A veteran Liberal MP has infuriated the ambassador of Azerbaijan by travelling to a disputed region in that country to witness a presidential election that the Azerbaijani government does not recognize.
Jim Karygiannis, the MP for Scarborough-Agincourt in Toronto who is his party's critic for multicultural issues, travelled this week to the mountainous and landlocked region of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan that has been occupied by Armenian forces for almost 20 years. He went there at the invitation of the Armenian National Committee, which paid for his trip.
But Farid Shafiyev, Azerbaijan's ambassador to Canada, said Mr. Karygiannis had no right to enter the territory where 30,000 people have died in the long-simmering conflict and which is still the scene of occasional hostilities. He accused the Liberal MP, who has always been something of a political lone wolf, of taking sides in the dispute and pandering to radical elements within his constituency.
The Canadian government accepts that Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan and there are four United Nations Security Council resolutions, all dating back to 1993, that recognize the region to be occupied territory, Mr. Shafiyev said in a telephone interview Thursday. Mr. Karygiannis, who entered Nagorno-Karabakh through Armenia, has neither a visa nor the special permission from the Azerbaijani government that are required to travel there, Mr. Shafiyev said.
"I presume that any elected Canadian official would not accept illegal entrance into Canadian soil by any of Azerbaijan's members of parliament," Mr. Shafiyev said. "We expect that, in this context, our territorial integrity and internationally recognized borders [will] be duly respected by Canadian elected officials."
Mr. Karygiannis spoke to The Globe and Mail from the city of Shushi in the disputed region and said he is "absolutely not" picking sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh struggle.
It is the obligation of countries like Canada to help resolve this type of dispute, Mr. Karygiannis said. "We as Canadians must get both sides together to sit down at the table to discuss their differences in order for us to be able to build bridges and build countries."
The self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic declared its independence from Azerbaijan 20 years ago and has held five presidential elections as well as other elections for its parliament since that time, he said. For this vote, said Mr. Karygiannis, there are 82 international observers from 20 different countries.
So, if observing the election is picking sides, he said, "then I guess there are 20 countries that are doing that and all kinds of [non-governmental associations]. People from the European Parliament are here, people from the United States are here. If the Azeri ambassador wants to invite me next year when they are having elections in Azerbaijan, I would be glad go."
Mr. Shafiyev said Mr. Karygiannis is not likely to be invited to visit Azerbaijan because he will be declared persona non grata as a result of his trip to Nagorno-Karabakh. "I blame the Liberals in the sense that he is their multicultural critic," he said.
But Bob Rae, the interim Liberal leader, said Canadian members of Parliament have to be able to express their own points of view, and to conduct their own investigations of the human-rights situations in countries around the world.
"Mr. Karygiannis is an MP of deep experience," he said, "and is well known for his independence and candour. He enjoys my full confidence as leader."