Armenian, Azerbaijani Leaders Mix Optimistic Talk With Angry Discourse In Moscow

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Armenian, Azerbaijani Leaders Mix Optimistic Talk With Angry Discourse In Moscow

By RFE/RL May 25, 2023

The leaders of bitter Caucasus rivals Armenia and Azerbaijan mixed words of conciliation and with angry disagreements over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in a Moscow meeting on May 25 in front of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said there had been progress in recent days toward a settlement of their long dispute based on mutual recognition of each other's territorial integrity.

But they also exchanged angry words over Baku's moves to impede Armenian access to Nagorno-Karabakh. Pashinian said the actions had caused a humanitarian crisis by closing the only land route from Armenia to the region -- an allegation Aliyev denied.

The talks took place at a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union -- a grouping of several former Soviet republics -- in Moscow.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for decades. Some 30,000 people were killed in a war in the early 1990s that left ethnic Armenians in control of the predominantly Armenian-populated region and seven adjacent districts of Azerbaijan proper.

Decades of internationally mediated talks failed to result in a diplomatic solution and the simmering conflict led to another war in 2020 in which nearly 7,000 soldiers were killed on both sides.

The six-week war, in which Azerbaijan regained all the Armenian-controlled areas outside of Nagorno-Karabakh as well as chunks of territory inside the Soviet-era autonomous region, ended with a Russian-brokered cease-fire under which Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to serve as peacekeepers.

In mid-December 2022, Azerbaijani activists began obstructing the road known as the Lachin Corridor, which Pashinian said should be under control of Russian peacekeepers.

Baku in April erected a checkpoint along the route, saying it was necessary to control the supply of arms being sent to the region and to end illegal mining operations. It said the road remained open to humanitarian aid, claims Yerevan disputed.

Pashinian called Baku's blocking of access to the region a "direct violation" of the 2020 cease-fire agreement.

Aliyev said that "Azerbaijan did not block any corridor.... There is no need to use this platform for unfounded accusations."

Speaking Russian, Pashinian and Aliyev continued to argue over the matter until Putin ended the conversation.

Earlier, both leaders had spoken more optimistically about ending their dispute, saying there had been progress in recent days toward a settlement based on based on mutual recognition of each other's territory.

Putin later held a three-way session with the two leaders that ran deep into the night.

According to state-run TASS news agency, Putin said that "in my view, and our view -- I mean the view of all three of us -- the prime minister of Armenia, the president of Azerbaijan -- these are the hurdles that can be overcome."

Putin, although distracted by the war in Ukraine that began with his February 2022 invasion of that country, has attempted to keep involved in the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute.

France and the United States have also been involved in the dispute and have urged Baku to end barriers to Armenian access to Nagorno-Karabakh for humanitarian aid.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Armenian and Azerbaijani services and Reuters

Source: talks/32428053.html

Copyright (c) 2023. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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