Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan’s speech during the Silk Road International Conference in Tbilisi (Photo: Office of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia)
YEREVAN—Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan attended the “Silk Road” international conference in Tbilisi on October 26, along with other high-ranking officials and representatives from various countries and international organizations, where he presented Armenia’s “Crossroads of Peace” project, emphasizing the importance of regional cooperation and connectivity.
PM Pashinyan began by highlighting the historical significance of the Silk Road, symbolizing prosperity, peace and cooperation among nations. Pashinyan stressed the vital role of open roads in building and maintaining peace, stating that the South Caucasus region, including Armenia, needs peace, open borders, and strong economic, political and cultural ties.
The “Crossroads of Peace” project, according to Pashinyan, aims to enhance communication between Armenia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran through infrastructure development, including roads, railways, pipelines, cables and electricity lines. He pointed out that some regional railways and highways have been inactive for 30 years, and reactivating them could establish efficient routes connecting the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean.
Pashinyan invited governments and private investors to consider the project, emphasizing its potential benefits for all countries in the region. He stated that all infrastructures would operate under the sovereignty of the countries through which they pass, with border and customs control ensured by each country, promoting reciprocity and equality. This approach appears to be a direct response to Azerbaijan’s demand for control over the “Zangezur corridor.”
The operation of the “Zangezur transit corridor” remains a top priority for Azerbaijan. Baku’s goal is to establish transit between Azerbaijan and its Nakhichevan exclave, which requires access to the “Zangezur corridor” through Armenia. Azerbaijan aims for minimal security checks, tariffs and transit fees, potentially pressuring Armenia into accepting its terms.
The Armenian PM also discussed Armenia’s readiness to work on peace and normalization agreements with Azerbaijan, emphasizing mutual recognition of territorial integrity and border delimitation based on the 1991 Alma-Ata Declaration.
Pashinyan underlined the alignment of the “Crossroads of Peace” project with the Silk Road’s logic and expressed Armenia’s readiness to facilitate safe transportation of people, vehicles, goods and infrastructure.
On the other hand, Azerbaijani officials like Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of Azerbaijan Hikmet Hajiyev recently confirmed that military annexation of the “Zangezur corridor” is “no longer their objective.” Instead, according to Hajiyev, Azerbaijan is focusing on building transportation connections through Iran. Construction of a new road in partnership with Iran has already begun. However, the possibility of maintaining a transport link between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan through Armenia still depends on Armenia’s willingness, without extraterritorial concessions, to allow Azerbaijan to bypass Armenian border controls, Hajiyev said.
Following this reasoning, Aliyev issued a decree regarding the ongoing efforts to link the Horadiz-Jabrail-Zangilan-Agband highway with Iran and the construction of a bridge over the Araz River. The State Highway Agency has been allocated 14 million manats from the presidential reserve fund for these initiatives.
As Pashinyan flip-flops Armenia’s diplomatic relationships with its traditional allies such as Russia and introduces what he sees as novel concepts, Azerbaijan’s decision to abstain from engaging in discussions aimed at advancing the peace process and its ongoing military maneuvers alongside Turkey, its closest ally, imply that Azerbaijan lacks the desire to reach a peaceful settlement. Such an agreement, according to Pashinyan, should ideally be grounded in three fundamental principles: the mutual acknowledgment of each other’s territorial integrity, the delineation and marking of borders as per the Alma-Ata Declaration, and the opening of all regional communications under the sovereign authority of the concerned parties.
All the while, state representatives and international organizations such as the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention and Stratfor Forecasting Inc. have warned of new escalations in the region.
The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention has issued a Red Flag Alert regarding the potential for Azerbaijan to invade Armenia, particularly its southern Syunik Province. This invasion could be driven by the desire to create a land corridor connecting Azerbaijan to Nakhichevan, a goal shared with Turkey, posing a significant threat to Armenia’s territorial integrity. Recent political developments, including the seizure of Artsakh by Azerbaijan and well-established Armenophobia in the region, raise concerns about a potential genocide. These fears stem from a pattern of massacre, atrocity and forced displacement targeting Armenian identity.
Despite the potential risks, there is a growing concern that Azerbaijan might resort to force. Several factors contribute to this possibility, including Azerbaijan’s military advantage, belief in a limited international response, distractions in the global community and President Ilham Aliyev’s confidence in military success.
Stratfor reports that Azerbaijan is more likely to pursue smaller territorial incursions and cross-border shelling to pressure Armenia into an agreement, rather than a full-scale invasion to seize southern Armenia and establish the “Zangezur corridor” by force. Recent statements and missed meetings between Armenian and Azerbaijani officials reflect growing tensions and divergent geopolitical orientations.
Azerbaijan could continue with smaller-scale incursions and shelling, considering that a full-scale invasion could lead to greater risks and complications. Azerbaijan already maintains alternative transit routes and would risk regional stability, Turkish support and international consequences by launching a major invasion.
Armenia and Azerbaijan’s leaders have not met for significant discussions since July, and both countries appear to be aligning with different geopolitical partners. Armenia’s Prime Minister Pashinyan signaled a desire to reorient Armenia’s foreign policy toward the West during an address to the European Parliament on October 17, while Azerbaijan seeks regional support for its vision of a peace settlement, including from Turkey, Russia and Iran.
Given the factors mentioned above, the world appears to face conflicting viewpoints and disagreements at a critical “crossroad,” making it challenging to evaluate the current and future developments. As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced, “This marks a pivotal moment for the region. We are on the verge of either a major conflict or significant peace.”
(c) 2023, Armenian Weekly