The ethnic-Armenian leader of Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh has arrived in the United States for a visit that has triggered a strong protest from the authorities in Baku.
Few details have been released of Bako Sahakian's trip and it is not known if he will meet with any U.S. officials, although authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said he had visited the Armenian Embassy and the breakaway region's mission in Washington on March 13.
Baku and Yerevan have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for years.
Armenia-backed separatists seized control of the mainly ethnic-Armenian populated region during the early 1990s in a war that killed some 30,000 people.
The region declared independence, but it has not been recognized internationally. Intermittent fighting has continued since a 1994 cease-fire, and diplomatic efforts to resolve the territorial dispute have brought little progress.
Ahead of Sahakian’s visit, Baku summoned the U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, Robert Cekuta, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and handed him a note of protest addressed to the U.S. Department of State.
In the note, Azerbaijani authorities urged the United States "to adhere to the norms of international law and not to allow on its territory activities aimed at violating the sovereignty of Azerbaijan."
Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Hikmet Hajiyev claimed the visit would "seriously harm the negotiating process [over Nagorno-Karabakh] and increase tensions in the region."
Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said Sahakian had led a delegation on March 13 to the Armenian Embassy in Washington, where he met with Ambassador Grigor Hovannisian.
Sahakian’s press office said that "a range of issues related to cooperation between the United States and the two Armenian states were on the agenda of the meeting" at the Armenian Embassy.
The press office said Sahakian stressed the importance of close cooperation between Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia, and the Armenian Diaspora as "a crucial factor for successful implementation of scheduled programs."
An official said Sahakian also held meetings at the permanent representation of Nagorno-Karabakh to the United States.
"The president [Sahakian] noted the importance of expanding and deepening cooperation with the United States, underlining that the representation should continue implementing daily professional work. He gave specific instructions in that direction," the official said.
The state-run Armenpress news agency quoted the western region office of the Armenian National Committee as saying that Sahakian will visit the California city of Glendale, which has a large ethnic-Armenian population.
It said he will discuss the reported decision by the Glendale City Council to rename a street in the city to honor "Artsakh," which is the alternative name for Nagorno-Karabakh used by Armenians.