RFE/RL Armenian Service – 02/09/2024

                                        Friday, February 9, 2024

Armenian Official Sees No Clarity On Renewed Talks With Azerbaijan

        • Astghik Bedevian

Belgium - European Council President Charles Michel hosts talks between the 
leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Brussels, May 14, 2023.

It is still not clear whether Azerbaijan has agreed to resume negotiations with 
Armenia mediated by the European Union, a senior Armenian lawmaker said on 

EU Council President Charles Michel expressed optimism on this score on Thursday 
after phoning Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to congratulate him on winning 
yet another term in office in Wednesday’s election which European observers 
described as deeply flawed.

Writing on the X social media platform, Michel said they “had substantive 
discussions also on the Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization.” He welcomed 
Azerbaijan’s “commitment to resume” trilateral peace talks in Brussels.

Commenting on Michel’s tweet, Artur Hovannisian, a parliamentary leader of 
Armenia’s ruling Civil Contract party, said there is still “no clarity” on the 
talks mentioned by the EU’s top official.

“I don’t know how realistic this is in practice right now,” Hovannisian told 
reporters. “Naturally, Armenia is in favor of resuming negotiations in that 

Michel has repeatedly hosted meetings between Aliyev and Prime Minister Nikol 
Pashinian in the last three years. Aliyev twice cancelled more such meetings 
which were due to take place in October.

Baku accused the EU as well as the United States powers of pro-Armenian bias and 
said the two conflicting sides should now negotiate without third-party 
mediation. Yerevan has indicated until now that it prefers continued Western 
mediation of the negotiation process.

Hayk Mamijanian, a senior member of the opposition Pativ Unem bloc, said direct 
negotiations are extremely dangerous for the Armenian side. Mamijanian claimed 
at the same time that any negotiation held by Pashinian would spell trouble for 
Armenia because of the Armenian premier’s willingness to keep making more 
concessions to Azerbaijan.

As Peace Negotiations Advance, Armenia And Azerbaijan Are Going It Alone

        • Joshua Kucera

In their efforts to finally resolve their long-running conflict over the 
Nagorno-Karabakh region, can Armenia and Azerbaijan go it alone?

For decades, the negotiations between the two adversaries were conducted with 
mediators -- varying combinations of Russia, the United States, and European 
powers. The influence of powerful global actors, it was thought, was necessary 
for the two sides to work through their mutual distrust.

Now, though, with Nagorno-Karabakh back in Azerbaijani hands after a swift 
military offensive in September, Baku and Yerevan have been increasingly 
conducting their negotiations one-to-one. In December, they reached an 
unprecedented bilateral agreement to exchange prisoners and for Armenia's 
support for Azerbaijan's bid to host the COP29 climate conference. Senior 
officials from the two countries have been holding low-profile bilateral 
meetings. Diplomats continue to exchange drafts of a peace agreement back and 
forth and hold occasional meetings of a commission on the Armenia-Azerbaijan 
border itself, most recently on January 31.

Western involvement, meanwhile, has been put on hold. Azerbaijan has stopped 
receiving the U.S. and European diplomats who had been trying to shepherd the 
process along. A meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani ministers had been 
planned for January in Washington, but it never took place, and it's unclear if 
it will be rescheduled.

"This is an issue between our two countries, and we have to solve it ourselves," 
President Ilham Aliyev said in a January 10 interview with Azerbaijani media.

"Armenia and Azerbaijan are grown-up enough to tackle the remaining issues by 
themselves," Elchin Amirbayov, Azerbaijan's senior envoy for special assignments 
who has been closely involved in the negotiations, told RFE/RL.

Azerbaijanis have argued that the international mediators, at a time of 
sharpening Russia-West competition around the region, have been increasingly 
driven by geopolitical motives rather than by concern for peace in the Caucasus. 
But among Armenians, there is a fear that going it alone will leave them 
vulnerable to a much stronger Azerbaijan, which regularly suggests that if 
Armenia doesn't accede to its demands, Baku could use force to impose its will.

Armenian officials argue publicly that talking without mediators is not so 

"We have been engaged in negotiations by the facilitation of the European Union, 
among other facilitators, and nowadays we see that Azerbaijan, unfortunately, 
refuses to resume the negotiations in the existing frameworks," Foreign Minister 
Ararat Mirzoian said on January 19.

A bilateral approach works to Armenia's disadvantage, said Benyamin Poghosian, a 
senior fellow at the Yerevan think tank APRI Armenia. Armenia wants mediators as 
guarantors for any potential deal, "as power imbalances continue to exist 
between Armenia and Azerbaijan," and mediators could help balance that out. But 
the government puts a brave face on it, he argues.

"They understand that bilateral talks will be in Azerbaijan's favor," he said. 
"But they don't want to show that they have been forced by Azerbaijan to accept 
the bilateral format."

When negotiations began again in 2022 over a comprehensive settlement to the 
conflict, two rival tracks emerged: one led by Russia and another by the 
European Union, backed by the United States. Over time, the political 
negotiations largely shifted to the Western track, with Russia leading more 
technical negotiations on border delimitation.

In January, the U.S. envoy to the negotiations, Louis Bono, visited Yerevan but 
not Baku. Azerbaijani media reported that he was not invited to the capital 
because the Azerbaijani government had refused to invite him. Later that month, 
the European Union's top Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiator, Toivo Klaar, also 
visited Yerevan but not Baku.

Officials in Washington and Brussels have downplayed the snubs, saying that they 
were related to Azerbaijan's February 7 presidential election and expressing 
optimism that the Western-mediated talks can continue after that. Aliyev, buoyed 
by the resounding victory to regain Karabakh last year, is on the verge of 
winning his fifth consecutive term.

The move to bilateral talks should itself be an encouraging sign, said one 
Western diplomat familiar with the negotiations, who spoke to RFE/RL on 
condition of anonymity.

"I really do think that that was significant," the diplomat said, referring to 
the December 2023 agreement on prisoners and the COP29 conference. "That really 
signals to us that probably there are more discussions going on than maybe 
they're publicly talking about. And that's a good thing."

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has alluded to ongoing high-level talks, 
though details have not been made public.

"Direct contacts between Armenia and Azerbaijan are now more or less 
active…particularly between my office and the office of the president of 
Azerbaijan," he said on January 20.

Cutting out the mediators against Armenia's will represents another tactic in 
Azerbaijan's hardball negotiating strategy, said Shujaat Ahmadzada, a 
nonresident research fellow at the Baku-based Topchubashov Center, which focuses 
on international relations and security. Azerbaijan has suspended the Western 
track "to see whether facilitators will come up with favorable conditions," he 

The Armenian government is concerned that bilateral negotiations would leave 
them with no external protection were Azerbaijan to abrogate a peace agreement. 
But with Azerbaijan holding all the cards, they have little choice but to go 
along, Poghosian said.

If it didn't accede to the bilateral negotiations, "first, Armenia would be 
perceived as the nonconstructive side," Poghosian said. "Second, if there are no 
negotiations, there is a rising possibility of military escalation. So, a 
decision was made: 'OK, we are not happy with the bilateral format, but if there 
are only two options -- no negotiations or bilateral negotiations -- then it's 
better to have the bilateral negotiations.'"

In spite of the downsides for Armenia, Pashinian's government is willing to sign 
a deal with Azerbaijan for domestic political purposes as well, Poghosian argued.

"The government needs to give some positive news to society," he said, "to show 
that, 'OK, we know we lost Nagorno-Karabakh, but we are receiving something in 
return. I told you I will bring peace. Here is the peace.'"

Many in Baku argue that the United States and European Union have disqualified 
themselves by not being neutral brokers in the conflict.

For one, according to this argument, both Washington and Brussels appear eager 
to weaken Russia's position in the Caucasus and see the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace 
process as a means to that end. One of the key unresolved issues is who will 
provide security on new transportation routes connecting Azerbaijan's mainland 
to its exclave of Naxcivan through Armenian territory. While Armenia, 
Azerbaijan, and Russia agreed in 2020 that Russian border guards would do it, 
Armenia has since soured on Russia and is seeking alternative arrangements. 
Western diplomats are eager to oblige.

Instead of Russia, possible alternative security arrangements for the 
transportation routes could be commercial companies or international 
organizations, the Western diplomat said.

"The American and European goals are much more evenhanded and really want to 
work toward a durable and dignified peace. I don't know that I could say the 
same about the Russian intentions," the diplomat said.

Russia, meanwhile, remains keenly interested in having its forces play such a 
critical role in the Caucasus. In January 18 remarks to the press, Russian 
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sharply criticized Armenia for trying to back out 
of the 2020 arrangement.

"The peace treaty process therefore turns into a theater of geopolitical 
competition between the two rival blocs," said Vasif Huseynov, an analyst at the 
Azerbaijani government-run Center of Analysis of International Relations. "We 
may end up with a situation [where] we would create a larger geopolitical 
conflict in the region while ending a local conflict. Therefore, Baku insists on 
bilateral talks with Armenia with no involvement of external actors."

Azerbaijanis lately have also claimed that both the United States and Europe 
have been increasingly taking Armenia's side. One flashpoint recently was a 
statement by Aliyev, during his January 10 interview, about the border 
delimitation process that appeared to imply a claim to large swathes of Armenia, 
including the capital, Yerevan, and the southernmost province of Syunik.

The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell criticized the comments: "Azerbaijan 
needs to return to substantive peace and normalization talks with Armenia. The 
latest territorial claims by President Aliyev are very concerning. And any 
violation of Armenia's territorial integrity will be unacceptable and will have 
severe consequences for our relations with Azerbaijan."

Borrell "was basically accusing Azerbaijan [of] avoiding or shying away from 
negotiations, which is complete nonsense," said Amirbayov, the Azerbaijani envoy.

The accusations about territorial claims are meant as a ploy to draw attention 
away from Armenia's own claims on Azerbaijan, Amirbayov said.

"No one in Azerbaijan has interpreted his words as his intention to go ahead and 
occupy Armenian territory. These are all just tricks," he said.

Azerbaijani officials have complained that Armenia continues to formally stake a 
claim to Karabakh in its constitution, the preamble of which makes reference to 
a 1989 act calling to unify Karabakh with Armenia.

Amirbayov said there are several other such claims in Armenia's formal 
statements and legislation. For example, when Armenia's legislature ratified the 
1991 Alma Ata accords, which accepted Soviet republic borders as the borders of 
the newly independent states, lawmakers added language saying that it did not 
apply to Karabakh. He also called attention to language on the Armenian Foreign 
Ministry website saying that Nagorno-Karabakh is "an integral part of historic 
Armenia," and recent Armenian filings in the European Court of Human Rights that 
imply a claim on Azerbaijan.

"We have pointed the attention of the Armenian side to those facts many times, 
during our [in-person] negotiations, but also through different exchanges of 
comments," he said. "And the Armenian side acknowledges that this is the fact, 
but nothing is being done…. When they try to cheat, if I may use the word, if 
they try to put all the blame and the responsibility on our shoulders, and at 
the same time in the back of their minds still having these territorial claims 
against us, it's not going to work," he said.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry declined to respond to RFE/RL's request for 

But Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoian has alluded to the process Amirbayov 
described. "As part of the peace process, each side has noted problems in the 
other's legal framework and informed it about that, and both sides have provided 
relevant clarifications," he told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on January 25. 
"There will definitely be such discussions."

With or without negotiators, Armenia and Azerbaijan still have to overcome 
disagreements on other critical issues, including how to demarcate their shared 
border; determining the fate of several small, Soviet-drawn enclaves; and how to 
manage new transportation links to Azerbaijan's exclave of Naxcivan. The 
agreement being negotiated is reportedly short and thin on specifics and aims 
just to be a framework statement of principles, like mutual recognition of one 
another's territorial integrity.

Even in a framework agreement, Azerbaijan will continue to push its advantage, 
research fellow Ahmadzada said.

"What Baku wants right now is full legitimization (not only by Armenia, but also 
the Western world) of [its full retaking] of Karabakh, along with its other 
post-2020 goals: access to Naxcivan, enclaves, and border villages," he said. 
"Now, on all fronts, Baku is showing absolute maximalism, knowing that it is the 
only actor with huge power disposal at its hand."

Recent signals from Baku, including Aliyev's statements on Yerevan and Syunik, 
have dampened hopes in Armenia that any sort of agreement will be signed soon, 
despite the continuing exchanges of draft agreements.

"Unfortunately, after this positive step of the December 8 [bilateral 
agreement], we saw that Azerbaijan is not continuing with its constructive 
stance, to say the least," Mirzoian said on January 24. "That manifested itself 
through both the seventh Azerbaijani proposals on the treaty and the Azerbaijani 
president's latest interview. There was a significant regression and even a blow 
to the peace process on a number of key issues."

"How serious is Azerbaijan about this agreement, or is it basically just another 
way of asking the Armenians to ratify on paper what Azerbaijan wants, with the 
threat of force hanging in the background?" asked Thomas de Waal, a senior 
fellow at Carnegie Europe. "That's the hardest thing to know."

Foreign diplomats following the process are trying to remain optimistic. The 
Western diplomat said there was hope that the European and U.S. mediation may 
resume after the Azerbaijani elections.

But analysts are not so confident that the multilateral process will resume, at 
least in anything more than a token format.

"I'm skeptical," de Waal said. "It suits [Azerbaijan] better just to keep the 
outsiders at a distance."

"[The bilateral talks] is the process now," he said. "This is what's left, and 
if this doesn't work, then we're in big trouble.”

Pashinian Ally Expects Snap Elections In Armenia

        • Karlen Aslanian

Armenia - Hanrapetutyun party Aram Sargsian, March 4, 2019.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian will likely combine a referendum on a new 
Armenian constitution sought by him with snap general elections, the leader of a 
political party allied to him suggested on Friday.

Aram Sargsian of the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party said this is the only way he 
could poll enough votes for the constitution which the Armenian opposition 
claims is imposed by Azerbaijan.

“I am sure that Nikol Pashinian also thinks so,” Sargsian, who regularly meets 
with the premier, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

“If you want to get a ‘yes’ vote, 850,000 to one million people should go to the 
polls so that at least 630,000 of them say yes [to the constitution] as there 
will also be those saying no,” he said. “In which case will one million people 
vote? Only if there is an election of the parliamentary and executive 

Under Armenian law, constitutional changes have to be backed by most of the 
voters taking part in the referendum. The latter must also account for at least 
one-quarter of the country’s 2.5 million or so eligible voters.

“As far as I understand the mood of the authorities, they will hold the 
referendum this fall at the latest, and I have no doubts that it will be held on 
the same day as fresh parliamentary elections,” claimed Sargsian. “I think they 
wouldn’t mind doing that this spring. It’s just that organizing a constitutional 
referendum takes a lot of time.”

In recent months, the Armenian press has been rife with speculation that 
Pashinian is planning to hold fresh elections in a bid to receive a popular 
mandate to sign a peace treaty with Azerbaijan. The premier denied this in 

Two senior members of Pashinian’s Civil Contract party echoed those denials when 
they commented on Sargsian’s claims.

“We see no need for pre-term elections,” said Vahagn Aleksanian, a deputy 
chairman of Civil Contract.

The other ruling party figure, Vagharshak Hakobian, spoke of a lack of “public 
demand” for the snap polls. He said that even the conduct of the constitutional 
referendum is not a forgone conclusion at the moment.

Pashinian declared last month that Armenia needs a new constitution reflecting 
the “new geopolitical environment” in the region. Analysts believe that he first 
and foremost wants to get rid of a preamble to the current constitution enacted 
in 1995.

The preamble makes reference to a 1990 declaration of independence adopted by 
the republic’s first post-Communist parliament. The declaration in turn refers 
to a 1989 unification act adopted by the legislative bodies of Soviet Armenia 
and the then Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said on February 1 that Armenia should remove 
that reference if it wants to cut a peace deal with his country. Armenian 
opposition leaders portrayed Aliyev’s statement as further proof that Pashinian 
is planning to change the constitution at the behest of Baku. Pashinian again 
denied the opposition claims on Wednesday.

Plans To Raise Bus Fees In Yerevan Shelved After Backlash

        • Robert Zargarian

Armenia - People board a public bus in Yerevan, December 12, 2021.

Yerevan’s municipal administration has put on hold its plans to raise public 
transport fees which have sparked uproar from opposition groups and other 

Bus and minibus fees in the Armenian capital have stood at 100 drams (25 U.S. 
cents) per ride for over two decades. Mayor Tigran Avinian’s office moved last 
week to replace them with a complex tariff system involving electronic payments 
for season tickets valid from one week to a year.

The proposed new system would lead to a sizable rise in the cost of public 
transport. In particular, commuters would have to pay 110,000 drams ($272) per 
annum and 25,000 drams per quarter for a limited number of bus, trolleybus or 
metro rides.

Municipality officials did not clarify the methodology used for calculating the 
new tariffs. They said only that higher bus fares are necessary for cutting 
losses incurred by Yerevan’s transport network and buying more buses needed by 

Opposition members of the city council rejected this explanation, saying that 
public transport in Yerevan would become more expensive than in other ex-Soviet 
and even European cities. The pro-government mayor’s initiative also prompted 
strong criticism from some prominent public figures.

The city council was scheduled to discuss the proposed measure during an 
upcoming session. Deputy Mayor Suren Grigorian announced on Friday that Avinian 
has agreed to remove it from the session’s agenda. Grigorian said the new tariff 
system sought by the municipality will be discussed “more comprehensively” 
before being reintroduced in the council.

He did not say how long those discussions will take. The mayor’s office also did 
not give any time frames.

Artur Hovannisian, a senior member of the Armenian parliament representing the 
ruling Civil Contract party, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that the municipal 
authorities “will definitely take into account proposals and objections” voiced 
by critics.

Armenia - Yerevan Mayor Hayk Marutian inspects new city buses, February 5, 2021.

Opposition leaders declared, meanwhile, that the authorities have bowed to 
opposition pressure. Hayk Marutian, a former mayor whose party has the second 
largest group in the city council, congratulated Yerevan residents on that in a 
video message posted on Facebook.

Marutian, who was controversially stripped his council seat on Wednesday, 
earlier pledged to launch a “campaign of civil disobedience” if the authorities 
go ahead with the unpopular measure.

The former television comedian was actively involved in such a campaign in 2013. 
It was triggered by the then municipal administration’s decision to raise the 
transport fees by 50 percent. The authorities scrapped the decision after scores 
of mostly young activists protested across Yerevan, urging commuters to defy the 
higher fares. Some of those activists are now senior members of Prime Minister 
Nikol Pashinian’s party.

Reposted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
Copyright (c) 2024 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc.
1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.


Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS