Spiritual leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia broker peace for Karabakh conflict
By Rashid Shirinov
The Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved for about three decades, while last April the revival of the conflict briefly attracted the attention of the international community. After Moscow helped broker a ceasefire, the hostilities slowed, although lasting peace remains a delusion.
Along with foreign ministers’ meetings organized by the OSCE MG co-chairs, in an attempt to contribute to the conflict resolution, the spiritual leaders of the two conflicting countries, as well as of Russia convened in Moscow.
In continuation of the non-governmental diplomacy, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia, Chairman of the Caucasus Muslims Office Sheikh ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II adopted a joint statement following the Moscow meeting.
“We called for the release of civilians. No need to apply the rules of hostilities, rules related to prisoners of war, on people who are not such,” Patriarch Kirill told reporters about people who did not participate in any military action, but now are held as prisoners of war.
It is worth noting here the fate of two Azerbaijanis, Dilgam Asgarov and Shahbaz Guliyev, who were detained by the Armenian armed forces in July 2014 while visiting their native places and graves of loved ones in the occupied Azerbaijani Kalbajar region.
Sheikh ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade brought this issue to the attention of Catholicos Karekin II at the meeting in Moscow, and it was also included in the final statement of the meeting.
Patriarch Kirill also touched upon the issue of preserving temples and mosques in the conflict region: “It is very important that they are kept properly, to avoid any acts of vandalism. So that no one could speculate on the religious feelings, inciting the conflict that needs to be put out.”
The attitude of Armenians towards Azerbaijani mosques in Nagorno-Karabakh is well known. Since the beginning of the war, the invaders destroyed dozens of cities in Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding regions, including many mosques, cemeteries, mausoleums, monuments, temples, burial mounds and other samples of Azerbaijan’s cultural heritage.
Moreover, the Armenians seriously damaged one of the symbols of Shusha city in Nagorno-Karabakh – Govhar Agha mosque. A few years ago, the occupation regime announced the start of its restoration, pre-declaring the Azerbaijani mosque as ‘Persian.’
“I said that I delivered sermons at many of these mosques. But now these mosques don’t exist,” Allahshukur Pashazade said in an interview with Azertac on the results of the meeting. Protection of Azerbaijani religious monuments and mosques was also included in the final statement of the meeting.
At the meeting in Moscow, Catholicos Karekin II touched upon the events of April 2016, which became the most intensive flare-up in the frontline since the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 1990s. As a result of this ‘four-day war,’ ignited by the Armenian occupation forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenian militaries received a strong rebuff from the Azerbaijani Army and suffered much loss.
Sheikh ul-Islam responded to Catholicos’ accusations against Azerbaijan: “I brought to his attention that the fighting took place on Azerbaijani lands, I noted that the Azerbaijani people want to liberate their lands from occupation.”
“First, Armenia must return seven regions adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh,” noted Sheikh ul-Islam. “And then, heads of state, politicians will consider the issue of status of Nagorno-Karabakh, of course, within Azerbaijan's territorial integrity.”
He also proposed to organize a meeting of religious leaders on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, on its Azerbaijani and Armenian side.
“It was proposed to establish a group comprising religious leaders of Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia for the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, like the OSCE Minsk Group,” Allahshukur Pashazade said.
The Russian side will introduce this proposal to the Armenian side. This group could provide moral support in the course of events, for example, in case of violation of the ceasefire, exchange of captives or bodies of the killed, Sheikh ul-Islam believes.
When two conflicting countries cannot agree on an issue for a long time, the assistance of their spiritual leaders can become the necessary impetus. Unfortunately, the several meetings of Azerbaijani and Armenian religious leaders in past decades have had no breakthrough result so far. Hopefully, the meeting of Sheikh ul-Islam and Catholicos of All Armenians in Moscow will contribute to an early resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Rashid Shirinov is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow him on Twitter: @RashidShirinov
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