Erdogan-Pashinyan meeting a pathway for permanent peace in Karabakh
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will meet Armenian leader Nikol Pashinyan on Thursday under the auspices of a European Summit in what is considered to be the most important contact during the normalization process between the countries that started at the end of last year.
The meeting will also have a strong effect on the efforts for permanent peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which could not be completed as Azerbaijan refutes any flexibility after it won the latest war against Armenia.
Last month, the Azerbaijan – Armenia border saw the most violent confrontation since the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war, which resulted with more than 250 casualties in total from both sides.
The latest meeting between the leaders of Turkey and Armenia took place in 2008. In what was known to be “football diplomacy,” the then Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited Armenia and Armenian President Serge Sarkissian came to Turkey to watch football games together.
As the two countries managed to establish diplomacy, they agreed to open borders and further develop commerce but the bilateral relations were interrupted by Azerbaijan’s strong reaction.
After 13 years, the meeting between the leaders of the two countries will take place in a different framework.
As Azerbaijan took back Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia in 2020 and changed the 30-year status quo in the Caucasus region, the country’s administration stopped blocking the normalization process between Ankara and Yerevan.
Armenia wants the borders opened as soon as possible. In return, Turkey takes cautious steps in coordination with Baku and intends to carry out the normalization process in parallel with the efforts to find a permanent peace agreement between Yerevan and Baku. The talks between the sides have until now covered more symbolic issues such as the initiation of reciprocal flights and preparations for the passage of third country nationals through the land border.
Efforts for a permanent peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan
At the end of the six-week war in the last months of 2020, Armenia and Azerbaijan declared a ceasefire brokered by Russia and agreed to a protocol which led to a withdrawal of Armenian forces from Nagorno-Karabakh.
While Russia deployed nearly 5,000 soldiers to observe the ceasefire process; Turkey also played a role, albeit less effectively.
Despite the cessation of the conflicts, the sides failed to reach a permanent agreement that would draw the borders, determine the sovereignty areas of the parties, and determine a framework for the political relations to be established.
Violence that erupted in September revealed the fragility of the ceasefire between the sides and the risk of escalating military tensions if a permanent agreement is not reached.
Armenia's close allies, the US and France weighed in to reunite the parties and push for an agreement. Particularly, the peace talks initiated between the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia on October 2 were supported by the US and France.
However, Western countries believe that Azerbaijan "does not show any flexibility with the superiority of winning the war" and pressures Baku to soften its stance.
Pashinyan intends to sign the agreement, but wants to do it in a way that will be accepted by the Armenian society and diaspora, experts say.
The most important problems between the parties are the demarcation of the borders, the status of the Armenian people who will remain in Nagorno-Karabakh and the creation of the corridor that will connect the main lands of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan.
Important issues such as who will control this highway and how far Armenia can use its sovereign rights regarding the road passing through its territory are on the table. Armenia does not oppose the highway, but wants a formula that will protect its sovereign rights.
Ankara has actively sided with Baku and accused Armenia but also tried to bring the parties together for peace and stability in the South Caucasus.
Western countries give great importance to the Erdogan-Pashinyan meeting to be held in Prague and expect Turkey to follow a more objective line and use its influence over Baku for an agreement.
They believe Erdogan could use his dialogue with President Ilham Aliyev to make Azerbaijan more flexible and change its stance, otherwise, any agreement will be difficult and the risk of conflict may arise.
The West also foresees that the Armenia-Azerbaijan agreement and the parallel Armenian-Turkish normalization will reduce the influence of Russia in the Caucasus.
The first signs of an increase in US influence over the matter emerged last week as Azerbaijan returned 17 Armenian prisoners of war to Armenia with the mediation of the United States officials.
Armenia also called for investigation of alleged execution of Armenian POWs by Azerbaijani soldiers.