Azerbaijan, Armenia towards next meeting to solve border conundrum
    Attempts to set conditions for “conditional border”

    ANALYTICS  21 July 2023 - 14:26

    Mushvig Mehdiyev
    Caliber.Az

    While the negotiations for signing a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan are increasingly shifting the gear, thanks to largely the efforts by the latter, the sides are simultaneously pressing ahead with the meetings to untie the knots retarding the process of delimitation of the bilateral border.

    After fighting a bloody war in 2020, the two countries have been seeking to finalise the key issues on the post-war development of mutual ties, including the determination of state frontiers, over which Azerbaijan restored its sovereignty in the wake of the war. The authorities in Azerbaijan use the term “conditional border” for the borderline with Armenia due to the fact that there is no final mutual agreement on the parameters of the bilateral border.

    Border delimitation is one of the paramount tasks for the sides to pave the way for peace as soon as possible. Back in May 2022, Baku and Yerevan established their respective border delimitation commissions as a manifestation of reciprocity in aspirations for fetching a “happy end” to the protracted issue. Before that, Baku included the issue in the five basic principles it submitted to Yerevan in March 2021 to set the ground for the normalisation process.

    Since 2022, the commissions held four meetings including two on the border, one in Moscow, and one in Brussels. They have reportedly discussed the agreements achieved in various formats by the two countries’ leaders, as well as the issues pertaining to the border delimitation process, and certain administrative and procedural issues.   

    On July 21, officials at the commissions agreed to hold the next meeting at the intersection of the Azerbaijani border district of Gazakh and the Tavush region of Armenia on the border’s opposite side.

    “By mutual agreement of the parties, it was decided to hold meetings every time on different sections of the state border,” office of the Armenian Deputy Prime Minister, Mher Grigoryan, who heads Yerevan’s border delimitation commission, reported.

    There are hopes that the upcoming meeting of the commissions could end the draught of the previous talks by fetching a breakthrough.

    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 bloody incidents in May and June of this year, leading to significant complications on the frontier.

    Baku has been urging for the immediate initiation of the delimitation and demarcation process to ease tensions with Yerevan.

    Maps for border delimitation

    There is a conundrum around a map or maps that should be used for the delimitation of the bilateral border between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Since the start of delimitation talks, no common approach has been seen regarding the selection of cartographic compilations to demarcate the frontiers.

    In April 2022, President Ilham Aliyev said there had been no database of maps.

    “Our position is that when determining the borders, history should be taken into account, and maps from the period after the Sovietization of the South Caucasus should be used. We should not focus on only one map, because there are many maps - there is a map of 1918, when Irevan (present-day Yerevan) was a part of Azerbaijan. There is a map of November 1920 that Zangazur (present-day Syunik) was a part of Azerbaijan at that time,” the Azerbaijani president said.

    According to him, Azerbaijanis lived also in the territories along the modern-day Iran-Armenia border and those lands had nothing to do with the Armenian people since it was the result of Zangazur’s incorporation by Armenia in 1920 upon the decision of the Soviet authorities.

    “We will use all maps - from 1918 and even earlier maps [developed by] the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Aliyev said, adding the joint working groups, i.e. border demarcation commissions would negotiate the issue.

    Regarding Armenia’s position on the maps, Yerevan has already picked a one to insist on. Armenia’s authorities have been calling to use a map from 1975 as a basis for the delimitation of borders with Azerbaijan. However, it does not sit well with the Azerbaijani government.

    Baku-based political analyst Gabil Huseynli says Armenia’s zeal for adopting the 1975 map should be traced in its intention to hide the illegal inclusion of the Azerbaijani lands into the borders of Armenia by the Soviet rulers. According to him, nearly 21,000 square kilometres of Azerbaijani territories have been ceded to Armenia by 1975.

    From the early 1920s to 1975, the Soviet authorities established illegal Armenian control over the Zangazur, Daralayaz, and Goycha provinces of Azerbaijan, as well as pastures surrounding the Lachin district and Garasu Lake. Moreover, in 1983, around 2,000 square kilometres of woodland in the Gazakh district were given to Armenians.

    From 1990 to 1992, Armenia also occupied the Karki village in Nakhchivan and seven villages of Gazakh on the border with Azerbaijan, brutally displacing over 7,000 people. These villages are currently under Armenian occupation. Part of them are inhabited by Armenians relocated post-occupation, while part remain in ruins.

    Unsteady pace of peace

    The Azerbaijan-Armenia peace negotiations, of which the border delimitation talks form part, are not steadily marching toward a positive conclusion. Multiple high-level meetings between the sides have not brought a significant breakthrough, excluding minor progress.

    Despite the efforts to achieve peace, the process suffered major setbacks due to Armenia’s demands, including so-called “rights and security” of nearly 25,000 Armenians living in the Karabakh region, in addition to avoiding fulfilling its obligations under the Trilateral Statement of November 10, 2020, such as the withdrawal of its armed formations from the Azerbaijani territories.

    President Aliyev has repeatedly said that the demands of the Armenian side would not be considered since Armenians living in the Karabakh region are the citizens of Azerbaijan and issues regarding their rights is Azerbaijan’s internal matter.

    Caliber.Az

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