YEREVAN -- A Yerevan-born Azerbaijani government minister has spoken of his pleasure in visiting Armenia for the first time in two decades, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Agriculture Minister Ismet Abbasov is among some 160 participants in a two-day United Nations relief agency conference being held in Yerevan, his hometown.
Abbasov, on a rare trip by an Azerbaijani official to arch-foe Armenia, arrived in Yerevan earlier this week and visited the house in the city center where he was born and grew up. He also traveled to two formerly Azerbaijani-populated villages in eastern Armenia where he had spent summer holidays.
"I was born on Alaverdian street," Abbasov told journalists in fluent Armenian on the sidelines of the forum. "I finished school in Yerevan and then went to university in Baku. I speak Armenian but haven't used it for a long time, so I had better answer questions in Russian."
"For me, Yerevan is my home city," Abbasov continued. "I was born and grew up here."
The two South Caucasus neighbors had sizable Armenian and Azerbaijani minorities until the outbreak of the war over the disputed region of
Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988. The vast majority of the minorities were forced to flee their homes in the following years.
Abbasov said he last visited Armenia in 1987. While affirming both parties' commitment to peace, the minister echoed his governments' threats to resolve the bitter dispute by force if the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations yield no agreement in the near future.
"We want this conflict to be resolved by peaceful means so that no blood is shed," he said. "But if the conflict is not resolved by peaceful means, unfortunately Azerbaijan will be looking for an alternative variant, and a military solution will not be excluded [in that case]."