OSCE to Shut Office in Yerevan


YEREVAN — The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly President Christine Muttonen (MP, Austria) and Special Representative on the South Caucasus Kristian Vigenin (MP, Bulgaria) expressed regret about the announcement this week that it had not been possible to reach agreement to extend the mandate of the OSCE’s Office in Yerevan, reported the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on Thursday, May 4.

The Office is expected to close in the coming months.

“I regret the fact that despite lengthy and extensive efforts, the Permanent Council has been unable to reach consensus on the continuation of the OSCE Office in Yerevan’s important work,” Muttonen said. “The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has repeatedly called for OSCE field operations to be given robust mandates and all the resources they need to allow them to perform their vital tasks, and yet, regrettably, another field operation is being closed.”

According to a story from Azatutyun (RFE/RL), the Azerbaijani delegation to the OSCE headquarters in Vienna insisted in a January statement that the program “can strengthen the capacity and skills of relevant Armenian structures” in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It accused Armenia of seeking to “misuse the OSCE Office in Yerevan against legitimate interests of Azerbaijan.”

Armenia shrugged off those allegations. It said that Baku is simply keen to force the closure of the Yerevan office after having a similar OSCE office in Baku shut down in 2015. OSCE decisions on opening such missions and extending their activities have to be unanimously approved by all 57 member states of the organization.

Baku did not drop its objections even after the Armenian government agreed later in January to exclude demining from a wide range of OSCE activities in Armenia. That prompted a stern warning from the United States, with a senior US diplomat saying in February that the closure of the Yerevan office would “reflect poorly on Azerbaijan.”

A representative of Austria, the current holder of the OSCE presidency, told the OSCE’s Permanent Council in Vienna on Thursday that the Azerbaijani government remains adamant in demanding the office closure.

“The United States regrets the impending closure of the OSCE Office in Yerevan,” Kate Byrnes, the charge d’affaires of the US mission to the OSCE, said at the meeting. “We lament the loss of the last OSCE field operation in the South Caucasus.”

“Armenia, in the spirit of compromise, agreed that the Office in Yerevan would end these [humanitarian demining] activities,” she stressed.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry strongly condemned Baku’s uncompromising stance on the issue. The ministry spokesman, Tigran Balayan, said Azerbaijan’s authoritarian leadership is highlighting its dismal human rights record and “deepening the gap between itself and the international community.”

Byrnes also praised the Armenian government’s long-running cooperation with the OSCE and its Yerevan office in particular. The office’s promotion of human rights, tax and police reforms, gender equality and press freedom has brought about “positive results,” she said.

Vigenin noted how important the Office in Yerevan’s work is for Armenia and the OSCE, and stressed that the OSCE PA will remain actively engaged in the region.

“Following the closure of OSCE field operations in Georgia and Azerbaijan in past years, the Office in Yerevan has both a symbolic and practical importance that should not be overlooked. Personally, I have benefited from the Office’s expertise when carrying out diplomatic visits, and hope that the interim period before the final closure of the mission can be used to find a compromise solution so that the country can continue benefiting from its support,” Vigenin said.

Spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry of Armenia Tigran Balayan commented on the recent developments over the closure of the OSCE Office in Yerevan in an interview with News.am, reported the Foreign Ministry of Armenia on Thursday.

“Today, the Representative of the OSCE Austrian Chairmanship delivered a statement at the Permanent Council meeting announcing that despite exerted efforts, it has not been possible to reach an agreement on the extension of the mandate of the OSCE Office in Yerevan,” Balayan said. “As during the Permanent Council meeting in January, the Austrian Chairmanship today praised the constructive efforts of Armenia aimed at finding a solution to the issue. Likewise, the constructive approaches of Armenia were commended by other participating States.”

Balayan said that Azerbaijan continues its destructive stance in the conflict, and “finds itself in a total isolation.” He said that the OSCE Chairmanship, its participating states, and Secretariat support the OSCE Office in Yerevan, and it is solely Azerbaijan that abuses the OSCE principle of consensus, singlehandedly blocking the decision on the continuation of activities of the OSCE office in Yerevan, thus opposing to the whole organization.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry announced that it will remain committed to OSCE’s goals and will continue to implement the organization’s projects.

The American diplomat went on to urge the organization’s Austrian chairmanship to “explore new ways of maintaining an OSCE presence in Armenia and throughout the South Caucasus.”

Balayan said in that regard that the authorities in Yerevan are open to “new avenues of implementing OSCE projects in Armenia.”