Armenia on Wednesday strongly condemned Belarus, a fellow member of two Russian-led alliances of ex-Soviet states, for arresting and extraditing to Azerbaijan a Russian-Israeli blogger who has repeatedly visited Nagorno-Karabakh.
A senior member of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) lashed out at Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and said Yerevan should seek Belarus’s expulsion from one of those blocs: the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
The blogger, Alexander Lapshin, was flown to Baku late on Tuesday immediately after Belarus’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling authorizing his extradition to Azerbaijan because of his trips to Karabakh. Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet republic for more than two decades, predicted such a verdict late last week when he strongly defended Lapshin’s arrest in Minsk.
“The persecution of Alexander Lapshin and his extradition to Azerbaijan is a gross violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of speech and movement, which once again demonstrates the existing gap between dictatorship and democracy,” said Tigran Balayan, the Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Balayan expressed confidence at the same time that the precedent set by the Belarusian authorities will not discourage more foreigners from visiting Karabakh without Baku’s permission. “It is beyond doubt that the flow of political and public figures, artists, journalists and tourists to Artsakh will not stop but will multiply,” he said in a statement.
Lapshin’s extradition provoked a storm of criticism in the Armenian parliament on Wednesday morning, with senior deputies representing the ruling HHK launching unprecedented verbal attacks on Lukashenko. Deputy parliament speaker Eduard Sharmazanov, who is also the HHK’s chief spokesman, claimed that it was the result of a “dirty deal” struck with Baku.
“As a co-chair of the Armenian-Belarusian commission on [parliamentary] cooperation, I am declaring on behalf of our commission that this is a disgraceful move that does not stem from the logic of a peaceful [Karabakh] settlement,” Sharmazanov said on the parliament floor. “This is a move against both Russia and Armenia and a peaceful settlement.”
“No democratic regime could have taken such a step,” Sharmazanov added, clearly alluding to the Lukashenko government’s human rights record that has long been strongly criticized by Western powers and non-governmental watchdogs.
Vahram Baghdasarian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader, charged that Lukashenko handed over Lapshin in return for an Azerbaijani state medal which he received from President Ilham Aliyev during a November visit to Baku. The blogger was arrested two weeks after that visit.
Baghdasarian dismissed some opposition politicians’ calls for Armenia to suspend its membership in the CSTO. “We should raise instead the issue of terminating Belarus’s membership in the CSTO,” he said.
The Russian government has repeatedly warned Minsk against extraditing its citizen. The Russian Foreign Ministry voiced on Wednesday its “deep disappointment” with the extradition, saying that it “does not correspond to the spirit of the alliance between Russia and Belarus.”
The Azerbaijani authorities say Lapshin illegally entered “occupied territories of Azerbaijan” when he visited Karabakh in 2011 and 2012 without their permission. The 40-year-old, who holds Israeli, Russian and Ukrainian passports, gave detailed accounts of the trips on his Russian-language blog.
Baku has officially blacklisted 600 non-Armenian foreigners who have travelled to Karabakh from Armenia. The blacklist includes 180 journalists.