Armenia nears peace agreement with Azerbaijan, prime minister says

Armenian refugees Refugees load a truck in Goris on Sept. 26, 2023, before leaving to Yerevan. A continuous stream of vehicles crept along the only road out of Nagorno-Karabakh toward Armenia, carrying tens of thousands of refugees now faced with an uncertain future. | Credit: Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images

Nikol Pashinyan, the prime minister of Armenia, one of the few Christian countries in the Middle East, said on Thursday that his nation is close to reaching a peace agreement with its Muslim neighbor Azerbaijan.

According to Pashinyan, the two nations, which have been bitter enemies engaged in on-and-off warfare for decades, are now only months away from reaching a peace agreement that will normalize their relations.

“We are currently working on a draft peace and relations normalization agreement with Azerbaijan, and I hope this process will be successfully completed in the coming months,” Pashinyan said. 

The Azeri Ministry of Foreign Affairs also confirmed to CNA in a Tuesday statement that there are “real chances” of peace with Armenia “in a short period of time.” 

The announcement comes amid widespread fears of an invasion of Armenia by Azerbaijan and Turkey and less than a month after the Azeri military launched a short but intense strike that seized control of the majority ethnic Armenian territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The violent takeover resulted in the deaths of over 200 Armenian Christians and a humanitarian crisis with over 100,000 ethnic Armenians fleeing the region.

Pashinyan made the announcement during a presentation of a regional peace plan he’s dubbed the “Crossroads of Peace Project” at the fourth annual Silk Road International Conference in Tbilisi, Georgia.

He said that a peace agreement between the two nations would hinge on two principles.

The first principle, Pashinyan said, is that “Armenia and Azerbaijan mutually recognize each other’s territorial integrity.” He listed the exact size of each nation, saying that “this encyclopedic reference was meant to ensure that statements made by Armenia and Azerbaijan about recognition of each other’s territorial integrity leave no room for claiming that by recognizing the other country’s territorial integrity, one of the countries has in mind only a part of its internationally recognized territory.”

The second principle, he said, is that Armenia and Azerbaijan maintain the agreement laid out by the 1991 Alma-Ata Declaration that Pashinyan said would mean each nation recognizes “each other’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, [and] the inviolability of existing.” 

During his presentation, Pashinyan proposed building up a transnational road and railway connecting the Caspian and Black Seas to the countries of the southern Caucasus as well as to the Mediterranean. The highway would cross portions of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and multiple other countries in the southern Caucasus, bringing greater economic opportunity to the region. 

“Such a project would bring enormous benefits to all countries of our region,” Pashinyan said, adding: “I wish to reiterate Armenia’s readiness to open, reopen, reconstruct, [and] build all regional communications.” 

Both Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have also recently proposed constructing a transnational highway. The proposed Turkish-Azeri highway would cross the far southern portion of the Armenian province of Syunik, which is bordered by Azerbaijan both to the east and the west.

The road would connect the main portion of Azerbaijan to both its western enclave, known as Nakhchivan, as well as to Turkey. Experts fear that if it is built, Azerbaijan could soon move to wrest control of all of Syunik.

Though Aliyev has not yet addressed the issue of peace with Armenia, the foreign ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey met in Iran on Monday to discuss a treaty, according to reporting by Reuters. Also present at the talk were the foreign ministers of Iran and Russia.

On Tuesday the Azeri Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a statement that said: “Minister Jeyhun Bayramov noted that there are real chances for the conclusion of a peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia in a short period of time.” 

The statement said that peace would be possible “after Azerbaijan fully ensures control over its sovereign territories as a result of the anti-terrorist measures implemented against the illegal Armenian armed forces, which have not been withdrawn from the territory of Azerbaijan in violation of the obligations.”

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Why are they fighting? 

Both former Soviet territories, Armenia and Azerbaijan have contested the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is also known as “Artsakh,” for decades.

They fought two major wars over the region, the first from 1988 to 1994 and the second in 2020.

Though internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh continued to claim self-sovereignty and governance under the auspices of the “Republic of Artsakh.”

All that came to an end, however, after the Azeri military’s September strike this year. According to the Armenian government, 101,848 ethnic Armenians — that is, more than 84% of the total 120,000 Nagorno-Karabakh population — have fled since the Azeri takeover.

The Azeri government has arrested many high-ranking Artsakh leaders, including former state minister Ruben Vardanyan, and several former presidents such as Arayik Harutyunyan and Bako Sahakyan. All have been imprisoned in the Azeri capital city Baku and are being charged with war crimes and treason.

Human rights activists and humanitarian aid organizations have accused the Azeri government of ethnically cleansing Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh. Survivors of the conflict and of the ensuing mass exodus have accused Azerbaijan of human rights violations including cultural and religious persecution.

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Since the takeover, the two nations have continued to exchange fire and have been involved in small skirmishes along their borders.

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