Azerbaijani and Armenian political parties discover their “Asian side”.

Whilst Armenia and Azerbaijan emphatically insist that they are European countries representatives of some of their leading political parties last week participated in the 7th General Assembly of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) which was hosted in Baku by Azerbaijan’s ruling party YAP and was attended by a number of other Azerbaijani parties, both pro government and opposition, as well as by the leader of Armenia’s Heritage Party, and Presidential candidate, Raffi Hovhanessian.

The participation of Armenian and Azerbaijani political parties in this event has caused some amused bewilderment since both countries, as well as their political elites, have for the last two decades since they attained their independence, insisted very emphatically that they were European countries, and both countries are now full members of the Council of Europe.

Unlike Turkey and Russia, whose geography puts them part in Europe and part in Asia, Armenia and Azerbaijan have traditionally been categorised in either one or the other. Whilst some still put them as Asian countries, since their admission to the Council of Europe in the late 1990s they are generally defined as European. Political observers question if ICAPP was worth paying the prize of opening once more the discussion on this issue. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have in recent years been criticised in European political frameworks for their human rights record, and their democratic credentials questioned.

There were no such problems at the ICAPP General Assembly, and some see the event in Baku as a message to Europe that if all else fails the Caucasus has an alternative.

Ambiguously, ICAPP’s web site states that there are over 300 parties from 52 countries across Asia who are eligible for membership in ICAPP. It does not say however how many actually are members. According to ICAPP, membership is open to political parties who have “democratically elected members in the parliaments of their respective countries, which are Member States of the United Nations.”

President Ilham Aliev was officially elected as president of ICAPP for the meeting, a courtesy usually reserved for the host country. Conveniently he was away – in Asia, and his message was delivered by the Head of the Presidential Administration, Ramiz Mehtiev.

The final declaration read out on Friday 23, November urged parties in the region to work along the principle of “interfaith harmony and political pluralism.” “ICAPP today,” reads the Baku Declaration, “embodies the Asian spirit of resilience evident in the dynamism and can-do vibrance of our societies, surmounting crises and overcoming economic difficulties with creativity and innovation.” United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, opened the conference with a video message in which he emphasized the meeting as “an important opportunity to build bridges of mutual understanding that can lead to future stability, prosperity and freedom.”

The UN Secretary General praised the ICAPP’s role as an important forum bringing together government, opposition and independent voices in dialogue and coordination. ICAPP founder, José de Venecia, hailed Azerbaijan as a “mature, successful and democratic country” at the conference. His opinion, as reported by trend.az, was based on the fact that there are several political parties in Azerbaijan, a sign, he said, which “testifies to the fact that democracy was created in the country.” “ICAPP,” said Venecia, “represents every shade in the political spectrum. We do not distinguish our member-parties by their ideologies. We ensure only that they belong to the mainstream – that they aggregate a significant portion of political opinion in the states they represent.” “Up to now,” the ICAPP founder continued, “our main effort is directed toward bringing the Asian political parties … into a collegial whole. We share a vision of ‘One Asia,’ but we also realize, we can only approximate that ideal,” he said, by pursuing ICAPPs objective of providing a space for dialogue.

Azerbaijan, informed Venecia, was the ideal location to host the 7th General Assembly of the ICAPP both for its location on the Caspian Sea, the historic bridge on the ancient silk route between Asia and Europe, as well as for its recent economic progress. Venecia commended Azerbaijan as a model to reduce poverty through natural resource exploitation, noting that “Azerbaijan will raise the level of the whole Caucasus by its development.” Venecia also touched on the shared resource exploitation of the Caspian Sea area between Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Russia and Iran as an example for cooperation in other parts of Asia which could reduce tensions in some of the region’s most troubled spots. The conference focused mainly on mechanisms to reduce tensions between Asian countries and on how to overcome political conflicts in peaceful ways.

The ICAPP was founded by former Philippine Speaker of Parliament José de Venecia, Jr. in 2000 “to promote exchanges and cooperation between political parties from different Asian countries and with various ideologies; to enhance mutual understanding and trust among Asian countries; to promote Asia’s regional cooperation through the unique role and channel of political parties.”

The meeting was overshadowed by various sharp exchanges between the leader of Armenia’s Heritage Party, Raffi Hovhannesian and representatives of the Azerbaijani political parties present. Hovhannesian upset his hosts by asking them to recognise the independence of the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. At the end of the meeting Hovhannessian also tried to interrupt the proceedings because he disagreed with the final declaration but was shouted down by other participants. Hovhanessian was criticised for his statements by the Azerbaijani media, but hailed as a hero by Armenian bloggers writing on various internet sites.

No Georgian political parties are members of ICAPP, as far as is known.

Source: CEW with various media outlets.

Photo courtesy of news.az