By Emil Danielyan
Armenia said on Tuesday that Azerbaijan has effectively prevented it from participating in this week’s meeting in Baku of high-ranking defense officials from the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The one-day session of the CIS Council of Defense Ministers is scheduled to open in the Azerbaijani capital on Wednesday. Official Yerevan said last week that Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian will not attend it, presumably because of the unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian Defense Ministry decided to send a lower-level delegation to the gathering instead.
In a statement, the ministry said it has been informed by the Moscow-based Secretariat of the increasingly moribund CIS structure that the Azerbaijani authorities have refused to guarantee the security of the Armenian participants. It condemned the move, accusing Azerbaijan of failing to honor its international obligations.
“We expect an official response from the CIS Council of Defense Ministers to the incident,” added the statement.
A spokesman for the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry confirmed that Baku is against Armenian participation in the meeting. "We came out against the participation at the meeting of occupier-countries - Armenia - which occupies 20 percent of territory long held by Azerbaijan," the Associated Press news agency quoted Ilgar Verdiyev as saying.
Many Azerbaijani government officials and civil society representatives consider the physical presence of any Armenian citizens in their country an affront to the memory of Azerbaijanis killed during the 1991-1994 war for Karabakh. The Azerbaijani government was driven by such considerations when it refused to allow a group of Armenian army officers to take part in a NATO-led military exercise that had been due to take place on Azerbaijani soil in September 2004. NATO officials responded by canceling the multinational drills.
In a separate development, President Jacques Chirac discussed the Karabakh conflict with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliev in Paris on Tuesday. "There is no alternative to a peaceful, negotiated settlement," he told Aliev, according to the Associated Press.
The meeting came three days after Chirac reportedly sent a letter to the Azerbaijani leader urging him not to miss a “unique opportunity” to settle the conflict. He apparently referred to Aliev’s upcoming meeting in Bucharest with President Robert Kocharian. International mediators hope the two men will reach a framework peace agreement on Karabakh there.
Aliev was in Paris to attend a session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Addressing the Assembly on Tuesday, he called Karabakh "a black hole of Europe."