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11 October 2023

Azerbaijan Invites Armenia for Talks in Georgia While Yerevan Remains Non-Committal

President Aliyev has invited Armenia for talks involving Georgia, but Armenia's response remains ambiguous. However, Georgia is optimistic about the prospects of a peace agreement in the South Caucasus.

Azerbaijan Invites Armenia for Talks in Georgia While Yerevan Remains Non-Committal

Image: president.az

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev paid an unexpected visit to Tbilisi on Sunday to meet with his counterpart, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili. During their meeting, the two leaders discussed existing cooperation in energy, transport, and logistics, including the construction of a new deep-sea port in Anaklia and regional transportation projects such as the Middle Corridor route connecting China to Europe via Central Asia and the South Caucasus. Georgian Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiashvili also said that Garibashvili would pay a working visit to Azerbaijan.

Speaking at an open-air press conference, the two leaders stressed the importance of regional peace and security, underlining how such projects could build a better and prosperous future for all countries involved. In a surprise invitation, however, Aliyev made specific reference to the one country in the region that remains excluded and in semi-isolation. “If Armenia agrees, the heads of our relevant institutions can immediately come to Georgia for both bilateral and trilateral meetings,” he stated.

The suggestion followed Aliyev cancelling a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, European Council President Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the European Political Community summit in Granada, Spain, on 5 October. The reason given was Macron’s presence amid an ever-continuing war of words between Baku and Paris, as well as Macron and Scholz’s rejection of Turkish President Erdogan’s participation.

“Azerbaijan does not need such a format,” APA reported a ‘special source’ as saying, spelling out that any format involving Paris is unacceptable to Baku. It might also indicate frustration with the Michel-facilitated trilateral Brussels platform, though another meeting will take place at the end of the month. “Baku does not see the need to discuss the problems of the region with countries far from the region. Baku believes that these issues can be discussed and resolved in a regional framework.”

Indeed, though the Azerbaijani president also welcomed the support of any country or international body in the normalization of relations between Yerevan and Baku, he also stressed that it should be unbiased. “However, in my opinion, the most correct choice, taking into account both the historical relations and the geographical factor, could certainly be Georgia,” Aliyev remarked.

Tbilisi’s role in Armenia-Azerbaijan relations is not new. For decades, it has been the main venue for holding many initiatives to bring civil society from both together. However, its political institutions have not been harnessed as much as they could be. Nonetheless, there have been some notable exceptions, including in June 2021 when Garibashvili was involved in mediating the return of 15 Armenian soldiers held by Baku in exchange for landmine maps held by Yerevan.

Additionally, in July 2022, Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers Ararat Mirzoyan and Jeyhun Bayramov also met for bilateral talks in the Georgian capital facilitated by counterpart Darchiashvili. “Very proud to see Tbilisi being a venue for a meeting between Azerbaijan […] and […] Armenia,” the Georgian foreign minister posted on Twitter, now rebranded as X. “Feel confident that our joint efforts to build peace and stability in the region will yield results.”

Despite its efforts, however, there have been few other such meetings, despite some believing that any normalization process between Baku and Yerevan should involve Tbilisi. “Very quickly, we need to move to the regional dimension,” LINKS Europe director Dennis Sammut told the Caspian Post in August. “Regional projects will inevitably be the cement that would consolidate any peace process.”

This is also not the first time that Aliyev has suggested holding a meeting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Georgia. In January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, both Aliyev and Garibashvili were on a joint pane at the event. “Commissioner Hahn hinted to the absence of Armenia here. He said there are two South Caucasian countries, but there are at least three,” Aliyev said in response to a remark from one of the other panellists.

“But why is Armenia not here?” he said. “Because our proposal with Georgia to start a trilateral format of cooperation was rejected by Armenia. Georgia was always historically a place where neighbours met, but Armenia is not ready for that.”

It took two full days before Yerevan responded to Aliyev’s latest invitation. In a televised interview broadcast on Armenian Public TV, Pashinyan was asked about the invitation to hold talks in Georgia. “When Azerbaijan now offers another platform, we must understand that we are not against other dialogues, but we are against the revisionism of principles already adopted at other meetings,” he said in a response that can be considered neither an acceptance nor rejection.

However, when asked about the 3+3 regional format meant to involve Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Türkiye, and Russia, Pashinyan signalled his readiness to continue in a format that has held only one meeting in December 2021. Georgia has already refused to be part of 3+3 because of Russia, while both Pashinyan and Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan will also not travel to Bishkek for the CIS Leaders and Ministerial summits on 12-13 October, raising questions about whether he answered genuinely. 

Prior to the interview, when parts had been shared, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty asked the Armenian Foreign Ministry about the next perpetually announced but never convened 3+3 meeting in Tehran and the offer of hosting talks in Tbilisi. "If there is any arrangement for a meeting in the 3+3 format, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will inform,” they responded, not commenting on Tbilisi at all. 

Nonetheless, Tbilisi remains optimistic. 

“We also noted that we have great hopes that Azerbaijan and Armenia will sign a peace agreement,” said Georgia’s Garibashvili at Sunday’s joint press conference, at least highlighting that Tbilisi will continue to be ready for such engagement. “From this point of view, our views on the peace agenda in the South Caucasus completely coincide. We hope that peace in this region will be sustainable and serve the prosperity of our countries and the people of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia.”