Armenia and Azerbaijan Negotiate for a Peaceful Resolution on the Sidelines of the Munich Security Conference
Author: Samantha Fanger
Feb 27, 2023
With the backdrop of the 59th annual Munich Security Conference (MSC), the Prime Minister of Armenia and President of Azerbaijan participated in a trilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, then a follow-up panel discussion on February 18.
The MSC meeting was the first direct discussion between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev since October 2022. Currently, Azerbaijan and Armenia are working to settle a peace agreement in the hopes of resolving a 30-year-long conflict over border delimitations. The most recent tensions surround Armenian reports of blockades in the Lachin corridor, which Azerbaijan denies. Armenia alleges that the blockade prevents food and basic medical supplies from reaching Armenians in Karabakh. Despite the disputed blockade claims, the leaders’ willingness for open discussion and continued commitment from the West to support their peace negotiations is a promising sign that a resolution could be on the horizon.
Before the meeting, Blinken issued a statement expressing his optimism at the parties’ “renewed” focus on reaching a peaceful resolution. He highlighted the recent efforts towards a peace agreement and added that the United States “is committed to doing anything we can to support these efforts, whether it’s directly with our friends, whether it’s in a trilateral format such as this, or with other international partners.”
The South Caucasus leaders continued discussions independently of their meeting with Blinken in a plenary meeting, “Moving Mountains? Building Security in the South Caucus,” where the Georgian Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, also joined the panel discussion. Past attempts for independent South Caucasus discussions that included both Azerbaijan and Armenia failed, making this the first time the three South Caucasus leaders engaged in direct public dialogue in an international panel format. The Secretary General for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Helga Maria Schmid also participated, and Christoph Heusgen, Chairman of the MSC, moderated the panel.
Prior to this MSC meeting, Yerevan reported it had submitted a comprehensive peace proposal to Azerbaijan, in mutual efforts to enter “another stage of working on a project of a peace treaty and on establishing (diplomatic) relations” with Azerbaijan. Baku had stated that that process on a mutually satisfactory resolution was in the works and that officially they were in the process of examining Yerevan’s proposals. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov announced that moving forward, Baku and Yerevan will employ “online diplomacy” to exchange diplomatic correspondence, although it is still unclear what exactly this will entail.
Previously, Russia played a key role in mediating the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict. When a six-week war broke out in 2020 leaving a total of 6,500 casualties in its wake, Russia had stepped in to broker a peace deal. But since Moscow’s current preoccupation with its war in Ukraine, Russia has gradually receded as a mediating power in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
Russia’s steps back have made room for greater international involvement with the European Union (EU) and the United States taking on positions as third-party peace seekers.
In October 2022, the European Council (EC) met with the leaders during a summit in Prague and discussed plans to supply peaceful observers to the contested region after flare-ups last year killed more than 200 people—an outcome of the worst fighting the region had seen since 2020. Next month, the EC will send 100 unarmed observers to the Armenian side of the conflict in a two-year-long monitoring mission. The mission was dubbed “a new phase of EU engagement in the South Caucasus,” by the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell.
The MSC meeting was one of several instances of the United States participating in peace negotiations. After escalations in September 2022, Secretary Blinken hosted Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov in New York City on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly. In November, Blinken hosted the Ministers for direct discussions at Blair House in Washington to continue working on a peace agreement.
Though the role of outside mediators in peace-building processes has continued to be an important one, the South Caucasus countries’ willingness to meet independently, as was seen in the panel discussion at this year’s MSC, is a notable and promising development. The panel debates about mutual security concerns were not merely a platform to air long-standing grievances; they were also an important signal that the leaders of both countries are now willing to publicly demonstrate their desire to find diplomatic solutions.