by Georgi Mirzabekyan
While in Berlin in early October, my focus was analyzing Germany’s political stance on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, which included also Nagorno-Karabakh. This examination was shaped by the following preceding events:
- The German Foreign Minister, speaking at the UN about Azerbaijan’s recent military actions against Nagorno-Karabakh, had used the term “forced deportation” referring to the forced expulsion of NK Armenians.
- Within the same speech, the German side had emphasized the territorial integrity of Armenia, calling for the resumption of Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations.
- In June 2023, Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations had been held with the participation of key EU actors, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Additionally, at the end of September, there had been discussions about the next round of negotiations with Scholz’s involvement (October 5, Granada), faced by a last-minute rejection by the President of Azerbaijan.
- In March, the Chancellor of Germany had held a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
The series of events mentioned above are quite noteworthy, suggesting that Germany is currently assuming a more engaged role in the Caucasus compared to previous years. As part of my exploration into this subject, I delved into Berlin’s stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, seeking to understand the South Caucasus’ significance from Germany’s perspective, and examined how local media outlets have reacted to these developments.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Germany has pursued a balanced but at the same time passive foreign policy in the South Caucasus. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was no exception, in which Germany has always supported the format of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmanship. Berlin also pursued a passive policy during the 44-Day War in 2020. As Hamburg-based political scientist Vahan Balayan observes, Germany has
always been open to cooperating with the conflicting parties on economic and financial programs, but has avoided getting involved in any conflict.
After the latest Azerbaijani aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh, the German side, among various statements, decided to provide 9.3 million euros of humanitarian aid to forcibly displaced people of Nagorno-Karabakh and spoke in favor of the return of the displaced persons.
All German experts I talked to agree that regardless of Germany’s perceptions about Nagorno-Karabakh, Berlin supports the territorial integrity of the countries, emphasizing the distinction between the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and Armenia-Azerbaijan relations. Hence, considering Germany’s cautious approach to foreign policy issues, Berlin’s involvement in the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations is noteworthy. According to Dr. Stefan Meister, an expert from the German Council on Foreign Relations, the office of the European Council President Charles Michel and the French side appealed to Berlin about this engagement.
The expert suggests that the EU wants to increase the significance of its mediation role in the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations. “I think Michel is a weak player and does not have the necessary leverage to bargain in negotiations,” says Meister.
Political scientist Vahan Balayan also believes that Germany’s presence at the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiation table is largely due to France’s request, and Paris intends to have a more significant role in these talks. The French factor is quite interesting, as Paris, the EU’s most influential player in foreign affairs, is regularly targeted by Azerbaijan. The French side is accused of having a “pro-Armenian” position, which puts the legitimacy of the French involvement under attack.
However, Germany’s engagement at the negotiation table does not mean that the South Caucasus is a priority direction for Berlin. Vahan Balayan and Mikheil Sarjveladze, a researcher at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, consider the 2023 German Security Strategy document a striking example of Germany having no strategic approach towards the South Caucasus, since the document lacks any specific reference to the South Caucasus. Instead, the document mainly underscores the importance of cooperation with the EU and NATO members, as well as the challenges created as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war.
Mikheil Sarjveladze highlights that the Russian-Ukrainian war triggered Germany’s attention towards the South Caucasus, as the EU needed alternative routes for energy supplies. Furthermore, parallel to the Russian war against Ukraine, the security and geopolitical significance of the South Caucasus has increased from the German perspective. Nonetheless, he adds that the South Caucasus still remains distant in the German perception and is currently not among the country’s foreign policy priorities.
Dr. Sarjveladze further notes that in the past Berlin did not want to take responsibility in the Caucasus or in the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations, also in view of the Russian influence factor. Dr. Stefan Meister, in his turn, points out: “Russia can be weakened but is not weak in the South Caucasus.” He is of the opinion that Armenia should take this reality into account, because according to him, neither Germany nor the EU can provide real security guarantees to Armenia. Moreover, he fears that the EU and Germany will not prevent aggressive actions against the territory of Armenia aimed at forcibly establishing the “corridor” because they “don’t have a political will to deter Azerbaijan.”
This idea surfaced also in several other Berlin discussions, with most speakers indicating that while Armenia’s territorial integrity is a “red line” for Berlin and a matter of great sensitivity for the German side, little action would likely be taken in the event of potential aggression. Same also applies to the possibility of sanctions against Azerbaijan. Stefan Meister is also pessimistic in this matter, stressing that only sanctions can deter Baku from another aggression against Armenia.
Vahan Balayan proposes to apply targeted sanctions against Azerbaijani officials, which, in his view, will significantly reduce Baku’s aggressive policy towards Armenia.
The German press has shown limited reactions to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, as indicated by Mr. Sarjveladze, who considers the German media’s response as somewhat impulsive, noting that the conflict remains outside the mainstream for Germany, despite its importance for the European security architecture. Vahan Balayan also echoes this sentiment, acknowledging increased activity from the German press during the Nagorno-Karabakh blockade but deeming these reactions insufficient. He highlights that the German public lacks adequate information about the ongoing developments in the South Caucasus.
However, this situation is influenced also by some other factors. As some colleagues pointed out, journalists face substantial challenges in covering the South Caucasus due to the required extensive background research on the conflict or the region before publishing any material. Additionally, this is also attributed to the significant focus of the German press on the Russian-Ukrainian war.
This article was published within the frames of “Correspondents in Conflict” Project,
implemented by Yerevan Press Club and Deutsche Gesellschaft e. V. The Project is
funded by the German Federal Foreign Office within the “Eastern Partnership Program”.
The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the implementing partners and can in
no way be taken to reflect the views of the Federal Foreign Office. #civilsocietycooperation
Georgi Mirzabekyan is a journalist and researcher at CivilNet, where he has been covering developments around various issues of the South Caucasus. Georgi conducts interview with various political experts, makes wrap up videos and writes analytical articles. He previously studied at YSU Oriental Studies Department and holds a PhD degree in History. His primary focus lies on monitoring the political and social developments in Azerbaijan, Türkiye and Iran.