After meeting between Aliyev and Pashinyan in Vienna: Peace or war?

Azerbaijan and Armenia try to settle their ongoing conflict.

SERVICEMEN OF the army of Nagorno-Karabakh rest at their positions near the village of Mataghis, yesterday. (photo credit: REUTERS)
SERVICEMEN OF the army of Nagorno-Karabakh rest at their positions near the village of Mataghis, yesterday.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan met on Friday, March 29, in Vienna with the mediation of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. A one-on-one meeting took place between Aliyev and Pashinyan, which lasted more than two hours. Then negotiations continued in the presence of the foreign ministers of the two countries and the co-chairs. In general, negotiations lasted more than three hours. This was the first official meeting of Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan. Previously, they met on the margins of the CIS summits in Dushanbe and St. Petersburg in 2018, as well as in Davos at the World Economic Forum site in 2019. Let’s try to draw conclusions from the last meeting of the leaders and answer the following questions: How was the meeting? Why was this meeting so important? How will events develop around the situation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the future?
One of the key issues discussed at the meeting of the two leaders was the issue of changing the format of negotiations on the Karabakh settlement initiated by the Armenian side. The fact is that lately in Armenia more and more voices have been heard in favor of changing the format of negotiations. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his team initiated the issue of bringing Karabakh separatists to the negotiations and insisted on this. But their attempts failed because, after the meeting, Aliyev said that the format of the talks remained unchanged.
In Vienna, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group reminded the Armenian prime minister once again that the negotiation format could only be changed with the consent of the two parties (they reminded him about this for the first time in their March 9 statement). Azerbaijan did not give its consent, because, firstly, the Azerbaijani territories were occupied not by the separatist regime of Nagorno-Karabakh, but by the Republic of Armenia. And, secondly, for many years negotiations have been conducted exclusively between the two sides – Azerbaijan and Armenia, without the participation of the Karabakh separatists. Therefore, the format of the negotiations remained unchanged and the Armenian side agreed to continue the negotiations in the same format.
The second important issue that was discussed at the meeting in Vienna is the need to take further concrete and tangible steps in the negotiation process. Aliyev expressed the need to continue the negotiation process, which should be result-oriented. In the first place for Azerbaijan is the question of the de-occupation of the internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan within the framework of international law, the Helsinki Final Act and four resolutions of the UN Security Council. However, due to the destructive position of the Armenian side, the peace negotiations have not yielded any results for more than 25 years. But despite this, Azerbaijan pursues a peace-loving policy and continues to do so for the sake of peace and stability in the region.
The third important issue is humanitarian action. Both leaders agreed to develop a series of measures in the humanitarian sphere.
“We discussed issues related to the strengthening of confidence-building measures, perhaps in the framework of contacts between people,” Aliyev said. “Previously, there were contacts between members of the public. That is, it is too early to talk about it, but as far as humanitarian issues are concerned, this is meant. Because the negotiation process should also be supported, of course, by humanitarian actions.”
AS FOR humanitarian actions, in 2018, Azerbaijan offered Armenia to exchange prisoners and detainees on the principle of “all for all.” But then official Yerevan ignored the proposal of Baku. After the Vienna meeting, the Armenian side should seriously think about the proposal of Azerbaijan and implement it, since the initiative of official Baku meets the interests of both parties. Moreover, the conflicting parties have the experience of exchanging prisoners on the principle of “all for all.” Let me remind you that back in 1996, Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev released a number of Armenian citizens who committed crimes against Azerbaijan. They were exchanged for the citizens of Azerbaijan who were taken hostage and captured by the Armenian side.
Moreover, the Azerbaijani side is ready to create conditions for the relatives of the captured Armenian saboteurs to visit them in Baku. But the Armenian side politicizes humanitarian issues. The last official meeting of the representatives of the working group of the State Commission for Prisoners of War, Hostages and Missing Citizens of Azerbaijan with their colleagues from Armenia was held in 2005 in Tbilisi.
The reason that meetings are not held for a long period is the non-fulfillment by the Armenian side of the agreements reached at these meetings. I believe that in the near future we will see progress in the humanitarian sphere. Because after meeting with Aliyev, Pashinyan noted during the meeting with representatives of the Armenian community of Austria that “relatives of convicts, regardless of whether they are fair or not, should be able to visit their loved ones.”
SUMMING UP the above, I want to note that after the meeting between Aliyev and Pashinyan, the negotiation process will continue in the near future at the level of the foreign ministers of both countries. But I have doubts that after the Vienna meeting the new authorities of Armenia will go to change the status quo around Nagorno-Karabakh and to substantive negotiations. Why? Because several hours after the end of the meeting between Aliyev and Pashinyan in Vienna, Armenian Defense Minister David Tonoyan threatened Azerbaijan with war and paraphrased the principle of “territories in exchange for peace” to the following principle: “new war – new territories.” The decisive position of the Azerbaijani side lies in the fact that the status quo should be changed soon. As a result of negotiations to resolve the conflict, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan within the framework of internationally recognized borders should be restored.
But despite the belligerent statement of the military leadership of Armenia, the Azerbaijani side will continue its peace-loving policy and continue to ensure a lull on the Karabakh front. After all, it is not by chance that lately on the line of contact of troops and along the state border it is relatively calm. This lull will continue, but in no way should this mean freezing the conflict or maintaining an unacceptable status quo. But if the negotiations do not give the desired effect, Azerbaijan can and is ready to liberate its territories from the Armenian occupation by any other means, guided by the relevant norms and principles of international law, as well as the UN charter.
The writer is the director of the international expert club EurAsiaAz and editor-in-chief of the Azerbaijani news agency