Azerbaijan Nixes Council of Europe Meeting on Karabakh

YEREVAN (RFE./RL–Noyan Tapan)–Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Monday expressed their regret over a postponement of planned hearings in the Council of Europe on the long-running Karabakh conflict–following objections voiced by Baku.

Invitations to attend the hearings in Strasbourg–initially scheduled for November 3–were extended earlier this month to the foreign ministers and parliament speakers of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as the leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The speaker of the Armenian parliament–Khosrov Haroutiunian–said he was notified of the postponement late last week by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly which said Azerbaijan had "misgivings" over the format of the scheduled talks.

Haroutiunian said in a statement Monday that the hearings were an "excellent opportunity for the conflicting parties to present their positions" to the pan-European human rights organization. "An authoritative organization like the Council of Europe should not let its initiative fail because of one of the parties," he said.

In a telephone conversation with PACE Secretary General Bruno Haller–Haroutiunian said that Armenia attached great importance to the Strasbourg discussions and that they might have been a good opportunity for all sides to express their viewpoints on the Karabakh conflict.

Haroutiunian went on to say that the discussions would have given new impetus to the process of Armenia’s accession to the Council of Europe–as well as promote the establishment of an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual understanding in the region.

Haroutiunian said that an important body such as the Council of Europe should not have allowed any side to the conflict "to torpedo its initiatives."

Haller assured that the initiative was still in force–expressing hope that discussion would take place and yield successful results.

Observers say Azerbaijan may have objected to treating Nagorno-Karabakh as a separate party to the conflict. Other reports have said Baku wanted a similar invitation to the ethnic Azeri minority–which left Karabakh in the early 1990s.

Meanwhile–Azerbaijan’s stance was condemned on Monday by the government of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. A statement issued by Stepanakert deplored Council of Europe’s "retreat from earlier agreemen’s…under Azeri pressure."

It said the Azeri authorities have been "weakened by the recent presidential election" and have become "hostage to internal political instability."

Karabakh said the decision to hold the hearings was a "manifestation of the European community’s legitimate concerns" about stability in the Caucasus.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Foreign Ministry viewed the PACE decision as a retreat from agreemen’s on the political framework of the dialogue between conflicting parties under the pressure of Azerbaijan–and inability of Azeri authorities to adhere to previous commitmen’s.

The Karabakh foreign ministry–asserted its commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict and–once again–pledged the willingness of Karabakh authorities to participate in the exchange of opinions "which affords the opportunity to the Armenian–Azeri and Karabakh delegations to state their positions to the Council of Europe–an organization which aims at developing pan-European cooperation–based on principles of democracy and pluralism."

"It should be noted that PACE’s initiative to hold hearings on the Karabakh conflict with the participation of the three parties to the conflict in Strasbourg was regarded as an important decision made and concern displayed by the European Community in connection with the situation in the region," concluded the announcement.

During a meeting last week between Haroutiunian and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic president Arkady Ghoukassian views on the PACE meeting were exchanged with both leaders expressing optimism that the meeting in Strasbourg would lay the foundations for mutual understanding between the sides to the conflict.

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