Armenia and Azerbaijan appear to move closer to a peace agreement to resolve their long-standing conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Azerbaijan’s ‘lightning offensive’ in September led to the capture of Nagorno-Karabakh, resulting in the displacement of over 100,000 people. The region, previously under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia, became largely deserted.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan characterized Azerbaijan’s advance as ethnic cleansing, a claim that Azerbaijan denied.
Subsequently, both nations accelerated talks on a peace agreement to stabilize relations and define borders. In a positive development, the two sides exchanged prisoners of war on December 13, followed by a joint statement, marking a rare direct communication not mediated by a third party between both parties.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan held bilateral talks in St Petersburg on December 26, their first meeting since the mass exodus. While details of the meeting remain scarce, the countries have exchanged seven drafts of a potential peace agreement. Azerbaijan is now awaiting Armenia’s response to the latest draft proposals.
The key principles in the draft agreement include mutual respect for territorial integrity, rejection of territorial claims, adherence to the UN Charter, border delimitation, and the opening of communication routes. The unresolved issue of border demarcation may be addressed at a later stage due to its complexity.
The region’s geostrategic importance has complicated peace efforts, with Turkey, Russia, Iran, the U.S., and the EU competing for diplomatic influence. Russia, with a significant military presence in Armenia, adds a layer of complexity to the negotiations.
Azerbaijan emphasizes the need for a dispute mechanism in the agreement and seeks a transportation link between its main part and the enclave of Nakhichevan. Despite a previous agreement, Armenia has not made progress on a land transportation link, prompting Azerbaijan to explore alternative routes through Iran.
While progress is evident, challenges persist, including the potential formation of a government in exile by displaced ethnic Armenian separatists. Azerbaijan insists on recognizing the rights of previously evicted Azerbaijanis. Russia further complicates the situation. The outcome of these complex negotiations will have far-reaching implications for the two nations directly involved in regional stability and the geopolitical landscape.