Georgia offers mediation between Armenia, Azerbaijan
As Baku rejects French involvement in peace talks, the leaders of Georgia and Azerbaijan seem to agree that the countries of the South Caucasus should "address regional issues themselves."
The leaders of Georgia and Azerbaijan have put forward the idea of Georgia acting as mediator and host of peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Armenia has yet to respond.
The proposal comes in the wake of Azerbaijan's refusal to show up for planned talks in Spain because France was to participate as a mediator and Turkey was not.
Now, Baku's lightning offensive to take back the entire territory on September 19-20 and the resulting exodus of the Armenian population and dissolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has created a new reality.
On October 8 Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev paid an unannounced visit to Tbilisi and held a joint briefing with Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.
The two leaders hailed bilateral economic and energy cooperation and mooted the idea of Georgia hosting peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan in either bilateral or trilateral format. Garibashvili also reiterated Georgia's recognition of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity (i.e. sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh).
"We are grateful to Azerbaijan, which, in turn, always supports the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia. We have also confirmed that we have great hopes that Azerbaijan and Armenia sign a peace agreement," he said.
"We have always been impartial here in Georgia and are ready to contribute to this issue today. We want to be a mediator in this matter and are ready to offer any friendly format. Our future should be peaceful and stable, and all three countries of the South Caucasus should address regional issues themselves."
Aliyev welcomed the idea and suggested he would prefer it to the ongoing peace talks formats.
"Several countries and also some international organizations are trying to support the normalization process between Armenia and Azerbaijan today. We welcome that. If it is not lop-sided and biased, of course, we welcome any mediation and assistance. However, in my opinion, taking into account both the historical relations and the geographical factor, the most correct option in this field would certainly be Georgia," Aliyev said.
"[I]f Armenia agrees, the heads of our relevant authorities can immediately come to Georgia for both bilateral and trilateral meetings."
There have been two tracks of mediation between Armenia and Azerbaijan since Azerbaijan's victory in the 2020 Second Karabakh War which saw it regain most of the territory it lost in the first war in the early 1990s (it regained the rest in its September offensive). One track is overseen by Russia and the other by the EU with help from the U.S.
After Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to recognize each other's territorial integrity at an EU-mediated meeting in Prague last October, media in both countries reported the launch of separate talks between Baku and the de facto authorities then governing Nagorno-Karabakh.
These talks made little progress and took place amid Baku's 9-month blockade of the breakaway region. Eventually, the de facto Karabakh government disbanded itself and several of its former leaders now face charges in Azerbaijani custody.
But there is still a chance for a peace deal between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which did not intervene in Baku's offensive to take over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The first post-offensive meeting between Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was to be held in Granada, Spain, on the sidelines of the European Political Community Summit, on October 5.
But a day before the Granada meeting, Aliyev refused to go, citing the exclusion of Turkey, its closest ally, from would-be multilateral talks, and the inclusion of Armenia's ally France.
"Due to France's biased actions and militarization policy that seriously undermine regional peace and stability in the South Caucasus and put at risk European Union's overall policy towards the region and regardless of official Baku's insistence, not agreeing to participation of Turkey, as a regional country, in the pentalateral meeting Azerbaijan has decided not to participate in Granada meeting," Hikmat Hajiyev, a senior advisor to Aliyev, wrote on X.
This isn't the first time Georgia volunteered to host talks between its two neighbors. During the 2020 war, then-Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia offered to mediate, but the warring sides showed no interest.
In late 2021, in the course of Armenia-Azerbaijan talks, Georgia refused to participate in a so-called 3+3 format involving the three countries of the South Caucasus plus the three larger powers on the region's periphery, Turkey, Iran, and Russia. Its refusal was based on Moscow's involvement. Georgia has no diplomatic relations with Russia, which according to Georgian law has been occupying the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia since 2008.
Heydar Isayev is a journalist from Baku.