Azerbaijan Turns Down PACE Hearing Invitation

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Azeri parliamentary officials announced Friday that Azerbaijan would not attend hearings on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict–initiated by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe–scheduled to begin Wednesday.

At a Milli Mejlis–parliament–session Friday–speaker Murtuz Alaskarov said that Azerbaijan would decline the PACE invitation since Azeri deman’s to include an Azeri delegation from Karabakh was rejected.

Last month–PACE decided that the Azeri community of Karabakh could be represented alongside the Azeri delegation. Armenian officials said that PACE hearings would go on regardless of Azerbaijan’s position on the matter.

The parliamentary delegation representing Armenia at the PACE hearings left Monday for Paris to attend the upcoming hearings on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Officials in Yerevan said the delegation–led by parliament speaker Khosrov Harutiunian–had been "seriously preparing" for the discussions and looked forward to the participation of Nagorno-Karabakh authorities.

The hearings–due to get underway on Wednesday–come in the wake of what appears to be the failure of the latest peace initiative by another pan-European organization–the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe–which spearheads international efforts to end the decade-long dispute. The chances of an imminent breakthrough in the stalled peace process looked uncertain after Azerbaijan rejected the OSCE’s most recent peace plan–largely accepted by Armenia and Karabakh.

"It is essential that Nagorno-Karabakh will be able to present its views on ways to resolve the conflict," a senior official in Armenia’s parliament told RFE/RL on Monday.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic will be represented at the hearings by President Arkady Ghoukassian

Originally planned for November 3 in Strasbourg–the hearings were deferred following Azerbaijan’s objections regarding their format. Baku said the ethnic Azeri minority of Karabakh should also be invited to the hearings as a separate conflicting party. Shmavon Shahbazian–chief of the Armenian parliament’s external relations department–said the gathering–the first in its kind at the influential human rights organization–can hardly bring about a major breakthrough as far as the conflict’s settlement is concerned. But he added that the face-to-face dialogue between the parties may facilitate the search for peace.

"I don’t think that it is the Council of Europe that should resolve the Karabakh issue. Peace rather hinges on the parties’ progress in the transition to democracy," Shahbazian said. "The closer they get to democratic principles accepted in the West–the more likely the settlement will be."

"The Council of Europe is beginning to understand that Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Europe," he said. "In European capitals–Karabakh is sometimes fancied as a region high in the mountains with armed and bearded men roaming the streets. But in Paris–Council of Europe officials will see that Karabakh is represented by well-prepared and courteous individuals with European manners."

A fact-finding mission of the Council touring the South Caucasus paid a first-ever visit to Karabakh last June. Armenia and Azerbaijan currently have a "special guest" status at the organization and have been seeking full membership.

The Council of Europe has singled out the Karabakh conflict as one of the main obstacles to the acceptance of the two hostile neighbors.

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