Conflicting messages about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have been aired in recent days: “Territories for peace” and a “new war for new territories”. But the European Union made it clear it trusted the messages of peace.
The EU welcomed last Friday’s (29 March) high-level meeting, the first of its kind, of the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, under the so-called Minsk group of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, and the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, held their first meeting in Vienna under the auspices of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group (Russia, USA and France). Reportedly, the meeting lasted more than two hours, which is not a small detail, given that the two countries are technically at war.
The formula of the talks was described by insiders as “territories for peace”. Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions are internationally recognised territories of Azerbaijan but have been occupied by Armenia following a 1988-94 war that claimed an estimated 30,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
The website ArmeniaWeekly reminds that every round of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan has included proposals for some form of land-for-status arrangement. The so-called Prague Process of 2002 saw the return of five of the seven districts to Azerbaijan. This proposition reportedly forms the basis for negotiations between the parties.
A ceasefire was called in 1994, but decades of internationally mediated negotiations with the involvement of the OSCE’s Minsk Group have failed to result in a resolution.
The Vienna meeting illustrates the positive momentum in the search for a peaceful solution to the conflict. Since Pashinyan became Armenia’s prime minister, a thaw in relations between the two countries has become visible.
According to a joint communiqué, Aliyev and Pashinyan “underlined the importance of building up an environment conducive to peace and taking further concrete and tangible steps in the negotiation process to find a peaceful solution to the conflict”.
They also recommitted to strengthening the ceasefire and improving the mechanism for direct communication, including direct dialogue at the highest level.
The Russian agency TASS quoted Aliyev as saying that the most important decision was that the format of the talks remains unchanged, marking a failure of the efforts by the Armenian side to include in the talks the internationally unrecognised “Republic of Artsakh”, as Yerevan calls it.
The EU issued a statement, calling the results of the meeting “encouraging” and expressing readiness to support these efforts.
The next day, however, Armenia’s Defence Minister David Tonoyan made hawkish remarks in New York that were contrary to the spirit of the talks between the leaders, stating that Armenia refused to liberate occupied territories in exchange for peace and was ready for “new war for new territories”.
The remarks sound absurd, given that militarily, Azerbaijan outweighs Armenia, whose security is guaranteed thanks only to its military alliance with Russia. Azerbaijan, a country rich in oil and gas, is not part of any alliances and seeks good relations with all big players.
When Pashinyan was asked to comment on his ministers’ statements, he said that “the noise about David Tonoyan’s statement is senseless.”
“David Tonoyan said that in the event of a new war, Armenia will aspire to win it. If the defence minister happened to think differently, he would not work as defence minister,” the prime minister stated.
He added that “this in no way shadows the peace process. Instead, he said, “it stresses the importance of the peaceful settlement process.”
EU officials contacted by EURACTIV also stressed that what mattered was the results of the Vienna meeting and not the subsequent comments of the Armenian defence minister.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]