By Emil Danielyan and Armen Dulian in Prague
Leaders of Azerbaijan’s three largest opposition parties cancelled on Thursday planned meetings with a group of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh after they described the unrecognized republic as an “independent state.”
The remark made by the head of the Karabakh delegation, Karen Ohanjanian, on its arrival in Baku on Tuesday has caused fury in Azerbaijan. While in Baku, Ohanjanian, who heads a Stepanakert human rights group called Helsinki Initiative-92, and other members of the delegation protested against being considered Azerbaijani citizens, showing off their Armenian passports.
The heads of the Musavat, National Independence and Popular Front parties, which take a hard line on the conflict with the Armenians, found their behavior “insulting,” according to the Turan news agency.
Tensions rose on Wednesday when members of the Organization for the Liberation of Karabakh, a group favoring a military campaign to return Karabakh under Baku’s control, rallied outside the office of the Helsinki Civil Assembly of Azerbaijan, one of the organizers of the trip. Reports from the Azerbaijani capital said the protesters then burst into the building to try to disrupt a meeting with the eleven members of Karabakh non-governmental organizations.
The Karabakh Armenians met the same day with two senior officials from President Heydar Aliev’s administration. No details were reported. Ohanjanian told RFE/RL by telephone from Baku that it is the third visit to Azerbaijan by a private Karabakh delegation since the outbreak of the conflict. But he said it is the first time that such a trip is organized “without [foreign] intermediaries.”
The visit is funded by the Open Society Institute, an international charity founded by US billionaire philanthropist George Soros. A representative of the OSI office in Azerbaijan, Farda Asadov, told RFE/RL that the initiative also envisages a visit by Azerbaijani civic activists.
The Karabakh Armenians were scheduled to stay in Azerbaijan until September 11. But Turan said they may be forced cut the trip short because of the protests.