By Emil Danielyan
An Armenian Foreign Ministry delegation faced street protests during a rare visit to Baku Friday where it attended a meeting of the governing body of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) organization, a largely ineffectual grouping of 11 states.
Turan news agency reported that members of the Karabakh Liberation Organization, a hard-line Azerbaijani group which favors military action for the return of the Armenian-controlled region, picketed the hotel where Deputy Foreign Minister Ruben Shugarian and three other Armenian diplomats were staying. The protesters said the arrival of Armenian government officials is an affront to the memory of thousands of Azerbaijanis killed in the 1991-94 war for Karabakh. They issued a statement denouncing any contacts between the two warring nations.
“Armenian terrorists have no place in Azerbaijan,” the leader of the organization, Akif Nagi, told the Baku daily “Zerkalo.” “There is no Azerbaijan without Karabakh. Death or Karabakh!”
City authorities did not sanction the protest and police reportedly used force to disperse the small crowd.
Shugarian, meanwhile, reiterated Yerevan’s case for the resumption of Armenian-Azerbaijani commercial contacts and broader regional cooperation as he addressed the BSEC ministerial meeting. “Fruitful economic cooperation can over time become an effective means for settling long-running disagreements,” he said in a speech circulated by the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan.
The Azerbaijani leadership has consistently made it clear that it will not engage in any joint economic projects with Armenia before a resolution of the Karabakh conflict, even within the framework of the BSEC or any other international organization of which both countries are members. Not surprisingly, Armenian and Azerbaijani officials are rare guests in each other’s capitals. Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mamedkuliev was the last Azerbaijani official to visit Armenia. He attended a similar BSEC meeting in Yerevan in May.
The Shugarian-led delegation’s trip coincided with the inauguration of Azerbaijan’s newly elected president, Ilham Aliev. The Armenian diplomats were not scheduled to be present at the ceremony attended by foreign dignitaries, including Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
Aliev, who inherited power from his ailing father Heydar, swore to “respect the constitution, preserve the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity and be a worthy servant of the Azerbaijani people.” In an ensued speech, he again vowed to win back Karabakh.
“Our patience is not endless,” he said. “Azerbaijan will liberate its lands at any cost.”