Armenia hopes for Nagorno-Karabakh’s return to the negotiating table

27 March 2019
Ilham Aliyev (left) with Nikol Pashinyan at World Economic Forum in Davos, January 2019. (Still from official video)

Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev will meet officially this Friday. In Armenia, talk of progress in the peace process has largely focused on the inclusion of Nagorno-Karabakh in future negotiations.

There have been no official talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict since the Velvet Revolution in Armenia.

The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan have met, but the new Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, has refused to negotiate on behalf of Nagorno-Karabakh, saying that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, who have an elected government, did not choose this.

Nagorno-Karabakh fell out of the negotiations on the conflict in 1998, when then–Armenian President Robert Kocharyan agreed to negotiate on their behalf, and they were forced to agree to a last-minute settlement.

‘If we have not reached agreement on the format, the contacts cannot be considered official negotiations’, Pashinyan said before the meeting in February during an audience with local Armenians in Iran.

After becoming Prime Minister following the Velvet Revolution, Pashinyan has met the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, three times — in Dushanbe, Saint Petersburg, and Davos — but, according to the Armenian side, these were more informal meetings and conversations with each other than official negotiations.

On 4 March, after speaking at the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Relations in Brussels, Pashinyan again touched on the format of the talks, noting that at the international level it was recognised that the conflict has three sides, and that this was recorded at the 1994 OSCE summit in Budapest.

‘However, so far only two parties have been involved in the negotiation process. The residents of Nagorno-Karabakh do not participate in elections in Armenia and are not citizens of the Republic of Armenia, therefore I cannot conduct negotiations on their behalf,’ Pashinyan told the European Parliament Committee on International Relations in Brussels.

He added that ‘it is necessary to create a format consistent with the negotiations, which is impossible without involving Nagorno-Karabakh in this process’.

‘The question of legitimacy’

On 9 March, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs made a statement on the upcoming meeting between Pashinyan and Aliyev, urging the parties to refrain from statements and actions requiring unilateral changes in the format without the consent of the other side, or indicating a readiness to resume active hostilities.

Azerbaijan, which had agreed to a meeting with Armenia, reacted harshly to Pashinyan’s statements about the Nagorno-Karabakh’s return to the talks.

‘This statement of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group is a signal for Armenia, we welcome it’, Trend cited Leyla Abdullayeva, spokeswoman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, as saying.

Abdullayeva reportedly said that Aliyev ‘brought to the attention’ of the Minsk Group co-chairs Azerbaijan’s position — that the format of negotiations must remain unchanged and be conducted between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

‘Attempts to attract the separatist regime created in our occupied territories to negotiations and attempts to change the format are unacceptable’, she said.

Hikmat Hajiyev, the head of the Azerbaijani presidential administration’s foreign affairs department, accused Armenian authorities of disrupting the negotiation process.

‘The statements of the Armenian authorities on changing the format of the negotiations are nothing but attempts to undermine the negotiation process to create an impasse. Responsibility for this lies entirely on the Armenian side’, Hajiyev told Interfax.

During a joint meeting of the Security Councils of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh Pashinyan said: ‘We highly appreciate the efforts made by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to resolve the issue. But the most important question is: who are the people of Artsakh in the negotiation process? Or, as they say in some cases, the Karabakh Armenians?’

According to Pashinyan, at the moment, ‘there is no representative authorised to represent the people of Artsakh’ or ‘the Armenians of Karabakh’.

‘This is not a whim, but a matter of simple legitimacy, and legitimacy is a key factor in modern relations — not only domestic but also interstate and international’, he added.

‘Artsakh should participate in all processes’

Davit Babayan, a spokesperson for President of Nagorno-Karabakh, Bako Sahakyan, told OC Media that it was very important that Yerevan was trying to fully restore the negotiation format for the upcoming meeting between Pashinyan and Aliyev.

‘Are we a colony that our destiny should be decided for us? Artsakh should participate in all processes. Restoring the format, engaging Artsakh in the negotiations as a negotiating party, is inevitable sooner or later, unless of course Azerbaijan is ready for a peaceful settlement’.

Babayan said that during meetings, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs had always emphasised that it is impossible to reach a comprehensive settlement without Nagorno-Karabakh.

Babayan said that it will be difficult and time-consuming to include them in the process, ‘but this does not mean that we have to give up and say that this is not possible. This is promising, it’s just a matter of time and hard work.’

‘If Azerbaijan wants a peaceful settlement of the problem, there is simply no alternative to restoring the status of Stepanakert’, Babayan continued.

‘No country can calculate and predict the consequences of war’

Manvel Sargsyan, the director of the Armenian Centre for Strategic and National Studies, a think tank, told OC Media that the return of Nagorno-Karabakh to the negotiating table is the only way to conduct effective negotiations.

‘Azerbaijan should present its demands to the people of Karabakh, and should negotiate with them. They talk about mutual concessions, the return of territories; these lands have owners, let them go and negotiate with them’, Sargsyan said.

He added that ‘Azerbaijan has assumed responsibility before the world community to solve the problem peacefully. If this obligation is violated, as it was violated in 2016, Azerbaijan will no longer be considered’.

According to Sargsyan, Azerbaijan is not a country that can independently make the decision to start a war in the 21st century.

‘We saw what happened in 2016. The April war lasted only four days. The party of the conflict who violates the promise of a peaceful settlement is punished. The whole world declares that there is no military solution to the conflict’, he said.

‘Progress in the negotiations is impossible’

The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs earlier urged the parties of the conflict to prepare their people for peace. During their last visit, they welcomed the ‘debate in the region about preparing people for peace’.

Head of the Modus Vivendi analytical centre, Ara Papyan, points to a statement by Aliyev at the ruling New Azerbaijan party’s congress in February 2018 in which he said  ‘our strategic plan is the liberation of Yerevan’.

‘And during the year we did not hear a single statement of condemnation from the Minsk Group, they did not say that this statement contradicts the principles of the negotiation process. Consequently, the co-chairs were inconsistent’, Papyan told OC Media.

According to Papyan, a breakthrough in the negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is impossible. He added that ‘it does not depend on the format of the negotiation process, because the real contradiction is in the negotiation process’.

‘The meeting is important to clarify expectations on both sides’

Richard Giragosian, the director of the Regional Studies Centre, an independent think tank in Yerevan, said the upcoming meeting between Pashinyan and Aliyev is important for several reasons.

‘First, as the first formal summit [since Pashinyan’s election] on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, the meeting represents a continuation of the earlier rounds of talks on the level of Foreign Minister and after only informal talks between the two leaders, offers the first opportunity for serious diplomatic engagement’, he told OC Media.

‘Second, the meeting is important to clarify expectations on both sides: as a chance for Azerbaijan to fulfil its earlier promises to implement confidence-building measures and to restore trust, while for Armenia, it is an opportunity to respond to critics who have attacked the Armenian government’s position on Artsakh’.

Lastly, Giragosian added ‘the summit will be the first chance to formalise any way for Artsakh to be included as an equal and direct party to the peace talks’.

According to Giragosian, the summit coincides with a shift in Armenia’s strategy. He said there is a new effort to include Nagorno-Karabakh in the peace process more directly, in part based on the realistic recognition that without all parties to the conflict involved in the peace talks, there can be little real expectation of any breakthrough or progress.

[Read from Azerbaijan on OC Media: Proposals to include Nagorno-Karabakh in peace talks raise red flags in Azerbaijan]

All place names and terminology used in this article are the words of the author alone, and may not necessarily reflect the views of OC Media’s editorial board.

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