BAKU – Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met on Saturday with French counterpart François Hollande and expressed gratitude for his active mediation in the process of resolving Baku’s decades-long tensions with neighboring Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
“Both leaders exchanged opinions about solving the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute. Aliyev expressed his satisfaction with Hollande’s active participation in the process of resolving the conflict,” Azerbaijan’s president’s office said at the end of the meeting.
Last October, the French president organized a meeting between Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan in Paris, where the two leaders pledged to continue efforts to reach a negotiated solution.
The conflict in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies within Azerbaijan but is populated mainly by ethnic Armenians and controlled by Yerevan, goes back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the region’s Armenian population sought unification with Armenia, leading to a 1991-1994 war that left more than 25,000 people dead.
Armenian troops and their local allies now occupy the entire enclave and seven adjacent districts and have created a “security buffer” that represents a fifth of Azerbaijani territory.
In their meeting Saturday, Aliyev and Hollande also discussed other regional and international matters, including their preparations for the next summit of the Eastern Partnership, an EU initiative that was launched in 2009 and governs that 28-nation bloc’s relationship with the post-Soviet states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
The summit is scheduled to be held in Riga on May 21-22.
Hollande arrived in Baku Friday night from Yerevan, where he attended a ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of the mass killing of roughly 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey during and after World War I.
He began his return trip to Paris after his meeting with Aliyev.
Azerbaijan is France’s closest trade partner in the Caucasus region and a supplier of oil to the European country. Those petroleum sales make up the lion’s share of bilateral trade.