Armenian, Azerbaijani MFAs agree on prisoner visitations, new initiatives
Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Elmar Mammadyarov held talks in Moscow yesterday, after which a traditional joint statement was issued.
The statement was surprising, given a number of points and items which had not previously featured in post-meeting announcements.
Presumably, the points were discussed by Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev during their meeting on 29 March.
What’s new in the ministers’ joint statement?
The meeting took place per the initiative of the Russian side.
At first, the talks were held in a trilateral format with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey Lavrov. They were then joined by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs from the United States and France, as well as a personal representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office.
A statement published on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry after the talks says:
“The foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia confirmed the intention of the parties to continue their efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict by political and diplomatic means. Interest was noted in further stabilizing the situation in the conflict zone, in particular during agricultural work.
“They also agreed on a reciprocal basis to take measures allowing relatives to visit persons imprisoned on the territory of the parties. The ministers expressed their readiness to start work on establishing contact between people, including reciprocal visits of media representatives.”
The ministers also discussed the situation on the border and the possibility of establishing cooperation in the humanitarian field. Pashinyan and Aliyev also agreed on this earlier during their meeting in Vienna.
Yerevan, NK reactions
After the end of the Moscow meeting, the Armenian media published a statement by David Babayan, the press secretary of the NK president:
“Stepanakert is ready to allow citizens of Azerbaijan to visit their relatives imprisoned on the territory of the Artsakh Republic. The Karabakh side has nothing to hide, since the rights of prisoners are respected here, unlike in Azerbaijan, where they torture the stray citizens of Armenia and NK [ed. who crossed the border of Azerbaijan]. Artsakh has always come up with proposals promoting confidence-building between the parties to the conflict.”
Political commentator Hakob Badalyan says the meeting bewteen Mammadyarov and Mnatsakanyan was a logical continuation of the talks between the heads of state.
Badalyan says there is no other agenda except for the agreements noted in the joint statement in the negotiation process:
“The Armenian side insists that Karabakh should also take part in the negotiation process, citing statements and agreements reached previously, including those within the framework of the CSTO, as arguments. Azerbaijan is against this, and the only agenda now is the situation on the border and humanitarian issues.”
At the same time, Badalyan says the agreements that have been reached are important:
“We should welcome the fact that Baku is changing its military rhetoric to a discourse of peace.”
Badalyan drew attention to the role of the talks by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:
“Russia’s role is special. It is Russia that is directly responsible for regional security. In the April war, we saw the failure of Russia. Moscow tried to ensure its military presence in the region in the form of peacekeeping troops. After the failure, Russia is under great pressure and [bears great] responsibility for peace in the region.”
Mammadyarov said the main achievement of the meeting is that it identified the main ‘stumbling blocks’ that hinder the negotiation process:
“For example, Armenia raises issues related to status and security. We mainly focus on the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories and the return of internally displaced persons to their native lands. Discussions were held around these four issues, and it was decided that negotiations should continue.”
Political analyst Ilgar Velizade believes that the agreements reached are generally the least risky from a political point of view:
“After all, the humanitarian component is not prominently associated with serious political steps, but only creates the background for subsequent discussions on more specific topics. At the same time, the implementation of these agreements can demonstrate to what extent the parties are able to comply with any agreements and fulfill their obligations. The Azerbaijani side has already proposed to ensure the exchange of hostages according to the formula ‘all for all’.
“If Armenia does not fully agree with this, then for starters, you can agree to the visits of the relatives of these hostages. At the same time, not forgetting the relevance of the exchange by the above formula. In summary, I can say that I treat these agreements with cautious optimism. It is with caution, because for more confident optimism, more concrete steps are needed in the political sphere.”
Chairman of the Karabakh Liberation Organization Akif Nagy:
“These agreements are only beneficial to Armenians and correspond to the Armenian scenario. Armenia is interested in our lands remaining under its occupation, and under these conditions, relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan have normalized. As a result, the fact of occupation will recede into the background, and after a certain time be completely forgotten.
“Our interests require that the rapprochement of people begin after the complete withdrawal of Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories. All the roads to peace go through war. The solution to the Karabakh problem is not yet a peaceful scenario.”