Could Azerbaijan be facing encroachments on its territorial integrity by Italian fashion brands? Armenian and Karabakhi media have it that Versace, Armani, Prada and Moschino are considering setting up production lines in breakaway Nagorno Karabakh, a patch of territory that Azerbaijan claims as its own design.
According to the reports, a coterie of Italian businesspeople are visiting Karabakh this week to check out the potential for producing clothes in a decrepit, former textile factory, Gharmetakskombinat. The separatist authorities hope that the abandoned factory could soon start producing Versace outfits, among others, and have joked that perhaps Baku would care to set up a special black list for "prominent international brands and companies."
While this story may sound like something out of The Onion, officials in Baku took it seriously. Azerbaijan, which is trying to isolate Karabakh as part of its policy to regain control of the predominantly ethnic Armenian territory, tasked its embassy in Italy to look into the reports. One nationalist NGO called for a boycott of Versace clothes -- an action that, conceivably, might have put Azerbaijan's reigning fashionista, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, in a potentially delicate situation.
Soon enough, though, Azerbaijani media distributed alleged comments from Versace that the company has no plans to extend production to the disputed region.
A purported "representative" of Versace in Azerbaijan, however, told the Azerbaijani website Virtualaz.org that the Italian clothier intends to open a boutique, rather than a factory, in the breakaway territory.
Versace spokespeople could not be reached by EurasiaNet.org for confirmation.
It remains unclear if energy-rich Baku was able to talk Italy's fashion sharks out of their alleged Karabakh ideas or if the fashion factory was Armenian/Karabakhi wishful thinking to begin with. In a part of the world known both for fake news and fake fashion brands, it may take time to get a clear picture.