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What is the Prague Process?

The Prague Process was a series of negotiations between the personal representatives of the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan that was initiated by the OSCE Minsk Group in 2002 after the Key West meeting between the Presidents in the USA failed. The Minsk Group intended that the Prague Process would fill in the gaps in the ongoing meetings between the presidents of the two countries. The first round of talks was thus held on May 14, 2002 at Stiring, outside Prague, between the personal representatives of Kocaryan and Aliyev, under the Chairmanship of the Minsk Group. Armenia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Tatoul Markarian, and Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Araz Azimov, represented the presidents, respectively.[1]

Subsequently, the newly appointed Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, Elmar Mammadyarov, and Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, who had their first meeting in Prague on April 16, 2004, continued the process. However, before the Prague Process started, the Ministers stated the positions of the parties on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Thus, Elmar Mammadyarov said that “Azerbaijan will not agree either to the independent state status of [Nagorno-Karabakh] or to [Nagorno-Karabakh] being part of Armenia. New proposals of the OSCE Minsk group for the settlement of the conflict must be based on these principles”.[2] On the other hand, his counterpart, Vartan Oskanian argued that the “problem can be resolved only by the self determination of [Nagorno-Karabakh] people. This can be achieved by unification of Armenia and [Nagorno-Karabakh] and by the recognition of the world community and Azerbaijan. There is no other way”.[3]

The Foreign Ministers’ four meetings were held within the framework of the Prague Process between 2004 and 2006. According to the Co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, a new method was agreed on: “no agenda, no commitment, no negotiation, but a free discussion, on any issue proposed by Armenia, by Azerbaijan, or by the Co-Chairs”.[4] The two Ministers also achieved two major results during the negotiations:

  • All the parameters of a future settlement have been explored methodically so that we have a clear idea of each party’s positions;
  • The core of the problem has been gradually identified, i.e., the basis on which real negotiations could start, necessarily involving compromises by each side, has been defined.[5]

Generally speaking, the Prague Process initially raised hopes that a comprehensive settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict could be reached. The negotiation process would be based on withdrawal of Armenian military forces from the five occupied territories of Azerbaijan that situated outside Nagorno-Karabakh and IDPs returning to their historical places of residence. However, the parties failed to agree on the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh. The result of the negotiations between the parties under the Prague Process was that the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh would determined by vote. What Armenia was looking for with the vote was either international recognition or unification with Armenia. On the other hand, Azerbaijan was against any attempt to violate its territorial integrity, and stated that it was ready to grant Nagorno-Karabakh the highest autonomous status. Another sticking point was the issue of the occupied Lachin and Kalbajar regions of Azerbaijan, which connected Nagorno-Karabakh to the Armenian Republic. Armenia demanded demilitarization of both regions, in order to secure the corridor. However, Azerbaijan demanded withdrawal of all Armenian forces from these territories and insisted on full rights being granted to the IDPs, who had been displaced from these regions during the conflict. Finding a solution to these issues seemed difficult at the negotiation table, since Armenia did not accept the rule of Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan did not view secession of Nagorno-Karabakh positively. Due to these controversial issues, at the direct talks between Ilham Aliyev and Robert Kocarian in Rambouillet in February, in Bucharest in June and in Minsk in November, the parties again failed to reach agreement.[6] Thus, the lack of political will and mistrust hampered the negotiations within the framework of the Prague Process, which was followed later by Madrid Principles.

[1] “Personal representatives of Armenian and Azeri Presidents hold Nagorno-Karabakh talks in Prague”, OSCE: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, May 14, 2002; http://www.osce.org/mg/54337. Accessed on October 3, 2020.

[2] Mehtiyev, Elkhan, “Armenia-Azerbaijan Prague Process: Road Map to Peace or Stalemate for Uncertainty?”, Caucasus Series, 05/23, May 2005, p. 4.

[3] Mehtiyev, “Armenia-Azerbaijan Prague Process”, p. 4.

[4] “Report of the Co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group to the OSCE Ministerial Council” MC.GAL/9/04, December 30, 2004.

[5] “Report of the Co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group to the OSCE Ministerial Council”.

[6] International Crisis Group, “Nagorno-Karabakh: Risking War”, Europe Report, No. 187, November 14, 2007, pp. 1-6.