In Prague, Armenia and Azerbaijan take decisive step towards peace
On October 6, on the sidelines of the first gathering of the European Political Community, historic meetings took place between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as those of France and Turkey in Prague. Mediated by European Council President Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron, the meeting of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan marked remarkable progress on the road to normalizing relations and ending the conflict between the two republics of the South Caucasus. According to the identical declarations of the European Council and France, Armenia and Azerbaijan have formally undertaken to recognize the territorial integrity of the other (Consilium.europa.euOctober 7; Elysee.fr, October 7). The statements stated, “Armenia and Azerbaijan have confirmed their commitment to the Charter of the United Nations and the Declaration of Alma Ata of 1991 by which both recognize the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the other.” The Alma-Ata Declaration is a document by which the former Soviet states (excluding the Baltic states and Georgia) established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), formalizing the disintegration of the Soviet Union and recognizing the territorial integrity and sovereignty of each (Cis-legislation.comDecember 21, 1991).
This peace summit followed the recent escalation along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, which led to Azerbaijan taking control of some disputed areas that Armenia had claimed as part of its internationally recognized territory (see EDM, September 20, 28, October 4). The agreement on the mutual recognition of territorial integrity thus opens a window of opportunity to accelerate the delimitation and demarcation process and eliminate the territorial disputes that have fueled these armed clashes. This issue is also reflected in the above-mentioned statements, according to which Yerevan and Baku confirmed that their mutual recognition of territorial integrity and sovereignty “will be a basis for the work of the boundary commissions and that the next meeting of the commissions borders would take place in Brussels at the end of October” (Consilium.europa.euOctober 7; Elysee.frOctober 7).
The Border Commission, which was created in accordance with the results of the summit organized by the European Union on May 22 and has held two meetings since, was previously scheduled to meet in November 2022 in accordance with the agreement of the summit of August 31 (see EDM , May 31, September 20). Nevertheless, the convening of the next meeting will likely coincide with the deployment of an EU civilian mission along Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan, which is another key outcome of the Prague summit. The EU mission will be deployed to Armenian territory along the Azerbaijani border in October 2022 for a maximum of two months, and Azerbaijan has “agreed to cooperate with this mission as far as it is concerned” (Consilium.europa.euOctober 7; Elysee.fr, October 7). At the time of writing, most questions regarding the overall nature of this mission (its main objectives, capacity, type of personnel, etc.) remain unclear. The EU statement states that “the aim of this mission is to build confidence and, through its reports, to contribute to the border commissions” (Consilium.europa.eu, October 7). According to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, the proposal for an EU field mission was first made by the foreign ministers of Lithuania, Austria and Moldova, who visited the South Caucasus in June 2021 (Twitter.com/LithuaniaMFAOctober 7).
Another crucial event took place on the sidelines of the Prague summit, namely the first meeting between Pashinyan and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to reports, the two leaders discussed new measures for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations, referring in particular to the opening of a land border for citizens of third countries and the implementation of direct air transport of freight between Armenia and Turkey (Armradio.com, October 6). Reaffirming his government’s support for the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process, the Turkish president told a press conference that his country will normalize relations and that its land border, airspace and railway lines will be reopened with the Armenia as soon as Yerevan signs a peace agreement with Baku (News.amOctober 7).
All of these developments create a unique opportunity for Armenia and Azerbaijan to pursue the peace treaty and other initiatives that would be essential to generating lasting peace and stability in the region. Aliyev, in an interview following the Prague summit, said that in the event of an agreement, the working groups of the two countries would start drafting the text of the peace agreement, in the hope that the two parties will sign the treaty by the end of this year (AzertagOctober 6).
However, a number of challenges could destabilize the situation and seriously undermine these efforts. A major uncertainty is related to the goals and objectives of the Armenian government. According to Azerbaijani experts, Armenia may try to dismiss the responsibility of recognizing Karabakh as officially part of Azerbaijan even after the Prague Accords by arguing that “constitutional documents” were adopted in Yerevan before the declaration of Alma-Ata and that these affirmed the will of the Armenians in Karabakh will be united with the Republic of Armenia (Facebook.com/aircenterazOctober 10).
This would essentially mean the persistence of old narratives promulgated by Armenian leaders, who held that “Nagorno-Karabakh” had declared its independence before the declaration of Alma-Ata. For example, a document dated 2016. and still available on the Armenian Foreign Ministry website. maintains that “on December 10, 1991, the referendum for the independence of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh was held in Nagorno-Karabakh in the presence of international observers [the referendum for Azerbaijani independence was not held until December 15]. On December 21, 1991, the leaders of 11 Soviet republics dissolved the Soviet Union by the Declaration of Alma-Ata. Thus, at the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, two independent and legally equal subjects were formed on the territory of Soviet Azerbaijan: the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Republic of Azerbaijan” (Mfa.am, 2016). Indeed, current peace efforts will yield no tangible results if the Armenian government continues to manipulate these narratives and refuses to recognize Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.