The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs have called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to resume direct dialogue after the cancellation of a meeting between their foreign ministers.
The meeting between Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov was expected to take place on December 3 during the OSCE summit in Stockholm.
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) of Azerbaijan Leyla Abdullayeva said that Azerbaijan decided to cancel the meeting in response to a “provocation by the Armenian side.” The provocation was the visit by an Armenian parliamentary delegation to Artsakh, which Azerbaijan considers illegal.
The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs conveyed their regret that the joint meeting could not take place. In a statement, they expressed their “readiness to host such a meeting as soon as circumstances allow.”
This is not the first time that Azerbaijan has rebuked Armenian officials for visiting Artsakh. In January 2021, the MoFA of Azerbaijan criticized then Armenian Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan for visiting Artsakh and meeting with local government officials, stating that the visit violated the terms of the ceasefire agreement ending the Artsakh War. In response, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defended the right of Armenian officials to visit Artsakh, stating that the ceasefire agreement protects the Lachin corridor connecting Armenia and Artsakh for this purpose.
“Throughout the decades of negotiations, there has never been a question of cutting off Armenia and Karabakh (Artsakh) from each other. That is why the Lachin corridor, as a concept, was not rejected by anyone. It is still subject to the consent of the parties, including the consent of our Azerbaijani neighbors,” he said during a press conference on January 18.
Two days before the meeting between the foreign ministers was planned to take place, the deputy prime ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia met in Moscow. The meeting followed a trilateral summit between Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on November 26.
During the meeting, the leaders had an “in-depth conversation on economic issues” and “unblocking transport corridors.” Putin said that the working group of deputy prime ministers formed to oversee the opening of regional transportation and communication links would announce decisions approved in Sochi.
However, the trilateral working group did not announce any new agreements or issue any statements after the December 1 meeting, which lasted for several hours.
Secretary of Armenia’s Security Council Armen Grigoryan blamed Azerbaijan for hindering progress on negotiations to unblock regional channels.
“I think that Azerbaijan is not displaying the kind of political will that’s necessary for furthering the agreements reached in Sochi,” he said to RFE/RL.
Political scientist Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan argued that the meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers was canceled in reaction to the “ineffective” trilateral meeting between the three heads of state in Sochi and the “failed” meeting between the deputy prime ministers.
Poghosyan believes that the visit to Artsakh was a pretext for Azerbaijan to cancel the meeting. According to Poghosyan, upon the signature of the ceasefire agreement, Pashinyan agreed to a demand forwarded by Azerbaijan to refrain from visiting Artsakh. Pashinyan has not been to Artsakh since the end of the war in November 2020.
Rather, Azerbaijan is obstructing negotiations to pressure Armenia to meet its demands, including recognizing Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan and granting Azerbaijan a corridor through southern Armenia.
“The politics of military blackmail will continue until either the Republic of Armenia does not submit to the demands of Azerbaijan, or until the Armenian Armed Forces show that the military blackmail does not work,” he said.
Indeed, on December 6 Aliyev demanded that Armenia provide a “date of when the Zangezur corridor will be opened, and there will be no problem in this case.” He urged Armenia to accept Azerbaijan’s conditions and “put an end to any insincere approaches to roads and communications.”
“Armenia has seen that. The whole world has seen that. No-one has been able to stop us,” he said during a visit to northern Azerbaijan. “There were those who wanted to stop us during the war. There were fairly strong circles, but they could not stop us.”
For several months, Aliyev has publicly forwarded his goal to establish a corridor through Syunik, the southernmost province of Armenia, that will connect Azerbaijan and its exclave, the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. Azerbaijan would retain customs and border control over the route.
The MoFA of Armenia denounced Aliyev’s demand, stating that there is “no obligation, condition or agreement for the Republic of Armenia to provide Azerbaijan with a corridor or a road with corridor logic” in the November 9, January 11 and November 26 trilateral statements. The Foreign Ministry stated that the activity of the trilateral working group to unblock transport links is “undermined by the provocative rhetoric of Azerbaijan.”
The OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries have called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to resume direct dialogue to “promote a lasting and sustainable peace in the region.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov released a joint statement urging Armenia and Azerbaijan to “refrain from inflammatory rhetoric and provocative actions and to implement in full the commitments they undertook on 9 November 2020 and reconfirmed on 26 November 2021.”
The three leaders also noted “with concern recent incidents on the non-demarcated Armenia-Azerbaijan border” and reaffirmed that the “use or threat of force to resolve border disputes is unacceptable” in the December 7 statement.
On December 3, Azerbaijani soldiers shot to death an Armenian civilian in Artsakh. This is the third time an Armenian civilian has been killed by Azeri forces in Artsakh in the past two months.
A group of Azerbaijani soldiers captured Seyran Smbat Sargsyan near the Chartar community of the Martuni district and took him to the Kohak military post, where they shot him dead, according to the Artsakh Prosecutor’s Office.
The Ministry of Defense (MoD) of Azerbaijan confirmed Sargsyan’s death. The MoD said that an Azerbaijani soldier was “attacked by a person of Armenian origin.”
“The man tried to seize the weapon. After firing into the air, our serviceman neutralized the provocateur who attacked him in self-defense,” the MoD wrote in a statement.
The Russian peacekeeping mission in Artsakh recorded the incident as a “violation of the ceasefire regime” by Azerbaijan.