In an interview held by Restart Initiative Executive Director Jeanne Mitchell last week for Daha Yaxşı, Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan, a regional analyst in Yerevan, summed up the reaction in Armenia to the 14 December meeting of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and President Ilham Aliyev. According to Poghosyan, the meeting held on the sidelines of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels can largely be considered as positive.
“First of all, I believe the meeting was useful,” he says. “I firmly believe that direct contact between Armenia and Azerbaijan are useful despite all the disagreements that are still there regarding the future of Nagorno Karabakh and other issues. Definitely it’s better to speak and better to speak privately.”
Poghosyan says that there two schools of thought in Armenia regarding the purpose of the meeting. The first is that the Brussels meeting is an effort by the European Union to reinsert itself into the process of Armenia-Azerbaijan relations. “There is some competition between the European Union and Russian Federation,” he says.”The West in general was not very happy to see Armenia-Azerbaijan relations being mediated by Russia. This meeting was the first concrete step to somehow break the Russian monopoly.”
The second narrative is similar, says Poghosyan. It also considers that the West is unhappy with being sidelined during and immediately after the 2020 Karabakh war but it also recognises that there are some overlapping interests. Russia, Turkey, and the West all want stability in the region.
“No-one wants another resumption of large-scale hostilities,” he says, “and both Russia and the European Union understand that one of the tangible ways to decrease the possibility of new conflict is to foster economic connectivity and relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, so in that case, according to the second narrative, it’s not only about competition, it’s also about coinciding interests.”
“It’s no coincidence that before the meeting President Putin spoke with Charles Michel,” continues Poghosyan. “President Putin informed [Michel] about the result of the meeting in Sochi held on November 26 and then Charles Michel expressed his hope that the Brussels meeting will be more successful.” On the strategic level, at least in the short and mid-term perspective, Poghosyan believes Russia and the European Union have similar objectives.”
Poghosyan says that the European Union also views launching economic projects as one tangible way to achieve stability. He provides the example of connectivity projects such as opening railways and highways, as well as smaller projects on the local level that can benefit both local communities. Nevertheless, some problems still remain.
“As far as I understand, the key sticking point is still the issue of border and customs control and what does reciprocity mean,” he says. “Reciprocity means that Armenia should implement border and customs control for Azerbaijani freight and persons when they cross the Armenia-Azerbaijan border to reach Nakhichevan and simultaneously Azerbaijan will implement border and customs control for Armenian freight and persons who will enter the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic from Armenia to reach the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
“This is how we perceive reciprocity,” explains Poghosyan, voicing the Armenian position, “but my understanding is that from the Azerbaijani perspective, reciprocity means not only the border crossings when Azerbaijanis enter Armenia to reach Nakhichevan or Armenians entering Azerbaijan to reach Iran, but Azerbaijan also believes reciprocity should cover the [Lachin] highway that currently connects Armenia with Nagorno Karabakh.”
“According to Azerbaijani logic, because there are no Azerbaijani border and customs controls on that highway connecting Armenia to Nagorno Karabakh so there should be no Armenian border and customs controls on the railway and potentially highway which will connect Azerbaijan to the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic via Armenian territory.”
Poghosyan also notes that it will take two years before the railways are reconstructed and functioning so he expects the debate over border and customs checks to continue during this same period.
Returning to the EU, Poghosyan says that it has significant resources relative to the region and the technical resources that it can provide could be vital because of experience dealing with similar post-war situations elsewhere. “The European Union has money and the capacity to support the sides so I think this economic advisory platform could be very helpful, first to act as an intermediary, second to provide technical assistance, and third to provide financial assistance,” he concludes.
Ending on the recent announcement that Armenia and Turkey have appointed special envoys to discuss normalizing relations, Poghosyan says that everyone at the expert level in Armenia agrees that it should talk to Turkey and it needs to do so directly.
“But after this, views are divergent,” he says. “Some consider that Turkey is Armenia’s adversary and Armenia can have diplomatic relations, can have an Embassy in Ankara, and Turkey can have an Embassy in Yerevan, we will use each other’s territory for transit, but this does not mean that Armenia and Turkey are not adversaries because there is a huge disagreement especially regarding the future of Nagorno Karabakh which Ankara agrees 100 percent with Baku.
We need direct communication with Turkey, but to talk about what?”