A crucial meeting between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev together with top EU officials in Granada planned for October 5 has been cancelled by Azerbaijan at the last minute.
The meeting was going to take place on the sidelines of the European Political Community (EPC) summit, moderated by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President of the European Council Charles Michael, who were seeking to make a peace deal between the two countries following Azerbaijan’s recent military takeover of Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenia enclave inside Azerbaijan.
Pashinyan affirmed his intention to attend the discussions, even after Aliyev pulled out at the last minute. Observers speculate that Aliyev decided not to attend after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a close Azeri ally, decided not to participate.
Tensions are high following Azerbaijan’s so-called anti-terrorist operation in the enclave on September 19 that has seen almost all the ethnic Armenians flee their ancestral home in fear of Azerbaijan violence in what Armenia has called an “ethnic cleansing” operation. Subsequently, the de facto authorities of the breakaway region agreed to dissolve their government by the end of this year.
Moreover, there are fears that Azerbaijan is preparing fresh attacks to take back the Zangezur corridor, a land corridor in southern Armenia that would form a link to Azerbaijani exclave Nakhchivan and Turkey.
Erdogan attempted to moderate tensions in the last days of September, easing up on his earlier demands that the Zangezur corridor come under Azeri control and suggesting a land corridor via Iran instead. But analysts think it might only be a temporary tactical retreat.
Pashinyan, speaking on October 4, stated that Armenia has a strong commitment to reaching a peace deal with Azerbaijan, describing their approach to the cancelled meeting as "constructive and optimistic".
"We believed there was a significant opportunity to finalise a historical document, and up until this morning", Pashinyan stated.
The meeting with Michel, Scholz and Macron notably doesn’t include Russia, which is supposed to be the security guarantor in the Caucasus. The fact that Pashinyan has turned to Europe, not Russia, to broker a peace, is yet another move by the Armenian leader highlighting his rapidly deteriorating relations with Moscow.
Russia’s presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed on October 4 that before the September 19 attack, Moscow had contacts with Washington and Brussels and suggested that Moscow had been tasked with providing security to Nagorno-Karabakh. Russian peacekeepers, however, stood aside and permitted the Azerbaijan attack.
Aliyev's refusal to go to Granada is in Russia's interests. Moscow is extremely anxious to avoid Armenia and Azerbaijan signing an agreement in Western formats, which would mean that Russia is pushed out of the process and loses influence in its traditional stamping ground. In particular, an agreement signed on November 9, 2020 gives Russia the right to maintain peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, a right it doesn’t want to lose.
“Russia and Azerbaijan have serious reasons to maintain the status quo established by the statement of November 9, 2020. It also excludes the West and keeps Turkey in the game. The need for the participation of its president in the Granada meeting was insisted by Aliyev,” Robert Ananyan, a Yerevan-based journalist and observer of the region, said in a tweet.
Macron’s participation in the meeting is reportedly one of the reasons for Baku’s change of mind on attending the meeting. Baku was pushing for Erdogan’s participation, which was reportedly rejected by Germany and France.
Michel has also stated that he was "extremely disappointed" by Azerbaijan's decision to carry out a military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
"Now Azerbaijan must show goodwill and, respecting international law, ensure the rights and safety of the entire population of Azerbaijan, including Armenians. Yes, Azerbaijan is a partner today. That doesn't mean our relationship is easy. No, they aren't easy. There are real difficulties, and that should be understood" he said on October 4.
Azerbaijani official sources told APA that, "after the statements of French officials and the President of the European Council, Baku demanded to include Turkey in the meeting to be held in Granada, but Berlin and Paris opposed it".
Aliyev cancelled another meeting with Macron in November 2022, citing France’s support for Armenia.
France has been a long-time ally of Yerevan. Baku’s recent decision comes amid an emerging French-Armenian deal on arms supplies, with Paris agreeing to sign a contract on military cooperation with Armenia. A few days ago, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna announced in Yerevan that Paris is willing to sign an agreement with Yerevan on the provision of military equipment. France is home to a large Armenian diaspora. India has also emerged as a source of arms for Armenia.
Europe has condemned the military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, but has taken little action and ignored calls to sanction Baku for creating a humanitarian crisis accompanied by unverified reports of atrocities committed by Azeri forces in the enclave. At the same time Europe has entered into a gas supply deal with Baku that bne IntelliNews columnist Maximillian Hess argued in a recent opinion piece highlights the transactional relationship Brussels has with Baku. Following the military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh the EU has put its gas deal on hold.
The blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan’s attack have slowed down the pace of the talks between the countries, which have beencoordinated by Moscow and Brussels independently from each other.
The United States, another major force involved in the talks, acts in line with the European Union, aiming at achieving a peace deal between the countries.
The talks were about the protection of rights and security of Karabakh Armenians, the state border demarcation and delimitation, and the opening of transport links in the region. The latter includes Azerbaijan’s demand for the Zangezur corridor, which Armenia firmly opposes. The three major issues are still not agreed upon by the parties, with Azerbaijan’s recent operation changing the talking points over the future of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The United States and a number of EU member states, including Germany, have voiced support for an international observer mission in Nagorno-Karabakh, which will ensure the safety of Armenians and be a reason for the repatriation of the refugees. Azerbaijan had reportedly agreed on the mission, while officially Yerevan is still silent on the matter.
A small UN mission was sent to the enclave over the weekend and reported it saw no signs of death and destruction, but its itinerary was tightly controlled by Azeri minders that were sent with the delegation.
Speaking at the Armenian parliament on October 4, Pashinyan stated that the peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan would be a matter of “short time” if Azerbaijan agrees to three main principles: recognising each other’s territorial integrity based on the Soviet-era maps, relying on the Almaty Declaration for the demarcation of the borders, and respecting each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity for opening transport links.