The Azerbaijani government fears that any decision granting independence to the Balkans' predominantly ethnic Albanian territory of Kosovo could set a precedent for Nagorno-Karabakh, which is located within Azerbaijan but has a mainly Armenian population.
No Frozen Precedent
Azimov spent much of his 45-minute address to the European Parliament's South Caucasus delegation explaining why Kosovo should not serve as a precedent for Nagorno-Karabakh.
"[The] Kosovo issue is different from [the] Azerbaijani issue, [the] Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict," Azimov said. "In this conflict, we have an open territorial claim by Armenia [on] Azerbaijan. We have an open war [that] erupted in 1992; even earlier we had these military hostilities."
Azimov also argued that territorial solutions should reflect the views of all sides in a conflict. To do otherwise, he said, would undermine international law.
Kosovo's final status has yet to be decided. A UN envoy, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, has presented a plan that would grant Kosovo internationally supervised independence.
The EU has made clear it will not use a Kosovo resolution as a blueprint for any of the so-called frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union.
But regardless of the final decision, the EU has made clear it will not use a Kosovo resolution as a blueprint for any of the so-called frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union.
Brussels says Kosovo is a unique case because it alone is administered by the United Nations.
Most EU officials, however, appear to be accepting the realization that it may only be a matter of time before Kosovo becomes fully independent -- and that other disputed regions may learn from its example.
Hannes Swoboda, a senior Socialist European deputy, helped draft a parliament declaration on Kosovo. He told Azimov he accepts the Azerbaijani argument that the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh is different from that of Kosovo.
But, he added, both cases are similar in the sense that it may be "too late" to return to pre-conflict conditions. It's a fact, he suggested, that all the governments involved should accept.
"I think Kosovo never will be part of Serbia again," Swoboda said. "[That] time is over. And I wonder if it is not good for Serbia to concentrate on their own issues. And at the same time, [there] may be some parallel here for Nagorno-Karabakh. The question is not 'What is the legal point of view? What is your right?' The legal point is clear -- it's an occupied territory. But the question is what is the solution for the future that is good for Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the people in Nagorno-Karabakh?"
'War Is Not Over'
Azimov, for his part, steadfastly defended the determination of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev not to give up Nagorno-Karabakh. He said Armenia must allow Azeri refugees to return to the disputed enclave and the outlying occupied territories before talks on a resolution can hope to progress.
The Azerbaijani deputy foreign minister also said Armenia may have technically "won the battle" that lead to the war's conclusion by cease-fire in 1994. But, he added, "the war is not over" -- even if Baku is not threatening military aggression, and prefers a negotiated solution.
Azimov said Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, are planning to meet for talks on the issue soon after the May 12 parliamentary elections in Armenia.
The Azerbaijani official also addressed an issue of growing significance for the EU -- energy. Acknowledging mounting alarm over the bloc's dependence on Russian gas and oil, Azimov promised his country would help the EU diversify its energy partners.
Many European Parliament deputies attending today's meeting appealed to Azerbaijan to increase its support from the proposed Nabucco pipeline, which would deliver Azerbaijani gas via Turkey to Austria and beyond. Recent moves by Russia to create rival pipelines with Hungary and other EU countries have put Nabucco's future in doubt.
Azimov assured his hosts that Baku's interest in Nabucco remained firm, and that the pipeline was "not a dream." But, he said, the EU itself must play a more assertive role in promoting energy transit from Central Asia across the Caspian Sea and onward via Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey.
"We signed last year a memorandum on energy partnership with the EU," Azimov said. "But I'm talking now about the further extension of this. It is not only between Azerbaijan and [the] EU. It is between Azerbaijan, [the] European consuming nations, [the] European transit nations, and Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan -- [the] trans-Caspian link."
Although most EU governments agree a common energy policy should be one of the bloc's main priorities, member states are still struggling for common ground.
Click on the image to view an enlarged map of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone
In February 1988, the local assembly in Stepanakert, the local capital of the Azerbaijani region of NAGORNO-KARABAKH, passed a resolution calling for unification of the predominantly ethnic-Armenian region with Armenia. There were reports of violence against local Azeris, followed by attacks against Armenians in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait. In 1991-92, Azerbaijani forces launched an offensive against separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, but the Armenians counterattacked and by 1993-94 had seized almost all of the region, as well as vast areas around it. About 600,000 Azeris were displaced and as many as 25,000 people were killed before a Russian-brokered cease-fire was imposed in May 1994.
CHRONOLOGY: For an annotated timeline of the fighting around Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988-94 and the long search for a permanent settlement to the conflict, click here.
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