By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Question: How does a foreign embassy accredited in Mexico manage to create a diplomatic scandal between its host country and its archenemy?
Just ask the Armenians.
Last October, the Armenian Embassy in Mexico invited three federal deputies – Margarita Blanca Cuata Domínguez, Carlos Hernández Mirón and María Cristian García (all from left-leaning political parties and all members of the Congressional Mexico-Armenia Friendship Committee) – on a weeklong fam trip to Armenia.
It should be noted that Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies has similar friendship groups with most foreign countries accredited in Mexico, and while their primary purpose is to foster bilateral diplomatic goodwill and promote two-way relations, these committees are more ceremonial in nature than substantive.
So when the three deputies received the invitation to visit a distant land as guests of that government, they graciously accepted, leaving the details and itinerary of the visit in the hands of their hosts.
Now, as it turns out, Armenia occupies a mayor swathe of land that happens to belong to its neighbor and lifelong nemesis Azerbaijan, a situation that has consistently earned the South Caucasian nation the condemnation of the United Nations and a slew of other international forums since it first sent in troops into the Azeri Nagorno-Karabakh region back in 1993.
And despite at least four UN Security Council resolutions demanding that Armenia immediately pull out of the occupied territories, Yerevan has steadfastly refused to budge, patently daring the global community to force it to conform to international rule of law in a defiant “make-me” global foreign policy.
In an effort to justify its illegal occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and court international favor for its misdeeds, Armenia has encouraged the world to recognize the region as a breakaway, separatist enclave that wants nothing to do with Baku.
But the truth of the matter is that the Armenian military made life for the minority ethnic Turkic Azeris of Nagorno-Karabakh (who, before 1993, accounted for about 25 percent of the region’s population) so unbearable that most of them simply picked up and left to escape the abuse, taking asylum in other parts of Azerbaijan and hoping one day to be able to return to their homeland.
That left the majority ethnic Christian Armenians in the region in full control, with anti-Azerbaijani sentiments fed by Armenian propaganda machines and unabashed financial and military support from Yerevan.
Fast-forward a quarter of a century, and Armenian troops still occupy the geostrategic region of Nagorno-Karabakh, along with seven surrounding regions which, collectively, make up about 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory.
Azerbaijan adamantly maintains its claim to the region as part of its God-given (or, at least, UN-recognized) national territorial integrity (a position it peddles to virtually anyone and any government that will listen in an effort to curry international pressure to oust the occupying Armenian army).
Armenia, on the other hand, is still sitting pretty in Nagorno-Karabakh, hoping that over time it will eventually gain international recognition of its usurped territory through a distorted process of terra nullius.
Understandably, this frozen conflict has led to hard feelings between Baku and Yerevan – as well as a series of armed clashes that have maintained the two neighbors at political loggerheads to this day. (In April 2016, the two countries briefly entered a full-scale war after fighting escalated along a fragile demilitarized buffer zone.)
So, essentially, Azerbaijan is still appealing to the global conscience to make Armenia do the right thing and pull out of its territory, and Armenia is still practicing its old “might-is-right” routine.
All of which brings us back to the incidence with the Mexican deputies last November.
Among the many countries that have condemned that illegal occupation is Mexico, and, in accordance with that condemnation and the formal recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan’s national territory, the government of Mexico has agreed not to enter the region without the express invitation of Baku.
Unfortunately, no one bothered to explain this to the poor unsuspecting deputados who traveled to Armenia in what they thought would be an innocuous PR tour.
Ah, but the ever-conniving Armenians decided to take advantage of the Mexican deputies’ political naiveté and program into their weeklong itinerary a tour of Nagorno-Karabakh.
So, unaware that Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat (SRE) had issued an official warning that they should avoid trespassing into Azeri territory while in Armenia (somebody dropped the ball here, but that’s another column), the credulous deputies, thinking that their hosts had their best interests at heart, simply went where they were taken, which in this case, was straight into the mouth of a diplomatic nightmare.
When Baku learned of the Mexican deputies’ intrepid trek into Nagorno-Karabakh, it logically demanded that its charge d’affaires here, Mammad Talibov, submit a formal protest to the Chamber of Deputies, and soon, all diplomatic hell broke loose.
To try to undo the faux pas, Jorge Carlos Ramírez Marín, head of Mexico’s Federal Chamber of Deputies, immediately offered a formal apology and promised upside-down and backwards that such a flagrant violation of international protocol and respect for Azerbaijani territory would never take place again.
But, of course, the damage was already done, and the Armenian Embassy is still quietly snickering in the sidelines as it merrily assesses the turmoil it was able to create between Mexico and Azerbaijan just by organizing what it billed as a friendly trip to Yerevan for a group of Mexican politicians.
In case there is anyone who doesn’t remember the diplomatic fiasco that ensued between Azerbaijan and Mexico back in 2012 over a giant statue of former Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev which was donated to Mexico City as part of a $10-million gift of renovation for Chapultepec Park and later hauled away to an undisclosed location by Mexican authorities in the dead of night, suffice it to say that there were already some serious snags in what should have been a flawless bilateral friendship.
(It should be noted that the Armenians played a handsome role in orchestrating that debacle as well.)
The incidence with the Mexican deputies’ visit to Nagorno-Karabakh has only added fuel to a simmering fire of bilateral misunderstandings and diplomatic chafes between Azerbaijan and Mexico.
And that is exactly what the Armenian Embassy set out to accomplish.
But stirring bad blood between Azerbaijan and Mexico is not the only outcome of the deputies’ visit.
As I mentioned earlier, all three of the deputies in question were from left-leaning parties, and since Mexico in now in the heat of a national political campaign, with leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador leading in the polls for the presidential race, the controversy is having a serious impact on how the deputies’ parties are perceived.
There has been no lack of foreign and national pundits who have sought to equate the naïveté of the deputies with political malice or ineptness, and thus discredit their respective parties.
That, by all definitions, could be easily construed as political meddling.
As for the poor Mexican deputies who were the unwitting brunt of the Armenian Embassy’s diplomatic ploy, a word of caution for future invites abroad: Beware of Armenians bearing gifts.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at email@example.com.