German top diplomat visits Armenia and Azerbaijan on crisis mission

Nov 4 2023

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is calling for a rapid continuation of the peace talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia under the mediation of EU Council President Charles Michel.

"People throughout the region are hoping for peace. This requires a willingness for the benefit of all Azerbaijanis and Armenians to find a new way of living together," the Green party politician said on Saturday after talks with her Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov in the capital Baku.

This was the only way to achieve lasting peace, she said, adding that this would also be in Azerbaijan's interests.

The two former Soviet republics have fought over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh for decades. Nagorno-Karabakh is located on Azerbaijani territory, but was mainly inhabited by Armenians. The region broke away from Baku in a bloody civil war in the 1990s with the help of Yerevan. The Azerbaijani army forced the surrender of the local army in Nagorno-Karabakh on September 19. More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians have fled the region since then.

Baerbock offered Azerbaijan German support in clearing mines: "Three decades of conflict have literally turned Karabakh and the surrounding provinces into a dangerous minefield."

Bayramov was open to continuing the peace talks with Armenia, but accused Yerevan of unlawful territorial claims. He said that they were ready to continue the dialogue, according to an official translation. The format and location of the negotiations were of secondary importance, he said.

In addition to negotiations mediated by the EU, Iran and Turkey are also potential mediators.

However, Baerbock – without naming Iran – expressed her concern as to whether "some actors would act as honest brokers in the interests of both countries."

Against the backdrop of talks on the return of the more than 100,000 people who had fled Nagorno-Karabakh, the German foreign minister said: "Trust and confidence are of course crucial for this." We have to be realistic here, she said. "It will take time to rebuild precisely this trust."

Earlier Saturday, Baerbock travelled to Armenia's border with the autonomous Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan on Saturday, the second day of a trip to the South Caucasus.

Baerbock was standing in the centre of the quadrangle between Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey. Ararat, Turkey's highest mountain, is very close by, covered in snow, an almost idyllic scene.

But there is trouble in the region: Tehran and Ankara are trying to strengthen their influence on the former Soviet republics as Moscow concentrates on its war in Ukraine.

A member of the foreign minister's mission described how two workers were injured in a steelworks here in mid-June when Azerbaijani snipers fired on them.

Baerbock participated in a patrol by the civilian EU Mission in Armenia (EUMA) around 70 kilometres from the capital Yerevan near the border with Nakhchivan, which sits to the south-west of Armenia.

EUMA is tasked with monitoring the security situation along the Armenian side of the border.

EUMA began its work at the end of February, employing some 85 staff from 22 EU states by mid-September. Germany currently deploys the largest contingent with 16 members and a federal police officer as head of mission.

The costs of the two-year mission are estimated at just under €31 million ($33.2 million). Baerbock said on Friday that she was in favour of increasing the size of the mission, adding that Germany is ready to become more involved.

Azerbaijan, she said, would also benefit from more security due to the neutral observation mission.

According to German government foreign policy expert Michael Link, Azerbaijan has increasingly threatened to seize Armenian territory, primarily to create a land link to Nakhchivan, which has some 400,000 inhabitants and is located between Armenia and Iran. It also shares a short border with Turkey.

A strip of Armenian territory, some 40 kilometres wide, separates Nakhchivan from Azerbaijan in the east.

The territory was declared autonomous within Azerbaijan at the beginning of the Soviet era. Azerbaijan has long been campaigning for a new road and rail link to its exclave.

At the beginning of October, Azerbaijan's authoritarian government concluded an agreement with Iran on a transport link across Iranian territory. New border crossings into Iran are also planned.

Baerbock on Friday urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to return to the negotiating table and seek a political solution to their decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.