Official Yerevan reacted angrily on Monday after Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev used a summit of the Group of 20 (G20) nations in Turkey to accuse Armenia of resorting to terrorism in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“That is an unsuccessful attempt to deflect the international community’s attention from direct links that have traditionally existed between Azerbaijan and various terror networks,” Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian charged in comments to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Aliyev was among world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, invited to the summit in the Turkish city of Antalya that was dominated by Friday’s deadly suicide bombings and shootings in Paris. They reportedly pledged to tighten border controls, step up intelligence sharing and crack down on terrorist financing after discussing ways of jointly fighting against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq.
In his speech at the summit, Aliyev said that Azerbaijan has long been suffering from terrorism emanating from the unresolved Karabakh conflict. “That terrorism is an integral component of Armenia’s policy of occupation against Azerbaijan,” Azerbaijani news agencies quoted him as saying.
“More than two thousand citizens of Azerbaijan have died as a result of terrorist acts perpetrated by Armenian terrorist organizations against Azerbaijan,” alleged Aliyev. He went on to repeat his calls for a resolution of the conflict that would restore Baku’s control over Karabakh and Armenian-controlled territories surrounding it.
Kocharian rejected the allegations, accusing Aliyev of acting “immorally” in the wake of the Paris attacks. He listed some of “the numerous facts” purportedly proving Azerbaijan’s ties with international terrorism.
In particular, Kocharian pointed to the well-known participation in the Karabakh war of Chechen fighters led by Shamil Basayev, a notorious warlord who claimed responsibility for a 2004 attack on a school in Beslan, Russia. At least 331 people, half of them children, were killed as a result.
“After the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, American special services recorded 60 phone calls to Baku made by [Osama] bin Laden,” said Kocharian. “In a statement adopted on November 25, 2002, the UN Security Council emphasized the existence in Azerbaijan of groups linked to Al-Qaeda.”
The Armenian official further pointed to reports that hundreds of Azerbaijanis have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the ISIS.
The bitter recriminations come amid continuing efforts by the U.S., Russian and French mediators to organize a fresh meeting between Aliyev and President Serzh Sarkisian. The mediators have said the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders have agreed to meet next month and try to revive the Karabakh peace process.