Azerbaijan's spiritual leader, Sheikh Allashukur Pashazade, has received an invitation to visit Armenia in November to attend a CIS Inter-Religious Council meeting. Armenian spiritual leader Garegin II visited Baku last year. What role may these kinds of visits and contacts play in the Karabakh settlement?
Only positive. Religion, unlike in other conflicts has not necessarily been the root cause of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It has rather been used by politicians, the media and analysts as a fuelling factor, a dividing factor. I think it is very constructive that religious leaders are taking this initiative into their hands and showing that religion, on the contrary, can be a constructive factor in the reconciliation and peace processes.
What is the place of public diplomacy in conflict settlement when political leaders cannot find a common approach?
In any conflict resolution, public diplomacy is essential, even and especially when political leaders find a common approach; because in order to prepare the conflicting societies for a sustainable settlement, which in one way or another will require compromises on both sides, political leaders and government work alone are not enough. If the political leaders fail to find a common approach the role of public diplomacy becomes even more crucial because public diplomacy is not simply the art or practice of negotiations, it is more the provision of a channel through which the societies are informed and educated about the conflict, and about the benefits of conflict resolution.
Do you see a need for a third side's participation in dialogue between Azerbaijani and Armenian religious leaders? What do you think about the mediatory role of the patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia, Kirill?
Mediation could be constructive but also a stalling factor in dialogue. Russia as a powerful player in the region has its own vested interest in the conflict and is already plenty involved in the mediation process through the Minsk Group and other initiatives that its leadership undertakes. So I think that the religious leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan can very well communicate without a mediator, and even if someone would argue that there should be one, I would argue in response that there should be two mediating religious leaders representing both Christianity and Islam and preferably from countries not from the region, bordering the region or having any vested interest in the conflict.
Do you see the Karabakh conflict being settled in the near future?
There has been much good momentum for the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement since the cease-fire agreement was signed in 1994. And frankly, I do not see the G8 summit or the Minsk Group playing a crucial role, they are mediators, they are there to ensure the venue and the channels for communication. It is simply up to the leaders of the conflicting sides to make the decision to end this hostility. And as I said before, and I will use sporting terminology again, the ball is in Azerbaijan’s court – the political leadership in Baku has to make the decision to stop the bellicose discourse and to offer compromises that would match those that Armenia has agreed to offer.