Staunton, May 31 – The flurry of statements emanating from Yerevan and Baku in recent days shows that Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders have very different understandings of what is contained in the November and January declarations some have described as peace agreements and that the danger of renewed military conflict has not passed.
Armenian Vice President Mger Grigoryan and acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stressed that there is no agreement for any corridor between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan across Armenian territory. Both said that neither declaration calls for creating any corridors when transportation links are restored (ng.ru/cis/2021-05-31/1_8161_armenia.html).
But Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev spoke about “the inevitability” of such a corridor, the promise of which was and remains a key reason why Baku agreed to a Russian-mediated ceasefire at a time when Azerbaijani forces were on the brink of a complete victory over Armenian ones in Qarabagh.
On the one hand, this difference in opinion is a difference about the meaning of the reopening of the transportation links for the two sides, with Armenia viewing them as limited to transport and guarded by Russian peacekeepers and Azerbaijan as seeing them as a step toward something broader and deeper and under Azerbaijani control.
But on the other hand, it is only one of the ways in which the two sides are still far apart, differences that make further progress problematic on all issues as they are invariably interconnected and the role of outside players including Russia, Iran, France and the United State more fraught with difficulties as well.
That can be seen in discussions following the dispute beginning two weeks ago over whether Azerbaijani forces had crossed into Syunik/Zengezur or not, a conflict that arose because the borders between the two countries have never been delimited and Soviet-era maps are in conflict.
Armenia appealed for Russian help to force the withdrawal of Azerbaijani forces and to get a demarcation process started in that limited portion of the international border between the two countries. And Iran said that any change in the borders that deprived Iran of direct contact with Armenia would be the crossing of “a red line” as far as Tehran was concerned.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called his Azerbaijani counterpart and secured an agreement that this dispute and others would be “resolved exclusively by political and diplomatic methods,” which Moscow later specified to mean the formation of a tripartite commission with Russia as mediator to address the border question in Syunik/Zengezur.
But in the days that followed, Armenia and Azerbaijan traded words about the violation of the border by forces of the other, leading Pashinyan to call for the “synchronous” withdrawal of forces from the borders and the insertion of “international observers from Russia or the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (the US and France).”
The Armenian prime minister subsequently clarified that it would be possible to have both Russian peacekeepers and observers from other countries of the Minsk Group after we begin the process of demarcating and delimiting the border.” But commentators suggested Yerevan only wants Russians there as peacekeepers at least in the immediate future.
Baku in contrast accepts the idea of a tripartite commission on the border, although it has indicated it wants to discuss the entire border rather than just the Syunik/Zengezur portion, a problem for Yerevan given its views on Qarabagh, because it wants to open the transportation corridor to Nakhichevan as quickly as possible.
And the Azerbaijani side continues to talk about this reopening of the transportation links as the opening of “a corridor,” something with much more far-reaching implications and a prospect Moscow, Yerevan, and Tehran oppose. In short, there is every reason to be concerned that there are likely to be more clashes rather than fewer in the coming weeks.