Criticism and calls for cooperation have been voiced by Azerbaijani and Armenian MPs at a Euronest committee meeting in Yerevan.
Four Azerbaijani MPs joined delegates from Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and EU states Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Italy and Spain, at the meeting in Yerevan of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Social Affairs, Education, Culture and Civil Society, News.Am reported.
At one point the meeting was dominated by sharp exchanges between the Armenian and Azerbaijani MPs but this was followed by calls for cooperation.
Naira Zohrayban, an MP from a junior member of the ruling coalition, the Prosperous Armenia Party, accused Azerbaijan of refusing regional cooperation within the EU's Eastern Partnership program.
Azerbaijani MP Azay Guliyev, who has no party affiliation, responded that Azerbaijan was in favour of cooperation.
“Regional cooperation is very important for Azerbaijan. But when we speak about cooperation between Armenia and Azerbaijan we come across the serious challenge of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We are not against cooperation, but we are seriously concerned about settlement of the conflict. If it is settled, I can see serious opportunities for cooperation,” Guliyev said.
Zohrabyan snapped back: "I hoped the stage would not become a rhetorical arena. Azerbaijani MPs use any international stage to discredit Armenia and the international community has already tired of it.”
MPs from the majority party in the ruling coaltion, the Republican Party of Armenia, Hovhannes Sahakyan and Artak Zakaryan, called for things to be accepted as they are. It is hardly worth discussing issues that lie beyond the powers of the committee, they said.
Armenian MP Larisa Alaverdyan of the opposition Heritage Party was also more positive.
"It is necessary to have political courage to resume or launch dialogue between Armenian and Azerbaijani MPs," she said.
Alaverdyan said that creating an atmosphere of trust in which complex issues could be discussed was an objective of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly. She noted that in 1992 to 2002 there had been much more cooperation among "the three recognized states of the South Caucasus" (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia), but that since 2002 that cooperation had noticeably diminished.
“I propose exchanging experience and considering the positive experience gained over those years in order to have the political courage to resume or launch something. Armenia is always ready to participate in such projects,” Alaverdyan said.
She added that there were no platforms today for longer dialogue.
"When we meet for one reason or another, we scarcely scratch the surface, 'firing' questions at one another. If we think that deputies can make a practical contribution to the development of relations, let's create circles for this cooperation. I am ready for this."
Rovshan Rzayev, another non-partisan Azerbaijani MP, supported Alaverdyan.
“Probably all of us here understand that the Eastern Partnership program has found its direction. Personally I am very interested in it. As for discussions, we now have the opportunity for contact. I would like to remind you that the conflict has existed for over 20 years. However, the presidents of our states signed an agreement on an exchange of cultural and scientific delegations between our states. We should use any arena to establish bilateral relations. And we need to have strong civil society for the development of our countries,” Rzayev said.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan received the Euronest committee delegates on Wednesday.
He said that Armenia welcomed the establishment of Euronest as a platform for parliamentary cooperation platform among the EU states and their eastern neighbours, the presidential press service said.
Wednesday was a day for public diplomacy between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as cultural figures from the two countries met for talks in Moscow, mediated by Russia.
The Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents agreed at a meeting in Sochi on 23 January on the need for more public contacts between the two sides in order to build confidence and create an atmosphere conducive to resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.