Minsk Group Condemns Civilian Killings, Fails to Blame Baku
(A.W.)—Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) parliamentary faction secretary Aghvan Vardanyan recently noted that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group co-chairing countries had the power to reduce tensions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and to prevent the killing of innocent civilians, if they so willed and proceeded to work together accordingly.
During discussions in the National Assembly on Sept. 25, Vardanyan further stated that the escalation of violence by Azerbaijan fit into an established pattern, by which Azerbaijan resorts to increased violence ahead of every high-level meeting.
“There are two ways of resolving this. One is to meet force with greater force, which I think our army is already doing to a degree. The second is—and I am deeply convinced of this—if the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries were willing and worked together, they could at the very least sharply reduce the tension and the instigation [of violence] by the enemy, as well as prevent the killing of innocent people. Ahead of every meeting regarding the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict, Azerbaijan resorts to such [violent] actions, in which case our hopes rest in the strength of our army,” Vardanyan was quoted as saying by YerkirMedia.
OSCE Minsk Group Condemns Killing of Civilians, Fails to Blame Azerbaijan
The OSCE Minsk Group released a statement on Sept. 25 condemning the recent attacks and “casualties on each side of the international border and Line of Contact.” In the statement, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs expressed their “serious concern about Armenian and Azerbaijani forces using mortars and heavy weapons in and around civilian areas.” The group steered clear of blaming Azerbaijan for the killing of the three Armenian civilian women on Sept. 25, instead opting for what observers have called the group’s habit of projecting “artificial even-handedness” and addressing their appeal to both sides to refrain from targeting civilians.
“The use of such weapons represents an unacceptable escalation in the conflict. We express our deepest condolences to the families of the deceased and recognize the casualties on each side of the international border and Line of Contact. We appeal to the sides in the strongest possible terms to avoid civilian casualties. The sides have an obligation under the Geneva Conventions to protect the safety and security of non-combatants,” read a part of the Minsk Group’s statement.
OSCE Minsk Group ‘Unable’ to Determine How Violence Started
In the statement, the co-chairs also announced that they are unable to determine how the violence originated “since each side accuses the other.” However, they said the countries “should work towards an OSCE investigation mechanism as discussed between the presidents.”
A day earlier, 83-year-old Parakavar resident Baydzar Aghajanyan and Berdavan residents Shushan Asatryan, 94, and Sona Revezyan, 41, were killed by Azerbaijani artillery fire that targeted Armenian border villages in Armenia’s Tavush province. Four other civilians were wounded in the attack.
According to the co-chairs, the incidents took place on the eve of an agreed meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in New York. “We expect the ministers to have a serious discussion on the escalation of violence and the issues surrounding a negotiated settlement,” read their statement.
Armenian Army Retaliates, 5 Azeri Soldiers Killed
Armenia’s Armed Forces retaliated against Azeri positions, reported PanArmenian.net. Azerbaijan’s Armed Forces suffered five casualties; and five servicemen were reportedly injured. The Azerbaijani military base near the village of Parakavar was also reportedly destroyed. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry has rejected the news, calling it “wrong and baseless,” according to Azerbaijani media reports.
Co-Chairs Meet with Minister Nalbandian
The Minsk Group Co-chairs Igor Popov, James Warlick, and Pierre Andrieu, as well as the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Andrzej Kasprzyk, met with Armenian Foreign Affairs Minister Edward Nalbandian on Sept. 24, during which Nalbandian expressed his indignation over the violations of the ceasefire by Azerbaijan.
“Azerbaijan has developed a bad practice of escalating the situation, even at the expense of human casualties, on the line of contact with Nagorno-Karabakh and the border with Armenia, ahead of important visits to the region and high level meetings, thus undermining the meetings and impeding the negotiation process”, underlined Minister Nalbandian, according to a statement released by the Armenian Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Condemning the death of the three civilians in border villages, Nalbandian said “this yet another provocation by Azerbaijan came as a response to the expectation, expressed by the Minsk Group Co-chairs on holding productive talks between Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers in New York.”
According to the statement, possible steps on stabilization of the situation were also discussed at the meeting.
Schiff to Warlick: Ignoring Azerbaijan’s Increasing Belligerence Does Not Serve Peace
On Sept. 23, U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called upon the State Department to refrain from responding to future acts of Azerbaijani aggression with statements suggesting a “false equivalence between Azeri and Armenian behavior.”
In a letter addressed to Ambassador James Warlick, the State Department’s representative to the OSCE Minsk Group, Schiff warned that any “unwillingness to speak plainly about the aggressor in this conflict sends the message to Azerbaijan that it can act with impunity.”
The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs have continuously faced criticism for manufacturing “artificial even-handedness.” In August 2014, following attacks by Azerbaijan, Armenian National Committee of America Executive Director Aram Hamparian pointedly remarked: “The OSCE Minsk Group’s unwillingness to clearly condemn Azerbaijani military strikes has fostered a dangerous atmosphere of impunity… It is time for peace negotiators to break their bad habit of answering Aliyev’s every assault with artificial even-handedness and diplomatic double-talk. Only by unequivocally denouncing Azerbaijan’s attacks can they hope to constrain Aliyev’s march toward a renewed Caucasus war.”
Royce and Engel Work to Secure Bipartisan Support for Karabagh Peace-Keeping
Meanwhile, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) launched an action alert this week, asking community members to urge their representatives to sign a letter drafted by Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, and join a bipartisan call for renewed U.S. leadership in keeping the peace along the Nagorno-Karabagh line of contact.
The two senior legislators are currently collecting Congressional signatures on a letter addressed to Ambassador James Warlick—the U.S. representative to the OSCE’s Minsk Group tasked with reaching a resolution of Nagorno-Karabagh related security and status issues. In their letter, they specifically call for the U.S. and OSCE to abandon their failed policy of false parity in responding to acts of aggression.
The ANCA Royce-Engel action alert is available at: http://www.anca.org/nkpeace