Baku’s official relationship with the European Union (EU) has been a nuanced mix of cooperation and contention, particularly in the areas of human rights, democracy, and peacebuilding. This paper seeks to examine the impact of Western political pressure on Azerbaijan in the context of peacebuilding efforts on the ground, highlighting the challenges, risks, and opportunities within this dynamic.

EU-Azerbaijan Tensions and Politicization of Peacebuilding Efforts

The relationship between Baku and Brussels has undergone fluctuations primarily centered on differing priorities. Azerbaijan has prioritized bilateral cooperation, often emphasizing sectors like energy and security. Conversely, the EU has consistently highlighted concerns regarding democracy and human rights, leading to deepening disparities in mutual understanding.

The aftermath of the 2020 Karabakh war escalated tensions between the EU and Baku. Criticism from EU institutions and member states regarding the exodus of Armenians from Karabakh strained official relations. Consequently, in Azerbaijani society perception of the EU shifted from a neutral actor to a party taking sides. Amid ongoing Western pressure, ordinary people were frustrated by the EU’s silence during the violent conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s when hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis were forcefully displaced, tens of thousands were killed and injured, and their homes destroyed or occupied.

This shift in perception led to an increase in the state’s pressure on Azerbaijani civil society, which was already strained from the state pressure levied in years prior. The EU’s championing of Track 2 peacebuilding initiatives influenced civic peace activists associated with European-led projects. However, as relations deteriorated these individuals faced repercussions, endangering potential EU activities in Azerbaijan. Already marginalized peacebuilders were further alienated by the society, labeled naïve vis a vis EU’s “biased” and “politically motivated” promotion of its values in the region.

Politicization and Interwoven Agendas

The current context’s politicization of peacebuilding can heighten authorities’ hostility towards peacebuilders, framing them as Western-backed groups pushing political agendas under the guise of peace initiatives. Vocal social activists calling for peace after 2020 faced marginalization, the government labeled them disloyal due to perceived internal political motives. This led to reevaluation within the peacebuilding community and the identification of divisive elements.

Further politicization risks intensifying conflict between actors, constricting the space for genuine peacebuilding efforts and potentially alienating civil society actors critical for sustainable peace.

Civil Society Challenges and Lack of Dialogue

The absence of a robust NGO infrastructure in Azerbaijan limits capacity to prepare society for peacebuilding initiatives. Insufficient international support and dialogue between Baku and Brussels exacerbate these challenges. Despite the proximity to achieving peace, the region lacks the groundwork to foster a strong civil society necessary for sustained peace efforts. Limited available funding exacerbates these impediments.

EU's Shifting Approach and Regional Dynamics

The EU’s evolving approach to the region, influenced by events like the Ukraine conflict, showcases a growing separation between democratic-leaning Armenia and Georgia and the more authoritarian Azerbaijan. This shift could impact the EU’s engagement strategies and funding allocation, potentially limiting opportunities for peacebuilding initiatives in Azerbaijan.

Policy Recommendations

Diplomatic Engagement: Advocate for sustained, inclusive, and high-level dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan, facilitated by neutral international mediators, with the aim of achieving a mutually acceptable and lasting resolution that respects territorial integrity and the right to self-determination. Communication with the Azerbaijan side along with the criticism that emphasizing empathy towards the specific grievances of the Azerbaijan side is crucial. For the Azerbaijani side the sense of an unjust and “biased” approach towards the grievances of Armenian and Azerbaijanis from the international community—including the EU—is one of the most important and sensitive points in bilateral relations.

Regional Cooperation Initiatives: Encourage collaborative frameworks involving Armenia, Azerbaijan, and neighboring countries to foster economic interdependence, cultural exchange, and mutual trust, thereby mitigating tensions and promoting shared interests. To create incentives for the sides to participate in the peace/reconciliatory initiative, develop and study the potential creation of an EU-led International Fund that will support both governments in the projects that will promote the reconciliation and post-conflict reconstruction. However, initiatives of this kind should come with certain conditions and responsibilities, e.g. stronger presence of Azerbaijani independent civil society in the process that the sides should take. This will create the basis for an increase in the EU’s presence in the region which will positively affect the reconciliation process.

Confidence-Building Measures: Promote comprehensive confidence-building measures, encompassing people-to-people exchanges, educational programs, cultural initiatives, and joint economic ventures, to cultivate trust and pave the way for reconciliation. There is a need to promote the change of the grant policy in Azerbaijan; certain negotiations should take place between the EU (including some member states) and Baku on the need to strengthen an Azerbaijani civil society that will be capable of working both with governments and society in preparing the populations for peace.


The implications of Western political pressure on Azerbaijani civil society within the realm of peacebuilding are multifaceted. The current trajectory poses a number of risks that include further marginalizing peace activists and shrinking the space for constructive dialogue and action. To navigate these challenges, fostering a robust civil society, engaging in dialogue, and ensuring inclusive peacebuilding initiatives are crucial steps toward sustainable peace in the region. Addressing the nuances of political pressure while safeguarding the autonomy and legitimacy of peacebuilding efforts is imperative for long-term stability in Azerbaijan and the broader region.

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