In search of mutual trust: What can be done?
    Contemplations with Orkhan Amashov

    ANALYTICS  04 March 2024 - 20:29

    Orkhan Amashov
    Caliber.Az

    “Mutual trust is a precarious rarity in Azerbaijani-Armenian talks”, argues Orkhan Amashov in his latest Contemplations, reflecting upon those obstacles hampering the peace process and possible ways of surmounting them.

    Mutual trust is a precarious rarity in Azerbaijani-Armenian talks. This has been the case for decades. It is, partly, the absence of this very element in Baku-Yerevan relations that previously led to the predominant role of external actors, such as the now-defunct and besmirched OSCE Minsk Group, which was a spectacular failure, and the individual self-interested initiatives of the former Co-chair countries after 2020. What appears to be absolutely clear, retrospectively, is that external influences, with some exceptions, such as EU Council President Charles Michel’s personal initiative, dubbed ´the Brussels Process’ - now regarded as suffering from rigor mortis - have ostensibly been part of the problem, rather than the solution.

    I was in Ankara on 22 February, where I delivered a keynote speech on the politics of connectivity, alongside Dr Gerard Libaridian, an eminent Armenian historian and diplomat, at the “EU-Turkiye cooperation in Central Asia and South Caucasus” conference, organised by the Centre for Eurasian Studies (AVIM) and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. The importance of “regional ownership”, the largely detrimental role of external players, such as France, regarding the peace process and the vital criticality of the bilateral nature of Azerbaijani-Armenian normalisation were the themes central to both of our speeches.

    The question is what presently hampers the gradual emergence of mutual trust between Baku and Yerevan and what steps could be undertaken to build and strengthen this. 

    The past few days have given mixed signals. The two-day meeting between Jeyhun Bayramov and Ararat Mirzoyan, the Azerbaijani and Armenian Foreign Ministers, held in Berlin on 28-29 February, was an important development. Although we know very little as to what was attained, with the press releases issued by both sides giving an impression that the parties “agreed on agreeing later”, it could still be assumed the two-day convocation was not futile.

    Of course, meeting for the sake of meeting is not a viable proposition. But it is also true that the absence of face-to-face meetings between Foreign Ministers for a protracted period is not a good sign either. Plus, during the Berlin talks, the infamously egregious Edmun Marukyan, Armenia’s Ambassador-at-Large, a prime ministerial appointee, whom Onnik James Morrison-Krikorian, a British journalist based in Tbilisi, rather aptly described as Spoiler-at-Large, resigned from his position.

    We can only guess whether this development had anything to do with the Berlin talks. Even if the two were linked, the Armenian side would not officially confirm this, and rightly so. However, what is undeniably the case is that Edmon Marukyan’s systematic indiscretions, and comments casting aspersion on Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, with his latest tasteless post on the Khojaly massacre being particularly damaging, have been a bad influence. Armenia’s Foreign Ministry needs deep cleansing. One hopes news on the resignation or removal of other characters of similar ilk will also transpire.

    However, a panel discussion at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, wherein Assistant to Azerbaijani President Hikmet Hajiyev;  Ruben Rubinyan, Armenia’s Special Representative for the Normalisation with Turkiye; his Turkish counterpart Ambassador Serdar Kılıc; and EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia Toivo Klaar were present, revealed some thorny obstacles hindering mutual trust and derailing the peace process on the whole.

    The key issue is the presence of provisions in Armenia’s constitutional legislation and legislative acts amounting to territorial pretensions towards Azerbaijan. Hikmet Hajiyev raised this question, later also adding that Yerevan, between 2020-23, continued to build up the grey zone in Karabakh, in violation of Azerbaijani territorial integrity, and that what can be inferred from some of the arguments presented by Armenia regarding the ongoing case at the International Court of Justice, demonstrates that this country continues to disrespect Baku’s sovereignty over Karabakh.

    Ruben Rubinyan’s reply to Hikmet Hajiyev’s original point was that, since there is already an agreed clause in the draft text of the peace treaty stating that “no party shall refer to its domestic legislation in order to obviate its obligations assumed under the treaty”, there is no need for such a move and Armenia’s constitutional framework is an internal issue for this nation.

    First of all, as Hajiyev stated, when one nation’s constitution entails provisions encroaching on another’s territorial integrity, the issue also becomes of concern for the latter, and it does not amount to interference in Armenia’s internal affairs, when Azerbaijan views the presence of the miatsum provision, that is, the ill-fated idea of the unification of Armenia with Karabakh, as a major obstacle to peace.

    Secondly, the parties should foster mutual trust. Although the process of changing the Constitution or adopting a replacement is a relatively long one, Yerevan, at least, could have annulled some of the legislative acts, such as the 1992 decision of the parliament stating that the Republic of Armenia would never agree to any international or domestic act recognising Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.

    To demonstrate the sincerity of its intentions regarding the peace process, Armenia could have undertaken numerous measures, yet has done very little, if anything. For instance, the latest arrest of an Azerbaijani soldier by the Armenian side, who, as Baku states, inadvertently crossed the conditional border due to inclement weather, is a small litmus test. There is an agreement between the sides that, under appropriate circumstances, enables both sides to release the soldiers unconditionally.

    On the other hand, the latest trip by the EU mission based in Armenia to the metallurgical plant in the Arazdeyen settlement, on the conditional Azerbaijan-Armenia border, together with the area southwest of the Parury Sevak settlement, has raised some anticipated hackles in Baku. Azerbaijan has long expressed its concerns about the plant, voicing its argument that its presence on the border would be in violation of the ESPO Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context, jeopardising the ecology of Azerbaijan and the entire region. Given that previously there was an understanding that this plant would be relocated somewhere else, yet despite this, the EU recently arrived in the territory foisting its flag on the plant, there is a big question as to whether Brussels is sufficiently mindful not to endanger the embryonic mutual trust between Baku and Yerevan.

    On a different note, we quite often hear from Western policy-makers, experts and diplomats, stating that at this juncture, Azerbaijan remains averse to the idea of making life easier for Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan; in other words, Baku constantly demands and is placing Yerevan in a humiliating position.

    First of all, all that has been achieved, to date, in Baku-Yerevan negotiations is that the process is now purely bilateral and the Karabakh issue is no longer an impediment to peace as such. This is attributable to the legitimate and constructive pressure exerted by Baku on Yerevan. In other words, had President Aliyev made life easier for Prime Minister Pashinyan by not exercising this instrument of pressure, we would not be in our current position.  

    Secondly, we quite often hear questions as to why Baku insists that the future Zangazur passage should be controlled by Russia and why Azerbaijan does not help Armenia in eliminating the burden of Article 9 of the 10 November 2020 statement.

    Firstly, in reply, this is what Armenia itself agreed and there is a fixed obligation. Secondly, we should remember President Aliyev’s suggestion from February 2023, proposing reciprocal installation of border checkpoints by the sides both in Lachin and down in the south, with Armenia establishing its own border control at both entrances of the Zangazur Corridor.

    Back then, Yerevan left Baku’s proposal to gather dust on the table, with Azerbaijan eventually assuming full control of its border unilaterally.  Perhaps – and it is mere conjecture - had Armenia cooperated with Azerbaijan back then, Baku’s approach to the control element of the transit traversing southern Armenia would have been somewhat different. Perhaps.

    This discussion boils down to the time-honoured pattern that is undeniably central to Azerbaijani-Armenian negotiations. When Baku offers something and Yerevan refuses to see it in the intended positive light, the next offer from Baku becomes exponentially less generous and more demanding. It is unlikely that this pattern will change any time soon.

    Caliber.Az

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