Why setting a Caucasus peace platform is difficult?

Why setting a Caucasus peace platform is difficult?

With the cessation of armed conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region with the victory of Azerbaijan, which liberated its territories from Armenian occupation, ideas for constructing a cooperation mechanism with the participation of all Caucasus countries have frequently started being voiced.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was among international leaders who have proposed a six-way body in the region in a bid to leave the enmities behind and turn the region into a new basin of peace, stability and prosperity. Azerbaijan and Russia have endorsed this idea.

The Turkish proposal included a direct message to Armenia as well. Turkey said it would be ready to open the borders and establish diplomatic ties with Armenia should Yerevan accept to be a part of a regional cooperation forum.

The initiative was on the main agenda of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s five-day regional tour. He came to Istanbul on Jan. 29 after visiting Baku, Yerevan, Moscow and Tbilisi to discuss with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu how to proceed with the establishment of the regional body.

At the press conference after their talks, Zarif and Çavuşoğlu unveiled their proposal for a 3+3 format cooperation mechanism for the Caucasus with Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Iran and Russia.

Although the ministers did not provide detail, it’s believed that the 3+3 format refers to forming two separate groups with Turkey-Russia-Iran in one group and Armenia-Azerbaijan-Georgia in the second.

It’s believed that this format can pave the way for Armenia and Georgia’s participation in the regional mechanism as both countries have their opposition against setting up a six-way platform in the Caucasus.

For Armenia, the post-Karabakh conflict is still a matter of national defeat and the nation is yet to absorb the new realities. Plus, it would be hard for the sitting Armenian government, which is having difficult days internally, to shake hands with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is severely criticized in Yerevan for his concessions towards Azerbaijan. Leaving the Nagorno-Karabakh trauma behind will sure take time for Armenia before it would be ready to open a new page.

Another very important obstacle before a regional initiative is Georgia’s opposition. Tbilisi says it will not take part in any regional body with Russia unless Moscow ends its occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“Georgia will not be able to engage in the peace platform, where the country occupying Georgian territories is participating as well,” announced Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Khvtisiashvili last week, according to the local media.

Khvtisiashvili stated that any platform for cooperation should be based on mutual respect, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the participating countries, therefore, “Georgia will not be involved in the peace platform together with the country occupying its territories.” He also recalled that Georgia attaches great importance to the regional initiatives between the three South Caucasus countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

It will remain to be seen whether the aforementioned regional body can be realized in the coming period either under the 3+3 format or as a six-way body. Currently, Iran’s priority is to keep the transportation lines and corridors from Armenia and Nakhichevan to Iran open and to uninterruptedly continue its trade with these regions.

Turkey is planning to deepen its economic, energy, transportation and trade ties with Azerbaijan by taking advantage of the new realities on the field. Russia aims to exercise its influence in the region by pulling the strings in the context of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. All these show there is still a long way to go for genuine peace and regional stability.