On October 8, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev paid a working visit to Georgia and met with the Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili. During the meeting various issues relating to the strategic cooperation between the two countries were discussed. Cooperation in the areas of energy, transport, and logistics was among them. Following the one-on-one meeting, the leaders made joint statements for the press. Commenting on the results of President Aliyev’s visit PM Garibashvili noted that Azerbaijan and Georgia are exploring joint opportunities in trade, energy, sustainable and infrastructure development.
One of the important points that the leaders touched on was the normalization between Azerbaijan and Armenia and Georgia’s possible role in the mediation process. “Georgia has always held a neutral, unbiased position in this process and we stand ready to make our humble contribution through mediation or facilitation – establishment of a friendly format in general,” said by the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili adding that “Tbilisi is always ready to take part in this process. Our future should be peaceful, stable and we – all three countries of the South Caucasus – should be able to decide on our own about the regional affairs and our development ahead.”
In response to this issue, President Aliyev stated: “We must work hard on the peace treaty to be signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. If we succeed in that, and I hope we will, then a completely new political situation will emerge in the South Caucasus”. He further claimed that the South Caucasus countries can start cooperating in a trilateral format in many fields – transport, energy security, trade, mutual investment. Ilham Aliyev, in his speech, reminded that several countries and international organizations are in the role of facilitators in the process of normalization. However, according to President Aliyev, Georgia should participate in the normalization of relations between Baku and Yerevan as it holds an unbiased position regarding the territorial integrity of the countries. He also emphasized that if Armenia expresses consent, then bilateral and trilateral meetings will immediately can begin in Georgia.
During the last 30 years, Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict has sadly turned the region into a hostage of the interests of great powers. Now the fact is that the main problem of the South Caucasus has already been resolved. Azerbaijan has managed to completely restore its territorial integrity and sovereign rights over the Karabakh region. Thus, the major element of Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict – “Nagorno-Karabakh” issue which prevented the signing of the peace agreement no longer exists.
It is worth mentioning that until now, the negotiation process has taken place in different places through the mediation of Russia and the West. The later one is called the “Brussels format” and mainly involves meetings mediated by EU Council President Charles Michel. It is true that, at different times, within that format quadrilateral meetings were also held in the United States personally with the mediation of State Secretary Antony Blinken, as well as five-party meetings with the participation of France and Germany. Unfortunately, all these formats have practically failed in achieving a peace deal mainly owing to geopolitical competition among the major mediators that want to dictate their interests in the South Caucasus.
Such platforms, where Russia and the West, which have belligerent relations, are jointly represented, cannot play any role other than the function of geopolitical division. The past proved it. Therefore, it should be noted that due to the France’s destructive position, recently President Aliyev had canceled his visit to Granada, Spain, where a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was to be held with the participation of leaders of the European Union, France, and Germany.
However, Georgia is relatively a small country that does not involve geopolitical ambitions. Both historical-cultural and geographical proximity should be specially evaluated too. Moreover, Tbilisi is no stranger to the negotiation process. Some time ago, the meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, Jeyhun Bayramov and Ararat Mirzoyan took place in Georgia.
In this regard, the continuation of the negotiation process in Georgia and the organization of discussions around the peace agreement will definitely change the landscape in the South Caucasus. Unlike the parties that focus on their foreign policy interests rather than solving the problem, Georgia can host thematic negotiations and substantive discussions more effectively.
Georgian Vice Parliament Speaker Gia Volski also said that Tbilisi could “successfully facilitate” talks for peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia due to its “very high reputation”.
Another point that should be regarded in favor of Georgia as a mediator is the fact that many people of Armenian and Azerbaijani origins live in harmony in Georgia. This is an important factor makes Georgia the best venue for negotiations between the parties.
As well known that Azerbaijanis are the single largest ethnic minority in Georgia and they live compactly in five districts in Georgia. Also, ethnic Georgians living in Azerbaijan preserve their identity like other ethnic groups. This itself plays a big role in successfully establishing bilateral relations. To some extent, this model can be applied between Azerbaijan and Armenia after ethnically cleansed Azerbaijani people’s right to return ensured.
To conclude, the South Caucasus is about to enter a new stage. Now the region has got a chance to start a period of peace and stability. If the parties succeed in this endeavour, it will pave the way for the development prospects of the South Caucasus. And as a result, the entire region will become a different geo-economic space. In this regard, Baku sees the current situation as a real opportunity and a decisive moment not only for Azerbaijan, but also for the whole region to establish a new regional order.
In brief, considering the fact that the physical proximity to the conflict zone is a crucial factor affecting Georgia’s genuine interest in peace and urging it to take on specific responsibilities, its mediation initiative must be supported by the international community. As Azerbaijan has already positively responded to this offer, the ball is now in Armenia’s court.