Armenia-Azerbaijan: Pursuing an Elusive Peace

After a recent flurry of diplomacy, Yerevan and Baku seem closer than ever to attaining normalisation. 

After many long years of stalemate punctuated by eruptions of warfare, Armenia and Azerbaijan now seem poised to reach an elusive peace.  A recent flurry of diplomacy seems to have brought both sides closer than ever to attaining a negotiated “normalisation” of relations. 

On October 6, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev, French president Emmanuel Macron, Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan and EU council president Charles Michel met in Prague on the sidelines of the inaugural summit of the European Political Community, Macron’s brainchild. A week later, Armen Grigoryan, the head of Armenia’s National Security Council (NSC), said that a peace deal would be signed with Azerbaijan by the end of the year as the two parties had agreed on a timetable of actions, including the demarcation of the border.

For the South Caucasus, the proximity of a peace treaty between the two countries offers the promise of a rare positive game changer for a region marked more by conflict and confrontation.  This opportunity is largely driven by a fresh diplomatic push from the West, with long-standing enmity challenged by European and American engagement.

Although driven by a new post-war reality, Western engagement is also defined by a geopolitical vacuum, as Russia continues to be distracted and overwhelmed by its military struggles in its invasion of Ukraine.  Nevertheless, an essential reason for Western success stems from its diplomatic focus on facilitating and not necessarily mediating an Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process.

Through such facilitation, the EU has offered a platform for direct engagement and the US has provided patronage for negotiations between Armenian and Azerbaijani officials in both Brussels and Washington.  This has been conducted with the notable absence of both Russia and the OSCE’s Minsk Group, however.

In what has now become a constructive process, staff-level talks between NSC’s Grigoryan and Hikmet Hajiyev, the senior foreign policy aide to the Azerbaijani president, have paved the way for progress in several areas.  Meeting in Washington on September 27, these staff-level talks moved the process forward and prepared the groundwork for the subsequent meeting in Prague between Pashinyan and Aliyev. 

The latter meeting, with facilitation by Macron and Michel, raised expectations for concluding a comprehensive peace treaty by the end of the year.  The Prague meeting was also significant for the first-ever trilateral meeting between Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders.


Armenia and Azerbaijan are moving forward on three distinct tracks.  The first and earliest track involved Armenian concessions over providing Azerbaijan with road and railway access through southern Armenia to its exclave of Nakhichevan.  As an endorsement of the European concept of connectivity, this agreement demonstrates a new recognition of the importance of economics, trade and transport as genuine incentives for peace.  And as Russia has effectively rejected Turkish participation in the Moscow-dominated talks over the restoration of trade and transport, Ankara is more interested in regaining a role by reopening its closed border with Armenia, as part of the related process of Armenia-Turkey “normalisation.” 

The second element of this post-war peace process involves the thorny issue of border delineation and demarcation.  This issue is especially difficult in light of Azerbaijan incursions into Armenia back in the summer of 2021 and a flagrant attack on Armenia only last month.  The sticking point here actually has little to do with the border, however, and is more centreed on the continued presence of Azerbaijani forces on sovereign Armenian territory. There is no genuine dispute over bilateral state borders and there is no real record of past Azerbaijani territorial demands on Armenia proper.

Finally, the commitment to forging a complete and comprehensive peace treaty is the third and most important component of this process for Azerbaijan.  As the 44-day war in 2020 ended with a dangerously incomplete victory, there is a lingering need for a formal consolidation of Azerbaijani gains.  For Azerbaijan, it did not win enough in the 2020 war and despite its victory, failed to either achieve a resounding defeat of Armenia or attain resolute control over Nagorny Karabakh.  

In this context, the current peace process has both nothing to do with Karabakh while also having everything to do with it.  Although the focus is on bilateral issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the ambiguous nature of the status and security of Karabakh remains a concern and a cause for worry.  Thus for Armenia, this is still a painful peace and even a poisonous process.


After a series of concessions and compromises from Armenia, the post-war period has done little to foster security or forge stability.  In fact, since the end of the war in November 2020, a dangerous precedent remains.  The seeming victory of authoritarian states of Azerbaijan and Turkey over the struggling democracy of Armenia is distressing as an apparent validation of the force of arms over diplomacy.  Such a “might makes right” lesson also undermines European values and, if left unchallenged, legitimises the use of force as a military solution to an essentially diplomatic dispute.   

From a broader perspective, and against that backdrop, Azerbaijan’s approach in pursuing an elusive peace has been problematic, defined more by maximalism than magnanimity.  This also raises fresh concern that pressure and even military attacks by Azerbaijani may continue, designed to maximise their negotiating position in the prelude to formal talks over a final peace treaty. 

But more troubling is the outlook for the day after.  There has been incomplete attention and even less consideration in ensuring a lasting peace after the conclusion and signing of any peace agreement.  And although any pursuit of such an elusive peace is welcome, simple expectations of good will and neighborly normalisation are far from sufficient to guarantee genuine security and stability in the post-peace treaty period.

Richard Giragosian is the director of the Regional Studies Center (RSC), an independent think tank in Yerevan, Armenia.