Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian talked to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Thursday at a summit of ex-Soviet states held in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg, it emerged on Friday.
Pashinian said that the conversation took place at a dinner hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin for fellow leaders from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Aliyev’s chief foreign policy aide, Hikmet Hajiyev, confirmed that, saying that the two men discussed “the continuation of active negotiations” on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He told the Trend news agency that recent weeks’ decrease in ceasefire violations in the conflict zone is creating a “good background” for making major progress towards a peaceful settlement.
Aliyev and Pashinian, who came to power in May, spoke with each other for the first time at the previous CIS summit held in Tajikistan in September.
Pashinian said he discussed with Aliyev in Saint Petersburg “previous episodes of the negotiation process” and a possible exchange of prisoners of war and other captives held by the two parties.
“We did not reach an agreement [on the exchange] but will continue discussions,” he told reporters. “As you know, they proposed an all-for-all formula but we have a problem with that. We also need to discuss that with the Karabakh authorities.”
Two Armenian civilians and a Karabakh Armenian soldier are currently held in Azerbaijani captivity. Three Azerbaijani men are held in detention in Karabakh. One of them is a soldier.
The two others, Dilgam Askerov and Shahbaz Quliyev, were caught shortly after crossing, together with another Azerbaijani, Hasan Hasanov, into the Kelbajar district sandwiched Armenia and the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast in 2014. Hasanov was gunned down after reportedly killing an Armenian army officer and gravely wounding a civilian woman.
The shootings were reported four days before a 17-year-old Karabakh Armenian resident of Kelbajar was found dead near his family’s farm. The Karabakh authorities believe that he was kidnapped and killed by the Azerbaijani “saboteurs.”
A Karabakh court subsequently sentenced Askerov and Quliyev to life imprisonment and 22 years in prison respectively. The Azerbaijani government denounced the trial as illegal and demanded the release of both men.
Hajiyev confirmed that Baku wants Askerov and Quliyev to be part of the proposed prisoner exchange. The Karabakh Armenian leadership rejected such an option last month, saying that the two jailed men had committed grave crimes.
Aliyev and Pashinian spoke the day after their foreign ministers held fresh talks in Milan in the presence of the U.S., Russian and French mediators co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group.
In a joint statement issued after the talks, the co-chairs expressed hope that “an intensive results-oriented high-level dialogue between the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia” will resume “in the near future.” They said the two ministers will try to “facilitate high-level talks” when they meet again early next year.