The delegation led by Guy Teissier, chairman of the French National Assembly’s committee on national defense, met with local parliamentarians and was due to hold separate talks with Bako Sahakian, president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR).
“Coming to Armenia is a gesture of friendship. Coming to Karabakh is a gesture of solidarity,” Teissier said in a speech at the NKR parliament.
The senior lawmaker, who is affiliated with France’s ruling Union for the Popular Movement (UMP) party, said that Karabakh had been incorporated into Soviet Azerbaijan “at the whim of a dictator” and that its predominantly Armenian population should be able to determine its status.
“Why would we keep silent and not say that people very deeply rooted in this land have the right to live here?” added Teissier.
Jacques Remiller, another UMP deputy and the mayor of the French city of Vienne, also voiced “great sympathy” for the Karabakh Armenian cause.
“Just as other nations like Kosovo and Cyprus, where they have two governments, they [the Karabakh Armenians] have the right decide their destiny by themselves,” Remiller told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The French lawmakers are scheduled to tour on Tuesday several Karabakh villages and meet with leaders of local non-governmental organizations uniting Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan.
The visit is bound to anger the Azerbaijani government which considers such trips an affront to its internationally recognized sovereignty over Karabakh. It has already banned scores of foreign dignitaries, who have been to the territory without its permission, from visiting Azerbaijan.
Among those blacklisted by Baku are five other French deputies who traveled to Karabakh in June 2010. The trip was initiated by Francois Rochebloine, the pro-Armenian deputy chairman of the French parliament committee on foreign affairs.
Teissier defended the visits. “Don’t we, free people from a free country, have the right to freely visit here and see our friends?” he said.