By Vafa Ismayilova
The latest agreement between Baku and Yerevan on the handover of 15 Armenian detainees in exchange for submitting to Azerbaijan mine maps of liberated Aghdam region has won unanimous global approval.
The step which is largely welcomed by the international community is seen as an important humanitarian and confidence-building gesture that will open the path for further cooperation between the sides.
On June 12, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry stated that according to the agreement reached, on June 12, 2021, in exchange for providing Azerbaijan with maps of 97,000 anti-tank and anti-personnel mines in Aghdam region, 15 detained Armenians were handed over to Armenia on the Azerbaijani-Georgian border with the participation of Georgian representatives.
Baku highly evaluated the role of all international actors - Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker, European Council President Charles Michel and the Swedish chairmanship of the OSCE for their contribution to the process.
The ministry said that obtaining mine maps will save the lives and health of tens of thousands of Azerbaijani citizens, including demining workers, and accelerate the reconstruction projects initiated by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Aghdam and the return of IDPs.
European Council President Charles Michel praised the aforesaid agreement in a post on his official Twitter account.
"I applaud Azerbaijan’s and Armenia’s parallel humanitarian gestures - releases of detainees and maps of mined areas," he wrote.
Michel noted that is a first step towards renewing confidence.
"The EU has supported this process and will continue to offer assistance to enhance progress," Michel added.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also welcomed the step.
“We're grateful to the Government of Georgia for its vital role facilitating discussions between the sides. Such steps will bring the people of the region closer to the peaceful future they deserve,” he said on his official Twitter account.
OSCE Chairperson in Office and Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde welcomed the return of 15 Armenian detainees by Azerbaijan back to Armenia in exchange for mine maps of Aghdam.
"Welcome the return of 15 detainees to Armenia today and hand over to Azerbaijan of info that will facilitate demining. Shows value of OSCE and Swedish Chairmanship of OSCE. These confidence-building measures can help create an atmosphere for talks under the auspices of Minsk Co-Chairs. Happy to work with Georgia, the U.S, and the European Union," she wrote.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell stated that the EU welcomes the actions taken by Armenia and Azerbaijan and facilitated by Georgia that led to the release by Azerbaijan of 15 Armenian detainees and the handing over by Armenia of maps of mined areas.
These are important humanitarian and confidence-building gestures by Baku and Yerevan that will hopefully open the path for further cooperation between the sides and the ultimate release of all Armenian detainees, as well as the handing over of all available maps of mined areas to avoid further civilian casualties, he said.
"The European Union and other international actors have actively encouraged moves in this direction and we urge further cooperation between the countries involved. We will continue to promote a durable and comprehensive settlement of the conflict, including where possible through support for stabilization, post-conflict rehabilitation, and confidence-building measures," he added.
The Italian Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ministry hailed the agreement reached between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The ministry expressed the hope for the consolidation of a climate of mutual trust in the South Caucasus, a strategic region for the Italian and European Union interests.
“Italy supports the strengthening of the dialogue between Baku and Yerevan, with the support of the EU and the OSCE, aimed at stabilization and regional growth. We will closely monitor further developments in Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, continuing to support the strengthening of mutual trust between the two countries, for the benefit of the entire region,” the ministry said.
Meanwhile, Brenda Shaffer, a researcher at Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies (CERES), a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Global Energy Centre, described the mines planted on Azerbaijan’s liberated territories over the period of occupation as a huge impediment for the return of IDPs to their native lands.
Shaffer made the statement during the visit of representatives of the foreign diplomatic corps to Aghdam on June 13.
Commenting on the Baku-Yerevan agreement reached on June 12, she noted that the returned people were not prisoners of war, as they often are mistakenly referred to.
“These were people that tried to infiltrate and attack Azerbaijanis after the war, these in no way are people carrying out some sort of peaceful activity,” she said.
She noted that people were waiting for nearly 30 years to return back to Aghdam.
“These people always felt like they were away from their homes and of course the mines are a huge impediment,” she added.
Israeli lawyer, an expert in international law and international politics, Mikhail Finkel, described Baku’s step to obtain from Armenia the mine maps for Aghdam as “a great diplomatic, political and international victory of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev”.
Finkel said that the president did the impossible because no one could imagine that this was achievable.
“It’s no secret how many people were blown up by mines, and how Azerbaijani journalists have recently died, and what a huge danger is posed by these mines. Therefore, I congratulate Azerbaijan on this victory,” he said.
Finkel added that after extreme pressure on Armenia by different countries, Yerevan agreed to submit to Baku the mine maps of Aghdam in exchange for 15 Armenian detainees.
“I would like to believe that the maps of other regions will also be given to Azerbaijan... I will remain moderately optimistic that this will be the first step, and maps of minefields of other regions will also be submitted in the future,” the expert said.
He added that the submission of the mine maps will have a positive impact on the further development of the liberated territories.
Shortly before the Baku-Yerevan agreement, receiving credentials of incoming non-resident ambassadors of ten countries to Azerbaijan on June 12, President Ilham Aliyev spoke about the big challenge before Baku over Armenia’s failure to submit mine maps.
“We need to return internally displaced persons, we need to return hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis back. But it is not possible today, because of landmines,” he said.
Aliyev noted that over 100 Azerbaijanis had been killed or injured over the past seven months since the 44-day war ended in 2020. He stressed that Armenia, which planted hundreds of thousand landmines planted, failed to submit Azerbaijan the mine maps.
“Just recently, due to the active communication of international organizations, we are coming closer to getting some information about Armenian landmines. I hope to have good news soon but I don’t want to say something before we have these results. But Armenia has to give us all the landmines, all hundreds of thousands they have planted. If they do not do it that will once again demonstrate the terrorist origin of this country,” Aliyev said.
The president noted that the Azerbaijani army liberated over 10,000 square kilometers of Armenian-occupied territories and a Joint Declaration signed by Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia put an end to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“The Declaration which was signed on November 10 last year is not just a declaration on ceasefire, as some countries want to present. It is much broader than the ceasefire because it clearly shows how future development will continue. It provides [the basis for] the opening of communications and peace-keeping operations. It is a declaration of future cooperation in the region,” he added.
Aliyev described the Declaration as a foundation for an Azerbaijani-Armenian peace agreement.
“Unfortunately, our public statements that we are ready to start negotiations with Armenia on peace agreement are not answered by the Armenian government. Our proposal which is supported by big international actors to start negotiation on the delimitation of the state border with Armenia is also ignored by the Armenian government. This is what we cannot understand,” he said.
Aliyev stressed if Armenia wants peace, it should start talks on the delimitation of borders with Azerbaijan.
“If Armenia wants peace they need to start negotiation with us on the delimitation... So, we are ready for a new phase of development in the Caucasus. We are ready for peace and we demonstrate it. I am sure that during your future visits to Azerbaijan we will see that our words and our statements and our signature has the same value,” the president said.
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