BAKU, Azerbaijan, March 20. The visit of the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev to Talish village of Tartar region was an important event as we received an insight into the current state of the peace negotiations involving Azerbaijan and Armenia.
President Ilham Aliyev indicated that Armenia does not show a sufficient desire to conclude an agreement and urged Yerevan to refrain from its dirty deeds. The head of state also called foreign powers to avoid encouraging Armenia from its destructive policies.
The highlight of President Ilham Aliyev’s speech came as he outlined the condition that Armenia has to follow to achieve sustainable peace.
"Today, Armenia, which used to say that "Karabakh is Armenia, full stop" and threatened us with a new war, is going out of its way to find itself a new patron. All this is to no avail.
There is one condition for them to live comfortably on an area of 29,000 square kilometers – Armenia must accept our conditions, officially recognize Karabakh as the territory of Azerbaijan, sign a peace treaty with us and carry out delimitation work according to our conditions. Only under these circumstances can they live comfortably on an area of 29,000 square kilometers, which is all they want now," President Ilham Aliyev said.
Currently, Armenia remains unwilling to demonstrate a constructive approach to the issue of negotiations with Azerbaijan.
We will look at why Armenia continues to demonstrate this position and why Yerevan needs peace more than Baku does.
Armenia’s vicious cycle of self-destructive foreign policy
President Ilham Aliyev's statement addresses the position of the Armenian government, which still exhibits maximalist tendencies in pursuit of its policy objectives. There are several factors, which may explain the reasons for this particular policy choice of Yerevan.
First, internal power struggle. The political climate in Armenia has always been somewhat volatile, considering the number of revolutions, coups and shootings at the parliament. Some of political processes observed in Armenia during the years can be fertile grounds for conspiracy theorists regarding to the negotiations with Azerbaijan, but they all point to a lack of cohesion between various elements of the government and internal fragmentation. There is a level of fear among top decision makers that signing a comprehensive deal with Azerbaijan will endanger their position of power. This fear creates a conflict of interest between personal interests and what is best for the prosperity of the country. It is something that persists to this day, unfortunately.
Second, external pressure from the diaspora. The conflict is a big business venture for the Armenian diaspora, and the formal cessation of the conflict would endanger their business interests. While highly questionable from a moral standpoint, it is a rational approach, which explains why major representatives of the diaspora continue their warmongering discourse and influence Armenian foreign policy in a way that is counterproductive to attaining peace.
Third, the social context of certain parts of the population. It is rather unfortunate, that parts of the Armenian population exhibit a high level of animosity toward Azerbaijan and Türkiye. Numerous protests took place in the aftermath of the second Karabakh war, which demanded the Armenian government not to sign an agreement with Azerbaijan.
These are some of the factors that prevent Armenia from signing a comprehensive peace agreement with Azerbaijan. The only problem here is the relative value of peace for both countries.
The relative value of peace
The value of a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia is significantly higher for Yerevan than for Baku. This may seem somewhat counterintuitive considering the discourse of the political establishment of Azerbaijan, but there is no contradiction. Azerbaijan has a proven track record of implementing global projects since restoring its independence in the early 90’s. The success of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project, as well as the implementation of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), also known as the Middle Corridor is just two major examples of projects, which drew global attention. The discussion on the successes of the Azerbaijani economy can be furthered by looking at the endeavors of Azerbaijan in relation to developing new economic dimensions and rebranding the economic image of the country. Last but definitely not least, Azerbaijan was able to liberate the territories held under the Armenian occupation, which was one of the key policy goals.
In other words, Azerbaijan learned how to live and prosper without peace. The moderate and balanced foreign policy of Baku enabled the country to establish mutually beneficial and respectful relations with a wide array of countries. Furthermore, Baku achieved significant diplomatic successes by becoming a member of the UN Security Council, and assuming one of the leading roles in the Non-Aligned movement, which led to a support of the organization against the diplomatic efforts of Armenia and its supporters during the 44-day war.
Meanwhile, Armenia was unable to achieve economic breakthrough. Its major enterprises are controlled by foreign countries, in addition to the fact that every major regional project eluded Armenia due to its non-cooperative foreign policy. The problem here is that Yerevan does not have what negotiators call BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement), i.e. what Armenia’s alternative is if negotiations are unsuccessful. Yerevan has no mechanisms to influence Baku’s position, as Armenia does not have a military that matches Azerbaijani capabilities, its diplomatic influence is lackluster due to its non-participation in regional affairs, and a very modest economy that has little to offer to other countries.
Now Yerevan has to make a change in its foreign policy. Signing a comprehensive peace deal with Azerbaijan will lead to a gradual integration of Armenia in regional projects, in addition to streamlining the negotiations with Türkiye. These changes will have positive implications for the well-being of Armenian citizens, and lead to an economic boost for the national economy.
Finally, by signing the agreement, Armenia will be able to guarantee the lack of future outbreaks of violence in the region. The current position of the ruling elites in Yerevan is rather hypocritical. They suggest that their only concern is the safety of the ethnic-Armenian population of Karabakh while denying them an opportunity to leave peacefully, hampering their integration, and denying them the possibility to enjoy the full spectrum of their rights.
Today, Armenia has a historic chance to end old conflicts and start anew. The opportunity to bring long-lasting peace to the region presented itself, however, Yerevan demonstrates no proclivity to avail itself of the existing chance. Yerevan has no bargaining chips and no leverage to try and dictate the terms and conditions of a future peace. Armenia’s military, economy, and political influence are very limited and, consequently, the country cannot back its rhetoric up with decisive actions.
Now here is a dilemma for the ruling elites in Armenia. There are only two choices to pick from - to make concessions and sign the peace agreement with Azerbaijan, or to remain in isolation and on the sidelines of the regional projects and integration.