BAKU, Azerbaijan (Eurasianet.org) – Two Armenian members of parliament have made a rare visit to Baku, where they spoke out against their hosts “xenophobic propaganda” and experienced the wrath of nationalist Azerbaijanis. According to their Facebook page, Armen Ashotyan and Mane Tandilyan arrived to Tbilisi on September 23, following their trip to Azerbaijan.
The delegation was in Baku last week to take part in a session of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, a European Union body devoted to parliamentary cooperation with its partners in the former Soviet Union.
“We came here because Euronest is an essential platform for us,” said Armen Ashotyan, the head of the two-member delegation. “Armenia is about to sign a new agreement with the European Union. The other reason we came here is that such an event could have well been used for anti-Armenia rhetoric and propaganda in the presence of European MPs.”
In a speech to the assembly on September 22, Ashotyan also spoke about “Armenophobia and xenophobia” in Azerbaijan’s school system, and gave a book titled “‘Azerbaijan: Childhood in Hate’ to the host country’s deputy education minister, reported the press of the Armenian National Assembly. It’s not known what the Azerbaijani official’s reaction was.
The other delegate, Mane Tandilyan, said she toured Baku with the aim of learning about Armenian sites there.
“Tomorrow we’re going to take a walk to different places in Baku to check the condition of the existing Armenian heritage,” she said on September 22. She didn’t report back on her findings, except that she couldn’t get into Baku’s long-closed central Armenian church, but said she would soon brief Armenians.
The Armenian church currently belongs to the library of the Azerbaijani president.
An Armenian delegation also visited Baku the last time Euronest took place there, in 2012, when “heated discussions” took place with their Azerbaijani counterparts over the territory of Nagorno Karabakh.
Azerbaijan decided to boycott the Euronest event held in Yerevan in 2015, accusing Armenia of “aggressive criminal actions” against it.
This time, there appeared to be no face-to-face clashes, but controversy nevertheless dogged the visit. One Azerbaijani MP, Rafael Jabrayilov, called for Azerbaijanis to take revenge against the Armenians
An unsanctioned protest was organized against the arrival of Armenian MPs by activists from the “Liberation of Karabakh” movement. The protesters held up posters with slogans which read: “Armenian occupiers, get out of Baku!” and “Shame on those who called the Armenians to Baku!
The two countries rarely interact on a diplomatic level and Armenians can not visit Baku except in special circumstances like this, as Baku’s consular authorities consistently deny visas to anyone with an Armenian name.
Armenia did not send a participant to the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, held in Baku, but did send athletes to the 2015 European Games in Baku. Armenia’s 25 participating athletes did not take part in the opening ceremony, and instead travelled to Baku only for individual competitions.
More recently, a group of little-known Armenians appeared in Baku for an ill-fated “Peace Platform,” which ultimately ended in mutual recriminations.