The leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia are both hopeful they can secure a lasting peace agreement despite their differences over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, they said in interviews broadcast on Tuesday.
Since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan, and Armenia have fought two wars over Nagorno-Karabakh, a small mountainous enclave that is part of Azerbaijan but populated by about 120,000 ethnic Armenians.
After heavy fighting and a Russian-brokered ceasefire, Azerbaijan in 2020 took over areas that had been controlled by ethnic Armenians in and around the mountain enclave.
The two sides have since been discussing a peace deal in which they would agree on borders, settle differences over the enclave, and unfreeze relations.
"I think it is right to be hopeful," Azeri President Ilham Aliyev told Euronews television in an interview conducted on July 21 in the Karabakh town of Shusha and aired on Tuesday.
"If we see a constructive approach from the Armenian side, and most importantly, if they totally set aside all aspirations to contest our territorial integrity, then we can find a peace solution very soon, maybe even by the end of the year."
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, speaking separately to Euronews in Yerevan on July 26, also sounded a cautiously optimistic note.
"Not only can there be but there must be peace. This is my belief, my position... But for this to happen, it's also important for the international community to be aware of important nuances, to be clear about why there isn't progress at a sufficient pace," he said.
Pashinyan repeated his accusation that Azerbaijan was still blocking the transit of food and medicines to Karabakh via the Lachin corridor, the only road linking Armenia to the enclave, thereby causing a humanitarian crisis.
Aliyev denied that Azeri forces were blocking freedom of movement, saying more than 2,000 Karabakh residents had moved "to Armenia and back" since Azerbaijan established a border checkpoint at the entrance to the corridor in April.
"Karabakh Armenians should understand that being part of Azerbaijan society with security guarantees,... with their rights, including educational, cultural, religious, and municipal rights, they will live a normal life," Aliyev said.
Baku has rejected Yerevan's requests for further security guarantees for the enclave's ethnic Armenians.
Russia, which has peacekeepers on the ground, the United States, and the European Union are all trying separately to help ensure a lasting peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Pashinyan said the 17-month-old conflict in Ukraine had impacted the ability not only of Russia but of other international players to focus on the Karabakh issue.