YEREVAN—The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia has announced that a meeting between the border demarcation commissions of Armenia and Azerbaijan will take place on November 30.
The meeting will be held along the shared border of the two countries, in the Tavush region of Armenia and the Kazakh region of Azerbaijan. The announcement not only specified the date and location but also established that representatives from both nations would convene without an intermediary, allowing for direct talks between the two countries.
Before the final announcement today, on November 23 the Armenian Foreign Ministry had called an agreement to hold such a meeting preliminary. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baku released a statement on the same day that the news broke, confirming the finalization of this agreement, thereby paving the way for direct negotiations.
Armenian National Assembly Speaker Alen Simonyan suggested that a peace treaty with Azerbaijan could materialize within 15 days if Azerbaijani authorities demonstrate genuine political will. Simonyan highlighted that the sides have broadly agreed on most key issues, focusing particularly on international principles. Although he declined to delve into specifics, citing potential harm to the peace process, he said that if there were eight points under deliberation, seven had been agreed upon. Emphasizing Armenia’s stance, Simonyan stated firmly that Armenia has nothing further to concede in the negotiations.
Meanwhile, a senior Azerbaijani official dismissed the possibility of future negotiations facilitated by the European Union or the United States. Hikmet Hajiyev, the foreign policy advisor to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, emphasized that the essence of peace lies within the region itself, rather than in Washington, Brussels or Paris. Speaking to reporters, Hajiyev said that Armenia should recognize the core foundations of peace as originating within the region.
This development marks a shift from previous attempts at mediation. Previously, Aliyev declined meetings mediated by Western entities, citing reasons such as the absence of an invitation to Turkish President Erdogan to a meeting in Granada, Spain or concerns over statements made by EU chief diplomat Josep Borel during discussions regarding the Artsakh conflict.
Azerbaijan recently decided to decline a meeting proposed to be held between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan on November 20 in Washington in reaction to comments made by U.S. State Department official James O’Brien, which Azerbaijan deemed as biased. O’Brien emphasized that the restoration of normal U.S. relations with Azerbaijan hinges on progress towards peace following a military assault that resulted in the displacement of Armenians from Artsakh. The Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced what it perceived as a one-sided approach. As a response, they indicated that high-level visits from the U.S. to Azerbaijan were deemed inappropriate.
In response to Azerbaijan’s rejection of Western mediation, Armenia has maintained a consistent disregard for Moscow’s proposals for meetings. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan notably abstained from participating in international summits facilitated by the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), expressing dissatisfaction with the organizations’ responses to Azerbaijan’s invasion of Armenian territory.
Amidst these refusals, Azerbaijan proposed to either select a mutually agreeable capital or organize a meeting at the border for direct bilateral talks. Armenia opted for a border meeting focused solely on demarcation discussions, giving in to Azerbaijan’s demand.
This shift towards direct negotiations without intermediaries is viewed with skepticism in Armenia. Some analysts have expressed concern that Azerbaijan, led by President Aliyev, might use this direct contact as a means of applying pressure, avoiding commitments or seeking more concessions. Tigran Grigoryan from Civilnet argued that shifting from Western-mediated talks might nullify previously agreed principles and grant Azerbaijan greater leverage in negotiations due to a power imbalance. The absence of mediators could hinder the implementation of new agreements, leading to different interpretations of terms by both parties. Furthermore, the shift to a bilateral format may sideline the issue of guarantees and implementation mechanisms for the treaty, a matter Armenia has considered crucial.
Aliyev’s previous statements, particularly those demanding that Armenia accept his conditions under the threat of unilaterally determining the border, raise apprehensions in Armenia regarding the true intentions behind Azerbaijan’s insistence on direct negotiations.
There are concerns among analysts in Yerevan that this shift towards direct talks might be a trap, allowing Azerbaijan to exert pressure and possibly sidestep or avoid the commitments made in previous negotiations facilitated by Western mediators. This development, although seemingly positive in terms of direct engagement, raises uncertainties and skepticism about the future direction of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Recent statements by Prime Minister Pashinyan have illuminated potential discussions regarding a territorial exchange between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Pashinyan’s remarks hint at the evolving landscape of negotiations and the future of relations between the two nations.
In one statement, Pashinyan questioned Azerbaijan’s commitment to signing a peace agreement based on previously agreed principles. These principles, as outlined by Pashinyan, encompass mutual recognition of territorial integrity, specific land area recognitions for both countries based on Soviet-era calculations and the establishment of regional communications under notions of sovereignty and equality. However, it appears that these principles articulated by Pashinyan have not gained traction or acknowledgment from Baku.
In European circles, these principles have garnered attention, having been discussed with European representatives before being presented in Washington. Attempts by Paris and Brussels to engage Azerbaijan in these discussions have gone unanswered, with Baku displaying a consistent disregard for these efforts, including recent disregard for Washington’s diplomatic endeavors.
Of all the ongoing negotiations, the only point under consideration between Baku and Yerevan remains the exchange of territories. Specifically, discussions involve the exchange of historic enclaves, notably the Tigranashen settlement in Armenia and the Artsvashen enclave in Azerbaijan.
This potential exchange has raised concerns about the strategic implications for Armenia, particularly since the Tigranashen settlement serves as a crucial route to Tbilisi. However, the proposed exchange seems disproportionately unfavorable for Armenia. Pashinyan’s adherence to the aforementioned principles has created a dilemma in which Armenia risks isolation and strategic cut-offs if territorial exchanges proceed as discussed.
The possibility of a looming agreement on territorial exchanges raises speculation about Pashinyan’s intentions within Armenia. Mikayel Zolyan, in his article for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, predicted that Pashinyan’s strategy might involve early elections seeking a mandate to shift Armenia’s foreign policy orientation by distancing from Russia and strengthening European ties. However, this anticipated shift might also include maintaining economic ties with Russia while attempting to reorient Armenia’s foreign policy trajectory toward the West.
As Azerbaijan keeps a watchful eye, Zolyan speculated that it might wait for elections in Armenia to conclude before engaging with a potentially stronger Pashinyan administration. Azerbaijan’s strategic stance in this regard remains uncertain, although the prospects of diplomatic negotiations regarding Armenia’s southern province Syunik loom in the background.
Amidst these developments, Pashinyan’s statements about enclaves seem to have garnered limited interest, signifying a potential negotiation pitfall initiated by Pashinyan himself. The once inviolable territorial integrity of Armenia appears increasingly fragile, with the loss of Artsakh marking the first significant setback in a sequence of unfolding events.