Azeri president says peace with Armenia is closer than ever

By Thomson Reuters Mar 17, 2024 | 7:51 PM

(Reuters) – Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said on Sunday his country is “closer than ever” to a peace with Armenia, half a year after Azerbaijan recaptured its Karabakh region from its ethnic Armenian majority, prompting a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians.

“Today, we are in an active phase of peace talks with Armenia,” Aliyev said in remarks after meeting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Baku, according to a transcript published on the Azeri leader’s website.

“We are now closer to peace than ever before.”

Stoltenberg said he welcomed the move towards peace between the two nations.

“I appreciate what you say about that you are closer to a peace agreement than ever before,” Stoltenberg said, according to a transcript published on NATO’s website.

“And I can just encourage you to seize this opportunity to reach a lasting peace agreement with Armenia.”

In December, the South Caucasus neighbours issued a joint statement saying they want to reach a peace deal and have since held numerous talks, including two days of negotiations in Berlin in February.

The press office of Armenian’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request to comment on Aliyev’s statement.

Christian Armenia and mostly Muslim Azerbaijan first went to war over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988. After decades of enmity, Azerbaijan in September recaptured Karabakh, controlled by its ethnic Armenian majority since the 1990s despite being internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan.

The offensive prompted most of the region’s 120,000 ethnic Armenians to flee to neighbouring Armenia.

Armenia described the offensive as ethnic cleansing. Azerbaijan denied that and said those who fled could have stayed on and been integrated into Azerbaijan.

Key elements in securing a treaty are demarcation of borders and the establishment of regional transport corridors through each others’ territory.

Armenia has also raised the issue of determining control of ethnic enclaves on both sides of the border.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)