STRASBOURG, France (A.W.)—On Jan. 26, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) held a debate on two reports on Nagorno-Karabagh: “Escalation of violence in Nagorno-Karabagh and the other occupied territories of Azerbaijan,” by rapporteur Robert Walter (UK), and “Inhabitants of frontier regions of Azerbaijan are deliberately deprived of water,” by rapporteur Milica Marković (Bosnia and Herzegovina). The Parliamentary Assembly rejected the report by Walter and adopted the report by Marković.
“Today the Council of Europe rejected the highly biased and inflammatory report by Robert Walter. Thus, the results of today’s vote can be generally considered positive. The current Azerbaijani government and Mr. Walter did not succeed in their efforts of using the Council of Europe as an instrument for anti-Armenian war-rhetoric. It was encouraging to see the level of support and mobilization,” said Kaspar Karampetian, president of the European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy (EAFJD/ANC of Europe) following the outcome of the votes.
“Unfortunately, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted the rather partial report by Milica Marković on the Sarsang reservoir. It is clear that since the beginning Ms. Marković intended to use this humanitarian issue in order to draft a report reflecting the Azerbaijani perspective on the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict,” stressed Karampetian.
“Now the task of the Armenian diplomacy should be raising awareness on the environmental and human rights problems of the Armenian citizens in bordering areas, facing similar problems, caused by Azerbaijan,” concluded the president of EAFJD.
Parliamentary Assembly Rejects Resolution on Escalation of Violence
PACE voted not to adopt the resolution on “Escalation of violence in Nagorno-Karabagh and the other occupied territories of Azerbaijan,” based on a report by former PACE member Robert Walter, following a heated debate. The draft text, which called on Armenia to withdraw from Nagorno-Karabagh as part of the Minsk process, was rejected by 70 votes against, and 66 in favor. Forty-five members abstained from the vote.
According to the EAFJD, the resolution violated several rules of the code of conduct of PACE members, including the principle of neutrality, impartiality, and objectivity (rules 1.1; 1.1.1.; 1.1.4); the principle of avoiding conflict of interest (rule 8); the principle of not using one’s position as a PACE member to further one’s own, another person’s, or an entity’s interest (rule 12); as well as the principle of respecting the values of the Council of Europe (rule 7).
According to the EAFJD, Walter and his wife, Feride Alp-Walter, the marketing manager of the Middle East Association, have maintained a close relationship with the authorities and ruling elites of Azerbaijan for a long time, including taking a high-level British trade mission to Baku in close cooperation with the Embassy of Azerbaijan and the European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS), a lobbying organization that has strong ties with the Azerbaijani government and President Ilham Aliyev’s inner circle.
“Mr. Walter’s support for the government of Ilham Aliyev, while turning a blind eye to undemocratic processes in the country, has been frequently criticized by human rights activists in Azerbaijan, respected European watchdogs, such as Corporate Europe Observatory, as well as various well-known international media,” read part of a statement released by the EAFJD earlier this month.
PACE Says Inhabitants of Frontier Regions of Azerbaijan Deliberately Deprived of Water
Soon after the vote, another resolution based on a report prepared by Milica Marković of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which claimed that the inhabitants of the frontier regions of Azerbaijan are deliberately deprived of water, passed by 98 votes in favor, and 71 against. Forty members abstained from the vote.
The approved resolution stated that the lack of regular maintenance work for more than 20 years on the Sarsang reservoir “poses a danger to the whole border region.”
The EAFJD initiated a change.org petition earlier this month, urging active participation to prevent PACE from adopting the two pro-Azerbaijani resolutions that could hinder the Nagorno-Karabagh peace process.
According to the EAFJD, the draft resolution written by Marković lacked impartial and thorough research. “Despite the prompt invitations [to Marković] of both the Armenian and Nagorno-Karabagh authorities to visit Sarsang reservoir (at ‘any time convenient for the rapporteur’), as initially requested by rapporteur Milica Marković, neither Ms. Marković nor technical expert Dr. Lydia S. Vamvakeridou-Lyroudia were on the ground. Thus both the draft resolution and the technical report (which is supposed to be the basis of the draft resolution) are based on the rather approximate simulations of the corresponding Azerbaijani Ministry based on the data of 1993 and hearsay, although there was clearly an opportunity to visit the reservoir and get acquainted with the actual state of things,” read a statement released by the EAFJD earlier this month.
According to a statement released by PACE following the vote, the European parliamentarians called on Armenian authorities to cease using water resources “as tools of political influence or an instrument of pressure, benefiting only one of the parties to the conflict.” They also called on all sides to intensify their efforts to cooperate closely in the joint management of the resources of the Sarsang water reservoir as a confidence-building measure.
Rustamyan: Adoption Will Hinder Minsk Group’s Efforts
During deliberations prior to the vote, Armen Rustamyan, a member of Armenia’s PACE delegation, an Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Bureau member, and head of the party’s political affairs, addressed the delegates, noting that it is, in fact, Azerbaijan who is using heavy weaponry on the Line of Contact (LoC) and escalating violence—not the opposite, as the proposed resolution outlined.
“[By accepting] this report, PACE will hinder the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] Minsk Group’s efforts, which is unacceptable, since [the OSCE] is the only recognized platform of solving the conflict,” Rustamyan noted. He went on to say that the reports were biased and that their adoption would reflect poorly on the Council of Europe.
EAFJD: Armenian Diplomacy Must Raise Awareness
Since November 2015, the EAFJD has carried out extensive work in 20 Council of Europe member states, elaborating on the essence of the reports and exposing their biased character. The EAFJD was also in Strasbourg and closely followed the vote.
Both draft resolutions evidently lacked thorough, impartial research, selectively left out crucial facts, and in general caused harm to the negotiation process of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict, noted the EAFJD in a statement, adding that the OSCE Minsk Group had previously issued statements, the latest one being a joint press release, urging PACE not to undermine the negotiation process.
According to the EAFJD, the rejected draft report by Robert Walter was evidently a word-for-word reflection of the official Azerbaijani and Turkish stance on the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict. “In her report, Milica Marković, who never visited the reservoir, used this humanitarian issue as a pretext in order to make highly biased statements on the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict in general. A brief comparison of the draft resolution and of the technical report, which should be the basis of the draft resolution, makes it clear that Ms. Marković deliberately exaggerated the consequences of potential danger,” read an EAFJD statement.
Sherman and Schiff Urged Secretary Kerry to Weigh in against Failed Resolution
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Senior Foreign Affairs Committee Member Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) added their voices to official U.S. opposition against the rejected resolution on “Escalation of violence in Nagorno-Karabagh and the other occupied territories of Azerbaijan.”
According to a statement released by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), Schiff urged the State Department to “make clear at the highest levels its view that the resolution is one-sided, inaccurate, and counterproductive to the cause of peace and stability,” in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Noting that Azerbaijan has “taken numerous provocative actions on the Line of Contact resulting in the death and injury of civilians and military personnel,” Schiff expressed concern that the resolution fails to mention that Aliyev “continues to reject the installation of technologies along the Line of Contact to monitor the use of snipers and artillery.” Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh have agreed to the placement of such monitoring measures, which were advanced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and more than 80 U.S. House Members in November 2015.
A copy of Schiff’s letter is available at http://www.anca.org/assets/graphics/2016/Schiff_Pace_012516.pdf.
Sherman, in his letter to Kerry, urged that the U.S. take immediate action to defeat the measure, which sought to undermine OSCE Minsk Group’s leadership role in the Nagorno-Karabagh peace negotiations. “Doing away with the Minsk Group is not only bad policy but an insult to the American people and to the hard-working and dedicated diplomats at the State Department,” explained Sherman. “For generations, the people of Europe have urged America to be involved in Europe. In the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of Americans died to bring peace to Europe. Now we are being told that a group chaired by France, Russia, and the United States should be dislodged and a new group, without any involvement of the U.S., should take over.”
A copy of Sherman’s letter is available at http://www.anca.org/assets/graphics/2016/Sherman_Pace_012216.pdf.
“Armenian Americans across California and around the U.S. thank Congressmen Sherman and Schiff for their trans-Atlantic leadership in securing a strong U.S. stand against Azerbaijan’s ongoing efforts to manipulate European institutions and undermine the Nagorno-Karabagh negotiations,” said Aram Hamparian, the executive director of the ANCA. “We would like to share our support and solidarity with our colleagues at the EAFJD, who—working in cooperation with government and civil society stakeholders and rallying European Armenians, friends of Armenia, and supporters of peace across the continent—played a vital role in the defeat of this reckless measure.”
Armenia’s Defense Minister, PACE Delegation React
Following the votes, Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan advised the Karabagh leadership not to pay attention to the “false details” outlined in the PACE Sarsang reservoir report and to continue their policy.
“I would advise not to focus on the false substance [of the report] and to continue their water policy in Sarsang reservoir,” Ohanyan was quoted as saying by Yerkir.
Following the votes, Armenia’s PACE delegation also issued a statement condemning the two resolutions, saying they “greatly distorted the history and essence of the Nagorno-Karabagh problem and inadmissibly interfered with the peaceful settlement process.”
“We express our gratitude to those PACE delegates who showed a principled stand and the full understanding of the political settlement process of the Nagorno-Karabagh problem during the voting of the two resolutions and with their resolute position rejected Robert Walter’s report [which is] dangerous for the Nagorno-Karabagh [conflict] settlement.