U.S. OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair Ambassador James Warlick during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Armenia on October 26th.
By Danielle Saroyan
Armenian Agenda Associate Editor
U.S. OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair Ambassador James Warlick and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov share criticism of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) for issuing a report that demands Armenian withdrawal from Nagorno Karabakh and the territory’s return to Azerbaijan.
The resolution on Nagorno Karabakh was drafted an Azerbaijan-affiliated former British Parliamentarian Robert Walter and approved by the PACE’s Political Affairs Committee on Wednesday, November 4th. The 3-page document calls for a peaceful settlement starting with “the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces and other irregular armed forces from Nagorno Karabakh and the other occupied territories of Azerbaijan,” and “the establishment of full sovereignty of Azerbaijan in these territories.”
It also contains criticism of the OSCE Minsk Group, saying that the body co-headed by the United States, Russia, and France should “consider reviewing its approach to the resolution of the conflict.”
Peace proposals made by the three mediating powers differ from the Karabakh settlement advocated by Walter’s resolution. Instead, the OSCE Minsk Group Basic Principles prefer an internationally recognized referendum in Karabakh in which the disputed territory’s predominantly Armenian population would be able to reaffirm its de facto secession from Azerbaijan.
“PACE and other [international organizations,] should consult with OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs before issuing reports or resolutions on Nagorno Karabakh,” Ambassador Warlick tweeted on Friday, November 6th.
Azerbaijan rejected Warlick’s criticism and defended Walter’s resolution. “So far the work of the OSCE Minsk Group has produced zero results,” Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Hikmet Hajiyev said, according to Haqqin.az. “Other international structures trying to contribute to the conflict’s resolution do not need to consult with the Minsk Group co-chairs engaged in meaningless activities.”
Similar to Ambassador Warlick’s position, Lavrov said that attempts by PACE to intervene in the unresolved conflict with such documents only “harm” international peace efforts spearheaded by Russia, the United States, and France. Lavrov emphasized that only these three nations have an international mandate to mediate in the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group.
“Any drastic, radical actions, whoever takes them, only harm this cause and the work of the co-chairs,” Lavrov told reporters. “We – Russia, the United States and France – are firmly against attempts to take this subject to other international platforms that do not deal with the conflict’s settlement, instead of a consistent, businesslike and patient dialogue on the Nagorno Karabakh settlement. At least, nobody has given them such a task on behalf of the international community,” Lavrov said.
(L-R): Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan in Armenia on November 9th.
Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian reaffirmed Armenia’s strong condemnation of the proposed PACE document and accused Walter of working for Azerbaijan. “A person who was for many years a member of a pro-Azerbaijani group in the British parliament and who is financed, according to British press reports, from Baku, could not have had an impartial position,” Nalbanian said at a joint news conference with Lavrov.
Walter was named by the PACE leadership in 2014 to launch a fact-finding mission to the Karabakh conflict zone and draw up the resolution titled “Escalation of violence in Nagorno Karabakh and other occupied territories of Azerbaijan.” Armenian members of the PACE and the Armenian Foreign Ministry argued that this title predetermines Walter’s findings and runs counter to statements made by the U.S., Russian, and French mediators. Walter has also been accused of having close ties with Azerbaijan’s government, saying that he has repeatedly defended Baku’s dismal human rights record frequently criticized by Western human rights groups. Walter is married to a Turkish woman and became a Turkish citizen. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was reported to have personally handed a Turkish ID card to the retired parliamentarian at the Turkish Embassy in London.
“It has turned from an organization protecting human rights into an organization protecting special interests,” Armenia’s Chief of Staff Davit Harutiunian said about the PACE. “Unfortunately, recent years’ [PACE] votes on various issues testify to the fact that special interests have started taking precedence,” he added.
The Strasbourg-based PACE will debate the proposed resolution on Nagorno Karabakh at its next plenary session due in January 2016.