Leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan agree to more talks as violence flares on border

By Mark Dovich

The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to hold at least another two summits in the near future after meeting in Brussels Sunday with the European Union’s top official.

Following the talks, European Council President Charles Michel confirmed that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev plan to meet again in the Moldovan capital of Chișinău on June 1, followed by another round of talks in Brussels the next month.

The Moldova summit is set to be joined by Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, marking the first time the heads of the EU’s two most influential member countries will join the peace talks together.

Regional analyst Tigran Grigoryan has expressed serious doubts the uptick in diplomatic activity could lead to a peace deal, pointing out that Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s positions on a number of crucial issues remain distant.

“The mediators will try to bridge the differences, but I’m not too optimistic about that,” Grigoryan told CivilNet Monday. “I don’t think that a solution will be found, and it is more likely that Azerbaijan will resort to the use of force again to actually impose solutions on Armenia.”

What else came out of Brussels?

Michel said Pashinyan and Aliyev again reaffirmed their commitment to a 1991 treaty saying that international borders between former Soviet countries should be based on socialist-era administrative boundaries. That effectively means mutual recognition of territorial integrity.

Turning to Nagorno-Karabakh, the issue at the heart of the decades-long conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Michel said he encouraged Aliyev to engage in “a transparent and constructive dialogue” with the region’s Armenians “with the aim of guaranteeing the rights and security of this population, in close cooperation with the international community.”

Sunday’s talks also yielded progress on border delimitation work and efforts to restore transport links between Armenia and Azerbaijan, according to Michel, who noted that the two sides “have now come very close to each other in particular on the reopening of the railway connections” with Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave.

“On humanitarian issues, there has been an understanding that further detainees would be released in the coming weeks,” he added, referring to dozens of Armenians who have remained in Azerbaijani custody since the war in and around Nagorno-Karabakh ended in late 2020. Most have been convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Read-outs of the talks from the Armenian and Azerbaijani governments were notably much lighter on detail. A summary from Pashinyan’s office merely listed the topics discussed, while a single-sentence statement from Aliyev’s office noted only that a meeting had taken place.

What’s the context?

Sunday’s meeting came as tensions in the region remained high, with both sides reporting casualties after Yerevan said Baku’s forces began targeting Sotk, a village in Armenia’s eastern Gegharkunik region that is home to the country’s largest gold mine.

Pashinyan quickly accused Azerbaijan of purposefully escalating tensions to “nullify the negotiation process and disrupt the course of further negotiations.”

The talks in Brussels also followed marathon negotiations earlier this month between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken described as ending in “significant progress,” with a peace deal “within reach.”

In sharp contrast, Pashinyan played down any breakthroughs in the United States-brokered talks, saying that “while the difference between the sides was 1 kilometer before, now it is 990 meters.”

Read more: ‘Huge differences’ remain between Yerevan, Baku despite ‘progress’ in US talks

Decades of internationally mediated talks spearheaded by the Minsk Group, a body co-chaired by France, Russia, and the United States, have failed to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The Minsk Group’s work has largely been frozen since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine early last year, prompting the European Union to take on a more active mediating role.

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