Archenemies Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on Thursday to exchange prisoners of war and normalize relations, in a joint statement that the EU called a “breakthrough.”
The Caucasus neighbors have been locked in conflict for decades over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which Azerbaijan regained after a lightning offensive against Armenian separatists in September.
Both countries have stated that they could sign a peace agreement by the end of the year, but the peace talks, mediated separately by the European Union, the United States and Russia, have made little progress.
On Thursday, the two sides agreed in a joint statement to seize “a historic opportunity to achieve long-awaited peace in the region.”
“The two countries reconfirm their intention to normalize relations and reach the peace treaty on the basis of respect for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the statement said.
Baku will release 32 Armenian prisoners of war, while Yerevan will release two Azerbaijani servicemen, according to the statement.
The two countries also stated that they “will continue their talks on further confidence-building measures, effective in the near future, and call on the international community to support their efforts.”
The agreements were reached during talks between the office of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and the administration of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry stated that Yerevan had “responded positively to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s offer to host the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington.”
EU Council President Charles Michel praised the statement Thursday in a social media post, calling it a “key step.”
“Delighted to welcome an important development in relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan by issuing a joint statement,” he said.
Aliyev and Pashinyan have met on several occasions for normalization talks mediated by the European Union.
But the process has stalled in the last two months as two rounds of negotiations failed.
Azerbaijan refused to participate in talks with Armenia scheduled in the United States on November 20, calling it Washington’s “biased” stance.
In October, Aliyev declined to attend a round of negotiations with Pashinyan in Spain, accusing France of bias at the time.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz were scheduled to join Michel as mediators in those talks.
So far, there has been no visible progress in the EU’s efforts to organize a new round of negotiations.
Russia, the traditional regional power agent – bogged down in its war in Ukraine – has seen its influence wane in the Caucasus.
Aliyev sent troops to Karabakh on September 19 and, after just one day of fighting, the Armenian separatist forces that had controlled the disputed region for three decades laid down their arms and agreed to reintegrate in Baku.
In the following days, almost the entire Armenian population of the mountainous enclave – more than 100,000 people – fled Karabakh for Armenia, triggering a refugee crisis.
Azerbaijan’s victory marked the end of the territorial dispute, in which Azerbaijan and Armenia fought two wars – in 2020 and in the 1990s – that have claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides.
*With AFP; adapted from its French original
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