By Mark Dovich
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan slammed Azerbaijan and Turkey at a Monday evening press conference for the lack of forward movement in ongoing efforts to normalize relations, adding that Azerbaijan is “trying to build up legitimacy for a new war” by placing blame on Armenia instead.
Most notably, Pashinyan accused Baku of canceling a meeting, apparently scheduled for Monday in Brussels, between Armenian Security Council head Armen Grigoryan and Hikmet Hajiyev, the Azerbaijani president’s foreign policy advisor. The prospect of a meeting between the two officials had not previously been reported.
Pashinyan added that Azerbaijan had broken promises to return Armenian prisoners of war still held in the country, turned down an Armenian proposal to set up a meeting of the two countries’ foreign ministers, and refused to consider a draft plan to reopen a regional railroad.
The Armenian prime minister also condemned Turkey’s apparent insistence that any normalization deal be linked to a similar agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, calling Ankara’s stance “not useful.”
Still, Pashinyan doubled down on his government’s position that there is no way forward for Armenia except peace, saying “the peace agenda has no alternative,” while also insisting “it cannot be one-sided.”
“We have done and are doing everything in our power to open an era of peaceful development for our region. The alternative is a new war,” he warned.
Pashinyan also touched on the still-unclear fate of the Armenian-inhabited villages of Aghavno and Sus in Karabakh, confirming that “in case of a change of route…(they) will pass to Azerbaijan’s control.”
The two villages lie within the Lachin corridor, a strategically important strip of land patrolled by Russian peacekeepers that, at present, connects Armenia with the part of Karabakh remaining under Armenian control.
Under the terms of the ceasefire declaration that ended the 2020 Karabakh war, Azerbaijan is expected to build a new road connecting Armenia and Karabakh that bypasses Aghavno and Sus. Once that road is completed, Azerbaijan is meant to take control of the two villages, and Russian peacekeepers are supposed to relocate to the new route.
However, Pashinyan refused to go into any detail about what that handover will mean in practice, only saying that the “problems…will be solved with the help of the Artsakh (Karabakh) government.”
Monday’s press conference was Pashinyan’s first since January. It was held online, as has been standard practice for the prime minister since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.
On Sunday, a group of Armenian news outlets, including CivilNet, issued a statement calling on Pashinyan to return to “the practice of open communication with the media” amid concerns that the format of a livestreamed news conference restricts their ability to ask questions freely.
A different group of nearly 30 outlets released a separate statement over the weekend pledging to boycott the prime minister’s press conference entirely and calling on him to restart in-person news conferences.