Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that the delimitation of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border will not resolve the Artsakh conflict in a June 13 interview.
“The commission for border delimitation has nothing to do with the Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) issue,” Pashinyan said during an English-language interview with Al Jazeera during an official visit to Qatar, calling the settlement of the conflict the “most important and urgent issue between Armenia and Azerbaijan for peace in our region.”
He expressed his “hope that we will be able to establish diplomatic relations and open the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which is closed for 30 years.”
In addition to border delimitation and demarcation, Pashinyan identified the normalization of bilateral relations and the opening of regional transport and communication links as the “three tracks” between Armenia and Azerbaijan that are not connected to the Artsakh conflict.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been engaged in ongoing negotiations toward a peace treaty for the past six months. The peace agreement will include mutual recognition of each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to a set of principles proposed by Azerbaijan and accepted by Armenia. Armenia has also said that securing the rights and freedoms of the Armenian population of Artsakh is fundamental to a peace treaty.
Yet Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly stated that the Artsakh conflict has been resolved. Following the first meeting of a bilateral commission to demarcate the Armenia-Azerbaijan border on May 24, Aliyev said that the border demarcation process will recognize Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Artsakh.
“It automatically puts an end to the territorial claims made against Azerbaijan by revanchist, fascist forces in Armenia, because if we define the borders, what kind of ‘Nagorno-Karabakh’ status can we talk about?” Aliyev told the press on May 27. “This is the territory of Azerbaijan, and the whole world accepts it. Therefore, the first meeting of the commissions on the delimitation of the Azerbaijani-Armenian border is of great importance.”
Pashinyan and Aliyev agreed to create a trilateral commission to demarcate and delimit the Armenia-Azerbaijan border during a November 26 summit in Sochi hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, the commission was not launched until the spring, following a trilateral meeting with European Council President Charles Michel in Brussels on May 23.
Armenian deputy prime minister Mher Grigoryan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Shahin Mustafayev were appointed the heads of the commission and held their first meeting on May 24 at an undisclosed location along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. The commission heads agreed to hold a second meeting in Moscow and a third meeting in Brussels.
During the interview with Al Jazeera, Pashinyan also responded to Aliyev’s repeated call for the establishment of a corridor free of passport or customs controls connecting Azerbaijan to its exclave the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic.
“The narrative of the wording of a so-called corridor is unacceptable for us. It is a red line for us,” Pashinyan said. “We have one corridor in our region, and this is the Lachin corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia.”
The trilateral group working on opening transport and communication links held its first meeting in six months on June 3. Grigoryan, Mustafayev and Russian deputy prime minister Alexei Overchuk “discussed and coordinated positions on borders, customs and other types of control, as well as safe travel by residents, vehicles and cargo on automobiles and railroads.”
While commenting on the meeting one week later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the control process governing the highway route connecting Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan will be “simplified.”
“The railway route has been agreed upon. Now they are close to agreement on the highway route and the control process there to be established. It will be simplified but certainly based on the recognition of the sovereignty of Armenian territory. There can be no ambiguities here,” Lavrov said during a joint press conference following a meeting with his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan in Yerevan.
Aliyev has repeatedly called for the creation of a Zangezur corridor. On the morning of a December 14 trilateral meeting in Brussels hosted by Michel, Aliyev said that the Zangezur corridor should operate similarly to the Lachin corridor connecting Armenia and Artsakh. Russian peacekeepers have been deployed along the Lachin corridor since the signature of the November 9, 2020 ceasefire declaration to guarantee secure passage between Armenia and Artsakh.
While speaking with the press on May 27, Aliyev said that while “Armenia has always tried to prevent” the opening of the Zangezur corridor, the outcome of the trilateral meeting in Brussels endorsed its launch.
The statement released after the meeting stated that the leaders had “agreed on the principles governing transit between western Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan, and between different parts of Armenia via Azerbaijan” regarding “border administration, security, land fees but also customs in the context of international transport” without identifying what those principles are.
On May 31, Michel’s spokesperson released a statement clarifying the position of the European Council.
“Connectivity was specifically discussed in Brussels on May 22 to advance opportunities for unblocking the region. In this context, both parties confirmed there were no extraterritorial claims with regard to future transport infrastructure. Speculation to the contrary is regrettable,” the statement reads.