MOSCOW (A.W.)—Catholicos of All Armenians His Holiness Karekin II strongly criticized Azerbaijan’s hostility and its leadership’s unwillingness to work toward peace in the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh) conflict. He was speaking at a meeting of the religious heads of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia at St. Daniel’s Patriarchal Monastery of Moscow.
During the Sept. 8 trilateral meeting, His Holiness Karekin II conveyed his remarks to Sheikh ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, chairman of the Caucasus Muslims Office, and His Holiness Kirill I, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.
“Militaristic appeals and statements on increasing armament do not stop beyond the border,” said Catholicos Karekin II. “All of this greatly endangers the efforts to build an atmosphere of mutual trust and understanding, and shatters the already fragile ceasefire, transforming a new reality of conflict expansion, which we witnessed in April 2016 when large-scale military operations were unleashed by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces. Everyone knows the chronology of those days, which was also documented by the international community, soldiers killed in battle, as well as the tortures committed against peaceful civilians; atrocities and violence caused losses and destruction,” he added.
The Catholicos went on to say that despite the statements made during the meetings of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents, and the calls and messages of the spiritual leaders, the ceasefire continues to be strained on the line of contact (LoC), and soldiers—and sometimes even civilians—are being killed as a result. “We find it particularly worrying the cases of shielding behind the civilian population and turning them into an intentional target,” the Catholicos stressed.
Karekin II added that there can be “no alternative” to peace in the region, and that the settlement of the Artsakh conflict must be conducted exclusively through negotiations. “There is also no alternative to the free and independent life of our faithful people in Artsakh,” he said.
Below is a full transcript of Catholicos Karekin II’s remarks at the trilateral meeting, made public by the press service of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.
Your Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia,
Dear Sheikh ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade,
We welcome you at this regular meeting of the regional spiritual leaders, which became possible due to the steady mediation efforts of our spiritual brother Patriarch Kirill. Six years have passed since our last meeting in this format, which took place in Yerevan in November 2011, convened on the occasion of the Presidium meeting of the CIS Interreligious Council.
In the hope of establishing peace in the lives of our peoples, we direct our steps toward these meetings to discuss the ways through which the spiritual leaders can contribute to the peaceful settlement of the conflict in Karabagh.
Unfortunately, today the results of the invested efforts are not significant, but the expectations of our people in this search for a peaceful coexistence are much greater and substantial.
In this regard, we expect positive results from the organized meetings of the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, their Foreign Ministers, and the negotiations process.
Despite the statements made during the meetings of the Armenian and Azerbaijani Presidents, and the calls and messages of the spiritual leaders, today, the ceasefire continues to be strained on the borderline, there are still soldiers killed and sometimes also peaceful residents of the border settlements. We find it particularly worrying the cases of shielding behind the civilian population and turning them into an intentional target.
Militaristic appeals and statements on increasing armament do not stop beyond the border. All of this greatly endangers the efforts to build an atmosphere of mutual trust and understanding, and shatters the already fragile ceasefire, transforming a new reality of conflict expansion which we witnessed in April 2016 when large-scale military operations were unleashed by the Azerbaijani armed forces.
Everyone knows the chronology of those days, which was also documented by the international community, soldiers killed in battle as well as the tortures committed against peaceful civilians; atrocities and violence caused losses and destruction.
Remembering these incidents, a natural question arises: how can stability and peace of the situation be preserved when the efforts made in that direction are unilateral? How can we achieve peace when efforts and measures are not spared to instigate hatred and enmity among their own population against the neighboring Armenian people in all possible and impossible ways; and to counteract the fair and objective assessments of the Armenian side and the international community with unjustified accusations?
There is no alternative to peace in our region, as well as the settlement of the conflict in Karabagh exclusively through negotiations. There is also no alternative to the free and independent life of our faithful people in Artsakh.
It is imperative today to display will and commitment in solving the problem solely on the negotiating platform, and prevent acts of ceasefire violations, remove snipers from borders—to stop the continuous firing and not become a reason for families’ misfortune in ceasefire conditions; keeping the life of our military children safe. Each bullet that is released against God’s creature is also against God.
Here we see the mission of our spiritual leaders: to exhort and preach; together form the consciousness and the atmosphere of mutual understanding and tolerance, under which conditions the progress of the process of the peaceful settlement of the conflict should become possible. At the same time, we should convey our daily appeal to our military servants to maintain the ceasefire and avoid provocations.
We attach great importance to the role of the international community, particularly the mission of the OSCE Minsk Group in the use of surveillance mechanisms at the line of contact and the investigation of border incidents. We express our gratitude to Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church for the caring and mediatory efforts displayed since the very first day of the conflict.
God is pleased with those who are walking the path of justice and peace, because there is His love and blessing, shelter and mercy, and as the Holy Bible states: “But the fruit of righteousness in peace is sown for them that make peace” (James 3:18). Therefore, let’s unite our efforts and walk this road together. We all have a responsibility in this process.
We offer our prayers to Almighy God and ask Him to bless the initiatives of all individuals, nongovernmental organizations, and public organizations, which are aimed at restoring inter-ethnic relations, and the strengthening of solidarity and a formation of the atmosphere of mutual trust. Through the blessings of the Almighty, may the spirit of reconciliation always prevails in the life of our people and the world.
Thank you for this meeting.