Efforts to solve the Armenia and Azerbaijan issue are moving from one capital to another in rapid succession, causing a whirlwind effect for the players and observers.

On October 6, Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders met in Prague to discuss the peace treaty between the two countries. On October 14, they met in Astana, Kazakhstan, within the forum of the Heads of States of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose federation of former Soviet republics.

In each case, not only is the locale different, but so are the participants, with diverse political perspectives and agendas, all competing for spoils from the situation.

The October 6 meeting in Prague took place within the platform of the European Political Community, where the major actor was France, and its president the most vocal figure.

Europe and the West, in general, are focused on the war in Ukraine and they will use any opportunity to put Russia on the defensive and try to undermine its position in the Caucasus. By contrast, in Astana, on October 14, Russia and its president were the major players and their aim was to keep the former Soviet republics in line with that nation’s imperial ambitions.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are only pawns on the chessboard to be utilized by the major powers. That is the nature of politics. As minor actors, they will try to find loopholes in the main political scenes to intersect their interests with the movers and shakers and extract the maximum benefits.

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During the 44-Day War, in 2020, the world community was almost entirely silent, allowing Turkey and Azerbaijan to defeat Armenia, with the collusion of Russia. This time around, something seems to have shifted and Armenia has found some supporters on the world scene, even though it is through soft power only at the moment.

When the speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited Armenia, her main challenge and message were directed towards Russia and Iran, rendering the Yerevan visit into a sideshow. Nonetheless, it had a powerful impact on Armenian-Azerbaijani relations by averting further immediate aggression from Baku, which has become increasingly bolder.

This time around, France has been taking aim at Moscow, highlighting Armenia’s case as the underdog in the war.

The Prague meeting moved the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict forward with the decision to dispatch 40 European civilian observers to the borders of the two countries. Although Azerbaijan refused to host the monitors on its territory, their presence will certainly play a restraining role to curb Ilham Aliyev’s belligerence for at least two months, when their mandate expires. Those monitors are already in place now, engaged in their own duties.

The Astana meeting ended up being much more fiery than usual. The first confrontation occurred in Astana between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Russia, Ararat Mirzoyan and Sergey Lavrov, respectively, when the latter sarcastically asked what business Armenian leaders had in Europe when the key to solving the conflict lay in Russia’s hand through the November 9 declaration it had overseen. For the first time, Armenia’s representative dared to ask Moscow what its true position was and criticized the Russian-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), for its inaction. That touched a raw nerve with Mr. Lavrov, who made a mockery of the CSTO by stating that the latter could have sent observers to the border for a report if and when Armenia, which is rotationally presiding over the organization’s current session, goes through the appropriate channels – never mind that such red tape was not needed when Moscow requested troops from Armenia after trouble erupted in Kazakhstan.

But the main altercation occurred later between Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Ilham Aliyev in the presence of the representatives of the CIS, who are supposed to be Armenia’s allies but are supporting Azerbaijan. This confrontation took place in the shadow of President Emmanuel Macron’s scathing remarks against Azerbaijan and Russia.

In an interview on France 2 channel on TV, President Macron squarely blamed Azerbaijan as the aggressor who had occupied the sovereign territory of Armenia and he continued, “What’s happening on the border the last two years … 5,000 Russian soldiers are allegedly there to guarantee the border [but] the Russians have used this conflict, which dated back several centuries, and played Azerbaijan’s game with Turkish complicity and came back to weaken Armenia, which was once a country it was close to.”

But most importantly, referring to Armenia, Mr. Macron stated, “France will not leave Armenia alone. Our values and principles cannot be bought neither with gas nor with oil. France has special ties with Armenia because Armenia has always fought for tolerance and peace in the region.”

France is a country with historic memory. French leaders still remember that in 1921, they abandoned Armenians in Cilicia to face the marauding hordes of Ataturk’s forces. That will haunt their political conscience forever and perhaps, now they can try to make up for that dreadful act.

This statement, in the first place, was 180 degrees away from the statement of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who had rushed to visit Baku last month, to assure the dictator Aliyev that he was becoming a “reliable ally.” But it went beyond that to ruffle some feathers in Moscow.

In Astana, Pashinyan also was able to make his points cohesively. In a long speech, Pashinyan presented the entire narrative on the war, the atrocities, the state of the Armenian POWs still in Azerbaijani captivity and he made a strong case against Aliyev’s demand for the “Zangezur Corridor.”

Armenia has been offering three checkpoints for Azerbaijan to have access to the Autonomous Republic of Nakhichevan but Azerbaijan rejects that offer, only agreeing to settle for a swathe of land through Armenia. Thus, he concluded, what Azerbaijan sought was not a way to increase trade, but a method to carve up Armenia.

Pashinyan also accused the CSTO of inaction in response to Armenia’s appeal after the Azerbaijan aggression on its land.

Interestingly, both the Azerbaijani and Russian leaders directed their ire toward Macron, rather than Pashinyan, fearing that his remarks and policies intend to push Russia out of the region.

The main response to Pashinyan came from Ankara, where Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu continued harping on the issue of the “corridor,” which in his estimation, will make or break a peace treaty with Azerbaijan. And normalization of relations with Turkey, he remarked, is conditioned on signing a peace treaty with Azerbaijan. If the treaty is not signed, he stated ominously, “troubles will continue” for Armenia.

Mr. Putin blamed President Macron for failing “to understand the Karabakh issue.” Reaction from the Russian Foreign Ministry was even harsher, when Spokesperson Maria Zakharova blamed the Western actors for muddying up the politics of the Caucasus.

To divert attention from the Western players, Mr. Putin invited Pashinyan and Aliyev to Moscow to negotiate a peace treaty. He was not in the mood to alienate Turkey and Azerbaijan, since in the Astana meeting he had offered President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to make Turkey a hub for the distribution of Russian gas, even letting it decide the price jointly. And this before a nuclear deal is signed between Iran and the US, flooding the Western markets with Iranian gas.

While the Astana summit was taking place, Iran organized its third war games on the border with Nakhichevan, alarmed by the plot being hatched by Israel, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia whose defense ministers had met the week before in Baku.

Thus far, Iran has observed strict neutrality between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This time around, the commander of the war games Brigadier-General Mohammad Pakpour delivered a speech reiterating warnings by the spiritual leader of the country, Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, that Iran would consider border changes a red line. Pakpour went one step further by announcing, “Iran will not remain neutral,” should any border changes take place.

Iran is already further exposed to Azerbaijan and Israeli spying by the expansion of Azerbaijan’s border with Iran after the 44-Day War.

As we can see, independent of Armenia’s wish and plans, policies are developing in the region favoring its case. Europe, and in particular France, have grand designs in the region and they consider Armenia as one of the building blocks of those designs. Iran, for the first time, has tilted from its neutral position towards Armenia. Each side is motivated by its own political interests but those intersect in Armenia. There is no coherence or coordination between the interest of the West and Iran. Therefore, the challenge is on Armenia’s foreign policy establishment to shape international politics on its own and take advantage of the positive developments evolving independently from each other.



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