In recent weeks, there have been certain positive signs emerging in the peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Writing from Baku, Vasif Huseynov goes over the recent developments – including both the proposed 3+3 and 3+2 regional co-operation platforms – and how they are perceived by Azerbaijan, in this op-ed for KarabakhSpace.eu.
On 4 October 2021, during his official visit to Lithuania, Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, met the Armenian community members based in this country and gave important insights regarding Armenia-Azerbaijan relations. Reiterating his previous statements about the character of pre-war negotiations with Azerbaijan, Pashinyan stressed that when he came to power in 2018 he found that the process had reached a momentum with international mediators expecting Armenia to return the seven surrounding regions around the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast to Azerbaijan and permit the return of Azerbaijanis to the territories of this oblast. Pashinyan admitted that he was thinking of disclosing the details of these negotiations in 2018, but could not dare at the time, fearing the potential societal backlash.
The pre-war peace negotiations failed to deliver any breakthrough owing to the myths the Armenian leaders had fed over the years since the early 1990s about its claims to the Azerbaijani territories, and the entire political and diplomatic agenda of the country designed to feign the negotiations rather than concluding an agreement. The acknowledgement of these realities by the Armenian government and a significant part of the society, and the simultaneous rejection of the revanchist agendas of some political groups, while they cannot return the loss of more than 7,000 lives on both sides in the last war, could prevent future humanitarian tragedies.
The last weeks marked some important positive trends in relations between the two countries towards a more peaceful future. In early October, in a move towards reconciliation, Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to use each other’s airspace for civilian flights. Although there had been no official ban on this before, the high level of animosity between the two sides did not permit aircrafts belonging to the conflicting parties to fly over each other’s territories. On the 6 October, Azerbaijani Airlines started using the airspace over the territory of Armenia for its flights between Baku and the Azerbaijani exclave Nakhchivan. A day after this, Azerbaijan returned one more prisoner to Armenia detained after the war. On 13 October, the religious leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia met for the first time since the end of the war and gave peace messages.
This progressive atmosphere between the two countries is felt in the diplomatic sphere as well. The most important development in this context is surely the agreement reached between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan on a meeting under the auspices of the Minsk Group of the OSCE. Notably, neighbouring Georgia has shown willingness to take on a leading mediatory role between Baku and Yerevan, and seeks to bring the two countries’ leaders to the negotiating table. After having received Pashinyan in Tbilisi in early September, Georgia’s prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, visited Baku (29 September) and Yerevan (9 October), reaffirming “Georgia’s commitment to continuing its active role as a mediator to secure peace and stability” in the region.
A few days before this visit, in his address to the 76 session of the UN General Assembly, Garibashvili put forward a peace proposal, named the Peaceful Neighborhood Initiative, “to promote peace and stability in the South Caucasus”. Tweeting about this proposal which appears to be formed on the 3+2 (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia + the EU and the USA) format, he said that this “will facilitate dialogue and confidence-building, and lead to the implementation of practical solutions to regional issues of common interest with our US and EU partners”.
Following Garibashvili’s visit to Baku, Georgia’s foreign minister declared that the Peaceful Neighborhood Initiative is backed by Azerbaijan as well as the EU and the United States. Georgia is hopeful that this initiative would expand into a larger international platform, probably also as an attempt to create an alternative to the Russia-attended 3+3 (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia + Russia, Turkey, Iran) regional co-operation platform.
The six-state (3+3) regional co-operation platform was suggested by Azerbaijan and Turkey after the 44-Day Karabakh War. On 6 October, at a news conference following a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in Moscow, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, declared Russia’s support to this initiative. The leaders of Iran have likewise supported this project on various occasions. The Georgian government – having previously refused to take part in the format together with Russia due to the unresolved territorial conflict over Abkhazia and South Ossetia – has recently stated that Georgia should be represented “in some form” in such geopolitical projects. Thus, the project has received support – to varying degrees – from most parties, whereas Armenia has yet to confirm its participation publicly and Georgia has yet to decide if and in which form it would participate.
There are thus currently at least two regional co-operation proposals with different geopolitical underpinnings. As opposed to such attempts in the previous decades, there is now better potential for their implementation, since the fact of occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia is no longer the major hindrance that it was in the past. With the conflict resolved, a new era for peace and security has arrived in the region. However, at least two factors will be determined for the success of these proposals.
First of all, the two proposals need to evolve as complimentary to each other rather than being exclusive, and as such, not become a matter of competition and rivalry between great powers. Not only would such rivalries undermine the regional co-operation initiatives but also badly affect relations amongst the states of the South Caucasus who have different geopolitical visions in foreign policy. Secondly, but no less importantly, the fate of all these initiatives is also linked with the peace treaty negotiations between Baku and Yerevan. The two countries need to sign such a treaty recognising each other’s territorial integrity before attempting to come together under the umbrella of regional co-operation projects. The latest developments give ground to hope that this would be possible in the near future.