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Tuesday September 27 2022

Zangazur Project: Simplicity short of principled concurrence

20 June 2022 17:59 (UTC+04:00)
Zangazur Project: Simplicity short of principled concurrence

By Orkhan Amashov

Azerbaijan's indefatigable determination over the Zangazur Corridor remains intact. However, Armenia is recalcitrant and stubbornly refuses to accept what it calls 'corridor logic'. It seems, at this stage, the greatest probability is that the sides will focus on the currently practicable steps aimed at achieving in the interim what Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov dubbed the 'simplified regime without prejudicing Armenia's sovereignty' during the press conference in Yerevan on 9 June.

Continuous dichotomy

The latest statements made by President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan are light years apart. In his recent keynote address to the participants of the IX Global Baku Forum, the Azerbaijani leader reiterated that the Zangazur Corridor was a critical element in the post-war geopolitics of the region and would remain so.

In an interview with Al Jazeera on 13 June, the Armenian PM repeated the unacceptability of the corridor to Yerevan and suggested that, in line with the trilateral declaration, there was only one 'corridor', being the Lachin Corridor.

Two corridors

In fact, the comparison with the corridor connecting Armenia with the Karabakh Armenian population has been resorted to by both sides, albeit for different purposes. Baku appears to be focused on the substantive content of the relevant provisions of the trilateral declaration, whereas Yerevan favours a fuzzy interpretation based on "the corridor is what is called the corridor” formula.

Article 6, inter alia, stipulates that Azerbaijan "shall guarantee the safety of citizens, vehicles, and goods traveling along the Lachin Corridor in both directions". Article 9, on the other hand, states that Armenia "shall guarantee the safety of transport links between the western region of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan in order to organise the unimpeded movement of citizens, vehicles, and goods in both directions".

On balance, Azerbaijan is not attempting to seize control over any land to which it has no entitlement. Although the term 'corridor' is not used either in the 10 November 2020 ceasefire agreement or any other trilateral document, the purported meaning of the Article 9 point is clear, and principally no different from that encapsulated in Article 6.

In December 2021, President Aliyev stated that, if Yerevan refused to guarantee the overland passage in question, Baku would reconsider the regime of the Lachin Corridor: "If Armenia would insist on using customs facilities to control cargoes and people, then we will insist on the same in the Lachin Corridor. This is logical".

To date, Pashinyan has employed what one may call tactical back-and-forth, in some ways mimicking his constant vacillations over the "status" assertions. In October 2021, for instance, some of the members of his party opined positively on the economic benefits of the unblocking of communications, with a particular emphasis on the Nakhchivan route. Thereafter followed claims that the corridor was a red line to which Armenia would never stoop.

Steadfast Baku appears to be ready to steel itself for an arduous dispute, but also wants quick results and does not have an appetite for exacerbated obstreperousness. Some of those in Armenia appear to think that the vital aspect is to remain adamant and reject the Azerbaijani proposal so as to be able to prevail later, at an unspecified juncture. This is exactly what the revenge-intoxicated and melancholically boisterous opposition has been preaching all along the way.

In Baku, there is a firm belief that the clock is ticking inexorably against Yerevan. Armenia's economic state is not envious. Pashinyan's government has been struggling to fill in the gaps torn in the economy and a new war with Azerbaijan will cast further aspersions on the viability of the Armenian state. Littered with the charred hulks of megalomaniacal toxicity, Yerevan is in dire need of purification which will require incremental 'tapering down'; this is currently an impossibility.

Although Baku and Yerevan are apparently at loggerheads over the corridor business, this is not an impasse. Some plausible signs can be discerned both in the Brussels and Moscow platforms. Two considerations seem to guide the discussion on the nature of the legal regime applicable to the route. It must provide a propitious condition for unhindered movement and should not compromise Armenia's sovereignty.

President Aliyev recently remarked that, if Armenia fails to recognise the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, Baku would reciprocate accordingly. There are two separate tracks here, which should not be mixed. President Aliyev's tit-for-tat line distinguishes between two sets of issues.

Firstly, if Armenia does not officially recognise Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh, Azerbaijan will not recognise Armenian sovereignty over what Baku refers to as Western Zangazur. Secondly, the regimes of the Zangazur and Lachin Corridors should be identical. Therefore, from Baku's perspective, in a legal sense, there is no extraterritorial claim on Armenia of any kind.

Interim probability

What we know at this stage is that the communications route connecting Western Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan will be in both directions, inclusive of both railway and highway segments. We can also safely assume that its regime will be 'simplified'. It is another question how 'simplified' it will be.

Baku does not want the Armenian side to provide security along the route, and in line with Article 9 of the trilateral declaration, this must be incumbent upon the Border Guard Services of the Russian Federal Security Service. Again, it can be assumed that Yerevan will be compelled to accept this.

What remains unanswered is the degree to which it will be 'unimpeded' and 'unobstructed'. Here, unfettered honesty requires one to concede that we do not know yet what will be the ultimate point. One can only surmise its probabilities. And surmise we must.

It is unlikely that Baku and Yerevan will agree on the subject of whether the overland passage is to be called a ‘corridor´ or not. Some sort of compromise, largely influenced by Azerbaijan's interests, will define the gist.

Baku and Ankara will call the resultant legal regime the Zangazur Corridor, irrespective of Armenian acquiescence. Yerevan will likely contend that it is a mere overland passage in the context of the unblocking communications provision. At the point of a final agreement, the terminological exactitude will be of lesser importance, whereas the reality will define the future.

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