Mirzoyan, Bayramov launch peace treaty talks in Geneva

By Mark Dovich

Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers Ararat Mirzoyan and Jeyhun Bayramov met in Geneva Sunday for talks described last week by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan as the start of “substantive negotiations” on a peace treaty.

Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev agreed at their latest round of talks earlier this year in Brussels to organize a meeting between their foreign ministers “to work on draft texts” of a peace treaty.

In a statement, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry said “the sides exchanged views on a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan” and “positively assessed their mutual understanding on unblocking regional transport routes under the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the countries” through which they pass.

That echoes language in remarks last week by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexey Overchuk that effectively ruled out Baku’s repeated demands for an overland corridor to connect mainland Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan via Armenia.

The peace treaty should also be aimed at “ensuring rights and security guarantees for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, including through the establishment of a discussion mechanism between Stepanakert and Baku,” Armenia’s read-out said.

That comes after Pashinyan called last week for direct “discussions” between Stepanakert and Baku to “guarantee the rights and security of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.”

At his meeting with Bayramov, Mirzoyan also stressed the need to introduce “international mechanisms for border control,” echoing Pashinyan’s call last week for a “long-term or permanent mission” to monitor the Armenia-Azerbaijan border.

Mirzoyan also pledged to seek accountability for “war crimes committed by the Azerbaijani armed forces” in “international bodies.”

A graphic video showing Azerbaijani troops arbitrarily executing a small group of captured Armenian soldiers went viral on social the same day as Mirzoyan and Bayramov’s meeting, prompting widespread revulsion in Armenia and calls for accountability by Yerevan.

Armenian government officials have confirmed the video’s authenticity and said it was filmed on September 13, during Azerbaijan’s unprecedented assault on Armenia last month.

In addition, Mirzoyan reiterated to Bayramov that Azerbaijan must withdraw its forces from Armenian territory and release all remaining Armenians detained in Azerbaijan.

On Monday, Pashinyan accused Azerbaijan of repeatedly failing to release Armenians in its captivity despite agreements to do so, apparently reached at high-level talks earlier this year.

An unknown number of Armenians remain in captivity in Azerbaijan, where most have been convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. In the most recent handover — just days before last month’s attack — Baku released five Armenian detainees to Yerevan.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said Bayramov stressed the importance of opening regional transit routes, delimiting the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, and “the full withdrawal of Armenian armed units from the territories of Azerbaijan” — widely understood to mean the Karabakh Defense Army, which Azerbaijan has repeatedly called to be disbanded.

After the end of the 2020 Karabakh war, Yerevan and Baku formed two separate working groups on opening regional transit routes and delimiting the border, but the groups have little to show for their work so far.

In addition, Bayramov urged Mirzoyan to reach a peace deal “based on the five principles proposed by Azerbaijan.”

Earlier this year, Baku put forward a five-point peace plan, which included the mutual recognition by Armenia and Azerbaijan of one another’s territorial integrity. Yerevan has said it accepts the five points in principle, while insisting on adding six points of its own. Azerbaijan has not publicly endorsed Armenia’s “5+6” proposal.

Aside from his talks with Bayramov, Mirzoyan held separate meetings in Geneva with Philip Reeker and Brice Roquefeuil, the U.S. and French co-chairs to the Minsk Group.

The Minsk Group is a body co-chaired by France, Russia, and the United States that has led efforts to mediate a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan for many years, largely without result.

Russia’s Minsk Group representative was notably absent in Geneva Sunday.

Azerbaijan’s attack on Armenia last month seems to be prompting deepening diplomatic engagement in the South Caucasus by France and the United States, while Russia, the region’s traditional security guarantor, appears preoccupied by its war against Ukraine.

Senior Armenian officials have suggested the United States played a key role in brokering the ceasefire that halted the attack, which marked the bloodiest outbreak of hostilities in the region since the Karabakh war two years ago.