Caspian Region

Rare Photo-Op Suggests Movement in Azerbaijan-Armenia Peace Process

Onnik James Krikorian
Azerbaijani MP Ramin Mammadov, with Major General Andrey Volkov facilitating, meets with Karabakh Armenians at a Russian military base in Khojaly. March 1, 2023. Image: Government Handout

Events in Karabakh took a hopeful turn on March 1. In what many saw as an unprecedented event, representatives of the de facto authorities of the Armenians of rump-Nagorno-Karabakh met with officials from Azerbaijan proper. Such meetings have occurred before, but this one was notable as – for the first time - a photograph of the delegations was released and published by the Azerbaijani media. It is an encouraging sign given that Azerbaijan doesn’t officially accept that there is any such entity as Nagorno-Karabakh, so allowing a photograph to show such a meeting with the representatives of the Karabakh Armenians could be construed as a sign of flexibility from Baku.


The meeting was held at the headquarters of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in the Karabakh town of Khojaly, facilitated by Russian Major General Andrey Volkov. A similar meeting had already taken place here on February 27, and there had been other exchanges in 2022 but none with photographs.



Another first for the March 1 meeting was the participation of Azerbaijani MP Ramin Mammadov, now identified as Baku’s representative, to engage in discussions with the Karabakh Armenians. Himself born in Karabakh in 1979, Mammadov reported that the discussion was mainly related to “humanitarian issues,” clearly alluding to the current standoff in Lachin.


Also present was Masim Mammadov, head of the monitoring group responsible for investigating what Baku considers to be illegal exploitation of natural resources. The Lachin crisis originally evolved after this body had been prevented from inspecting the Gizilbulag and Demirli mines. The body comprises specialists from Azerbaijan’s ministries of ecology and economy[1] and representatives of the state-owned mining company, AzerGold[2].

The Karabakh Armenian delegation comprised Samuel Shamranyan from the community’s security council, a position he took up in January, replacing Vitali Balasanyan, who had previously been seen as the most senior representative for discussions with Azerbaijani officials, and Sergey Martirosyan, director of the Centre for Ensuring Cooperation with the Russian Peacekeeping Troops, according to Armenian media. 


The Vardanyan Factor

The timing of meetings on February 27 and March 1 is significant coming as they did so soon after the dismissal of pro-Russian billionaire Ruben Vardanyan, who had been a controversial figure as de facto Karabakh State Minister.


Vardanyan’s sudden appearance in Khankendi/Stepanakert, along with his very rapid promotion, was widely seen by Azerbaijanis as an attempt by Moscow to derail progress towards lasting peace in Karabakh. At the Munich Security Conference on February 18, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said that Baku was ready to discuss the rights of the Armenian minority in Karabakh but only with “representatives of the Armenian community who were born in Karabakh and have lived there all their lives [and not with someone] who was exported from Russia to take a leadership position in Karabakh.” This was a clear reference to Vardanyan, whose expulsion from Karabakh Aliyev considered a pre-condition to resuming talks. Within a week of this speech, Vardanyan was removed from office.


A Return to Talks

The possibility of a ‘discussion mechanism’ between Baku and the Karabakh Armenians is not new. Leaked memos suggest that such ideas were discussed on September 27, 2022, at a Washington DC meeting between Armenian Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan and Azerbaijani Presidential Advisor Hikmet Hajiyev. An official communiqué following the October 2 meeting of the countries’ foreign ministers in Geneva confirmed the direction.


In Munich, on February 18, 2023, Aliyev mentioned how the task of negotiating an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace had now started to diverge into two separate tracks, Azerbaijan-Armenia first and “Azerbaijans communications with the Armenian population in Karabakh” second.


Armenian National Security Council Secretary Grigoryan commented last month that for “the Armenian side, it is more important to create an internationally visible mechanism.”


Armenian Reaction

The March 1 meeting has not been well-received by some Armenian political analysts who claim that the much-discussed photograph was released specifically to create that kind of visibility. Such observers continue to push for an internationally mediated mechanism – something Baku has already refused to accept.


It is perhaps for this reason that many Armenian media outlets did not publish the photograph from the March 1 meeting, instead using an image of the standoff on the Lachin Road.


So Is There Good News Ahead?

Few specifics of the March 1 meeting are known beyond the photo. Azerbaijani media claim that the issue of the re-integration of the ethnic Armenian community in Karabakh was discussed, but Armenian media have carried a clear rebuttal from the de facto authorities.


Nonetheless, even if the main topics of conversation were limited to the checking of mining monitoring and cargo procedures on the Lachin Road, at least some kind of process appears to have visibly started.

“It is too early to make far-reaching predictions,” said one Azerbaijani political commentator, “but the beginning of the process is encouraging.”

“Encouraging” was also the term used by Toivo Klaar, the EU’s Special Representative for the South Caucasus, who tweeted his approval that “discussions appear to have focused on immediate concerns and broader issues.”



[1] More precisely the State Service on Property Issues under the Ministry of Economy

[2] AzerGold Closed Joint-Stock Company