By Armen Zakarian
An Armenian military delegation failed to attend a NATO conference in
Azerbaijan after reportedly being prevented from boarding a Baku-bound plane in Istanbul in what official Yerevan denounced as a breach of the U.S.-led alliance's Partnership for Peace (PfP) program.
The two senior army officers and their interpreter were expected to arrive in the Azerbaijani capital the previous night despite being denied entry visas by the Azerbaijani embassy in Georgia. According to the Armenian
Defense Ministry, Turkish authorities did not allow them to fly Baku at the behest of the Azerbaijani government which seems keen to stave off
Armenia's participation in a NATO-led military exercise in Azerbaijan scheduled for this summer.
The three-day Baku conference which began its work on Tuesday is discussing logistical preparations for the multinational drills to be held within the
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia condemns this action, and believes that it is inconsistent with the letter, the spirit and the premise of the Partnership for Peace Program," Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said. "This unprecedented action by the Azerbaijani authorities calls into question the realization of the basic principles of the
Partnership, which are aimed at strengthening mutual confidence, enhancing dialogue and co-operation in the Euro-Atlantic area and in particular among the nations of the Southern Caucasus."
Oskanian said the NATO leadership should "take appropriate steps to rectify this situation." He added Yerevan will continue seek participation in the
Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian told RFE/RL on Tuesday that the Armenian military would like to take part in the maneuvers with combat troops, even though they will take place in what it still regards as enemy territory. The announcement will likely stiffen Azerbaijan's resistance to any Armenian military presence on its soil.
The existing NATO regulations do enable a country playing host to PfP exercises to block the participation of any other partner state. A NATO-based Turkish general who currently coordinates military activities under the PfP confirmed last November that Armenia does not need Azerbaijan's consent for joining the upcoming drills codenamed "Cooperative Best Effort 2004."
The Armenian officers were initially scheduled to travel to Azerbaijan on Monday with conference participants from Turkey and other NATO member states and try to get a visa at Baku airport. The Defense Ministry says they missed Monday's Istanbul-Baku flight after arriving two hours later from Yerevan.
"We took the steps that were suggested by NATO," Oskanian said. "They themselves suggested that we get visas and travel [to Azerbaijan] via