Armenian Premier’s Visit To Georgia Sparks Optimism For Enhanced Economic And Political Ties – OpEd


But raises questions for Armenian-Azerbaijani relations

History repeats itself, and the dictum in question is particularly apposite to the overall picture and chronicle of the variable thorny relations among the three South Caucasus nations of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia with varying degrees of tensity.

Georgia, located geographically and strategically between Armenia and Azerbaijan, with access to the sea, normally plays the role of a bridge between Yerevan and Baku, which have been at loggerheads the most of their co-existence history both under the Russian empire and the independence periods with the exclusion of the Soviet period when the two were part of the 15-nation Soviet empire.

For over 70 years, political, economic, and people-to-people interactions among Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia were strictly directed and influenced by Moscow. In the face of such acts and behind-the-curtain activities that led to several minor encounters especially between Baku and Yerevan over the latter’s claims on Azerbaijani lands, the relations remained relatively in the saddle under Moscow’s rule until the demise of the USSR.

Armenia’s nearly 30-year-long occupation of Azerbaijani lands in and around Karabakh, which started in the early 1990s but failed to result in the recognition de jure, prevented Yerevan’s ambition to open a second front against Georgia’s Javakheti. Azerbaijan’s all-or-nothing approach vis-à-vis the occupied lands and accordingly the liberation of its territories saved Georgia from possible clashes in the Armenian-dominant region in addition to the loss of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, though the tension is still intact in the area.

Without exaggeration, Georgia is lucky to have a neighbor like Azerbaijan, rich in natural resources and home to several strategic oil and gas pipelines that go to Europe via its territory, contributing both to the neighbor’s well-being and peaceful coexistence with Azerbaijan. However, Armenia’s aggressive policies and aggression against Azerbaijan deprived it from benefitting what is accessible to Georgia now.

Armenian-Georgian economic relations are on the rise, what about political relations…

At a time when things are gradually getting back to normality between Baku and Yerevan, Azerbaijan’s unprecedented move in liberating the occupied lands on its own has emboldened Georgia to retain hopes to regain the occupied lands, discouraging Armenia against an open aggression in Javakheti.

At this very time, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who has been beating around the bush since 2020 about a lasting peace with Baku, visited Georgia on January 26 for a meeting with his counterpart Irakli Garibashvili, where the two heads of the governments chaired a session of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation.

Georgia and Armenia as neighbors are keen on further deepening various facets of economic collaboration, including in sectors such as transport, energy, tourism, culture, and education.

“Highlighting the significance of the bilateral economic relations, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili emphasized that Armenia is one of Georgia’s crucial trade partners, consistently ranking within the top 10 in recent years. He also underscored the Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Cooperation as a pivotal platform for enhancing economic, trade, transport, and cultural ties between the two countries,” according to the press release.

The parties signed a joint declaration on a strategic partnership between Georgia and Armenia. Additionally, the parties signed a memorandum of understanding of cooperation in agriculture, and healthcare, and an agreement aimed at improving the working conditions of diplomatic missions and consular institutions of both countries. The two also addressed the future infrastructure projects that will have a significant impact on the region, including the Black Sea Submarine Cable project and the Armenian Crossroads of Peace project. The prime ministers also discussed the importance of peace and stability in the region, and Garibashvili expressed “Georgia’s ongoing commitment to fostering the peace process and readiness to sustain engagement in this regard”.

Although political issues are being kept under seven seals, pundits are confident that the prime ministers also mulled ways of improving political relations and overcoming obstacles, along with the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process though no mention of it was made.

The Armenian prime minister stated that at his talks with Garibashvili, they also decided to instruct the governments to take effective steps to settle the issue of demarcation of the Armenian-Georgian border.

“We are traditionally and historically very strong allies and friends, not just neighbors. We maintain very good relations, cooperation, and partnership in all sectors. It can be said that we already were strategic friends and strategic partners and it can be said that this reality and this situation was formalised today. We officially signed today an agreement on strategic partnership,” Garibashvili said, adding that “we have always been and are ready to contribute to the establishment of long-term peace, which will be beneficial for the countries and peoples of the whole region”. 

Georgia’s potential role in facilitating peace between Baku & Yerevan

At a time when Azerbaijan is making every effort to sign a peace deal with Armenia, the latter is avoiding Baku’s goodwill and at this point, Georgia’s mediation effort is much sought though it is not often tracked.

Since independence, Georgia has been neutral in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and its potential as a neutral mediator or facilitator in peace negotiations could prove beneficial. Reports are sometimes available about Georgia’s diplomatic initiatives and efforts to encourage dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan and play a host though it has not yet managed to bring the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders together at a negotiating table in Georgia.

Nevertheless, Georgia has not been steadfast in using all leverages at its disposal to compel Armenia to constructive positions to re-establish peace and order in the region. On the other hand, the presence of the conflict between Baku and Yerevan provided Georgia with an opportunity of the sole transit country from Azerbaijan to Europe. Another issue at stake that has hindered Georgia from fully getting involved in mediating conflict resolution is its separatist Javakheti region with ethnic Armenians in the majority, who were and are ready to back Armenia’s miatsum franticness.

Georgia could have leveraged its strategic location in pressurising Armenia and prevent its access to Russia via its own territories though this was not done or not properly exploited. Now that the Karabakh conflict has been completely hammered out by Azerbaijan on its own, Georgia can mediate peace efforts between Baku and Yerevan, offering its territory as a venue through several approaches.

Georgia can serve as a neutral ground for diplomatic talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, providing a safe and neutral environment for discussions to take place. Georgian diplomats and officials can facilitate direct dialogue between Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives, helping them to communicate and negotiate effectively and encourage confidence-building measures between Armenia and Azerbaijan, such as cultural exchanges, people-to-people contacts, and joint projects to foster trust and understanding between the two nations.

Georgia can also engage other regional actors and organizations, such as the EU, the UN, and the OSCE to support peace efforts and provide additional mediation support. The Georgian government is also in a good position to promote economic cooperation and integration between Armenia and Azerbaijan, offering incentives for cooperation and demonstrating the potential benefits of peace for regional development and prosperity.

Georgian civil society organizations think tanks, and academicians can also engage in Track II diplomacy initiatives, organizing unofficial dialogues and peace-building activities to complement official negotiations. Tbilisi is also well placed to seek international support and recognition for its mediation efforts, leveraging its relationships with other countries and international organizations to garner support for regional peace.

This article was published at Caliber.Az

Fuad Muxtar-Agbabali

Fuad Muxtar-Agbabali is a distinguished journalist from Azerbaijan and has authored many white papers on International Affairs and political analysis focused in the regions of Europe and Southern Caucasus.

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