A New Invitation Offers Another Step Toward a Karabakh Peace?
A triple tweet from Azerbaijan opens up the possibility of a new, higher-level round of talks between Baku and the Karabakh Armenian community. Will it lead anywhere?
Image: Ververidis Vasilis
An intriguing tweet appeared yesterday (Monday, March 13) on the feed of Azerbaijan’s Presidential Office, inviting the representatives of the ethnic Armenian public of Karabakh to “continue contacts on reintegration and discuss the issues related to the implementation of infrastructure projects.” While no date was given, the tweet continued that this “second meeting is proposed to be held in Baku in the coming days.”
Observers see this as a small but constructive step in the delicate process of working towards normalizing the situation in Karabakh, where Azerbaijan is determined to reintegrate its legally recognized territories but where the ethnic Armenian population remains apprehensive, fearing that such integration could see a backlash against their community.
The invitation announcement can be seen as significant for several reasons.
Notably, giving the announcement ahead of time shows that Baku is becoming less shy of being seen to negotiate openly with representatives from Khankendi (called Stepanakert by Armenians). The fact that this time invitation tweets appeared in three different languages – Azerbaijani, Russian and English, though curiously not Armenian – suggests that the announcement aims to ensure a wide level of publicity across a spectrum of media. Most previous meetings have been held entirely without fanfare. Even the last encounter, on March 1, hosted at the Russian peacekeeping contingent HQ and the first to be officially photographed, was only advertised after the event.
For Baku, framing discussions with the Karabakh Armenians has previously been made slightly awkward since, officially, Azerbaijan doesn’t recognize or even name any specific entity for which they could be considered representatives. Holding discussions with “community representatives” provides a form of words that sidestep that issue. Anyway, Baku’s recent priority has been to disconnect into two entirely different strands the reincorporation of Karabakh and negotiations with Yerevan over a peace deal with Armenia.
Azerbaijan’s presidential spokesperson Hikmet Hajiyev spelled this out yesterday, insisting that “negotiations on a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan and contacts with Armenian citizens living in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan are two completely separate issues.” He added that the Karabakh Armenians had, in fact, “been held hostage by Armenia … for the past 30 years,” regretting the March 5 shootout that he considered to be a “provocation committed by Armenia” aimed at derailing peace efforts.
Armenian media seem to have largely ignored the invitations, concentrating instead on criticisms of the EU Special Representative Toivo Klaar for his neutrality which Armenians perceive as a pro-Baku bias.
Until the proposed meeting actually takes place, it is a little early to assess its importance, but every step towards a genuinely fair, negotiated settlement should be welcomed.
 Many Armenian sources see the shootout as an ambush instigated by the Azerbaijanis, perhaps considering it as a bullying technique to encourage a faster pace of negotiations.