By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian reacted negatively on Tuesday to his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliev’s decision not to attend an upcoming summit of former Soviet republics in protest against “Armenian aggression” in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Aliev announced on Monday that he will not take part in the May 8 summit in Moscow of the Commonwealth of Independent States because it will coincide with the 13th anniversary of one of the most serious Azerbaijani setbacks in the 1991-94 Karabakh war. He said he will instead attend the May 9 ceremonies in Moscow marking the 60th anniversary of Allied victory over Nazi Germany.
"The Azerbaijani president does not consider it appropriate to participate in a meeting which will be attended by the president of an aggressor country, Armenia, on the day when the [Karabakh] town of Shusha was seized by Armenian occupying forces," Aliev’s press service was reported to state.
But Kocharian’s office dismissed this explanation, saying that Shusha was in fact fully “liberated from Azerbaijani occupation” on May 9, 1992. “That day is officially marked every year in the republics of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh,” it said, implying that Aliev may have had other motives.
Once the cultural and political center of the Karabakh Armenians, Shusha was mainly populated by Azerbaijanis when the bitter ethnic conflict broke out in 1988. Nestled on a hilltop just 15 kilometers southwest of Stepanakert, it provided an ideal position for Azerbaijani troops that bombarded the Karabakh capital on an almost daily basis during the initial stage of the war.
Shusha remained the only Azerbaijani stronghold inside Karabakh when Armenian forces successfully stormed it 13 years ago. The town’s fall precipitated the opening of a land corridor between Armenia and the disputed enclave which proved vital for Armenian victory in the war.
The Moscow summit was seen as a possible occasion for a widely anticipated meeting between Aliev and Kocharian which international mediators say could yield a breakthrough in the Karabakh peace process. It is not clear if Aliev’s decision made an Armenian-Azerbaijani summit in the Russian capital impossible.
The two men could also meet in Warsaw on the sidelines of a Council of Europe summit scheduled for May 16-17.
The U.S., Russian and French mediators discussed preparations for the Aliev-Kocharian meeting during separate “proximity talks” with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in London on April 17. They held a follow-up meeting with Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov in Frankfurt on April 27. Mammadyarov’s Armenian opposite number, Vartan Oskanian, declined to attend the talks for unknown reasons.