By Artur Terian in Moscow
The spiritual leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia made on Wednesday a joint appeal for peace in the volatile Caucasus after a meeting in Moscow hosted by the Russian Orthodox Church.
In a statement, Russian Supreme Patriarch Alexi II, Catholicos Garegin II of Armenia, Catholicos Ilia II of Georgia and Azerbaijan’s Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukyur Pasha-zade urged their countries’ governments to resolve their differences peacefully and tackle religious intolerance. They also reaffirmed their stated readiness to promote peaceful co-existence of the region’s ethnically and religiously diverse peoples.
In an apparent reference to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, the statement said they have already succeed in preventing regional ethnic acrimonies from degenerating into an “all-out Christian-Muslim conflict.” Still, the top clerics, notably Garegin and Pasha-zade, apparently failed to agree on how it should be resolved.
According to the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Karabakh was a major theme of the discussion, with “different positions” expressed on the issue. “The differences centered on countries’ territorial integrity and peoples’ right to self-determination,” he told reporters, referring to the two often conflicting principles of international law cited by the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides.
The Russian Church, which has close ties with the Kremlin, has already sponsored face-to-face meetings with the Armenian and Azerbaijani religious leaders in the past. But those contacts have had little impact on the extremely difficult search for a mutually acceptable political deal on Karabakh.