The sixth meeting within the framework of the ongoing peace talks series between Azerbaijan and Armenia was held in Brussels between President of the European Council (EC) Charles Michel, President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Both President Ilham Aliyev and the EC president declared the Brussel process productive. Few days after the meeting Pashinyan said that parties couldn’t agree all issues.
Meeting ended without signing any agreement, but at the same time, the statement made by Michel actually reflected the content of the meeting between the two leaders. From his statement, it was seen that the meeting between the two leaders consisted of seven sub-topics: (1) sovereignty and territorial integrity; (2) border delimitation; (3) connectivity; (4) humanitarian supplies; (5) rights and security; (6) detainees; and (7) Next meeting.
It is important for both states that the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty are in first place in Michel’s statement. This is a red line for Azerbaijan in the peace negotiations. Nikol Pashinyan has several times declared in his statements that he recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, and later, upon the demand of President Ilham Aliyev, he recognized the territorial integrity of 86,600 km2 of Azerbaijan, including Karabakh. These statements of Pashinyan were later confirmed in the fifth and sixth Brussels meetings.
One of the agenda items of the meeting is the opening of regional transportation links. According to Michel’s statement, the parties agreed that transportation and connections should be opened in accordance with the principles of soveregnity, jurisdiction, and reciprocity of the states. This statement shows that, if Armenia renounces its corridor claims regarding the Lachin road, Azerbaijan may also give up its corridor claims against Armenia. However, after the announcement, it turned out that the parties agree on opening the railways forthwith. At this point, it is planned to complete the Azerbaijan part of the Zangezur Corridor by the end of this year. It is necessary to construct a railway within the borders of Armenia to a distance of 44 km.
In the previous meeting held in Brussels on May 14, it was stated that the rules of the International Customs Organization would be valid in this regard, but this was not repeated by Michel on this occasion. However, it was stated that the EU was ready to provide financial support for the construction of the Armenian part of the railway. Considering that the railways in Armenia are under the control of the Russian State Railways, the construction of the Zangezur Corridor with the financial support of the EU is an important development.
One of the most remarkable subtopics was humanitarian supplies. As we know, in the post-war period, the Lachin road between Armenia and the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan remained temporarily open in order to meet humanitarian needs. However, it was revealed that this road, which was under the supervision of Russian peacekeepers according to the November 10 Trilateral Declaration, was used for arms transportation and that foreign citizens were allowed to cross into Azerbaijan illegally. As a result, Azerbaijan established a border post on the Lachin road. Armenia then applied to the International Court of Justice for the removal of this customs point, but this application was rejected. Humanitarian aid was transported from this customs point through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), but after a period of time it was revealed that there were undeclared goods among the cargoes brought from Armenia by the ICRC. In its statement of July 11, the ICRC noted that it does not support the activity of transporting undeclared goods and had terminated employment contracts with the drivers of vehicles carrying such goods, and this is commendable.
In order to prevent the Lachin road from being used for illegal purposes, the Azerbaijani side proposes that the ICRC provide supplies to the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan via Aghdam. For this purpose, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ceyhun Bayramov, met the Head of the ICRC Office in Azerbaijan, Dragana Kojic, and highlighted Azerbaijan’s position. In his statement Michel underlined both the use of the Lachin road and providing humanitarian supplies via Aghdam. This step will lead to more effective results for the integration of Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is also insistent on transporting supplies to the Russian peacekeeping troops in Karabakh via Aghdam.
One of the most important talking points between the parties is the issue of rights and security. Regarding this subtopic, Michel expressed the EU’s encouragement for direct dialogue between Baku and representatives of Armenians living in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. This statement supports direct talks between Baku and Karabakh Armenian representatives without any mediation. This means that those Armenians who want mediation by the Russian peacekeepers have been given a red light by Brussels.
Continuing to explain that this dialogue should provide much-needed confidence for all those involved, Michel also gave a red light to Armenia’s demand for an “international mechanism” for Karabakh Armenians’ security and rights.
According to reports in regional media, the issue of the return to Armenia of Azerbaijanis who were expelled between 1987 and 1990 was also on the agenda between the parties. Before this meeting, this issue was also discussed at the meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Arlington, Virginia, US, on May 1–4. This is one of the issues that Azerbaijan keeps on the agenda, and at the beginning of this year, Azerbaijanis deported from Armenia in 1987 to 1990 created an NGO and applied to international organizations to return to their homeland.
The last two sub-topics are important in terms of normalizing relations between the two countries and ensuring mutual trust. First, According to Michel, the leaders reconfirmed their commitment to the “gentlemen’s understanding” that the release of soldiers who inadvertently crossed to the other side would be facilitated. A few months ago, two Azerbaijani soldiers accidentally crossed into Armenia and were arrested, tortured, and imprisoned. This statement is a reminder that the gentlemen’s agreement should be implemented for the return of these two soldiers. The importance of ensuring increased cooperation in addressing the fate of missing persons and on demining was also discussed. During his statement Michel called on the sides to exchange as much information as possible. Around 4,000 Azerbaijanis disappeared during the First Karabakh War, and Armenia has not yet provided the necessary information to find these missing persons.
In summary, the fact that six meetings have been held in Brussels for the normalization of relations and the signing of a peace agreement shows that the parties attach importance to the Brussels process. However, it cannot be said that all the commitments made in these meetings have been implemented. For example, although Michel’s declared the intention to do so in the May 14 meeting, no steps were taken regarding the Zangezur corridor or the release of the arrested Azerbaijani soldiers. Moreover, it is apparent that there are some issues that were not agreed upon in the last meeting. In particular, illegal Armenian military groups still remain in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and withdrawing these groups was not included in Michel’s statement. Michel has expressed his opinion on some issues and it is unclear whether the parties will abide by the agreements. But at the same time, although it can be said that the two countries differ on fundamental issues, it seems that they are willing to move towards peace, step by step.