Official Yerevan provided vague responses to questions regarding Baku’s claims that Armenia is “occupying” eight Azerbaijani villages and its demands for their immediate return.
President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan brought up the issue of the so-called “occupied” villages during a telephone conversation with European Council President Charles Michel, who a day before was to have mediated talks between Yerevan and Baku, which the Azerbaijani leader did not attend.
The Azerbaijani foreign ministry this week, in a statement, demanded that Armenia “return” the eight villages, and accused Yerevan of thwarting the ongoing peace negotiations with Baku.
“Armenia has not handed over to Azerbaijan the eight Azerbaijani villages that are still under occupation,” Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said Tuesday in a statement.
An entry in the Azerbaijan’s president’s website mentions seven villages in Armenia’s Tavush Province and one village in the Ararat Province bordering Nakhichevan, which in the 1990s fell under Armenia’s control. In response to Aliyev’s claims, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan brought up a larger swath of territory being controlled by Azerbaijan that includes the village of Artsvashen and large acres of agricultural land bordering Armenia.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Armenia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vahan Kostanyan said that issues regarding the villages should be addressed by the “relevant commissions,” referring to the bodies headed by the deputy prime ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia to address the opening of transport links and the delimitation and demarcation of borders.
He reiterated that the border delimitation must be done according to the 1991 Almaty declaration and said Armenia remained committed to this process, saying “determining of the borders is fundamental for Armenia, and it considers the issue a cornerstone.”
“Among the important issues is also the recording of the four principles of unblocking; they are reflected in the Granada statement. Last year as well there was talk about the need to create dispute settlement mechanisms. The parties have yet to bring their positions closer on these issues. As for the process in general, Armenia remains interested in concluding a peace treaty with Azerbaijan,” Kostanyan added.
The deputy foreign minister said that the Armenian government believes that the principles of delimitation of the borders should also be incorporated into the peace treaty along with a “clear mechanism for the settlement of disputes.”
“These are the issues on which the two sides still need to bring their positioners closer to each other,” Kostanyan said, adding that, at the moment, there are no set dates for talks between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
However, a senior member of Pashinyan’s ruling party on Wednesday rejected Azerbaijan’s continuing demands for the return of “eight Azerbaijani villages,” which it says are occupied by Armenia.
Gevorg Papoyan, a leading member of Pashinyan’s party and a member of parliament said Wednesday that Yerevan has never pledged to unilaterally give those enclaves back to Azerbaijan. Echoing Pashinyan’s earlier statements, Papoyan said that the Armenian government can only discuss mutual troop withdrawals or territorial swaps.
“But as a result of that process, Armenia’s total area must remain 29,800 square kilometers,” Papoyan told reporters. “This must be enshrined in an [Armenian-Azerbaijani] peace treaty. So we need to sign the kind of peace treaty that could not create problems or leave the possibility of a new war.”