US, France Shun Shushi Conference, Angering Azerbaijan Government

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By Sargis Harutyunyan

YEREVAN (Azatutyun/News.am) — Azerbaijan has condemned the US and French ambassadors in Baku for declining to join other foreign diplomats in visiting the Karabakh town of Shushi (Shusha) captured by the Azerbaijani army during the 2020 war.

The senior diplomats representing several dozen nations traveled to Shushi over the weekend to attend a conference organized there by the Azerbaijani government. The US and French ambassadors were conspicuously absent from the event.

“We regard this as a disrespectful attitude towards territorial integrity,” Hikmet Hajiyev, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s chief foreign policy aide, said during the conference.

Hajiyev charged that the United States and France have done little to help resolve the Karabakh conflict in their capacity as co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group.

“It’s not clear whether they cannot accept Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity or the reconstruction work taking place in Shusha,” he said.

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The US Embassy in Baku responded to the criticism on Monday, August 29, in a statement provided to the Azerbaijani Service of the Voice of America. It said that embassy officials regularly visit “all regions” of Azerbaijan, including the Aghdam, Fizuli and Zangelan districts won back by Baku as a result of the 2020 war.

The statement made no mention of Shushi or Hadrut, another town in Karabakh proper occupied by Azerbaijani forces during the six-week hostilities stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire.

Artsakh Foreign Minister David Babayan praised the decision by the US and France.

“Azerbaijan has once again attacked the OSCE Minsk Group, using its appropriate diplomatic lexicon. One of the reasons was the refusal of the French and US ambassadors to travel to the [Azerbaijani-] occupied Shushi [city of Artsakh]. We welcome this waiver and consider it an important political and humanitarian step,” Babayan wrote on his Facebook page.

“However, the reasons for Azerbaijan’s actions to break up the Minsk Group lie elsewhere. The main reason for Baku’s interest in the collapse of the OSCE Minsk Group, and, in particular, the institution of this group’s co-chairmanship, is that through this, Azerbaijan is trying to destroy the de-facto and de-jure international diplomatic status of Artsakh, which is a recognized party to the Azerbaijani-Karabagh conflict and negotiation process. And most of the relevant documents, statements and other political and legal acts are in the sphere of activity of the Minsk Group and the Minsk process. The disbandment of the Minsk Group and the co-chairing of this group, according to the logic of #Baku, should actually level the de-facto and de-jure international diplomatic status of Artsakh,” he noted.

Babayan added, “Here Baku and Ankara act together, making every possible use of the contradictions between Russia and the collective West, which also affects the activity of the co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group. But this emotional flirting, through which the Azerbaijani-Turkish alliance is trying to deceive Russia, is naturally tactical and temporary in its nature. It is quite obvious that both Turkey and Azerbaijan are doing everything possible to undermine the Russian peacekeeping mission in Artsakh, knowing full well that with Russia’s withdrawal, Artsakh will also be destroyed, the destruction of Artsakh in its turn will lead to tectonic geopolitical shifts in the Transcaucasus and in adjacent vast geopolitical spaces, which will create existential threats for a number of countries, primarily for Russia. This poses a threat, by the way, to the West as well, just in the longer term.”

Azerbaijan maintains that its victory in the war with Armenia put an end to the Karabakh conflict. The US and France, which have for decades led the Minsk Group together with Russia, say, however, that the conflict remains unresolved because there is still no agreement on Karabakh’s status.

Washington underlined this stance last week when it appointed a senior US diplomat, Philip Reeker, as the Minsk Group’s new co-chair. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Reeker will strive for a “long-term political settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry responded by denouncing what it called US attempts to “revive” the group.

 

 

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