By Emil Danielyan
Azerbaijan renewed on Wednesday its criticism of American, French and Russian mediators that have been seeking an end to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, saying that their position favors the Armenians.
Two leading pro-Armenian members of the U.S. Congress, meanwhile, described as “apartheid” decades of Azerbaijani rule in Karabakh which came to an end with the 1991 Soviet collapse.
Reports from Baku quoted the speaker of the Azerbaijani parliament, Murtuz Aleskerov, as saying that his country is unhappy with the long-running peace efforts of the three countries co-chairing the so-called Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Aleskerov told a group of visiting French parliamentarians that the mediators must impose sanctions on the Armenian side because its victory in the 1991-94 war for Karabakh amounted to an “aggression” against Azerbaijan.
Other Azerbaijani leaders, including President Heydar Aliev, have similarly complained in the past that the Minsk Group’s last peace proposals would not return the disputed region under Baku’s control and are therefore pro-Armenian. Aliev’s son and heir apparent, Ilham, is expected to discuss the matter with Yuri Merzlyakov, Russia’s new chief Karabakh negotiator who was due to arrive in Baku on Wednesday.
In the meantime, members of an Azerbaijani pressure group again picketed the U.S. embassy in the Azerbaijani capital, protesting last week’s visit to Karabakh by a delegation of U.S. congressional aides, Turan news agency reported. The protesters said the fact that the Congress staffers traveled to Stepanakert from Yerevan without Azerbaijani permission was an affront to their country.
According to the organizer of the trip, the Armenian Assembly of Armenia, the staffers are now “better-equipped to understand the challenges facing the region.” “Visits such as this clearly benefit the Assembly's advocacy efforts in Washington and reinforce our relationship on the [Capitol] Hill,” the head of its Yerevan office, Arpi Vartanian, said in a statement.
Most of the U.S. visitors work for members of the House of Representatives’ bipartisan Armenian Caucus. Its two co-chairs, Democrat Frank Pallone and Republican Joe Knollenberg, underscored its pro-Armenian stance on Tuesday when they congratulated the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on the 12th anniversary of its declaration of independence from Azerbaijan.
“The NKR Declaration of Independence noted Azerbaijan’s policies of apartheid and discrimination against the Armenian people,” Pallone and Knollenberg said in a letter to NKR President Arkady Ghukasian. “With this historic Declaration, the courageous people of Artsakh expressed their determination to live in freedom and be masters of their own destiny.”
“Once again, we assure you of our strong commitment to Nagorno-Karabakh’s security and development,” the letter said.