Author: Natig NAZIMOGLU
President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev held an informal meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in Davos, Switzerland during the World Economic Forum (WEF). Some evidence suggest that the event can be a reasonable platform leading to a possible breakthrough in the Karabakh settlement.
Signs from Paris and Davos
Judging from the mood of talks between Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinian, it is likely that both leaders have established a certain degree of credibility, originating since they reached an agreement at the CIS Summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
A week before the Davos meeting, foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia held another round of talks in Paris, thanks to the mediation efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group. The results of this event are quite optimistic in terms of the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Following the four-hour dialogue between Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and his Armenian counterpart Zohrab Mnatsakanian, it was reported that the parties discussed a wide range of issues, including the efforts to prepare both nations for peace, stable development and security in the region. Later, when the parties have confirmed their intention to achieve concrete results, it became clear that both Azerbaijan and Armenia have started a dialogue on principal issues of the settlement. In fact, Baku has always advocated this approach, insisting on holding substantive negotiations between the both countries.
Yet another sign, showing that the settlement process is not at a standstill anymore, is the reaction of interested external powers. United Nations, European Union, and the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (Russia, USA, France) have generally welcomed the agreement of Azerbaijan and Armenia to prepare their peoples for peace. International community strongly believes that the resolution of the Karabakh conflict will contribute to strengthening the economic potential of the South Caucasus. In particular, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group Igor Popov (Russia), Stéphane Visconti (France) and Andrew Schofer (USA) have released a joint statement stressing "the importance of possible mutually beneficial initiatives designed to fulfil the economic potential of the region".
In other words, peaceful solution to the conflict is related to the perspective of expanding regional economic integration. One possible conclusion is that the parties are considering the potential of establishing economic cooperation between Baku and Yerevan, if the Armenian side de-occupies Azerbaijani territories.
True, the economic aspect is extremely important particularly for Armenia, which is suffering from systemic crisis and has no prospects for development and inclusion without cooperation with Azerbaijan. However, Armenia should abandon its policy of occupation of Azerbaijani territories in order to join large-scale regional projects. Ilham Aliyev made this clear at the meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers of Azerbaijan in early January: "As I have always said, Armenia has the only way out of this difficult crisis – to normalise its relations with Azerbaijan. We are ready for this. But there is one condition: Armenian troops must be withdrawn from occupied territories."
Meetings in Paris and Davos confirm that, in principle, Baku agrees to unblocking Armenia following the withdrawal of Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent Azerbaijani territories. Yerevan received a clear message at the annual WEF meeting in Davos, during the meeting of the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia. In his interview to Chinese Global Television Network (CGTN), President Aliyev called on Armenians to understand that Yerevan has not been involved in regional projects because of the occupation of Azerbaijani lands and only the renunciation of this policy would promote wider international cooperation beneficial to Armenia as well.
End of conflict is inevitable
It is noteworthy that due to the clearly visible intensification of the negotiation process, a number of popular experts are quite optimistic about the liberation of the occupied Azerbaijani lands in the near future. According to the member of the Azerbaijani parliament (Milli Majlis), political analyst Rasim Musabayov, the occupied territories of Azerbaijan will be free already in 2019. "I hope that the occupied territories are free as a result of peaceful negotiations. Otherwise, Azerbaijani troops will liberate them not later than this spring or summer," Musabayov said.
British political analyst Thomas de Waal has shared a quite remarkable opinion on the peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict. He has noted that the change of power in Armenia, as well as the unprecedented decline in the number of casualties on the line of contact between Azerbaijan and Armenia favour the emergence of new conditions for the continuation of the peace process. "The OSCE Minsk Group’s call for the parties to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict to prepare the population of their countries for peace, as well as the meeting of the Azerbaijani President and Armenian Prime Minister in Davos, is the first good news in the Karabakh events in recent years," de Waal said.
Russian expert on international issues Yevgeny Mikhailov also believes that the meeting between Aliyev and Pashinian in Davos was "the beginning of a real settlement of the Karabakh conflict". According to Mikhailov, this meeting also showed that "currently, Armenian government does not have a clear political vision on the negotiation process. Obviously, President Aliyev looked more confident and proposed a more comprehensive settlement plan than Nikol Pashinian. This indicates that Pashinian is limited to a few options, especially after the recent comments of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs calling for urgent measures to prepare the population of the conflicting parties for peace."
Pro-Armenian Russian political analyst Stanislav Tarasov, notoriously famous for his biased view on regional problems, is also one of the experts who believe that the current intensification of the Karabakh settlement will inevitably lead to the de-occupation of several Azerbaijani regions. "Despite the rhetoric on the absence of detailed discussions between the parties, we do understand that any discussion void of specific subject is pointless. What we see in recent months are meetings that last for hours. They clearly show that the parties are holding serious discussions. In fact, they are bargaining over a specific project," Tarasov said. Summing up the likely outcome of the Davos meeting between Aliyev and Pashinian, Tarasov said: "It looked like Aliyev was very happy. Pashinian looked depressed, because Aliyev won the game. They are discussing the mechanisms of mutual trust. In June, Pashinian and Aliyev will sign an agreement on Karabakh, which will force Armenians to leave several regions through indirect compromises."
Meanwhile, there is already a group of staunch opponents of reconciliation within the Armenian political elite, criticising Pashinian’s stance on the peaceful settlement of the conflict. They have demonstrated an extremely irritable response to Prime Minister Pashinian’s "non-transparent" policy on the Karabakh issue, as well as to the remarkable statement of the Armenian Foreign Minister Mnatsakanian, which can be summarised as follows: our goal is to ensure the security of Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, while the status of the region is only a means to achieve this goal. Hawks from Yerevan have likely sensed a "dangerous tone" of the statement, as it implies the possibility of achieving the goal by means other than those leading to the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. Representatives of the separatist regime of the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic close to the former Armenian authorities believe that there can be no compromise with Azerbaijan and frighten the Armenian people with the loss of statehood should the territories are surrendered.
It is obvious that the intention is to preserve the existing status quo in the Karabakh conflict, achieved because of the military aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan. In the same vein are the regular statements from Yerevan about the involvement of Nagorno-Karabakh in the negotiation process – a call based on the aftermath of ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Azerbaijani population of Karabakh, hence excluding their rights and expression of the will. It is not surprising that Armenian circles attacked the last statement of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, which did not contain "a single word about the right to self-determination." For the last twenty-five years, Armenian aggressors have been trying to camouflage the occupation of Azerbaijani lands by the right to self-determination. Remarkably, however, they forget to apply the same right to self-determination of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to the Azerbaijani community of the region.
Such groundless criticism of the ongoing process of the Karabakh settlement by the hard-line Armenian elements indeed confirms the substantive nature of negotiations. However, it is impossible to ensure an effective breakthrough in the peace process merely by holding talks. Preparing both nations for peace requires therefore that the new Armenian leadership demonstrate a strong political will. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made clear that "the statements about willingness to search for solutions, including from Baku, deserve to be thoroughly supported. We hope that our Armenian friends will reciprocate."
Obviously, if Nikol Pashinian really wants to ensure peace and prosperity for his people and is ready to hold productive talks with Azerbaijan, he will have to put considerable effort to subdue the irreconcilable circles in Armenia. It is impossible to achieve peace through the continuing occupation of Azerbaijani lands. Persisting occupation is not in the best interests of Armenia either, given the unbearable economic situation in the country. Is the current leadership of Armenia fully conscious of this fact? We will know this when it is more or less possible to discuss the prospects of revitalisation of the peace process.