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Yerevan Rejects Azeri Criticism Of Karabakh Trip


Nagorno-Karabakh -- Armenian Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazian (L) meets with Karabakh President Ara Harutiunian, Stepanakert, January 5, 2021.

Armenia rejected on Thursday Azerbaijan’s strong criticism of Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazian’s latest visit to Nagorno-Karabakh, saying that it did not run counter to the Russian-brokered ceasefire in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict zone.

Ayvazian travelled to Stepanakert earlier this week for talks with Karabakh’s leaders. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev condemned the trip as “provocative” in televised remarks aired on Thursday.

Aliyev said Armenian officials must stop visiting Karabakh without Baku’s permission. “Let them not forget about the war,” he said, according to the TASS news agency.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry claimed earlier that Ayvazian’s trip violated the ceasefire agreement that stopped the war in and around Karabakh on November 10.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Anna Naghdalian, dismissed the claim as “completely baseless.”

In written comments to the Interfax news agency, Naghdalian insisted that the truce agreement “does not place any restrictions on contacts between Armenia and Karabakh at various levels.” Nor does it specify Karabakh’s status, she said.

Naghdalian said that Baku itself is violating a key provision of the agreement by refusing to free dozens of Armenian soldiers and civilians that were captured during the six-week war.

The deal brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin calls for the exchange of all prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians held by the conflicting sides. So far 54 Armenians have been freed and returned home.

A senior Azerbaijani official reportedly said on Monday that only two Armenians POWs and three civilians remain in Azerbaijani captivity.

Siranush Sahakian, a Yerevan-based human rights lawyer dealing with the prisoners, dismissed that claim when she spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Wednesday. Sahakian said that the Armenian side possesses evidence of at least 120 Armenian captives still being held by Baku.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s press secretary, Mane Gevorgian, warned on Thursday that Baku’s reluctance to free them will seriously complicate the implementation of another key term of the ceasefire accord: the opening of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border for cargo and passenger traffic.

The accord specifically commits Yerevan to opening a transport link between the Nakhichevan exclave and the rest of Azerbaijan, which would pass through Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province. Gevorgian said that contrary to Aliyev’s statements it would not serve as a permanent “corridor.” She also stressed that Baku will have to allow, for its part, Armenia to use Azerbaijani territory as a transit route for cargo shipments to and from Russia and Iran.

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