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Home » Pashinyan broaches possibility of returning key exclave to Azerbaijan

Pashinyan broaches possibility of returning key exclave to Azerbaijan

by Azat Machavariani
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Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has raised the prospect of ceding control of an occupied exclave of Azerbaijani territory inside Armenia. But it remains unclear if that is a signal of an impending Armenian concession or a rhetorical attempt to lower domestic expectations, analysts say.

In a question-and-answer session at a June 2 appearance with Moldova’s Armenian community, Pashinyan was asked about Karki. That is one of the vexatious bits of territory, a relic of idiosyncratic Soviet border-drawing practices, that are effectively islands of de jure Azerbaijani territory inside Armenia, or vice versa. These exclaves are one of several tricky issues that Armenia and Azerbaijan are trying to resolve in ongoing negotiations to comprehensively resolve their decades-long conflict.

Pashinyan’s answer seemed to indicate that Armenia was willing to give up Karki, which was part of the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic but was entirely surrounded by the Armenian SSR. It was taken over by Armenia in the first war between the two sides in the 1990s and is now home to a small community of Armenians who moved there following the war. From a national security perspective, the village is critical because it lies directly on the country’s main north-south highway.

Delineating the countries’ shared border is one of the main tasks of the peace talks, and  Pashinyan has repeatedly said that 1975 Soviet maps – the most recent and precise available – should be the standard by which Armenia and Azerbaijan should draw their border today. In his comments in Moldova, he said that should be the basis for determining the fate of Karki. “If it turns out that it belongs to Azerbaijan by that map, then we don’t have any problem,” he said. 

As Pashinyan no doubt already knew, it does in fact turn out to belong to Azerbaijan according to that map

He continued by minimizing the road issue: “There’s no such enclave that could cause the kind of road problems for us that would be unsolvable. There’s no such issue. If the road can’t pass this way it will pass that way. There is no problem whatsoever. We are actually developing our road network in Armenia to such a level that there is no unsolvable issue,” Pashinyan said.

His comments created the impression among some that this and a few other territories were already virtually signed away.

“If Nikol Pashinyan remains in power and continues with his current policy, Tigranashen [the Armenian name for Karki] will face a fate far worse than that of Shurnukh [a village on the Armenia/Azerbaijan border that Armenians lost partial control of as a result of the 2020 war],” Artur Khachatryan, a member of parliament from the opposition Armenia alliance, told reporters following the prime minister’s remarks. 

“The handover of enclaves to the enemy will create more favorable conditions and temptation for them to continue the war on Armenia’s territory. As a result, the peace treaty will become a war treaty,” Vazgen Manukyan, a former prime minister now allied with the political opposition, wrote on Facebook.

Karki and several other villages in similar conditions emerged as contentious issues even before the end of the 2020 war. In initial media reports about the November 10 ceasefire statement that ended that war, the agreement contained language stipulating the “return to the Azerbaijani side the territory held by the Armenian side in the Gazakh region of the Azerbaijani republic.” In the document that was formally published, however, that line had been deleted. (Two of the Azerbaijani exclaves that were surrounded by the Armenian SSR are part of Gazakh region. Karki, the third, is near Nakhchivan. There are also several bits of territory contiguous with Azerbaijan that Armenia sliced off during the first war in the 1990s. There was one Armenian exclave inside the Azerbaijani SSR, Artsvashen.)

Since then, the issue has periodically bubbled up into public discussions about Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations. The Armenian position has typically been that the two sides should just keep the territories inside their borders (i.e. they would give up Artsvashen and get the seven Azerbaijani territories in return). “Our hope is that the possible solution is that the exclave of Armenia is left to Azerbaijan, the exclaves of Azerbaijan, which are in the territory of Armenia, are left to Armenia,’” the head of Armenia’s National Security Council, Armen Grigoryan, said last May. 

The stated Azerbaijani position, meanwhile, has been that its Soviet-era territories should be returned to its control.

In a June 5 statement, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry again reiterated that position, complaining that “Armenia […] is still occupying 8 villages of Azerbaijan” and is delaying the “return of 8 villages to Azerbaijan under various pretexts.”

Pashinyan’s statement might appear to be a reversal of Armenia’s previous position. But he may simply be lowering expectations so that if in the negotiations Armenia managed to hold on to the territories inside its borders, it could be presented to the Armenian public as a diplomatic victory, said Benyamin Poghosyan, an analyst and head of the Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies in Yerevan.

“He has to have two options,” Poghosyan told Eurasianet. “If he keeps the exclaves, he can show it as a victory for himself. And if the exclaves are given up, then he has to show that it’s not a tragedy.”

A solution that would give back all territories to their Soviet-era owners would create logistical headaches, in particular among the territories that are fully surrounded by the other country. It would raise the prospect of the contention around the Lachin Corridor being multiplied and expanded to a new Karki Corridor, Artsvashen Corridor, and so on. 

As such, Azerbaijan may not be interested in a pure exclave-for-exclaves trade, but in bargaining over a solution that would see it gain as much territory as it stands to lose, said one Baku-based political commentator, who asked not to be named so as to be able to speak more candidly. Baku may be looking at a solution that would include Azerbaijan regaining control over the villages that are contiguous to Azerbaijan’s borders; a trade of the exclaves; and retaining control over enough of the Armenian territories that it now controls as the result of military advances since 2020 to make the ledgers work out, the commentator said. (Baku says that the border near the territories it took as a result of those operations is not demarcated and so should be the subject of negotiations; Armenia says they were incursions onto its internationally recognized territory.)

The deal also could include Nrnadzor, a village deep inside southern Armenia that until 1928 was part of the Azerbaijani SSR and was known as Nyuvadi. Azerbaijan has sought to regain control of that village in previous negotiations and may seek to do so again, the commentator said. 

Delimitation and demarcation of the countries’ shared border is being undertaken by a trilateral commission led by the deputy prime ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. 

Azerbaijan accuses Armenia of dragging its feet on cooperation with that commission. “Instead of insisting on special reference to some 1975 map, it would be more useful for the Armenian side to start the delimitation work,” Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said in a June 4 statement. “It should not be forgotten that after the Patriotic War of 2020, it was Armenia that did not respond to the proposal of delimitation of the borders with Armenia for a long time.” 

In an appearance before parliament on June 5, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan was asked about the issue and said it should be the purview of the commission. 

“Politically, yes, we know that such enclaves existed in the territory of Armenia during the last period of Soviet Armenia, but I think that this is an issue that should be dealt with by the delimitation commission itself,” he said.

Source: eurasianet

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