By Emil Danielyan
Armenia accused Azerbaijan on Friday of trying to illegally prevent its military from participating in NATO-led wargames that are due to take place on Azerbaijani territory next summer.
The Defense Ministry said three senior Armenian army officers have been denied Azerbaijani entry visas which they need for attending an international conference in Baku that will discuss preparations for the military exercises later this month. A statement by the ministry spokesman, Seyran Shahsuvarian, said the visa applications were sent to the Azerbaijani embassy in Georgia.
“We believe that this behavior by Azerbaijan is unacceptable for NATO’s member and partner states and are confident that they will…continue to force Azerbaijan to do everything so that the Armenian side can take part in the planning conference,” the statement said.
The exercises in question, codenamed Cooperative Best Effort, are part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program that increasingly covers the three South Caucasus states. The most recent PfP activity in the region occurred in Armenia last June, involving about 400 troops from 19 nations. Baku boycotted the drills in line with its policy of avoiding any cooperation with the Armenian side before a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The Armenian military, by contrast, has repeatedly stated its intention to participate in the exercises in Azerbaijan, presumably without sending any combat units.
The planned first-ever arrival in Baku of the three Armenian officers led by Colonel Murad Isakhanian sparked protests from local nationalist groups that say their presence would be an affront to the memory of Azerbaijanis killed in the Karabakh war.
In a newspaper interview published on Friday, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev said that while he understands their indignation, there is little his government can do to prevent Armenian participation in the NATO wargames. He warned that failure to let the Armenians in would spark an international scandal that would damage his country’s reputation.
Under the terms of the PfP, a country affiliated with the cooperation framework may take part in any PfP activity if it wishes so. Speaking to Armenian journalists at the NATO military headquarters near Brussels last November, a Turkish general who is currently in charge of the program confirmed that Yerevan does not need Baku’s consent for sending its representatives to the Azerbaijani wargames.
Shahsuvarian said that the Armenian officers will fly to the Azerbaijani capital and try to get a visa at the local airport if they fail to get one from the Azerbaijani embassy in Tbilisi.