Armenian, Azerbaijani Ministers exchange verbal blows after negotiations in Bratislava

Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Elmar Mammadyarov once again presented their countries’ positions on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict.

After a meeting in Bratislava on December 4, the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan exchanged verbal blows.

By and large, these are not new statements from a substantive point of view.

Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Elmar Mammadyarov once again presented their countries’ positions on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict.

First, Mammadyarov voiced the Azerbaijani approach at the OSCE Ministerial Conference.

He spoke about the principle of territorial integrity, the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the return of the Azerbaijani population there, and the ‘observation of necessary security measures.’

After meeting with Mnatsakanyan, Mammadyarov accused the Armenian side of trying to fail the negotiations purposefully and reject the exchange of prisoners proposed by Azerbaijan on the principle of “all for all.”

Mnatsakanyan, who delivered a speech at the OSCE Ministerial Conference the day after his Azerbaijani counterpart and the day after the meeting with Mammadyarov, presented the official position of Armenia.

He stated that the right of the people of Karabakh to self-determination should not be limited by the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, the Karabakh conflict should be resolved “exclusively by peaceful means.”

Speech by Zohrab Mnatsakanyan

The Armenian Foreign Minister began his speech with the fact that the Karabakh conflict should be resolved exclusively by peaceful means and in the already existing format – with the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group.

Mnatsakanyan emphasized that the right of the people of Karabakh to self-determination should not be limited by the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan:

“The inalienable right of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to self-determination is a fundamental principle and basis for a peaceful settlement. The recognition of this principle without restrictions in determining the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh should be clearly and unequivocally accepted. The term “without restrictions” directly refers to the right of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to preserve and determine their status outside the jurisdiction, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan’s constant hostile policies and actions aimed at undermining and threatening the existential physical security of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, including Azerbaijan’s latest attempt at aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh in April 2016, underline the illegitimacy and impossibility of claiming Azerbaijan’s jurisdiction over the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.”

The Armenian minister once again recalled the demand to return the Karabakh side to the negotiating table. This is insisted on by the Prime Minister of Armenia Pashinyan, who came to power after the “velvet” revolution of 2018.

He explains this by the fact that he is not elected by the people of Karabakh, and does not have a mandate to speak on its behalf.

“A peaceful settlement must be comprehensive – by directly involving all parties to the conflict. Therefore, Nagorno-Karabakh, through its elected representatives, should be a direct party to the negotiation process. In this regard, we emphasize the need for full participation of the elected representatives of Artsakh in the peace process, especially on substantive issues of settlement,” said Zohrab Mnatsakanyan.

Mammadyarov’s statement – after negotiations

Already on 6 December, the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister expressed dissatisfaction with the negotiations and the position of the Armenian side. According to Mammadyarov, through the past year, the Armenian leadership has come up with provocative statements aimed at disrupting the negotiation process:

“Unfortunately for the year that has passed since the meeting in Milan, I cannot say anything about progress in the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. On the front line today things are relatively calm, but still there has been no progress in negotiations, despite the fact that the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group declare the unacceptability of the status quo. Armenia even refused to exchange Azerbaijani citizens held in Karabakh on the principle of “all for all.”

Azerbaijan announced its readiness to exchange prisoners on 11 September 2019. Armenia then took time to think, although most experts in both countries were sure that the exchange would not take place.

As a result, Armenia refused to exchange prisoners. The refusal was confirmed at a recent meeting in Bratislava of the foreign ministers of both countries.

This concerns four prisoners: two people on each side. The fact is, Baku and Yerevan have opposite versions of how exactly these people were captured.

In Karabakh, Azerbaijanis Dilgam Askerov and Shahbaz Guliyev were sentenced to life imprisonment and 22 years in prison on charges of murder, espionage and abduction.

In Azerbaijan, they believe that they traveled to the territory controlled by Armenia to visit the graves of their ancestors.

And vice versa – Karen Ghazaryan is considered a saboteur in Azerbaijan, and has been sentenced to 20 years in prison, and in Armenia he has been called a ‘mentally unhealthy person.’

As for the young soldier Araik Ghazaryan, the Azerbaijani side says that he himself escaped from the military unit due to inhumane treatment.

Armenia, however, believes that he got lost.

On 4 December, the fifth meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Elmar Mammadyarov, was held in Bratislava.

It was held as part of the 26th OSCE Ministerial Conference in the presence and with the participation of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, as well as the personal representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office.

As usual, upon the results of negotiations, there was little information about the agreements reached by the parties. But one can assume what exactly was discussed by the ministers and how tense the situation was according to the message from the OSCE Ministerial Conference.

Here, the head of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry presented his country’s position on the resolution of the Karabakh conflict, with which Armenia categorically disagrees and which entails the principle of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the status of Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.

Official wording of the meeting

A spokeswoman for the Armenian minister said:

“During the meeting, armistice strengthening programs and confidence-building measures were discussed. An agreement was also reached to continue joint work at the beginning of next year.”

The official statement also said that the Armenian minister noted a modest result on the path to preparing the nations for peace thanks to the mutual visits of journalists from Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, by which he meant a recent exchange of journalists which was implemented in late November and did not make much impression on journalistic circles in either Armenia or Azerbaijan

What might the ministers have discussed?

In the Armenian media, more attention was drawn to the information on the position of the Azerbaijani side on the Karabakh conflict by Mammadyarov.

The document he submitted, in particular, states that a settlement should be only within the framework of the “territorial integrity” of Azerbaijan. As for the final status of Karabakh, it should be part of Azerbaijan.

“The first step should be the complete and unconditional withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and other occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

“This should be followed by the return of the forcibly displaced Azerbaijani population, subject to all necessary security measures, as well as the opening of communications in the region.

“Azerbaijan sees the next stage in determining the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region within Azerbaijan in accordance with the Azerbaijani Constitution and legislation.

“Such a status should ensure the peaceful coexistence of the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities in the region, and guarantee the full realization of human rights and freedoms on an equal and non-discriminatory basis.”

At the end, it is also said that Azerbaijan does not see a political solution to the conflict outside the framework outlined above.

Reaction to the document in Baku

The official position of Baku caused a stir in Armenia.

One of the first to respond to the content of the document presented in Bratislava was the Prime Minister of Armenia. He tried to calm politicians and political scientists who were indignant at its content:

“The theme of the Karabakh settlement is a question where any proposal claims some sensation. As a rule, there are some statements before or after meetings in this format. One thing I can say clearly – there is no document under discussion on the negotiating table.”

However, even after this statement, the prime minister in the political circles of Armenia received only criticism. In particular, specialist in international law, political scientist Suren Sargsyan wrote on his Facebook page:

“I got acquainted with the position of Azerbaijan. From this moment on, I consider the negotiations on the Karabakh conflict settlement pointless. I urge you to concentrate all forces around the army.”

Expert opinion from Yerevan

Political scientist Hakob Badalyan emphasized the importance of the meeting in Bratislava in the context of those processes that are observed in the domestic politics of Azerbaijan:

“The intensification of the transformation of processes in internal power in Azerbaijan is the main and key news against the backdrop of this meeting.

Mehriban Aliyeva has already received her, let’s say, “baptism” by making her official visit to Moscow. We saw how, after her visit, after meeting with Putin and receiving a medal from him [ed. Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded Mehriban Aliyev with the Order of Friendship] in Azerbaijan they announced the dissolution of the parliament.”

At the same time, Badalyan also touched upon activation in the Armenian-Azerbaijani contacts, that is, mutual visits of journalists of the two countries and Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the trip of the Armenian delegation to Baku to the international conference on the regional transport project of the EU TRACECA.

“The current policy of military blackmail by Azerbaijan is facing many problems. That is, it’s quite obvious, and the April war is proof of this, that Azerbaijan cannot defeat Armenia and Artsakh by military means. A war may begin – large-scale military operations, and nobody needs this at all. There are no other options. From this point of view, Azerbaijan has no choice but to find ways to achieve peace,” the expert said.

Information from Baku

Following the meeting, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry reported that the parties discussed the current situation and ways for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the future. The ministers agreed to continue negotiations and hold another meeting early next year.

Even before the meeting, political analyst Elkhan Shahinoglu was sure that it would be wasted.

He recalled that the four previous meetings between Mammadyarov and Mnatsakanyan did not bring any results.

“On the eve of the meeting, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry presented its position to the OSCE Ministerial Council regarding a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict. This document says that the conflict should be resolved in stages, the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan should be ensured and the occupation put an end to.

“The document also indicates that, according to the constitution and legislation of Azerbaijan, the next stage of the settlement process should be to determine the status of self-government of the Nagorno-Karabakh region within Azerbaijan. A similar statement by Baku made before the meeting in Bratislava means that Azerbaijan will not accept any conditions and wishes of Armenia.

The Armenian government was also preparing in its own way for a meeting in Bratislava. So, for example, the day before the meeting, Nikol Pashinyan, along with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, received at his Yerevan residence the ‘Minister of Foreign Affairs’ of Karabakh, whom he had already met shortly before in Karabakh itself. Thus, Pashinyan shows that there is no conflict and disagreement between him and the Karabakh separatists, and that the separatists reckon with him. In addition, in this way Pashinyan makes it clear to Baku and the international community that a solution to the conflict should be in the interests of the Karabakh separatists.

This in itself indicates that the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Bratislava was unsuccessful even before it began, ”said Elkhan Shahinoglu.

Intensification of bilateral contacts between Azerbaijan and Armenia

In autumn 2019, bilateral Armenian-Azerbaijani contacts at various levels sharply intensified.

On 17-21 November, visits of two journalists from Armenia and one of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan, as well as three Azerbaijani journalists to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, took place.

The last time Armenian journalists arrived in Azerbaijan was back in 2001.

On 4 December, according to the Prime Minister of Armenia, the official delegation of Armenia left for Baku to participate in the 14th TRASECA meeting, as well as the conference dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the structure. Although the official visit of the Armenian delegation has not yet been confirmed by official Baku, it has not been refuted either.

The last time Armenian officials traveled to Baku was in 2017. Then, at that time, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Commission of the Armenian Parliament Armen Ashotyan and deputy Mane Tandilyan visited the conference of the Euronest parliamentary assembly in Baku.

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