YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–An Azerbaijani delegation led by a prominent diplomat and public figure paid a rare visit to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Armenia on Friday as part of a Russian-backed initiative to rebuild bridges between the two estranged peoples.
“We are here to create relations between people,” Polad Bulbuloglu, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Russia, said after arriving in Stepanakert along with several Azerbaijani intellectuals, two of them parliament deputies.
The delegation crossed into Karabakh from a northern section of the heavily fortified Armenian-Azerbaijani line of contact. Troops deployed there temporarily cleared the area of landmines to ensure the group’s safe passage.
The Azerbaijanis were accompanied by Mikhail Shvydkoy, a former Russian culture minister who acted on behalf of President Dmitry Medvedev. They were joined in Karabakh by Armen Smbatian, the Armenian ambassador in Moscow. Bulbuloglu and Smbatian already organized a similar trip two years ago.
“Unlike our first trip, we have had pretty heated debates here this time around,” Bulbuloglu told journalists after he and his companions met with Nagorno-Karabakh President Bako Sahakian, members of the Karabakh parliament and local intellectuals. He did not go into details.
Bulbuloglu, who had previously served Azerbaijan’s culture minister, said the initiative is aimed at strengthening trust between Armenians and Azerbaijanis and thereby facilitating a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh dispute. “Neither the Armenians, nor the Azerbaijanis are going to fly to outer space [for good,]” he said. “We have to live together. That is why we need to make contacts, to create relationships, to instill mutual respect.”
“Our peoples have for centuries lived side by side, and I am deeply convinced that after a certain number of years everything will be sorted out and we will again live together,” added the former popular singer.
The delegation proceeded to Yerevan later in the day to meet with President Serzh Sarkisian. “We have always been and remain of the opinion that it is possible to find solutions to difficult issues through cooperation and dialogue,” Sarkisian said, according to his office.
Joined by Smbatian and several other Armenians, the group traveled to Baku after the meeting. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev is due to meet them on Saturday.