The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been a major challenge for security and posed obstacles for regional economic and political integration in the South Caucasus. The Second Karabakh War in late 2020 ended the occupation of the major part of the Azerbaijani territories and opened new horizons for regional economic integration and stability. By signing the Trilateral Declaration on November 9, 2020 between Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Russian Federation which ended the Second Karabakh war, the parties agreed to support post-war peace efforts and economic development.
The last two years were the most dynamic period for peace talks between the two South Caucasus countries as the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met in different platforms to discuss many controversial issues and achieve the long-awaited signing of a peace agreement. The last trilateral meeting between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and President of the European Council Charles Michel was held in Brussels, where the parties exchanged views on the normalization of their relations, continuation of negotiations on the peace process, delimitation of borders, opening of transport communications, withdrawal of Armenian military units from the territories of Azerbaijan and disarmament of illegal military detachments. By analyzing the dynamics of the Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations, it is possible to note that in spite of some progress on the issues such as delimitation of borders and re-opening of transportation routes achieved, but the final peace treaty between the parties remains elusive after the recent developments in the region.
It is worth noting that the mutual recognition of each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and confirmation of the absence of territorial claims against each other are two main priorities for Baku. According to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan “Yerevan recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, which includes Nagorno-Karabakh, provided that the safety of its Armenian population is ensured”. However, the separatist regime in Karabakh openly opposed Nikol Pashinyan’s decision and even condemned him for saying that. Strangely enough, the case presented by Armenia at the August session of the United Nations Security Council disrupts also peace talks and supports revanchist forces in Karabakh. In fact, Armenia has been exploiting the Lachin road for two years after the war to infiltrate military personnel, alongside munitions, landmines, and terrorist groups.
Moreover, Azerbaijan maintains its offer to utilize the Aghdam route for supplies to the Karabagh region. The Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society dispatched a humanitarian aid convoy consisting of 40 tons of flour products from Baku to Aghdam district in the Karabakh region, however the separatists refused to accept aid via the Aghdam-Khankendi road. Only humanitarian aid sent by the Russian Red Cross via the Aghdam-Khankendi road was accepted by separatist regime in Karabakh. As noted by Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan Hikmat Hajiyev “Russian Red Cross aid deliveries would go via the Aghdam road ‘in coordination’ with the Azerbaijani Red Crescent Society”. ‘
Another controversial event happened on September 9, 2023 when separatist regime in Karabakh illegally held a so-called “presidential election“. Four of the five parliamentary forces – Free Homeland, Ardarutyun (Justice), Dashnaktsutyun and the Democratic Party of Artsakh – have nominated State Minister Samvel Shahramanyan, who becamethe new President of the separatist regime. Azerbaijan condemned illegal elections in Karabakh, as it is a clear violation of country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Holding of “illegal elections” in Karabakh region of Azerbaijan is counter to the fundamental principles of the OSCE, the UN Charter and international law.
Immediately after illegal elections, many international organizations and countries worldwide such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Organization of Turkic States (OTS), the EU, the Council of Europe, as well as the UK, the US, Hungary, Romania, Pakistan, Türkiye, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and so forth did not recognize the so-called “presidential elections” in Karabakh. For instance, the European Union stated that it does not recognize the constitutional and legal framework within which the so-called “presidential elections” in Khankendi/Stepanakert (Nagorno-Karabakh) on 9 September 2023 were held. Moreover, during a press briefing, State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller said that the US does not recognize Karabakh as “an independent and sovereign state”, thereby not recognizing the results of those so-called presidential election that were announced over the last few days. He continued stating that “the United States will continue to strongly support efforts by Armenia and Azerbaijan to resolve outstanding issues through direct dialogue”.
Currently, the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace talks are at dead end after Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan congratulated the people of so-called “Artsakh” on the occasion of Independence Day. On the one hand, Armenian PM recognized Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. On the other hand, congratulating the separatist regime he is against territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan. Thus, such a controversial approach to peace process disrupts trust and may incite up a new war in the region.
Against the backdrop of such developments, Armenia has already started concentrating forces near the border between the two countries and in Karabakh. After Armenia and India signed military agreements with the aim of arming the Armenian army with heavy weapons, arms consignment from India to Armenia was transported via Iran. The arms deal included significant export orders of Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRL), anti-tank missiles, rockets and ammunition worth US $250 million. Such deadly weapons are cherishing revanchist ideas in Armenia and threaten regional security.
It is understandable that revanchist groups in Armenia still believe that the conflict is not over, and Armenia must patronage regime across the territories under the control of the separatists. By doing that, they aim building the “grey-zone” which is unacceptable for Azerbaijan. This tactic includes support of the separatist regime in Karabakh politically, economically and militarily, and at the same time, continue talks with Azerbaijan without significant result. Such tactic poses the greatest challenge to the peace talks and cannot prevent future conflict escalation in the region. To conclude, the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan holds significant economic benefits for the entire region. If Armenia is interested in signing a peace treaty on the basis of the mutual recognition of each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, then Yerevan should stop political manipulation. Conflict resolution will create new opportunities for regional economic integration and increased connectivity