YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Azeri president Ilham Aliyev announced his decision not to attend an upcoming summit of former Soviet republics in protest against "Armenian aggression" in Karabagh.
Aliyev announced on Monday that he will not take part in the May 8 summit in Moscow of the Commonwealth of Independent States because it will coincide with the 13th anniversary of one of the most serious Azeri setbacks in the 1991-94 Karabagh war. He said he will instead attend the May 9 ceremonies in Moscow marking the 60th anniversary of Allied victory over Nazi Germany.
"The Azerbaijani president does not consider it appropriate to participate in a meeting which will be attended by the president of an aggressor country–Armenia–on the day when the [Karabagh] town of Shushi was seized by Armenian occupying forces," Aliyev’s press service was reported to state.
But Kocharian’s office dismissed this explanation–saying that Shushi was in fact fully "liberated from Azerbaijani occupation" on May 9–1992. "That day is officially marked every year in the republics of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh," it said.
Once the cultural and political center of Karabagh Armenia’s–Shushi was mainly populated by Azeris when the conflict broke out in 1988. Nestled on a hilltop just 15 kilometers southwest of Stepanakert–it provided an ideal position for Azeri troops that bombarded the Karabagh capital on an almost daily basis during the initial stage of the war.
Shushi remained the only Azeri stronghold inside Karabagh when Armenian forces successfully won it back it 13 years ago. The town’s fall precipitated the opening of a land corridor between Armenia and the disputed enclave which proved vital for Armenian victory in the war.
The Moscow summit was seen as a possible occasion for a widely anticipated meeting between Aliyev and Kocharian–which international mediators say could yield a breakthrough in the Karabagh peace process. It is not clear if Aliyev’s decision made an Armenian-Azerbaijani summit in the Russian capital impossible.
The two men could also meet in Warsaw on the sidelines of a Council of Europe summit scheduled for May 16-17.
The US–Russian–and French mediators discussed preparations for the Aliyev-Kocharian meeting during separate "proximity talks" with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in London on April 17. They held a follow-up meeting with Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov in Frankfurt on April 27.