Pashinyan says critical differences remain on peace process with Azerbaijan

Pashinyan says critical differences remain on peace process with Azerbaijan
"While the gap between the two sides was one kilometre before, it has now narrowed to 999 metres," Pashinyan said. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews May 8, 2023

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said significant differences still exist in the phrasing of a potential peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, despite reported advances in bilateral discussions facilitated by the United States last week.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Armenian Service on May 5, Pashinyan emphasised that the substantial differences were over Nagorno-Karabakh and territorial and security assurances.

Pashinyan noted: "We have not yet reached a consensus on the phrasing within the draft peace agreement that would provide us with confidence that Azerbaijan acknowledges the inclusion of 29,800 sq km of Armenian territory within its Soviet-era borders."

He further highlighted the necessity for guarantees, believing that even the most unequivocally worded agreement permits room for diverse interpretations.

Pashinyan, who granted the interview during an official two-day visit to Prague, referred to the draft bilateral Agreement on Peace and Establishment of Interstate Relations, deliberated upon by Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Jeyhun Bayramov, during the U.S.-sponsored talks.

A joint statement released on May 4 after the negotiations acknowledged that Mirzoyan, Bayramov, and their respective teams "achieved progress in mutual understanding on certain provisions of the draft bilateral peace agreement" but also noted persisting divergent stances on critical issues.

Despite US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's optimistic outlook that "an agreement is within reach with additional goodwill, flexibility, and compromise", Pashinian assessed the progress as minimal.

"While the gap between the two sides was one kilometer before, it has now narrowed to 999 metres. It is indeed progress, but there remains a significant divide," Pashinyan explained during the RFE/RL interview.

Pashinyan reiterated Armenia's standpoint that discussions concerning the rights and security of Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenian population should be made through a dialogue involving Baku and Stepanakert, with international participation. He added, "Otherwise, Azerbaijan may simply choose to overlook this issue and exclude it from the agenda."

Furthermore, Pashinyan stated that international and local mechanisms should be employed to address matters such as troop withdrawal and establishing a demilitarised zone. He acknowledged that disparities exist between Yerevan and Baku regarding how to approach the rights of Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenians.

Pashinyan proposed the possibility of continuing discussions in Moscow, following the talks that commenced in Washington, while refuting claims that there are separate "Western" and "Russian" drafts that differ from one another.

"Sometimes I read articles, listen to interviews, and try to comprehend what people are discussing. If I were not the prime minister, I would have assumed that there was something I was unaware of", said Pashinyan.

He mentioned that while there have been some Western approaches, they have not been formally presented as written options.

"An approach remains verbal. Perhaps, if we put it down on paper and read it, we might discover that we misinterpreted the approach and that it does not align with our understanding. In August 2022, the Russian side proposed a written solution that we accepted, but Azerbaijan rejected. We have not seen Russia put forward that option again," Pashinyan revealed.

For decades, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been embroiled in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. A war in the early 1990s resulted in approximately 30,000 casualties and left ethnic Armenians in control of the predominantly Armenian-populated region and seven adjacent districts of Azerbaijan proper. In 2020 Azerbaijan retook the seven regions outside Nagorno-Karabakh and parts of Nagorno-Karabakh as well. On April 23 Azerbaijan installed a checkpoint on the only road connecting Armenia with Karabakh.