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Petitioning Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)

NO to hate-filled war-rhetoric on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and favoritism!

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is expected to vote on the following two draft resolutions on Nagorno-Karabakh on January 26, 2016, as a joined item on the agenda:

  1. Draft resolution on “Escalation of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh and the other occupied territories of Azerbaijan”, rapporteur Robert Walter (UK)
  2. Draft resolution on “Inhabitants of frontier regions of Azerbaijan are deliberately deprived of water”, rapporteur Milica Marković (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a complex conflict the peaceful settlement of which has no other alternative. Unfortunately these two draft resolutions feed into the hate-filled war rhetoric of the current Azerbaijani government on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and promote favoritism. Both draft resolutions evidently lack thorough, impartial research, selectively leave out crucial facts and cause harm to the negotiation process.

I herewith raise my voice against these two draft resolutions with an inflammatory content which have little to do with genuine conflict resolution and peace building and promote vested personal and financial interests of a handful of Members of PACE.  

Further details on the draft resolutions:

  1. Draft resolution on “Escalation of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh and the other occupied territories of Azerbaijan”, rapporteur Robert Walter (UK)

As a rapporteur Mr. Walter violated several rules of the Code of conduct of PACE Members such as 1. the principle of neutrality, impartiality and objectivity (rules 1.1; 1.1.1.; 1.1.4), 2. the principle on avoiding conflict of interest (rule 8),  3. the principle on not using one’s position as a PACE member to further one’s own, another person’s or entity’s interest (rule 12), 4. as well as the principle of respecting the values of the Council of Europe (rule 7).

Mr. Robert Walter and his wife Feride Alp-Walter, marketing manager of the Middle East Association, have maintained close relationship with the authorities and the 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 which has strong ties with the Azerbaijani government and Ilham Aliyev’s inner circle.

Mr. Walter’s support for the government of Ilham Aliyev, while closing an eye on undemocratic processes in the country, has been frequently criticized by human rights activists in Azerbaijan[1], respected European watchdogs, such as Corporate Europe Observatory[2] as well as various well-known international media.

Sadly, just a first glance at the draft resolution is enough to realize that it is a word-for-word reflection of the official Azerbaijani and Turkish stance on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Official Turkey has always openly supported Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Mr. Walter and his wife, both Turkish citizens, have had cozy ties with the Turkish Government. Mr. Walter received his Turkish ID card personally from the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. In 2011 Mr. Çavuşoğlu was among the guests of Mr. Walter’s and Mrs. Feride Alp’s wedding.  

Despite its title the draft resolution by Mr. Robert Walter is far from reflecting the reality on the escalation of tension on the contact line between Armenia and Azerbaijan and around Nagorno-Karabakh in the past months which has led to tragic deaths of civilians.  

The draft resolution by Mr. Walter selectively leaves out crucial information. For instance it fails to mention important facts such as the one that unlike Armenia, on 27.09.2015 official Azerbaijan dismissed the proposal made by the OSCE Minsk Group to accept an OSCE mechanism to investigate ceasefire violations. The mechanism would enable to identify the initiator of the cease-fire violations and make it difficult for the sides to blame each other for initiating deadly attacks. The logical answer to the question why official Azerbaijan which continuously blames the Armenian side for violating the cease-fire is not interested in such a mechanism, is evident.

This draft report is also a rather dangerous and irresponsible attempt to create a parallel mechanism, without having the necessary legitimacy and the mandate from the parties involved in the conflict. The prompt critical reaction of the co-chairs of OSCE Minsk Group - the sole official body with the mandate to mediate - to the draft resolution by rapporteur Mr. Walter emphasizes the harm it causes to the negotiation process and thus to the peaceful settlement of the conflict.

 2.      Draft resolution on “Inhabitants of frontier regions of Azerbaijan are deliberately deprived of water”, rapporteur Milica Marković (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

 -          Unfortunately the draft resolution written by Mrs. Milica Marković lacks impartial, thorough research. Despite the prompt invitations of both the Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh 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.   

-          Rapporteur Marković evidently uses this humanitarian issue as a pretext in order to make highly biased statements on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in general. A brief comparison of the technical report and the draft resolution, which is supposed to be based on the technical report, makes is clear that Ms. Marković deliberately exaggerated the consequences of potential danger or left important facts stated in the technical report out of the draft resolution, since this information does not fit in with her biased intentions.

The technical report drafted by expert Dr. Lydia S. Vamvakeridou-Lyroudia clearly specifies: “Although Sarsang is an earth-fill dam, which is far less dangerous and much more safe, when it comes to sudden collapse in principle (e.g. as compared to arched dams), it should be pointed out that without a visual inspection of the dam there is no way to assess its condition and any potential security risks from the technical point of view”. Despite this, the rapporteur and the technical expert opted to ignore the invitation of the Authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh to visit Sarsang reservoir and examine the state of inspection and maintenance of the reservoir. Instead, Mrs. Marković produced a report which refers to the rather approximate simulations of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Emergency situations, based on more than 22 year-old information.   

According to the technical report: “Sarsang alone cannot cause a major flood in the problematic lower Kura region, but the lack of communication between Armenia and Azerbaijan raises fears that unexpected water releases from Sarsang may add to flooding consequences at periods of excessive rainfall in the area”. Nonetheless, instead of urging the sides, to engage in a dialogue in order to ensure a safe management of the reservoir, Ms. Marković demands an “immediate withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from the region concerned”.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOgCrsCKXt4, reached on 07.12.2015 
[2] „Spin doctors to the autocrats: how European PR firm whitewash repressive regimes”, pp 22-25;  http://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/201500303_spindoctors_lr.pdf , reached on 07.12.2015  

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