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Armenia PM hopes for Azerbaijan peace deal 'in coming months'

Armenia PM hopes for Azerbaijan peace deal 'in coming months'

26 October 2023

Tbilisi (AFP) -

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Thursday he hoped to sign a peace agreement with Azerbaijan in the coming months, after Baku recaptured Nagorno-Karabakh from ethnic-Armenian separatists in September.

Yerevan and Baku have been locked in a decades-long conflict for control of Azerbaijan's Armenian-populated region of Karabakh.

Baku reclaimed the mountainous enclave in late September in a 24-hour offensive that ended decades of Armenian separatist rule.

'We are currently working on the draft agreement with Azerbaijan on peace and the normalisation of relations, and I hope this process will successfully conclude in the coming months,' said Pashinyan.

The future peace treaty would be based on the mutual recognition of the Caucasus neighbours' Soviet-era borders, he told an international economic forum in the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has said a peace treaty with Yerevan could be signed by the end of the year.

Yerevan had expressed fears that energy-rich Baku might try to press its advantage.

Its concern is that it might - with the help of ally Turkey -- seek to forcibly connect its Nakhichevan exclave with Azerbaijan proper by capturing lands in southern Armenia, the so-called Zangezur corridor along the Iranian border.

It has also accused Baku of 'ethnic cleansing' as almost all of Karabakh's ethnic Armenian population -- some 100,000 people -- fled for Armenia after Baku's lightning offensive, sparking a refugee crisis.

- Scepticism over Western mediation -

Pashinyan said Armenia was ready 'to open, reopen, rebuild, build all regional communications' if its sovereignty over the area is not questioned.

Baku has vowed to ensure the rights of Karabakh's Armenians are protected. It has denied having any territorial claims to Armenia, saying it could set up a land link with Nakhichevan via Iran instead of Armenia.

Pashinyan also said Thursday that he hoped the border between Armenia and Turkey could be opened for citizens of third countries and diplomats 'in the near future'.

Ankara closed its border with Armenia in the 1990s in solidarity with ally Azerbaijan.

In 2020 and in the 1990s, Armenia and Azerbaijan fought two wars for control of Karabakh, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but home -- at least until recently -- to a majority ethnic-Armenian population.

With the traditional regional power broker Russia bogged down in its Ukraine war, the European Union and United States have taken a lead role in brokering an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace treaty.

But the talks have so far failed to produce a breakthrough and Aliyev has recently expressed scepticism about Western mediation efforts.

Citing France's 'biased position,' he refused to attend another round of peace talks with Pashinyan in Spain earlier in October. They had been due to take place under the mediation of the EU chief Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Aliyev said peace talks with Yerevan could be held in Georgia 'if Yerevan agrees', but Pashinyan -- who is keen on Western mediation -- rejected the idea.

On Monday, Iran and Russia denounced Western 'interference' in tensions between Yerevan and Baku at a foreign ministers' meeting in Tehran that also included top diplomats from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.