Azerbaijan demands are a ‘blow’ to peace process, Pashinyan says

Jan 15 2024
By Ani Avetisyan January 15, 2024

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has expressed concern over recent demands by Azerbaijan for the transfer of villages lost in the early 1990s, which he sees as a major setback for the peace process. 

On January 10 Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev said in a televised interview that the Azerbaijan exclaves and the "four villages that are not exclaves […] should be returned to Azerbaijan without any preconditions".

The issue of the exclaves, along with the question of the exact borders, have long been debated by the two neighbours, with the relevant border commissions continuing meetings on the issues of border demarcation and delimitation. 

In a parliament meeting on January 13, Pashinyan stressed that the agreed basis for peace, border demarcation and delimitation between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the 1991 Alma-Ata Declaration. This document recognises the territorial integrity of both nations on the basis of their Soviet-era borders.

Pashinyan stressed that these principles were reaffirmed in agreements following the Prague meeting in October 2022, the subsequent Sochi meeting and the Brussels meeting in July 2023. He criticised Azerbaijan for contradicting these agreements at the highest level, suggesting a shift in the established logic. 

Pashinyan warned against Azerbaijan's alleged attempts to assert territorial claims against Armenia, calling such actions unacceptable. Pashinyan referred to Azerbaijan's demand for Azerbaijani exclaves in Armenia, saying that if Azerbaijan demands "four villages, then Armenia raises the issue of 32 villages", referring to Armenian border villages currently under Azerbaijani control and the Armenian exclave of Artsvashen, which were occupied by Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. 

'Given our commitment to recognising each other's territorial integrity on the basis of the Alma-Ata Declaration, we state that there should be no occupied territories between Armenia and Azerbaijan', Pashinyan said. 'Therefore, if it is determined that Armenia controls territories that 'de jure' belong to Azerbaijan, Armenia will have to withdraw. Similarly, for territories that 'de jure' belong to Armenia but are currently controlled by Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan will have to withdraw'. 

The first rumours about the demand to return the exclaves to Azerbaijan started circulating in Armenia shortly after the end of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020. Later, Baku started demanding the exclaves and a connection to the exclaves guaranteed by Armenia. Azerbaijan has called the territories 'Western Azerbaijan' and demanded the return of the former Azerbaijani inhabitants to Armenia. 

On January 10 Aliyev said: "For the villages that are enclaves, a separate expert group should be established and this issue should be discussed. We believe that all enclaves should be returned."

Aliyev also said his army would not be withdrawing in the near future. "Neither from the positions of May 2021 nor from the positions of September 2022.  We are not taking a step back because that border must be defined. However, our location, which is currently disputed by Armenia, does not include any settlement. The positions and heights where we stand have never been inhabited before. Today, Armenia continues to occupy our villages, and this is unacceptable. I want to note again that this issue will be clarified during the meeting of the commissions at the end of this month," Eurasianet reported him as saying.

While the sizes of the Azerbaijani exclaves and Armenian Artsvashen are almost the same, Armenia will find itself in a difficult situation should the exchange occur, as the country’s two important international roads lie on or nearby the exclaves, one connecting the country to northern neighbour Georgia and the other, Iran.