invading Ukraine, the European Parliament condemned the destruction of the Armenian heritage of Artsakh. It could be assumed that the EU needs a success story in the Eastern Partnership region. Considering the fact that Russia is busy with the war in Ukraine and the U.S. is practically absent in the mediation process, the EU aspires to take the lead and use the geopolitical deadlock over Ukraine to find a rapid solution for the South Caucasus. The EU’s geopolitical entry to the South Caucasus was in 2008, during the Russo-Georgian war. It was indeed a success story for the EU to be the conflict manager between Georgia and Russia. If the Armenian-Azerbaijani reconciliation process will take place under the auspices of the EU, it will be another bold “plus” on the EU’s record.
A day after the meeting in Brussels, Prime Minister Pashinyan summed up the main points during the governmental session mentioning Russia’s role in the mediation process several times. “The Russian Federation has expressed readiness to support the delimitation and demarcation work. The European Union is also ready to support [this], we must move in this direction,” he added. Moreover, Pashinyan said that the Armenian side has emphasized that there is “nothing unacceptable” but that Azerbaijan’s proposals do not include security guarantees of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh or the protection of their rights and freedoms. “The clarification of the final status of Nagorno Karabakh is of fundamental importance for us,” he noted. “These issues are included in our response to the peace agenda and they should become subject of negotiations. Of course, as before, we consider the involvement of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs essential in this process, and we must continue to work in that direction.”
Although Pashinyan attempted to stress the importance of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, actions speak for themselves. It now seems that the Armenia-Azerbaijan reconciliation process will be led by spontaneous initiatives.
Pashinyan also stressed the need to investigate the competence of the Russian peacekeeping force, the adequacy of their actions, and possible inaction during the course of developments in Artsakh. The Armenian Prime Minister concluded his address to the government by speaking about the “era of peace” in the region stressing that “we must do our utmost to make this agenda a reality.” Unfortunately the era of peace thus far has only brought losses for Armenia and Artsakh.
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