The two leaders scored points with audiences back home, but the event seems unlikely to have advanced the prospects for peace between the two rivals.
The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan sparred in an extraordinary public debate in front of the global political elite and – in a surprise to absolutely no one – the event was dominated by dodgy historical claims and political point-scoring and seems likely to only set back the prospect of peace between the two countries.
President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan squared off on February 15 at the Munich Security Conference, a gathering of world leaders and policymakers. It was unclear how the event came about, and it was only announced a matter of hours before it took place.
Aliyev spoke first, and he set the tone by beginning his remarks: “First we need to go back and look at the history of the issue,” then launching into a history beginning with the 1805 Treaty of Kurekchay. When it was Pashinyan’s turn to respond, he went back far deeper in history, to the first-century B.C. era of King Tigran the Great, when “there wasn’t any country named Azerbaijan.” Pashinyan repeated a conspiracy theory that Azerbaijanis themselves committed the notorious Khojaly massacre against their own people, and that Nagorno-Karabakh was part of Soviet Azerbaijan only as a result of conspiring between “Lenin, Stalin, and Ataturk.” Aliyev said the Russian media was controlled by Armenians. And so on.
As one Twitter user later put it, rather than watching the event one could “just read some YouTube comment sections between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. It was not much different.”