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Azerbaijan, Armenia Discuss Key Peace Issues in Brussels

By Nargiz Mammadli May 15, 2023

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The meeting of the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders in Brussels on May 14, 2023 was the fifth of its kind / European Council

The peace talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia continued on Sunday in Brussels, with a meeting between President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, hosted by European Council President Charles Michel.

The meeting’s agenda encompassed key issues on the bilateral peace agenda, such as normalization, humanitarian issues, border delimitation, and the unblocking of regional communications.

In a post-meeting statement on Sunday, President Michel emphasized the need to maintain momentum and take decisive steps towards the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“The EU [European Union] has no hidden agenda. Our sole aim is to help Armenia and Azerbaijan reach a comprehensive and fair peace. We are ready to contribute to their joint efforts. We have agreed to hold the Brussels meetings as often as necessary,” he was quoted as saying by European Council’s press service.

According to President Michel, the talks on border issues focused on the delimitation of the frontiers and resuming bilateral meetings to facilitate the process.

Regarding the unblocking of communication links, Michel noted that Azerbaijan and Armenia’s positions were very close, especially regarding the reopening of railway connections to and via Azerbaijan’s southwestern Nakhchivan exclave.

“Their respective teams have been tasked to finalize an in principle agreement on the modalities for the opening of the railway connections and the necessary construction works together with a concrete timetable,” said the European Council president.

The Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan praised the fifth meeting between the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders in Brussels as a significant step in promoting high-level dialogue between the parties. Baku considered the meeting to be “useful and result-oriented.”

The previous meetings between President Aliyev and Prime Minister Pashinyan, mediated by Michel, occurred in 2021 and 2022.

A significant portion of Azerbaijan’s state border with Armenia, measuring 1,007 kilometers in length, remained under Armenian occupation for nearly 30 years. The occupation began in the early 1990s when Azerbaijan’s Karabakh (Garabagh) and East Zangazur regions fell under illegal Armenian control.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia launched a full-scale military campaign against Azerbaijan, resulting in the longest and deadliest war in the South Caucasus region. The war ended in a ceasefire in 1994, with Armenia forcibly occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories. This occupation led to the deaths of over 30,000 Azerbaijanis and the expulsion of one million others in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign conducted by Armenia.

On September 27, 2020, the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia escalated when Armenian forces in the occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. In a counter-attack that lasted 44 days, Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, effectively ending the nearly 30-year-long illegal Armenian occupation. The war concluded with a tripartite statement signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia on November 10, 2020. Under this statement, Armenia also returned the occupied districts of Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin to Azerbaijan.

Following Azerbaijan’s victory in the 2020 war, cartographic complications emerged along the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border. Azerbaijan regained control over a significant portion of the border, leading to the deployment of units from the Armed Forces and State Border Service in border regions, including Kalbajar and Lachin, to strengthen border protection.

Since then, there have been frequent provocations against the Azerbaijani army by the Armenian military, including the latest deadly border incident on May 10-12, 2023. These provocations have resulted in significant complications on the frontier. Baku has been urging for the immediate initiation of the delimitation and demarcation process to ease tensions with Yerevan. The process is based on five fundamental principles proposed by the Azerbaijani government to Armenia in March 2022, aimed at normalization and the establishment of lasting peace.

However, Armenia has hindered the process by demanding “rights and securities” for Armenians living in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, and engaging in regular armed provocations.

There are approximately 25,000 Armenian-origin individuals residing in certain parts of the Karabakh region, which is monitored by a temporary Russian peacekeeping mission. Shortly after the war, the government of Azerbaijan expressed its readiness to reintegrate these individuals into Azerbaijani society in accordance with the Constitution and laws of Azerbaijan.

On March 1, Azerbaijani officials met with representatives of Armenians residing in the Karabakh region to discuss their reintegration into Azerbaijani society. In late March, the Azerbaijani authorities invited the representatives of Karabakh Armenians to Baku for a second meeting.

However, a group of separatists has been trying to derail the reintegration process by seeking a so-called status for the region’s Armenian residents. President Aliyev dismissed the possibility of granting any status, stating that Armenians living in the Karabakh region should either accept Azerbaijani citizenship or find another place to live. 

“I am sure most of the Armenian population currently living in Karabakh is ready to accept Azerbaijani citizenship,” he said.