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Post-Prague hopes: The devil is in the details

14 October 2022 09:59 (UTC+04:00)
Post-Prague hopes: The devil is in the details

By Orkhan Amashov

The Prague meeting of the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders on the sidelines of the European Political Community Summit, organised by the EU on 6 October, led to some results, giving rise to cautious optimism regarding the peace treaty prospects between Baku and Yerevan. The stabilising impact it is likely to have, after the recent September bout of clashes on the state border, may help minimise potential snags that could derail the negotiations.

Following the two quadripartite meetings, involving Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, EU Council President Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron, a joint statement was issued.

Firstly, the Prague meeting achieved a commitment from both sides to recognise each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, being one of the key five principles entailed in Baku’s offer, which is critical in ensuring future peace as a foundational element. Regarding this point, the document refers to the UN Charter and the 1991 Alma-Ata Declaration on the Commonwealth of Independent States. It is worth recalling that the signing of the latter, at the time, did not stop Armenia continuing to occupy sovereign Azerbaijani territories during the First Karabakh War.

This forms the basis upon which negotiations could lead to a conclusive deal, as it finally and irrevocably settles Karabakh’s belonging to Azerbaijan, rendering the ground for a peace treaty as fertile. Yerevan will likely continue to push for some treaty-based safety guarantees for the Armenian population of Karabakh, whereas Baku will continue to insist on a pure interstate scope for a peace deal.

Azerbaijan has long been seeking to increase international acceptance of the precept that the fate of the Armenian population of Karabakh is a subject between Baku and its citizens, thereby falling beyond the scope of a peace deal. “Armenians living in Karabakh are our citizens and we are not going to discuss their fate and future life with any country, including Armenia”, said President Aliyev in Prague, using a suitably paternalistic tone.

Although this is not a new view, it is of critical import, given the current juncture when the Foreign Ministers of both countries are working on the draft text of a deal. President Aliyev has reaffirmed his government’s continuous determination to embrace the Armenian citizens of Azerbaijan, via full integration, but also reiterated that “if it is not suitable for someone, they can choose another place of residence for themselves”.

This is clearly indicative that Baku does not feel under obligation to exercise any form of extraordinary political persuasion to prove its willingness to accommodate its Armenian citizens, viewing it as something that should be taken for granted. Given how the original conflict between Baku and Yerevan started, this could be construed as the apotheosis of Azerbaijan's negotiating clout over the years.

Another important takeaway from the joint statement is an agreement on a civilian EU mission to be sent to Armenia, to be posted along the border with Azerbaijan. Baku has agreed to cooperate, as far as it is concerned. This two-month-long mission could decrease the tensions and instances of escalations on the state border, thereby contributing to an environment that would be conducive to peace talks.

Since the Ukrainian crisis, the EU has intensified its efforts, outweighing the lacklustre Moscow format, the focus of which has mostly been on the delimitation and demarcation of the state border and the opening of communications. It is theoretically possible to achieve a peace deal which will agree on the fundamentals, leaving other details for further adjudication. It is not impossible or unprecedented for two states to have a peace treaty and diplomatic relations, without agreeing on the delimitation of the border.

Yet a treaty cannot be too basic. In the case of Azerbaijan and Armenia, it will need to ascertain all the key parameters pertaining to the tracks of the current negotiations, in all probability including the essential tenets regarding the Zangazur Corridor project. The present climate favours Brussels’ augmented role, backed up with Washington’s efforts, both of which have currently assumed a relatively heightened significance.

It should also be noted that the statements of this kind are not legally-binding, and any change in the political climate could render its positive sides null and void. It remains a matter of nebulous nature if Pashinyan will renege on his word, as is his custom, and reinterpret the concept of Armenian recognition of Azerbaijani territorial integrity in a way that could be construed as contrary to the original intent emanating from the Prague statement.

Now, there is a two-month window which offers grounds for cautious optimism. The devil is in the details. The cumulative import of Pashinyan’s surfeit of courage to act decisively, or lacking thereof, Azerbaijan’s continuous application of constructive pressure and other concomitants will have a bearing on what is to come. As British journalist Neil Watson commented: “Barring radical political change in Armenia or its cohorts Russia and Iran, the inexorably slow pace of the peace process is coming to an end. We may see posturing and placating of populations, but the treaty is a foregone conclusion.”


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