Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev agreed to start work on a peace treaty during a trilateral summit hosted by European Council President Charles Michel in Brussels on April 6.
Michel noted Pashinyan and Aliyev’s “stated desire to move rapidly towards a peace agreement” in a statement released after the 4.5 hour meeting. Each of the leaders will instruct the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of their respective countries to “work on the preparation of a future peace treaty, which would address all necessary issues.” The statement does not specify what those issues include.
Pashinyan and Aliyev also agreed to launch a Joint Border Commission to “delimit the bilateral border between Armenia and Azerbaijan” and “ensure a stable security situation along, and in the vicinity of, the borderline.” The joint commission is expected to be convened by the end of April.
Michel “stressed that ensuring the appropriate distancing of forces is an essential element of incident prevention and tensions reduction.”
The leaders also discussed the restoration of communication and transport links between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Michel “welcomed the steps towards the restoration of railway lines” and encouraged the countries to “find effective solutions for the restoration of road links.”
Michel additionally stated the “need for the full and speedy resolution of all outstanding humanitarian issues, including the release of remaining detainees and comprehensively addressing the issue of missing persons.”
“The EU will likewise continue to support confidence building measures between Azerbaijan and Armenia as well as humanitarian demining efforts, including by continuing to provide expert advice and stepping up financial assistance, and assistance to conflict-affected populations, rehabilitation and reconstruction,” the statement reads.
“I do not underestimate the challenges, the difficulties on both sides, but I feel there is a common will to make progress. There is a common will to cooperate. There is a common will to identify what are the priorities and what are the concrete steps that we will be able to make together,” Michel told reporters after the meeting.
— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) April 6, 2022
Michel previously hosted Pashinyan and Aliyev in Brussels on December 14, 2021 following an earlier escalation of fighting along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border in the fall. The leaders had agreed to “reduce tensions on the ground to ensure a conducive environment” for negotiations on demarcation and delimitation and “proceed with the restoration of railway lines.” Aliyev has repeatedly called for the creation of a “corridor” connecting Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan through Armenia, which Armenian officials say has stalled progress on unblocking regional economic and transport links.
Last month on March 24, Azeri forces crossed the line of contact separating Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers in Artsakh and seized the village of Parukh in the Askeran region. Three Armenian soldiers were killed and at least 15 wounded in intensive fighting that persisted for two days. On March 27, the Artsakh Defense Army announced that Parukh had been placed under the control of the Russian peacekeeping contingent, yet Azeri soldiers retained a fortified post on the strategic Karaglukh height near Parukh.
The attack represented the latest in a series of escalations by Azerbaijan’s military in the past month. Videos have circulated online depicting Azeri soldiers ordering Armenian civilians to evacuate their homes in Artsakh by loudspeaker. Early in March, Azeri forces shelled the villages of Khramort and Nakhichanik in Askeran and Khnushinak and Karmir Shuka in Martuni.
During a cabinet meeting on March 31, Pashinyan said that Armenia is ready to sign a peace treaty with Azerbaijan. He said that Azerbaijan falsely accuses Armenia of refusing to pursue negotiations on a peace treaty in order to justify military aggression.
“The principle of mutual recognition of territorial integrity and inviolability of borders is acceptable for Armenia,” Pashinyan said during a cabinet meeting on March 31.
Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs publicized a list of five principles on March 14 that it had submitted to its Armenian counterpart several days earlier. The principles included mutual recognition of each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual affirmation of the absence of territorial claims to each other and a legally binding obligation not to make such claims in the future, refraining from threatening each other’s security, delimitation and demarcation of the border and unblocking of communication and transport links.
In response, the Armenian Foreign Ministry announced that it had applied to the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to “organize negotiations on the signing of a peace agreement” between the two countries.
Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan also told reporters that the principles do not address all of the existing problems in the region, namely the status of Artsakh and the rights and security of its Armenian residents.
According to Pashinyan, Azerbaijan hopes to “close” the issue of the status and security of Artsakh. “Azerbaijan is trying to annihilate all Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh, thus considering the issue closed,” he said during his March 31 speech.
“If we are wrong, then let Azerbaijan demonstrate concrete interest in discussing the rights and security guarantees of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh—an issue is raised not only by Armenia but also by the entire international community,” he continued.
Ahead of the scheduled talks between Pashinyan and Aliyev, Armenia’s opposition parties held a rally in Yerevan attended by thousands of people to warn Pashinyan against ceding Artsakh to Azerbaijan.
The Armenia Alliance and I Have Honor Alliance organized the “Defend Armenia by Defending Artsakh” march from Madenataran to France Square. Participants held posters reading, “Artsakh will never be part of Azerbaijan,” “The Turk is my enemy,” “Armenia is not a Turkish corridor” and “Nikol does not represent Armenian interests.”
Vice president of the National Assembly and chair of the ARF Supreme Body of Armenia Ishkhan Saghatelyan declared the “start of a new struggle” during his speech at Freedom Square.
“Today with your presence and determination, you announce that these leaders do not have the mandate of the people to make new concessions under false promises of peace,” he said.
Saghatelyan accused the government of “frightening people with the prospect of war” to “prepare them for new concessions” by presenting war or the loss of territory as the only viable options.
“We do not want war. Our struggle is for dignified peace for the sake of Artsakh and Armenia. But [the government] tries to present the situation as if it is impossible,” he continued.
Former President and head of the I Have Honor Alliance Serzh Sargsyan was also present at the rally.
“Such conflicts are not easy to resolve even in 40 to 50 years. It is not our fault that people rose to power who said that ‘it is none of your business what we negotiate; we will negotiate whatever we want,’ and brought us to this point. I have never negotiated on concessions. I have negotiated on what we can receive,” Sargsyan told reporters at the demonstration.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held separate phone calls with Pashinyan and Aliyev the day before the trilateral meeting in Brussels. The State Department released two nearly identical statements after the talks, stating that Blinken had “reiterated the United States stood ready to help by engaging bilaterally and with like-minded partners, including through our role as an OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair.” The statement released regarding the call with Aliyev added a line that Blinken had “called for restraint, de-escalation, and renewed diplomacy.”
The Artsakh National Assembly also released a statement ahead of the talks calling for “nationwide unity on issues related to the fate of Artsakh.”
“We are convinced that with the full support of the Armenian communities of the Diaspora, the republics of Armenia and Artsakh can resist the regional challenges in defending our national interests,” the statement reads.