Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev met on Friday for first-ever official negotiations between the leaders of the two former Soviet republics.
Pashinian described as “historic” the talks held on the sidelines of a Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Turkmenistan.
“It may seem strange but the leaders of Armenia and Uzbekistan have never held an official meeting before. This was the first such meeting,” Pashinian wrote on his Facebook page. He said he and Mirziyoyev exchanged invitations to visit each other’s capitals.
A Central Asian country of 31 million, Uzbekistan maintained lukewarm relations with Armenia when it was run by strongman President Islam Karimov from 1989 until his death in 2016. The two states were only nominal allies during Uzbekistan’s membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) from 2006-2012.
In 2010, for example, Karimov skipped an informal CSTO summit held in Yerevan. One month later he visited Baku and voiced support for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev praised Karimov’s “principled, consistent and firm position.”
An Armenian government statement said that Mirziyoyev and Pashinian agreed to expand relations between their nations. In that regard, Mirziyoyev proposed the creation of an Uzbek-Armenian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. Pashinian welcomed the idea.
The Uzbek leader, who succeeded Karimov as president in 2016, also spoke of his “positive impressions of the large-scale reforms going on in Armenia,” according to the statement.
Uzbekistan is home to the largest and oldest Armenian community in Central Asia. Between 40,000 and 70,000 Armenians are believed to live there at present. Pashinian was reported to praise the Uzbek government’s “caring attitude” towards them.