Are Armenia & Azerbaijan Edging a Little Closer Towards Conflict Resolution?
A woman grieves at a cemetery during a commemoration for the Azeri service member killed in a conflict over the region of Nagorno-Karabakhon its first anniversary, in Baku, Azerbaijan September 27, 2021. REUTERS/Aziz Karimov
The period following a war is never going to be easy. And the situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan is all the more emotionally charged with decades of occupation preceding the 2020 war that finally reverted the geopolitical situation to, approximately, the UN-approved status quo. In the months since there have been sporadic cross-border shootings, undiplomatic statements and semi-veiled threats but so far the ceasefire has held. This, of course, is not enough. For the benefit of the whole region, the ideal situation would be one in which borders are fully open, trust and trade is rebuilt and communities are given the confidence to live side by side. It’s bound to be a long process but this last week we have seen some promising signals.
Air Space Surprise
From October 6, Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) flights between Baku and Nakhchivan resumed the use of a direct route across Armenia. It’s the first time in eight years that the flag carrier has elected to fly through Armenian airspace, and this is – according to AZAL – a sign demonstrating Azerbaijan’s willingness to open transport communications in a wider sense.
Cynics might point out that there could be other explanations: after all, the route is shorter and thereby more fuel efficient, and it also avoids Iranian air space at a time of heightened tensions between Tehran and Baku. Nonetheless the move appears to be a useful step in the direction of general inter-state normalization and the simple fact that air traffic controllers and pilots will now be communicating across the cultural divide can’t be a bad thing.
Head of State Pronouncements
On October 5, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev tweeted a video in which he insists that his country is keen to look to the future and a full peace agreement with Armenia. This, he said, would include the formal delimitation of borders, recognition of each other’s territorial integrity and lead to the full restoration of transport links and economic relations. Of course, Aliyev’s failure to reference any form of recognition for the Armenian community within Azerbaijan’s borders is likely to leave a question mark over the proposal’s sincerity. Indeed Baku has made any discussion of that issue all the more awkward by its refusal to give a name to the de facto self-governing entity (the remnant rump of former Nagorno Karabakh) that’s under the protection of Russian peacekeepers. However, the basic tone of the statement is positive and, taken at face value very encouraging.
There is political will on the Azerbaijani side. If there is will on the side of Armenia too, I think that the two countries can resolve these issues themselves without any mediators and there can be long-term peace in the region. pic.twitter.com/IeLbXR8CSR— Ilham Aliyev (@presidentaz) October 5, 2021
Meanwhile, speaking about the Second Karabakh War while in Lithuania, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan mused that “frankly speaking we should have returned all 7 districts unconditionally.” Going further he suggested that the idea of one day returning Shusha to Azerbaijan must have always been part of the underlying thinking in Yerevan. If not, why hadn’t Armenians built a single residential building in Shusha for the almost 30 years that the city had been under their control? This viewpoint is controversial in Armenia and Pashinyan has taken flack before for expressing similar views. However, his repetition of the sentiment is a further positive message towards a slow bridging of the enormous gap that remains between Baku and Yerevan on finding a full diplomatic way forward.