Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan

The Prague Statement: Implications and Possible Developments

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On October 6, 2022, within the framework of the first meeting of the European Political Community in Prague, Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev held a meeting at the initiative of the president of France and the president of the European Council. After an hours-long discussion, they adopted a joint statement, according to which Armenia and Azerbaijan confirmed their commitment to the UN Charter and the Alma-Ata Declaration of 1991, through which both sides recognized each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. They confirmed that this would serve as the basis for the work of the commissions on delimitation. Armenia agreed to facilitate the European Union (EU) civilian mission along the border with Azerbaijan. The mission will start work in October for a maximum period of two months.

The implications of this statement should be divided into two parts — implications for the Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) Republic and implications for Armenia. The reference to the Alma-Ata declaration of 1991 sent a clear message to all external players involved in South Caucasus geopolitics that the Armenian government recognizes Nagorno Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.

It should be noted that this is not something new for the current government. In his press conference on December 24, 2021, the Armenian prime minister stated that Nagorno Karabakh had no chance to be outside Azerbaijan. The same ideas were circulated during his January 2022 press conference, and his speech in parliament in April 2022, when he spoke about lowering the bar on Karabakh’s status. There was much domestic political infighting, as Pashinyan sought to prove that all previous Armenian leaders recognized Nagorno Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, in this way trying to justify his current position.

The recognition by Armenia of Nagorno Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan provides Baku with opportunities to reject any notion of independent Nagorno Karabakh. When Pashinyan hinted in April 2022 that Armenia was ready to discuss autonomy for Nagorno Karabakh within Azerbaijan, he hoped that President Aliyev would abandon his claim that no Nagorno Karabakh existed after the second Karabakh war. However, Azerbaijan continued in its claims that there was no Nagorno Karabakh, and it was not going to discuss that issue with anyone.

Meanwhile, suppose Armenia and Azerbaijan will sign a peace agreement within the Prague statement’s framework with no mention of Nagorno Karabakh. In that case, it will mean that Armenia accepts Azerbaijan’s position that there is no Nagorno Karabakh as a territorial administrative unit. Recently, the Armenian government has spoken about the necessity of Azerbaijan – Nagorno Karabakh or Baku – Stepanakert talks within some special international mechanisms. However, if the Armenia – Azerbaijan peace treaty does not mention Nagorno Karabakh, it is implausible that Azerbaijan will agree to talk with Nagorno Karabakh as a political entity.

Azerbaijan may talk with Armenians living in Nagorno Karabakh, but only as representatives of ethnic minorities living in Azerbaijan. These so-called talks will probably be conducted by state bodies, which are responsible for domestic political issues, or for dealing with ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan. Neither EU nor the US, France, or any other Western player will force Azerbaijan to start negotiations with Nagorno Karabakh as a de facto independent entity.

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Many in Nagorno Karabakh believe that an Armenia – Azerbaijan peace treaty will have no concrete implications for Nagorno Karabakh. The Nagorno Karabakh Republic authorities will state that regardless of what the Armenian government thinks about the status or existence of Nagorno Karabakh, they will never be a part of Azerbaijan and will never take Azerbaijani passports. According to this narrative, as long as Russian peacekeepers are deployed in Karabakh, Azerbaijan will not have the capacity to invade Karabakh by force or use troops to force Karabakh Armenians to accept Azerbaijani passports or to leave. This logic has some right to exist. However, it might not function by the end of 2025. After a Armenia – Azerbaijan peace treaty with no mention of Nagorno Karabakh, it will be difficult for Russians to justify their presence in Karabakh after November 2025.

Furthermore, without Russian peacekeepers, Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh will face only two options – to accept Azerbaijani passports and live under Azerbaijani jurisdiction as ordinary Azerbaijani citizens or to leave Nagorno Karabakh. However, the problems for Nagorno Karabakh will start immediately after the signature of the Armenia – Azerbaijan peace treaty. Most probably, Azerbaijan will demand that Armenia stop its financial assistance to Nagorno Karabakh. Azerbaijan may establish a special fund for reconstructing the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. It may offer Armenia to transfer money to that fund if Armenia wants to take part in the reconstruction process. Immediately after the signature of the peace treaty, Azerbaijan may also demand a change of modalities in the Lachin corridor. Azerbaijan may claim that Azerbaijani checkpoints should be established in the corridor, which may work in parallel with Russian peacekeepers until November 2025.

The deployment of EU civilian mission in border regions of Armenia will significantly decrease the likelihood of another large-scale attack by Azerbaijan. However, the EU mission will not be able to prevent minor incidents. The EU deployed a civilian monitoring mission in Georgia in October 2008. However, during its 14 years of activities, the mission could not prevent incidents along Georgia – Abkhazia or Georgia – South Ossetia line of control. The mission’s duration is fixed for two months until the end of 2022. Probably, Azerbaijan will use this short timeframe as another tool to press Armenia to sign a peace treaty and agree on principles of border delimitation and demarcation until the end of 2022; otherwise, it will threaten Armenia with a new large-scale attack after the departure of the mission.

Meanwhile, there was absolutely nothing in the statement about restoring communications. During his speeches in parliament on September 14 and during the 2022 UN General Assembly, the Armenian prime minister emphasized the importance of securing the internationally recognized territories of Armenia within its 29,800 square km. He hinted that he was ready to make painful decisions to secure Armenia. Many understood these statements as a willingness to make significant concessions on Nagorno Karabakh to secure Armenia and make Azerbaijan drop its demands for the “Zangezur corridor.”

However, after the Prague summit, Pashinyan stated that Aliyev again rejected his offer to open communications based on the concept of each state’s complete control over routes in its territory. In his turn, Aliyev, after the summit, again accused Armenia of not providing a route to Nakhichevan and for breaching its obligations under the November 10, 2020, trilateral statement. Thus, while Armenia de facto accepted the Azerbaijani demand to recognize Nagorno Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan and may do it again if it signs a peace treaty with Azerbaijan with no mentions of Nagorno Karabakh, Azerbaijan continues to demand the establishment of the “Zangezur corridor.”

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