Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev will meet at least twice in the coming weeks.
The announcement of these meetings follows the deadliest outbreak of fighting since the end of the 2020 Artsakh War. The Azerbaijani Armed Forces launched an attack on the eastern border of Armenia on November 16. The fighting ended after five hours through a Russian-brokered ceasefire.
On November 19, the Armenian Ministry of Defense (MoD) reported that six soldiers had been killed in the November 16 border attacks, according to available data. Casualties included senior lieutenant Taron Jivan Sahakyan (born 1990), junior sergeant Meruzhan Artur Harutyunyan (born 1991), Gurgen Ashot Sargsyan (born 1990), Artur Jivan Martirosyan (born 1998) and private David Helbert Amiryan (born 1980).
The MoD had previously reported that one soldier had been killed. Sahakyan’s body was repatriated on November 17 through the mediation of former head of the Russian peacekeeping mission in Artsakh Rustam Muradov, who traveled to Baku to accompany the transfer of his body by plane to Yerevan.
The MoD had also announced that 24 soldiers had gone missing and 13 were captured. However, during a press conference on November 23, Pashinyan said those 24 soldiers had also been taken prisoner by Azerbaijan. A total of 32 soldiers were captured, according to unverified information.
“Of course we are working intensely for their return,” he said.
According to the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, seven of its soldiers were killed and 10 wounded.
The situation along the border remains tense. A 19-year-old Armenian soldier was killed on Monday by Azerbaijani fire, according to the MoD of Armenia. The Azerbaijani Armed Forces “opened fire from different caliber firearms” on Armenian positions near the village of Norabak in the Gegharkunik province. Private Suren Yurik Safaryan died of a fatal gunshot wound. The fighting lasted over one hour.
The defense ministries of Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of opening fire in the directions of the Tavush province of Armenia and the Tovuz district of Azerbaijan on the evening of November 18. No casualties have been reported.
Since the November 16 border attack, videos have been published online documenting physical and psychological torture of Armenian prisoners of war by Azerbaijani soldiers. The associate director of the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch Giorgi Gogia shared a still from one of these videos on his Twitter account.
“Abusing POWs is a war crime,” he tweeted. “Azerbaijan should investigate all possible abuses and hold those responsible to account. Particularly, as some of the soldiers perpetrate the abuse with pride and don’t even hide their faces. Azerbaijan is also bound by absolute prohibition on torture and other degrading treatment.”
While the videos have not yet been independently verified by Human Rights Watch, Gogia wrote that they depict physical violence against Armenian POWs and other insults against their dignity.
Pashinyan and Aliyev plan to meet on the sidelines of the upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels on December 15 to discuss “ways of overcoming tensions” in the region. The meeting was arranged by European Council President Charles Michel, who held separate phone calls with the two leaders on November 19.
“Leaders have agreed to meet in Brussels to discuss the regional situation and ways of overcoming tensions for a prosperous and stable South Caucasus, which the EU supports,” a press release by the European Council reads.
The press release also states that Pashinyan and Aliyev had agreed to establish a direct line of communication between the defense ministries “to serve as an incident prevention mechanism.”
During Tuesday’s press conference, Pashinyan said that the line of communication had already been established. While Azerbaijan deserves criticism for its aggression toward Armenia, Pashinyan said he “appreciates the decision by the president of Azerbaijan” to establish a direct line of communication between the defense ministries, calling the connection “valuable.”
“Our perception, which also proceeds from the general situation, is that contacts between representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan should be more frequent so that we can settle different situations, find solutions and try to avoid crises,” he said.
The Kremlin also announced a meeting between the two leaders arranged by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It is planned to review the implementation of the agreements of the leaders of the three countries of November 9, 2020 and January 11, 2021, as well as outline further steps to strengthen stability and establish peaceful life in the region. Special attention will be paid to the restoration and development of trade, economic and transport ties,” the press release from the Kremlin reads.
The trilateral summit will take place in Sochi on November 26, “timed to coincide with the anniversary of the ceasefire.” Putin will also hold separate talks with Pashinyan and Aliyev.
The PM’s office reports that it has accepted a new proposal for demarcation and delimitation of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border from the MoD of Russia. According to Pashinyan, Armenia has accepted three proposals regarding border demarcation and delimitation since May. Baku has not publicly commented on such a proposal.
“There is an impression that a paper will be signed [at the trilateral meeting] regarding the outcomes of demarcation and delimitation. Such a thing is not possible,” Pashinyan said during the Tuesday press conference, his first in over a year. “The possible agreement will concern the formation of a commission by Armenia and Azerbaijan that will start the work of demarcation and delimitation. That paper will not note where the border will pass.”
Pashinyan and Aliyev were previously expected to meet in early November. Armenian and Russian media outlets reported that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia would announce a new trilateral agreement, one year after the announcement of the ceasefire on November 9, 2020.
On November 8, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that while “work is underway to prepare for such a meeting,” there were “no clear agreements and understandings” about the timing of the meeting.
Pashinyan confirmed during Tuesday’s press conference that an online trilateral meeting had been proposed for November 9.
“I have said directly that November 9 is a difficult and bitter date for us, but if we can resolve the prisoner issue, for example, I am prepared to participate in that online conference,” he said.
When it became clear that substantive problems could not be resolved, the meeting was rescheduled to November 15, and then to November 26, according to Pashinyan.
In response to the question of why he and Aliyev decided to meet outside of the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group, Pashinyan said that he expects that the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs will arrange a meeting between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
“I don’t think it is right to have big expectations from every specific meeting—be they negative or positive. One should not expect any quick results. There is tension in our region, and in order to overcome this tension, we must negotiate,” he said.