Two Azerbaijani MPs have visited Yerevan as participants in the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly hosted by Armenia. The last time Azerbaijani MPs had stepped foot on Armenian soil was in 2012.
MPs Tahir Mirkishili and Soltan Mammadov arrived in Armenia on 21 February.
The Euronest Parliamentary Assembly is an inter-parliamentary forum of the members of the European Parliament and the national parliaments of Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
The arrival of the MPs was met by a small group of protesters holding a demonstration near hotel where the MPs would be staying.
The protest continued on Tuesday outside of the Karen Demirchyan Complex, where the plenary session was being held. One of the protest organisers, former Chief of Staff of the Constitutional Court of Armenia Edgar Ghazaryan, told reporters that they were protesting not only the ‘arrival of the Azerbaijani delegates’ but also ‘the situation with democracy in Armenia’.
‘Today, the presence of Azeris here has symbolism, because back in 2021, the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev announced that the Azeris, taking the so-called Zangezur corridor, will return to Yerevan, and it is not necessary that they will come and take Yerevan by tanks’, Ghazaryan said.
He added that there was the impression of a ‘connection between the presence of high-ranking Azerbaijani delegates and Aliyev's statement’.
Naira Zohrabyan, a former MP from the opposition Prosperous Armenia party who was also at the protest, said that Armenia should have included the question of remaining prisoners-of-war in Azerbaijani custody on the agenda.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met with the Euronest delegation on Monday, one of the members of which was the Azerbaijani MP Tair Mirkishili, who is a co-rapporteur on issues relating to the pandemic.
Mirkishili is from Azerbaijan’s ruling New Azerbaijan Party. He is also the chair of Azerbaijan’s Parliamentary Committee on Economic Policy, Industry, and Entrepreneurship and is a member of the Azerbaijani delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.
The main session of the parliamentary assembly took place on Tuesday. During the session, the Azerbaijani MP Soltan Mammadov, an independent member of the Azerbaijani Parliament, spoke about the ‘reintegration of the Armenian ethnic minority [of Nagorno-Karabakh] as equal citizens of Azerbaijan’.
‘Azerbaijan is in favour of the restoration of all relations with Armenia. This will bring peace and security, at the same time economic benefits to our region’, he said. ‘This will turn the region into a bridge between north and south, east and west’.
He also commented on Armenian POWs in Azerbaijan, denying their status as prisoners-of-war, as ‘all the prisoners of war and detainees were returned to Armenia after the war’.
‘Now there is a discussion under international law about the people who were arrested after the war,’ Mammadov said.
Contrary to Mammadov’s position, international rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch do not dispute the status of Armenian soldiers held captive in Azerbaijan as POWs.
Tahir Mirkishili, in his turn, lamented the deaths of ‘thousands’ during the last war in both countries and called for peaceful relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
‘We do not have racist aspirations, we do not want the use of force in the future’, he said. ‘All that is already in the past, now we have to talk about the future.’
The last plenary session of Euronest held in Yerevan was in 2015, and was held without the participation of the Azerbaijani delegation, who refused to come to Armenia. They did, however, come in 2012.
Armenian MPs also visited Baku under the auspices of Euronest in 2017.
‘During such visits, taking into account the general context, the parties provide security guarantees to persons arriving at the other country. When Ms Mane Tandilyan and Armen Ashotyan left for Baku in 2017, they were given similar guarantees’, Maria Karapetyan, an MP from Armenia’s ruling Civil Contract party told reporters.
Apparently responding to criticisms from protest organisers, the Armenian Foreign Ministry released a statement affirming that Armenian Euronest participants brought up the questions of POWs.
‘Minister Mirzoyan stressed the need to repatriate Armenian prisoners of war and civilians detained illegally in Azerbaijan’, the statement reads.