By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Citing possible threats to their security, two members of Armenia’s parliament have effectively cancelled their participation in a NATO seminar on peace and security in the South Caucasus which began in Baku on Thursday.
Mher Shahgeldian, the chairman of the parliament’s committee on defense and security, and Aleksan Karapetian of the opposition National Unity Party (AMK) were due to leave for the Azerbaijani capital on Wednesday. They said they did not do so because the Azerbaijani authorities have not provided them with security guarantees.
Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian requested such guarantees in a letter to his Azerbaijani counterpart Murtuz Aleskerov earlier this month. Shahgeldian and other senior lawmakers from Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party say Aleskerov has still not replied.
“The parliament factions decided last Friday that the delegation will not go [to Baku] if we don’t get a response to the letter,” one of them, Samvel Balasanian, told reporters.
The issue is highly sensitive in Azerbaijan where hardline nationalist groups consider Armenian participation in international events in their country unacceptable because of the “Armenian aggression” in Nagorno-Karabakh. Activists of the most vocal of those groups, the Karabakh Liberation Organization (KLO), reportedly picketed Baku airport on Wednesday in protest against the planned arrival of the Armenian lawmakers. Azerbaijani media reported that several other KLO activists were detained by police earlier in the day as they attempted to stage a protest in downtown Baku.
The KLO was instrumental in a public outcry over the participation of Armenian army officers in NATO-led military exercises which were scheduled to take place in Azerbaijan last September within the framework of the U.S.-led alliance’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. The NATO leadership cancelled the drills after the officers were barred from entering Azerbaijan in violation of PfP rules.
The Armenian parliamentarians were invited to the three-day seminar in Baku by its main organizer, the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO.