Spat comes amid warnings of the risk of renewed conflict in the South Caucasus.
An EU-backed effort to avert a new conflict in the South Caucasus has been overshadowed by a growing diplomatic row, with Azerbaijan accusing French President Emmanuel Macron of misrepresenting what was discussed during high-stakes peace talks with Armenia.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met on Thursday evening on the sidelines of the European Political Community summit in Moldova for the latest in a series of negotiations on a potential peace treaty. Macron, along with European Council President Charles Michel and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, joined the sit-down as mediators.
In a statement following the summit, the Elysée Palace said the “European leaders called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to respect all their commitments,” urging the two neighboring nations to release prisoners of war and avoid “hostile rhetoric.” In addition, Macron’s press service added, the three Western leaders “stressed the importance of defining rights and guarantees for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh,” the breakaway region over which Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a brutal war in 2020.
However, on Friday, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry spokesperson Aykhan Hajizada said “the statement made unilaterally by the French President about the meeting does not reflect and distorts the position of the parties. Unfortunately, this is not the first case of such behavior by France, and it does not make a positive contribution to the peace process.”
Responding to the claims, the French foreign ministry said only that the press release issued by the presidency “set out the conclusions of yesterday’s meeting.” Hajizada, meanwhile, declined to elaborate on which parts of Paris’ version of events Baku believes are inaccurate.
A senior EU official, granted anonymity to discuss the sensitive political issue, confirmed to POLITICO that “the question of rights and security, which has also been a prominent part of the recent discussions in Brussels, was addressed yesterday.” Michel separately commented on the issue in a brief statement to reporters following the talks.
Armenia is pushing for an “international mechanism” to guarantee the safety of Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian population and, in a readout from Thursday’s meeting, said the issue had been brought up. In April, Pashinyan declared he is ready to recognize Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over the breakaway region, which has been governed autonomously by a Yerevan-backed administration since the fall of the Soviet Union, but questions remain over the fate of those living there.
Aliyev has insisted local Armenians must lay down their arms and accept being ruled from Baku in exchange for an “amnesty.”
In an open letter ahead of the talks in Moldova, the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention wrote to Macron urging him to help prevent a mass exodus of the population in Nagorno-Karabakh, which it describes as a potential “genocide.”
Macron has been one of Armenia’s closest supporters in the EU, and has previously been the subject of derision in Azerbaijan.
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