YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A Yerevan-born Azerbaijani government minister spoke of his delight with a first visit to Armenia in over two decades on Thursday as he took part in an international conference held in his hometown.
Agriculture Minister Ismat Abbasov is among some 160 participants of the two-day conference held by the Food and Agriculture Organization, a United Nations relief agency. They represent 45 countries of Europe and Central Asia.
Abbasov, a rare Azerbaijani official visiting Armenia, arrived in Yerevan earlier this week and had time to visit the house in the city center where he was born and grew up. He also traveled to two formerly Azerbaijani-populated villages in eastern Armenia where he had spent his summer holidays.
“I was born on Alaverdian street,” Abbasov told journalists in fluent Armenian on the sidelines of the forum. “I finished school in Yerevan and then went to university in Baku. I speak Armenian but haven’t used it for a long time. So I had better answer questions in Russian.”
“For me, Yerevan is a home city,” Abbasov continued. “I was born and grew up here. I’m very glad to have had a chance to come here.
“I am happy to be in Yerevan because our peoples want a quick end to the existing troubles so that they can return to places dear to their hearts. For example, when villagers saw me, they were surprised. Those who had migrated from Azerbaijan said, ‘Will we too get see our lands one day?’”
The two South Caucasus neighbors had sizable Armenian and Azerbaijani minorities until the outbreak of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988. The vast majority of them were forced to flee their homes in the following years.
Abbasov said he had last visited Armenia in 1987. While affirming both parties’ commitment to peace, the minister echoed his governments’ threats to resolve the conflict by force if the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations yield no agreement in the near future.
“We want this conflict to be resolved by peaceful means so that no blood is shed,” he said. “But if the conflict is not resolved by peaceful means, unfortunately Azerbaijan will be looking for an alternative variant, and a military solution will not be excluded [in that case.]”