tabel with two empty chairs © Kostsov/Shutterstock

© Kostsov/Shutterstock

No meeting between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan at the Granada summit on 5 October. After the use of arms by the Azerbaijani side, which decreed the end of Nagorno Karabakh as an autonomous entity, various questions still remain open

09/10/2023 -  Onnik James Krikorian

Following Azerbaijan’s 19 September military offensive that led to the dissolution of the breakaway but unrecognised mainly ethnic Armenian-inhabited entity of Nagorno Karabakh, there had been hopes Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev would meet again at the European Political Community summit in Granada, Spain. However, on the eve of the 5 October talks, Aliyev pulled out, citing the presence of French President Emmanuel Macron in the multilateral meeting that also included German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and European Council President Charles Michel.

Whether the meeting would take place was anyway in doubt. Although Armenian Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan and Azerbaijani Presidential Assistant Hikmet Hajiyev met with the advisors to Macron, Michel, and Scholz on 26 September in Brussels, the European Council only spoke of a ‘possible meeting’ in Granada. Likely swaying Baku at the last minute was the visit to Armenia by French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna two days beforehand. Not only was she again critical of Azerbaijan but Colonna also announced that France would be ready to supply weapons, albeit of a defensive nature, to Armenia.

Colonna also said that France would seek to introduce a new resolution at the United Nations Security Council calling for an international mission in Karabakh now the region had come totally under Baku’s control and the exodus of almost all of its post-1994 population. Baku was also irked by the rejection by France and Germany to have President Erdogan of Turkiye join them in Granada as a counterbalance to France, which Azerbaijan considers pro-Armenian.

Both Aliyev and Erdogan did not attend the EPC summit with the latter excusing himself because he ‘had a cold.’ Their absence was enough to cast doubts the the EU-facilitated process and hinted that it might now be close to collapse. Russia has been increasingly concerned by what it sees as western interference in the region with the aim of driving it out. Similarly, several steps seen by Moscow as anti-Russian by Pashinyan, including ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, has further infuriated the Russian President.

“[…] Azerbaijan does not need such a format. Baku does not see the need to discuss the problems of the region with countries far from the region. Baku believes that these issues can be discussed and resolved in the regional framework,” Azerbaijani media quoted the authorities. Nonetheless, it did at least reassure Brussels that it would still participate in negotiations in the tripartite Aliyev-Pashinyan-Michel format. Now that the issue of Karabakh itself has been essentially resolved, albeit by the use of force, the two outstanding issues arguably concern border demarcation and unblocking all economic and transport connections in the region.

In this context, the issue of restoring communications between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan through Armenia, or what is referred to by Baku and Ankara as the “Zangezur Corridor,” is key. It remains unclear whether lingering disagreement has now been effectively resolved by Baku’s victory in Karabakh. Last week, three of the unrecognised entity’s de facto presidents – Arkhady Ghukasyan, Bako Sahakyan, and Arayik Harutyunyan – were detained by Baku and transferred to pre-trial detention on multiple charges, including terrorism.

Yerevan and many regional analysts, however, are fearful that Azerbaijan might use force to open the route to its exclave, though on 27 September Turkiye’s Erdogan said that the road and rail link could also pass through Iran. In a telephone call held on the day of the Granada summit, Aliyev also told Charles Michel that Azerbaijan had no territorial claims on Armenia. Indeed, this is not the first time such assurances have been given with Aliyev previously saying that the modalities of the “Zangezur Corridor” would be reciprocal to those on the Lachin Corridor linking Armenia to Karabakh.

And on 4 October, Elchin Amirbeyov, Azerbaijan’s Presidential Representative for Special Assignments, again stressed that Baku recognises that the “Zangezur Corridor” would operate under the sovereignty of Armenia. Instead, the issue concerned Armenia reluctant to abide by the terms of 2020 ceasefire statement which required it to be overseen by Russian border guards. Iran has also said that any changes to borders are unacceptable to Tehran while on 5 October Ali-Akbar Ahmadian, Iran's Supreme National Security Council Secretary, further warned against any “geopolitical changes” by external actors.

Despite Aliyev’s absence, a quadrilateral meeting between Macron, Michel, Scholz, and Pashinyan did take place where the settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict was discussed. In a joint statement following the meeting, the four leaders specifically recognised the territorial integrity of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the ‘mass displacement’ of its ethnic Armenian population, and also their right to return with international monitoring in place to ensure ‘due respect for their history, culture, and human rights.’

It also called for greater regional cooperation and the reopening of all borders, including between Armenia and Turkiye, as well as the restoration of regional connectivity ‘with full respect for the sovereignty and jurisdiction of each country as well as on the basis of equality and reciprocity.' Pashinyan was also given assurances at the summit that the European Union supports Armenia and will do everything to deliver on its promise of a multi-billion Euro investment package.

Following the meeting, Charles Michel announced that both Aliyev and Pashinyan agreed to meet in Brussels later this month. Meanwhile, Iran and Azerbaijan started work on the first stage of constructing a possible route to Nakhchivan through its own territory, potentially excluding Armenia from another regional project.

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