Following a prolonged suspension of diplomatic negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the military tensions between the two nations have escalated. However, a significant development occurred after the meeting of the foreign ministers in Arlington, Virginia, United States, on May 1-4.
With the mediation of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the parties reconvened at the diplomatic table. Subsequently, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian engaged in further discussions in Brussels, Belgium, on May 14, facilitated by European Council President Charles Michel.
The Arlington meeting is believed to have played a pivotal role in encouraging the subsequent talks in Brussels. U.S. officials expressed their positive outlook regarding the recent Brussels meeting, emphasizing its importance as an essential step forward, as highlighted by State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel during a press briefing on May 15.
Michel provided a favorable assessment of the Arlington meeting and underscored the necessity of maintaining momentum to facilitate decisive measures leading to the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
As seen from Michel’s statement, it is understood that important negotiations were held at the Brussels meeting, paving the way to a final peace agreement.
During the Brussels meeting, both leaders mutually affirmed the territorial integrity of their respective countries. According to Michel's statement, the leaders expressed their unwavering commitment to the 1991 Almaty Declaration, emphasizing the territorial integrity of Armenia, 29,800 kilometers (18,515 miles), and Azerbaijan, 86,600 kilometers.
It is crucial to acknowledge Armenia's recognition of the area of 86,600 kilometers, which encompasses the former Karabakh autonomous region, as a significant development arising from the Brussels meeting. Another crucial issue to consider is the occupation of eight enclaves in Azerbaijan by Armenia. These villages are part of the 86,600-kilometer area that Armenia is obligated to liberate.
In terms of the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, it can be said that an important development has been achieved to eliminate uncertainty in the field of connectivity, although not for the first time. Positions on this topic have now come very close to each other, in particular on the reopening of the railway connections to and via Nakhchivan.
The countries’ respective teams have been tasked with finalizing an agreement in principle on the modalities for the opening of the railway connections and the construction works, together with a concrete timetable. They also agreed to draw upon the support of the World Customs Organization in completing this work.
Here, the intention to implement the rules of the World Customs Union is a new phase in the relationship between the parties. It is understood from this that the transport routes between the parties will be opened, but the establishment of a customs checkpoint has been proposed. As a matter of fact, Aliyev suggested the parties should accept the principle of reciprocity in relation to the Lachin Road and Zangezur corridor.
Humanitarian issues were also discussed between the leaders. Two Azerbaijani servicemen who lost their way a few months ago are being held as prisoners in Armenia. These two soldiers may be exchanged for two Armenian soldiers. Nevertheless, unfortunately, people are still dying from mine explosions in the liberated Azerbaijani regions, and Armenia should share genuine land mine maps with Azerbaijan.
According to the latest data, 298 civilians were seriously hurt in those territories; of these, 54 died and 244 were injured.
The future of the population living in the Karabakh Economic Zone of Azerbaijan was included in Michel’s statement. In this regard, no definitive statement was made regarding the establishment of an international mechanism, which is Armenia’s demand. Michel expressed his thoughts on the cooperation of Azerbaijan with the international community and the transparent implementation of the process, and Azerbaijan did its best to make progress on this matter positive and transparent.
Aliyev has declared many times that the international agreements signed by Azerbaijan and the constitution of Azerbaijan act as guarantors for the rights and security of all Karabakh residents.
In this regard, at the beginning of April, the central administration of Azerbaijan twice invited the residents of Karabakh to Baku to discuss any problems openly, but they refused to come. Some separatist groups living in Karabakh have captured the will of the people and want negotiations to continue only through the Russian peacekeepers.
However, Azerbaijan is strongly opposed to a third party in the process of reintegration of the Armenians of Karabakh, whom it defines as its own citizens. The central administration of Azerbaijan cannot create a more positive agenda without meeting directly with the Karabakh residents. Obstacles to the realization of this meeting should be removed.
It was the strong involvement of the West that revived the peace process. The main reason for this, beyond the ever-increasing importance of the South Caucasus, was the fact that the lack of a resolution has increased the influence of Iran and Russia on Armenia. But if the U.S. and European Union want real peace in the region, they should encourage Armenia to take more practical steps: To refrain from hostile rhetoric, to respect the sovereignty of Azerbaijan, to fulfill all the conditions of the trilateral agreement and to change some principal laws.
Javid Valiyev is Head of Department at the Baku-based think tank Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center).