- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 January 16, 2004 

Access Denied: Armenian officers refused entry for NATO meeting in Baku

A military delegation from Armenia failed in its efforts to participate in "Cooperative Best Effort-2004" military training exercises planning session in Baku, Azerbaijan this week.

As part of NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program, Armenia is among countries invited to participate in training programs next September in Azerbaijan. Previous exercises were held in 2002 in Georgia and last year in Armenia. Azerbaijan did not attend the program in Armenia. On the contrary, Armenia has maintained that it will send a delegation to Azerbaijan.

According to the press office of Armenia's Ministry of Defense, the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Tbilisi refused to grant visas to the three Armenian officers who tried to attend this week's preliminary session.

On January 12, Armenian officers decided to fly to Baku without visas, and informed organizers of their intentions. But prior to the plane's arrival, activists from the Karabakh Liberation Organization sealed of entrances and exits to Bina Airport and said they would capture any Armenian military.

"We can meet with Armenians in Karabakh but never in Baku," stated organizers of the action, "NATO is not the owner of Azerbaijan."

"We regard such behavior of Azerbaijan as unacceptable both for NATO members and NATO partner countries and we are sure that they will remain faithful to their principles and continue to oblige Azerbaijan to do everything possible to help the Armenian side to participate at the planned conference," said a statement released by the Armenian Ministry of Defense.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, Vilayat Guliyev, called for a calm reaction to the planned Armenian visit, saying that any controversy could adversely affect Azerbaijan-NATO relations.

Not to be deterred, the Armenian officers attempted to enter Baku via Istanbul, but were refused boarding in Istanbul by the Azeri consulate there.

The delegation, headed by Colonel Murad Isakhanyan, returned to Armenia January 14.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia Vardan Oskanian told reporters the Armenian delegation was following NATO instructions in applying for entry visas. (According to the Bishkek Agreement, visas are not required among CIS countries.)

"We did what NATO dictated as they are organizers. Contrary to promises made, NATO, in fact, didn't succeed to oblige Azerbaijan to receive the Armenian officers," said Oskanian.

Guliyev responded that it is not Azerbaijan but Armenia who violates NATO's program, in particularly, principles of territorial integrity and respect to territories of neighboring countries.

Turan news agency in Baku reported the Minister's statement that:

"The lack of interstate relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia allows Armenia to participate at military exercises organized on the territory of Azerbaijan, however, for the good of cooperation no obstacles have been created to Armenian militaries. The Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan was ready to receive the Armenian delegation and Azerbaijan doesn't bear any responsibility for reasons that didn't allow the Armenian delegation to visit Baku."

Minister of Defense of Armenia Serj Sargsyan condemned the incident and accused authorities in Azerbaijan of taking measures that contradict basic principles of NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program.

"I think, primarily, the problem is neither with us nor with Azerbaijan because Azerbaijan was not the organizer of the measures but it was NATO," Sargsyan said.

The Embassy of Greece in Yerevan, a NATO regional embassy, said it supports Armenia's plans to participate in the September exercises.

"The Embassy of Greece, which is also a contact embassy of NATO in the region, regards Azerbaijan's acts as illegal and will do everything possible to find a solution to the problem of creation of obstacles to participation of Armenia by Azerbaijan," said Ambassador of Greece to Armenia Antonios Vlavianos.


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