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Azerbaijani President Aliyev’s Bold Proposal on Refugee Return Adds Complexity to Armenian-Azerbaijani Peace Talks

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In a pivotal address at the “Karabakh: Returning Home after 30 years. Achievements and difficulties” exhibition, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev presented a nuanced stance on the delicate issue of peace with Armenia, just hours before meeting with State Department Envoy James O’Brien. The President’s proposition of a “mutual return of refugees to Azerbaijan and Armenia” introduced a fresh layer of complexity to the already intricate negotiations.

Aliyev asserted that any peace process must involve a parallel return of both Azerbaijani and Armenian refugees, emphasizing that the rights and security of both communities should be considered. However, he lamented that this proposition faced rejection from the Armenian side, potentially creating a significant obstacle to the establishment of lasting peace.

The President’s stance indicates a divergence from Yerevan’s preference for the unilateral return of Armenians to Karabakh, as outlined in the draft Peace treaty. Aliyev’s demand for the simultaneous return of Azerbaijanis expelled 35 years ago introduces a stumbling block in the path towards a comprehensive agreement between the two nations.

Responding swiftly, the head of the Armenian Parliament, Alain Simonyan, condemned Aliyev’s condition as unacceptable. Simonyan expressed concerns that Azerbaijan’s insistence on issues such as the return of Azerbaijanis to what they term Western Azerbaijan could impede the conclusion of a peace treaty.

The fate of enclaves further complicates the negotiations, with eight Azerbaijani enclaves on Armenian territory and one Armenian enclave on Azerbaijani soil. While Armenia, represented by Prime Minister Pashinyan, acknowledges the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan within Soviet borders, it remains hesitant to relinquish control of these enclaves in the immediate future.

Despite O’Brien’s discussions with President Aliyev aiming to revive the negotiation process, skepticism looms over the effectiveness of the planned meeting in Washington between the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, facilitated by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. The deep-seated differences in positions on refugee repatriation and enclave control pose formidable challenges to the expeditious progress of the peace process.

As the world watches, the intricate web of historical grievances, territorial disputes, and the pressing issue of refugees threatens to prolong the resolution of the longstanding conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The road to peace appears fraught with complexities that demand delicate diplomacy and compromise from both sides.

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