The Embassy of Azerbaijan in Sofia has sent a note of protest to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria over the visit of two Bulgarian lawmakers to Nagorno-Karabakh.
As quoted by Azerbaijani media, the diplomatic mission reminded that Valeri Simeonov had already been on Azerbaijan’s “black list” banning him from entering Azerbaijan after twice visiting Nagorno-Karabakh without Baku’s permission.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said another Bulgarian lawmaker, Iordan Apostolov, will be declared a a persona non grata for his recent unauthorized visit to the de-facto Armenian-run region that official Baku considers to be its territory.
The two Bulgarian lawmakers were in the Nagorno-Karabakh capital of Stepanakert on August 6-7. There they reportedly met with Nagorno-Karabakh Parliament Speaker Ashot Ghulian.
According to an official statement of Nagorno-Karabakh’s de-facto authorities, “during the meeting the guests expressed their readiness to support the fraternal Armenian nation in all its initiatives.”
Armenia and Azerbaijan are locked in a dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-populated region that has been de-facto independent from Baku after a three-year war in the early 1990s, in which an estimated 30,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced.
Despite a 1994 ceasefire, loss of life has continued in the conflict zone in recurrent border skirmishes and sporadic fighting.
The internationally mediated peace process has so far failed to produce a lasting settlement of the conflict.
Azerbaijan has blacklisted hundreds of foreign nationals, including politicians, journalists, businessmen, artists and others, who visited Nagorno-Karabakh in recent years without Baku’s visa or official warrant, thus banning them from entering Azerbaijan.
In 2017, Russian-Israeli blogger Alexander Lapshin, who had twice visited Nagorno-Karabakh, was convicted in Azerbaijan for illegal border crossing after being extradited from Belarus. The Russian who also held a Ukrainian passport was sentenced to three years in prison, but was eventually pardoned by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
Russian, Israeli and Armenian government officials and a number of international organizations had condemned the extradition of the blogger from Belarus to Azerbaijan and the violation of his rights by Baku, calling for his release.