Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian on Thursday called on Azerbaijan to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state during what was a rare visit to Baku by an Armenian politician.
Hovannisian, who leads the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, arrived in the Azerbaijani capital to take part in and address the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) held there.
Speaking to Azerbaijani journalists during the forum, he insisted that the universal principle of territorial integrity of states does not entitle Azerbaijan to regaining control over Karabakh.
“I think the territorial integrity of all states should be respected, including the territorial integrity of the Mountainous Karabakh Republic,” Hovannisian said. “They are all new states. Azerbaijan is a new state. And I think that in the post-Soviet space it is still under question what is the extent of the territorial integrity of the states in the region.”
“It is very clear to me that whether old or new, recognized or not, the Republic of Mountainous Karabakh has a right of recognition. Azerbaijan would do very well to be the first to recognize. I understand that’s a difficult issue,” he said, according to Azerbaijani news agencies.
Hovannisian’s party, which is represented in Armenia’s parliament, has for years been pressing the Armenian government to formally recognize the disputed territory. It generally favors a hard line on the unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan.
The Zharangutyun leader, who was born in the United States and relocated to Armenia in 1990, called for “dialogue and communication” between the conflicting parties in Baku. “That’s why I’ve come here,” he said, adding, “We have to overcome xenophobia. We have to overcome the name-calling. We have to overcome this machoism that a lot of us have.”
According to a Zharangutyun statement issued on Wednesday, Hovannisian was initially reluctant to travel to Baku because of the recent release and glorification by the Azerbaijani government of an Azerbaijani army officer who axe-murdered an Armenian colleague in Hungary in 2004. The statement said the ICAPP leadership “agreed to offer him a secure and equal opportunity to address” the two-day conference.
Hovannisian was also asked in Baku about the fate of the hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis displaced by the Karabakh conflict. He replied that “all refugees in the region” should be able to return to their “ancestral homelands.”
“That refers to Armenians and to Azerbaijanis,” Hovannisian said. “That refers to Azerbaijan, to the republic of Mountainous Karabakh, to Armenia, to Turkey. I think that there should be a multilateral return.”
“But to secure that return we need a new environment that is based on good faith and confidence building, and not releasing convicted axe-murderers and not ruining cemeteries and especially at the presidential level talking about neighboring countries in a derogatory way. That won’t help anything,” he added in a clear jibe at Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.