BAKU (RFE/RL)—Azerbaijan strongly objects to Armenia’s membership in a Russian-led customs union because of the continuing “Armenian occupation” of Azerbaijani lands, a top aide to President Ilham Aliyev said on Friday.
“It is common knowledge that corresponding resolutions of the UN, the OSCE and other authoritative international organizations certify the fact of the occupation by Armenia of Azerbaijani territory and explicitly demand its liberation by the aggressor state,” Ali Hasanov told the Trend news agency. “Therefore, Armenia’s accession to the Customs Union or any other structure of its kind is possible only after the liberation of the occupied Azerbaijani lands.”
“Either this state [Armenia] must officially acknowledge its claims to the occupied territories — and the structures comprising it must accept it — or give back those lands and join new unions with borders recognized by the UN,” Hasanov said.
Hasanov, who heads a key department in the Azerbaijani presidential administration, did not clarify whether Baku plans to formally lodge complaints with the Customs Union or its three member states: Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Official Yerevan laughed off Hasanov’s remarks. “We don’t comment on nonsense,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The remarks come just three days after Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev voiced misgivings about Yerevan’s membership bid, citing the uncertain legal status of Armenia’s border with the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Nazarbayev seemed to imply that Armenia should set up customs checkpoints there and levy import duties from goods coming from Karabakh.
Armenian officials have ruled out such possibility. Some of them have indicated that Moscow tacitly supports Yerevan’s position on the sensitive issue.
Kazakhstan has repeatedly signed multilateral statements supporting Azerbaijan’s position in the Karabakh conflict. One such statement adopted at an August 16 summit of Turkic-speaking states called for a Karabakh settlement “within Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders.” President Serzh Sarkisian criticized afterwards Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan for signing it.