BAKU (Reuters)–Armenia’s prime minister stepped onto the soil of arch-enemy Azerbaijan on Tuesday–but any hopes that his short visit might yield progress in resolving a long conflict between the two neighbors were quickly dashed.
Armen Darbinian–33–was sent to Baku by President Robert Kocharian–who declined an offer to personally attend a conference on forging a new Silk Road from Europe to Asia through the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Darbinian’s arrival–the highest-level visit ever by an Armenian official to Azerbaijan or vice-versa since the countries–already then locked in bloody conflict–gained independence in 1991–caused a stir and overshadowed the conference itself.
But Darbinian said he had no back-door meetings with Azerbaijan’s President Haydar Aliyev on how to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
"We greeted each other and we both expressed satisfaction that I am here," Darbinian told reporters at the end of the conference.
Darbinian brought with him proposals calling for an end to a costly trade embargo Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey have imposed on his landlocked country.
Both Turkey and Azerbaijan immediately dismissed them–although Darbinian said they had received "a positive general response" from some other conference participants.
"Unfortunately some countries do not have an objective position on the conflict," Darbinian said of Turkish President Suleyman Demirel’s refusal to open his border with Armenia–which has been closed since 1993.
Darbinian said he was convinced that regional cooperation and trade were the only way to heal old wounds and would eventually bring peace.
"We definitely hold the position that all initiatives in transport and trade will lead to peace," he said.
Darbinian’s visit carried at least symbolic significance–even if it failed to bring any tangible results.
"The fact that Darbinian is here is highly symbolic in itself," said delegate Cees Wittebrood of the European Union.
Darbinian arrived early on Tuesday–the only conference participant not to spend Monday night in Baku attending a state dinner–probably out of security concerns.
After the meeting–he flew straight back to Armenia.