Armenian, Azeri Leaders Call for Karabagh Peace


BAKU (RFE/RL) — The spiritual leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan voiced
support for the long-running efforts to peacefully resolve the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict and vowed to help reconcile their estranged nations after a landmark meeting in Baku on Monday.

The supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II, met with Azerbaijan’s Shia Muslim leader, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, as well as the Russian Orthodox Church leader, Patriarch Kirill II, on the sidelines of a summit of world religious leaders held in the Azerbaijan.  Karekin II attended the forum at their invitation.

The three leaders appealed for Karabagh peace in a joint declaration issued after their meeting. The declaration encourages the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents as well as international mediators to continue to look for a compromise solution to the bitter dispute.

“It is vitally important not to allow a return to military ways of solving contentious issues,” reads the document. “With our peace efforts, we will be sustaining people’s hopes for the elimination of existing divisions, barriers and animosity, for war, if it is continued, will have no end.” It welcomes
liberation of prisoners and other “acts of goodwill” between the warring
sides and condemns any “acts of vandalism” committed in the conflict zone.

“I believe that all problems in the Caucasus, including the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict, will be solved by peaceful and just means,” the  Azerbaijani Trend news agency quoted Pashazade as telling Karekin II at the meeting. “I am confident that you too will strive to make sure that the problem does not take on a religious character.”

Karekin II was reported to agree, saying that the two clergies should jointly
make sure that the Karabagh conflict does not transform into a “religious
confrontation.”

The Karabagh conflict was also a key theme of Karekin II’s speech delivered at the Baku summit and publicized by his press office in Echmiadzin earlier in the day. “It is our duty to urge our peoples to help the presidents of our states peacefully move towards a solution to the existing problems and a final settlement of the conflict,” he told over 150 religious leaders from around the world. “We are praying to see the nice day when all the closed borders in the region will be open and when all people will be able to move freely,” the Catholicos said, referring to himself. He ended the speech by publicly inviting Pashazade to visit the Echmiadzin headquarters of the Armenian Church.

Karekin II and two bishops accompanying him became the first  high-ranking Armenian clerics to set foot in Azerbaijan since the outbreak of the Karabagh conflict in 1988. Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, an Armenian Apostolic Church legate in the United States, also attended the forum in his capacity as president of the US National Council of Churches.