Ahead of Armenian-Azerbaijani talks in Moscow, Yerevan has signaled that it will recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as a territory of Azerbaijan. Is there really progress and prospects for real peace?
Checkpoint in Nagorno-Karabakh: Is there a solution now?
The May 22 press conference held by Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan could have been a milestone. The Armenian Prime Minister said he was ready to talk about recognizing the decades-contested Nagorno-Karabakh region as part of Azerbaijan should Baku guarantee the rights of Armenians in that area.
And Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev did not rule out a peace treaty between the two countries during a visit to Lithuania's capital, Vilnius. “We hope that negotiations will ultimately bring lasting peace to the Caucasus,” he said. Talks between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan are scheduled to take place in Moscow on May 25.
Baku and Yerevan: a breakthrough in bilateral relations?
Since that press conference by the Armenian Prime Minister, an end to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh seems more realistic. The conflict has been smoldering for decades: in the 1990s, the region, inhabited mostly by Armenians, was able to break away from Azerbaijan in a bloody civil war. In 2020, Baku regained control of part of the area after fresh fighting over a ceasefire agreement. A Russian peacekeeping force is to monitor compliance with the agreement – but the ceasefire is fragile.
The Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan now attached particular importance to the conditions for negotiations between Yerevan and Baku. “86,600 square kilometers of the territory of Azerbaijan also includes Nagorno-Karabakh. If we understand each other correctly, then Armenia recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan within the mentioned borders, and Baku recognizes the territorial integrity of Armenia over 29,800 square kilometers,” he specified.
Diplomatic advance in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
The head of the Armenian “Research Center for Security Policy”, the political scientist Areg Kochinyan, describes Pashinyan's statement as a “breakthrough” and an “unprecedented concession”. “For the first time, the countries have clearly recognized each other's territorial integrity. But it must be borne in mind that Armenia does so on the condition that there must be a mechanism that guarantees the rights and safety of the Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh “, says Kochinyan.
Against the background of the blockade of the Lachin corridor by Azerbaijani activists, Prime Minister Pashinyan pointed out an important point of a possible future peace treaty: “Yerevan declares that the issues of the rights and security of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will be dealt with in a Baku-Stepanakert negotiation format should.” The Lachin Corridor runs through a mountainous region within Azerbaijan. A road runs through it from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh and its capital, Stepanakert. The corridor is therefore of high strategic importance for the region.
How is Azerbaijan reacting?
In Azerbaijan, Pashinyan's statements were treated with reserve, almost indifferently. Although the media reported about it, there were no reactions from experts or the public. The reason for this, according to the Azerbaijani political expert Shahin Rsayev, who is involved in peace projects for Nagorno-Karabakh, is that Pashinyan said nothing new. “As for the conditions for safeguarding the rights and freedoms of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly stated that this is an internal matter of Azerbaijan and Baku discuss these guarantees only with the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh themselves, without the participation of third parties Rsayev.
Ilgar Welisade, head of the Azerbaijani political scientists club “South Caucasus”, takes a similar position. He believes that Pashinyan effectively recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. It is therefore not appropriate to impose any further conditions. “If Armenia recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, then this means that they do not interfere in each other's internal affairs,” emphasizes Welisade. He finds Yerevan's attitude contradictory. It is the main obstacle on the way to negotiations.
Withdrawal from the alliance with Russia?
At his press conference, Nikol Pashinyan made another important statement about the organization of the Collective Security Treaty (CSTO). “I cannot rule out that Armenia will de jure leave the CSTO or freeze its membership. That will happen when we see the CSTO withdraw from Armenia,” Pashinyan said. Yerevan complains that the Russian-led military alliance has not reacted in any way to the blockade of the Lachin corridor, which has been going on since December last year. Since then, there have been increasing voices in Armenia that the country should leave the CSTO.
Vladimir Putin, Nikol Pashinyan and Ilham Aliyev discussing Nagorno-Karabakh
The political scientist Areg Kochinyan points out that Pashinyan was the first to make statements in this direction. “If the CSTO continues its policy of non-interference and does not give a political assessment of Azerbaijan's aggression on the territory of Armenia, then it cannot be ruled out that Armenia will withdraw from the CSTO. This is not the case yet, but it is an important point in the discussion “, said Kochinyan.
Chance for lasting peace?
“Pashinyan's statements are related to the resumption of peace talks between Baku and Yerevan. He wants Azerbaijan to recognize Armenia's territorial integrity and secure a special status for the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, which has not happened so far,” says Olesya Vartanyan, South Caucasus expert for Brussels-based conflict-focused NGO International Crisis Group.
Observers believe Pashinyan's comments could eventually lead to a peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan, bringing real peace to the region.< /p>
But political scientist Kochinyan warns that there is no sign of an end to the conflict in the South Caucasus anytime soon. Prime Minister Pashinyan made it clear that he did not believe there would be any breakthrough or signing of the talks in Moscow. “As far as I know, about half the points of the proposed peace treaty have been resolved, but that's not the hardest part. All the important issues are still unresolved. There's clearly progress, but we're still a long way from a final comprehensive treaty text.” , according to the expert.
Adaptation from Russian: Markian Ostaptschuk