By Edmond Y. Azadian
As we enter the New Year, Armenia faces yet another diplomatic challenge, again the result of its size and the alliances it has chosen. Although on the surface they don’t appear to be the case, indeed those two, as well as the deep and generous pockets of its foes, are the root causes of those challenges.
Last year, Armenia suffered a setback in Europe when the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg issued a decision in the case of Dogu Perinçek, which in essence sided with the Genocide denier in a case that pitted him against the Swiss government. Switzerland has adopted a law which makes the denial of the Armenian Genocide a crime. Perinçek, a Turkish citizen, in lectures denied the Genocide repeatedly.
While in its final verdict the court said that there is no doubt whatsoever regarding the fate that befell the Armenians, all legal terminologies and maneuvers were rehashed in the verdict to state one more time that any one in Europe can deny the Armenian Genocide and seek shelter under the banner of freedom of speech, while denying the Jewish Holocaust is instead treated as inciting hate.
That decision would certainly have its impact on Swiss law and produce dire consequences elsewhere. A case in point is a recent French High Court verdict. A math teacher had been fired and convicted in Paris for challenging the Holocaust denial law, arguing that the law unfairly punishes only those disputing or denying the Jewish Holocaust, but no other crimes against humanity. The constitutional court upheld the law on January 10, singling out Holocaust denial as a crime, saying that the World War II genocide is of a “different nature” than other crimes against humanity. This ruling is taking place in a country whose president, Francois Hollande, had pledged his support to ironclad language in a law criminalizing the denial of the Armenian Genocide.
Pundits who had tried to minimize — and even misinterpret — the European Court’s verdict in the Perinçek case, will realize that it has begun to have a negative domino effect in Europe.
Now comes the second chapter of diplomatic challenges for Armenia.
Indeed, the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has approved with a vote of 24 to 16 an anti-Armenian report entitled “Escalation of Violence in Nagorno-Karabagh and Other Occupied Territories of Azerbaijan” by Robert Walter (United Kingdom, EC), a rapporteur of PACE Political Affairs Committee. The Armenian delegation’s proposal to replace the biased rapporteur was declined. The above report will feature on the agenda of the PACE plenary session on January 26 with yet another biased report against Karabagh Armenians.
The second draft resolution is entitled “Inhabitants of Frontier Regions of Azerbaijan Are Deliberately Deprived of Water.” The rapporteur of this second report is Milica Markov (Bosnia and Herzegovina).
The first report is founded on biased premises as it qualifies Karabagh as an “occupied territory,” in addition to other Azeri territories Armenia occupies. A neutral position which is expected from an organization such as PACE, at the very least should have formulated it as “disputed territories.” In its current shape the draft resolution has its forgone conclusion, which may not even need any voting at the plenary session.
In the first draft resolution, the principles of neutrality, impartiality and objectivity have been thrown out. On the other hand, the credentials of the rapporteur himself are comprised; Mr. Robert Walter and his wife, Feride Alp-Walter, have been involved in business dealings in Azerbaijan and Turkey. It has also been reported that they both are Turkish citizens and that Mr. Walter received his Turkish ID card personally from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu. In 2011, Mr. Çavusoglu was among the guests at the couple’s wedding.
This transparent vote-for-money situation may remind readers possibly of another diplomat — now discredited and out of the political stage — who at the time negatively impacted Armenian-Azeri relations, namely Matthew Bryza. Bryza, the former co-chair of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), served also for a short time as US ambassador to Azerbaijan. The wedding of Bryza and his Turkish bride in Turkey was reportedly underwritten by the Aliyev government in Azerbaijan.
These blatant undertakings seem to be individual acts of misbehavior but they are being tolerated by the diplomatic circles because Armenia remains in the Russian orbit and the delegates who vote for these misguided and ill-conceived resolutions believe in the backs of their minds that they are punishing Russia indirectly by voting against Armenia.
The second draft resolution is similarly based on fallacious premises because the rapporteur has chosen to ignore the technical report on the Sarsang Reservoir, which is at the center of the controversy. The technical report drafted by expert Dr. Lydia S. Vamvakeridou-Lyroudia calls for a visual inspection of the dam, which is far from the alleged danger of collapse, but the rapporteur has chosen to decline the invitation of Karabagh authorities to come for a fact-finding mission and she has demanded a unilateral and “immediate withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from the region concerned.”
In view of PACE’s ill-advised initiatives, the OSCE has issued a terse statement suggesting that no other body is mandated to interfere in the Nagorno Karabagh conflict without consulting the OSCE co-chairs. Any marginal interference can only damage the negotiation process. But Azerbaijan, under Turkey’s tutelage, has been actively pursuing a policy of deviating and corrupting the fundamental meaning of the Karabagh issue. The Azeri-Turkish tandem has already used the fanaticism of some Islamic countries to win their votes at the UN General Assembly formulating the conflict as a religious quarrel.
Armenians should not be surprised by similar actions and they need to plan their strategies and prepare for counter attacks, which fortunately are on their way. The European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy (EAFJD) has already taken the lead to launch a campaign, namely through a petition on change.org, urging active participation to prevent PACE from adopting a pro-Azerbaijani resolution that can hinder the Nagorno-Karabagh peace negotiations. The EAFJD is specifically calling for immediate action via the petition to put an end to PACE’s “hate-filled war rhetoric on Nagorno Karabagh and the favoritism of some of its members toward Azerbaijan.”
The diaspora initiative is coupled and endorsed with a diplomatic offensive from Armenia. To prevent the adoption of the above documents, Yerevan has undertaken a furtive diplomatic campaign. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Eduard Sharmazanov has visited all Baltic capitals with a follow-up trip to the Czech Republic and Greece. Meanwhile, Hovhannes Sahakyan, the head of Armenia’s Standing Parliamentary Committee on State and Legal Affairs has paid similar visits to Warsaw and Bucharest, while Artak Zakaryan, head of Armenia’s Standing Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Relations and Samvel Fermanyan, co-chair of Armenia-Europe Cooperation Commission are on their way to different European capitals with the same mission.
“This resolution has no value at all, apart from undermining the negotiation process,’ announced Naira Zurabyan, who heads the Prosperous Armenia faction in the National Assembly. “As for the final version,” she added, “it depends on how many sober-minded members will be attending the PACE plenary session to understand that the adoption of a resolution with such wording will simply increase the border tensions, which is already very tense. PACE will yet another time turn into a scene of war between Armenian and Azerbaijani delegations. If that is what PACE is seeking, let them keep on working in such a manner.”
In the meantime, Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian has announced at a parliament session that Armenian should work more actively with the delegates of PACE.
The January 26 session and the vote will demonstrate if the combined mobilization of the Armenia-diaspora diplomatic campaign was able to catch up or keep pace with PACE.