Armenia-Azerbaijan Peace Process Talks In Tehran After 31 Years!
The President of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia have announced their readiness to resolve the long-standing issues between the two countries within the framework of 3+3 format (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran, Georgia, Turkiye and Russia) negotiations. The first meeting of this working group was held on October 23 in the Iranian capital Tehran. These negotiations are of great importance in determining the future of the Nagorno-Caucasus region, and each party discussed the level of meeting their demands at the negotiating table.
The Caucasus region was known as an area under the influence of Iran and the Ottoman Empire centuries ago, to them the Russian Empire was added about two centuries ago; so, it can be claimed that the developments in the Caucasus region over the past two centuries have been a function of the developments of the Iran, Ottoman, and Russian triangle. However, the establishment of Soviet reign heavily enhanced Russia’s foothold in the Caucasus region, and the policies of this state paved the way for separating the Caucasus region from Iran and Turkiye.
But the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s once again added importance to regional players such as Iran and Turkiye and forced these two countries to play a role in resolving conflicts that led to the First Nagorno-Karabakh War that took place from February 1988 to May 1994. The Islamic Republic of Iran turned into the first player in terms of resolving disputes between the two republics (Armenia and Azerbaijan) due to its strong communication channels with the two fledgling republics, and in this process, several ceasefire agreements were reached and prisoner swaps were carried out.
But the most important achievement of the Iranian diplomatic mission was the issuance of the Tehran Communiqué also known as the Joint statement of the heads of state in Tehran, which is the joint communiqué mediated by then Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and signed by the acting President of Azerbaijan Yagub Mammadov and President of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrossian on May 7, 1992. The communiqué gained the consent of the leaders of the two warring countries to begin negotiations in order to resolve disputes between Baku and Yerevan. A process that failed with the intervention of forces affiliated with extra-regional powers such as the United States and ultimately with the end of the First Nagorno-Karabakh War and the establishment of a ceasefire; thus, the Azerbaijan-Armenia disputes were entrusted to a group of representatives from Belarus, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland, and Turkiye, known as the Minsk Group. However, this group has not achieved any tangible result in its three decades of activity.
The formation of a establishment known as the Republic of Artsakh or the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh over the past three decades prevented officials of the two countries of Azerbaijan and Armenia from ignoring the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh region and focusing on resolving issues and disputes between the two nations; so, many of these issues were forgotten during this time. But with the outbreak of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War and the return of this region to the territory of Azerbaijan, existing issues between the two countries, such as determination of border lines and the fate of transportation routes, as well as legal, judicial, and diplomatic systems, have become more serious, which paved the way for the direct negotiations between Baku and Yerevan in a more appropriate ground.
However, the geopolitical situation in the Caucasus region makes it impossible to advance such actions without considering the interests and goals of traditional regional powers (Russia, Turkiye, and Iran); therefore, deciding on the framework and format of future talks will largely determine how negotiations will proceed and how will be their level of success. Russia, as the most influential state in the Caucasus region, was involved in the developments following the 2020 war, but recent political developments in Armenia show that there are signs of a rapid distance between Yerevan and Moscow. On the other hand, Russia’s policies in recent years have been strongly protested by Armenians to the point where Armenian officials announced their dissatisfaction with the progress of negotiations under the heavy influence of Russia and proposed a return to the European Union. However, Azerbaijan, which experienced bitter experiences with the intervention of extra-regional powers and remembers the neutral performance of the Minsk Group, did not agree with the proposal from Armenia, especially since EU officials have largely supported the Armenian side during recent developments and their role in such a framework could have increased Armenian bargaining power. The intervention of extra-regional powers could have turned the dispute into a new crisis, in addition to slowing down the process of resolving disputes; thus, both sides agreed to resolve issues within a regional framework and expressed their readiness to participate in the 3+3 format.
A look at the field developments and political atmosphere of the region shows that the current conditions should be considered in continuing to the Tehran Communiqué in 1992, when both warring parties were in the most balanced point. The First Nagorno-Karabakh War had not yet begun in 1992 and its financial and human losses had not been incurred by both sides. Tens of thousands of Azerbaijani refugees (for 30 years) and Armenians (who left Nagorno-Karabakh in recent months) were still stationed in their homes. But now, after 31 years of these harmful events, Nagorno-Karabakh is empty of population and its fate is once again linked to the negotiations in Tehran!
Image: The front page of Iran’s Ettela’at newspaper 31 years ago, which discussed the topic of those days’ negotiations in Tehran and resolving the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Tehran.