By Mark Dovich
Armenia and Azerbaijan almost simultaneously announced the composition of their respective border commissions Monday evening, one day after the two countries’ leaders agreed in Brussels to convene the groups “in the coming days.”
Both delegations will be headed by the countries’ deputy prime ministers, Armenia’s Mher Grigoryan and Azerbaijan’s Shahin Mustafayev.
The Armenian group includes 11 other high-level officials, including the deputy ministers of foreign affairs, defense, and territorial administration and infrastructure. The Armed Forces and National Security Service are also sending senior officials.
The Azerbaijani delegation is nearly twice as large, with Mustafayev and 22 other officials taking part, representing a broad range of ministries and other state bodies. Azerbaijan’s commission notably involves the heads of nine districts bordering Armenia, including several districts captured by Azerbaijan in the 2020 war in and around Karabakh.
In a statement, European Council President Charles Michel, who hosted Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Brussels over the weekend, said that the groups will meet “on the inter-state border,” but it is still unclear exactly when and where the commission will meet.
The border between Armenia and Azerbaijan remains undelimited and undemarcated, as it was once an internal Soviet boundary, so officially defining it was not of concern to the authorities at the time. Delimitation refers to the process by which a border is legally defined, while demarcation involves the process of physically marking a border, such as by building a fence or wall.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held separate phone calls Monday with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts to discuss the formation of the joint border commission, as well as ongoing efforts to unblock transport connections between Yerevan and Baku.
Grigoryan and Mustafayev, the deputy prime ministers, are expected to spearhead transport unblocking as well. Little information has been made public so far on the state of those efforts, though Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan (no relation) said Monday that restoring Armenia’s southern railway was among the topics “under discussion.”
The Armenian government has previously estimated that repairing the railroad, which would connect Armenia and mainland Azerbaijan via Nakhichevan and Syunik, would take three years and cost about $200 million.
Meanwhile, Aliyev spoke by phone Monday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to provide an update on his meeting with Pashinyan and Michel the day before. The two leaders reportedly both “gave a positive assessment to the results” of the Brussels meeting.
Azerbaijan and Turkey are currently conducting joint military exercises in the city of Kars, just 30 miles from the Armenian border.
Pashinyan and Aliyev are set to meet again with Michel in Brussels in July or August to continue negotiations.