Jorge Orrico, the speaker of the parliament of Uruguay, traveled to Nagorno-Karabakh this week, raising hopes in the unrecognized Armenian republic of a possible recognition by this Latin American state.
Azerbaijan, which considers Nagorno-Karabakh to be its territory, has condemned the visit, saying that it only increases tensions in the region and harms the process of internationally mediated negotiations to find a solution to the protracted conflict.
The chairman of Uruguay’s House of Representatives arrived in Yerevan on Monday at the invitation of his Armenian counterpart Hovik Abrahamian. He went to Karabakh the next day to become the first senior official of a foreign state to visit the disputed region.
In the Karabakh capital of Stepanakert the Uruguayan parliament speaker and members of his delegation were reportedly greeted by a large crowd of local residents.
While in Karabakh Orrico met with leader of the unrecognized republic Bako Sahakian and other local officials.
Sahakian reportedly praised Uruguay’s role in the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide, as well as that country’s “balanced approach to the recognition of Karabakh and Karabakh-Azerbaijan conflict resolution process.”
(Uruguay that has a large Armenian community was the first country in the world, back in 1965, to officially describe the 1915 massacres of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide).
The two leaders emphasized “the imperative for strengthening relations and the need for concrete steps to achieve this goal.”
Uruguay is the first country to have considered formally recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh where ethnic Armenians fought a three-year war with Azerbaijan after the collapse of the USSR. The disputed region has enjoyed a de-facto independent status since the 1994 ceasefire.
Internationally mediated negotiations are currently underway between Armenia and Azerbaijan to decide the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Little progress, however, has been made so far in the peace process brokered by the United States, Russia and France.
Last year Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro said his government had started a process “to present an official government position on the matter.”
“I am personally convinced that Nagorno-Karabakh is part of historic Armenia and it must be independent and in a short while be unified with Armenia. This is the only resolution to the issue,” said the top Uruguayan diplomat, speaking at a conference in Montevideo organized by the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of South America and the Uruguay-Armenia parliamentary group in September 2011.
Ruben Martinez Huelmo, a member of the Uruguayan Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee who accompanied the parliament speaker on the Karabakh trip, said that theoretically Uruguay could recognize Azerbaijan, but added that this was rather “a political process that must develop step by step.”
“Visiting Karabakh is not such a bold move, it is merely a step. We are friends with the Armenian people. We must especially stress the role the ANC office plays in fostering Armenia-Uruguay relations,” Huelmo told journalists in Stepanakert.
Earlier this year, the legislatures in the U.S. states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island as well as the Australian state of New South Wales called upon their respective governments to support the self-determination of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan, which considers Nagorno-Karabakh to be its breakaway region occupied by Armenia, has condemned the resolutions. Official Baku, as reported by Azerbaijani media, has also sent a note of protest to Uruguay in connection with the visit of its senior politician to Nagorno-Karabakh.