Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders meet for the fifth time in Brussels

May 16 2023
Heydar Isayev May 16, 2023

The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan held their latest meeting in Brussels on May 14. The president of the European Council, who mediated, released a statement afterwards asserting that significant progress was made towards a peace agreement. 

But the parties, Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, gave no indication that a final accord was at hand.

Pashinyan, Aliyev, and President of the European Council Charles Michel met for the fifth time since the Second Karabakh War in 2020 in which Azerbaijan regained large swathes of territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenian forces. (Azerbaijan-Armenia post-war talks have also been mediated by the U.S., which coordinates with the EU, and by Russia, which does not.)

"Together, we reviewed all issues on our agenda," Michel said in his statement. "Following the recent positive talks held in the United States on the peace treaty, the momentum should be maintained to take decisive steps towards the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan."

Michel said that the sides agreed to resume bilateral talks on the demarcation of the mutual state border with a shared "unequivocal commitment to the 1991 Almaty Declaration and the respective territorial integrity of Armenia (29,800 km2) and Azerbaijan (86,600 km2)." 

The specific mention of the two countries' areas means, effectively, that Armenia accepts Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan while Azerbaijan doesn't claim any territory in the Republic of Armenia. 

Azerbaijan has made numerous incursions into Armenian territory since the 2020 war, justifying its moves by the lack of a demarcated border. The Armenian website Civilnet estimates that Azerbaijani troops are currently holding at least 215 square kilometers of land belonging to the Republic of Armenia. 

Michel also reported progress on the issue of connectivity between Azerbaijan and its Nakhchivan exclave through southern Armenia. "Positions on this topic have now come very close to each other in particular on the reopening of the railway connections to and via Nakhchivan. 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. They also agreed to draw upon the support of the World Customs Organization in supporting this work," the statement read.

Azerbaijan earlier pushed for a seamless corridor to Nakhchivan without any Armenian border or customs checks, but has lately seemed to back down from this demand. 

"The invitation to the World Customs Organization to support the discussions should mitigate concerns that this route will become a 'corridor' while still keeping preferential arrangements for Baku and its exclave – maybe similar to Kaliningrad?," tweeted Olesya Vartanyan, a senior South Caucasus analyst at the International Crisis Group. 

Michel said that more military detainees would be freed "in the coming weeks". "I also stressed the need to safeguard the mutual understanding that soldiers who have simply got lost and crossed to the other side would continue to be released through a speedy procedure," Michel said. In one recent case, two Azerbaijani soldiers crossed into Armenia – by mistake, according to the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry – and one of them was sentenced to 11.5 years in prison on charges of illegal crossing and smuggling weapons, while the other awaits trial for the murder of a civilian. 

Michel again spoke of "the need for a transparent and constructive dialogue between Baku and the population" of Armenian-controlled Nagorno Karabakh, emphasizing "developing a positive agenda with the aim of guaranteeing the rights and security of this population, in close cooperation with the international community."

Dialogue between Baku and representatives of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh seemed to have launched in earnest two months ago but faltered amid Azerbaijan's continuing blockade of the region and regular flare-ups of violence.

Michel announced that the next meeting between the three in Brussels will be in July, and that Aliyev and Pashinyan will also meet with President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany on the margins of the 2nd European Political Community Summit in Chisinau. 

"Will it resolve all the past concerns in Yerevan and Stepanakert toward Brussels? Certainly not. There are and will be many who will question different parts of this statement and why certain issues did not get into the text," Vartanyan tweeted. "What's important is that after more than eight months Brussels is finally back to hosting such meetings – this will not resolve all the problems overnight, but should hopefully prevent emergence of new issues."

Heydar Isayev is a journalist from Baku.