Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev demanded the “de-occupation” of those villages in a weekend phone call with European Council President Charles Michel. It followed Michel’s joint meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian held in Spain. Aliyev cancelled at the last minute his participation in those talks that were due to focus on an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace accord.
Aliyev referred to several small enclaves inside Armenia which were controlled by Azerbaijan in Soviet times and occupied by the Armenian army in the early 1990s. For its part, the Azerbaijani side seized at the time a bigger Armenian enclave comprising the village of Artsvashen and surrounding farmland and pastures.
Pashinian responded to Aliyev’s demands in an interview with Armenian Public Television aired late on Tuesday. He pointed to the Artsvashen enclave and said Azerbaijani forces also control large swathes of agricultural land that belonged to several other Armenian border villages.
Pashinian said the future of these contested lands should be decided through a delimitation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. He hinted that Yerevan is open to considering territorial swaps as part of that process.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry dismissed Pashinian’s comments on Wednesday, claiming that Azerbaijan had never occupied any Armenian territory. It said Armenia is thus trying to “justify the occupation of eight Azerbaijani villages.”
The ministry also made clear that Baku continues to reject the idea of using a 1975 Soviet military map for the border delimitation, which is advanced by Yerevan.
Michel, Macron and Scholz effectively backed the idea in a joint statement with Pashinian issued after their October 5 talks. The statement cited the “urgent need to work towards border delimitation based on the most recent USSR General Staff maps that have been provided to the sides.”
The European leaders also voiced strong support for the “inviolability of the borders of Armenia” and called for “strict adherence to the principle of non-use of force and threat of use of force.” They appeared to allude to the fears that Azerbaijan could attack Armenia after recapturing Karabakh as a result of last month’s military offensive.
A senior Armenian diplomat claimed over the weekend that Azerbaijani troops could try in the coming weeks to open an exterritorial land corridor to Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave through Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province. He said the West should impose sanctions on Baku to prevent such an attack.
Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan appeared to raise these concerns with a visiting U.S. regional envoy, Louis Bono, on Wednesday. Mirzoyan was cited by his press office as stressing the “need to deter encroachments on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Armenia.”