The Silent Siege of Nagorno-Karabakh echoes in the European Parliament

  • 15.06.2023
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On Tuesday June 6, the European Parliament hosted an event on the blockade in Nagorno-Karabakh, sponsored by MEP François-Xavier Bellamy, with young journalist Lika Zakaryan, author of 44 Days: Diary from an Invisible War, as guest of honor.

Organized in partnership with AGBU Europe and L’œuvre d’Orient, the event brought together some 100 guests, including parliamentary assistants, members of the European Commission, researchers and journalists. In his welcome address, Mr. F-X Bellamy underlined his desire, through this event, to focus on the life stories of the Armenian inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh, starting with that of Lika Zakaryan, who gave a poignant account in her war diary in 2020, adapted for the screen by the documentary film Invisible Republic, directed by Garin Hovanissian and produced by Creative Armenia.

The screening of excerpts from the film was followed by a discussion with the young journalist. As Lika explained, the aim of the film, produced in 2022, was to raise awareness among a wider audience of the 44-day war, which received little coverage in the international media. “If we continue to want to show it today, it’s above all because this misnamed 44-day war isn’t over. It continues in various forms”, she explains in her exchange with F-X Bellamy. Lika also spoke of her disappointment at the lack of response from the European Union during the war in 2020. She considered herself to be pro-Western before the war, and was a firm believer in European values, democracy and the rule of law. Her distrust of these “men in suits”, as she calls them, who make fine declarations without any action, grew steadily: “Men in suits make declarations, but when you’re in the basement of a building, under the bombs, these declarations don’t really warm your heart if no action follows”, she concludes. Doubtless, Lika still retained a trace of this mistrust when she arrived in Brussels at the invitation of the MEP. However, she was deeply moved by the sincere and consistent show of support she received during the event. She ended her speech with a heartfelt thank-you: “Thank you to everyone who has come here today to share this moment with us. Today, the people of Artsakh really feel abandoned. Knowing that somewhere people are getting together and talking about them, thinking about them, caring about them, means a lot. That’s where hope can come.

The second part of the event was devoted to a round-table discussion on the current situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, from a geopolitical, legal and humanitarian perspective, and on what sort of actions can be pursued by the European Union.

Gaïdz Minassian, a journalist with Le Monde newspaper, researcher and lecturer at Sciences Po Paris, shed geopolitical light on the conflict, pointing out that in 2020 it was not a question of a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but of a war between Nagorno-Karabakh and a coalition led by Azerbaijan, including Turkey and Pakistan. He pointed out that Europe is directly concerned by what is happening in this region of its eastern neighborhood, which can be called “Caucasian Europe”, adding that the three countries of the South Caucasus are part of the new European Political Community. According to G. Minassian, the EU “seeks to establish peace in this region to make it a true crossroads, a buffer zone that can even participate in Europe’s ecological transition, while on the other hand, Russia would like to keep the region in a closed circle, following the 3+3 format (Russia, Turkey, Iran and Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan). Unfortunately, according to Gaidz, Europe has not understood the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh, nor who it is dealing with in the person of President Aliyev, whose “racist, fascist and terrorist policies” are well documented. Faced with the two opposing approaches to resolving the conflict, Russia’s and the West’s, Gaidz also noted that “the blind spot in these negotiations is Karabakh. Nobody is talking about Karabakh.”

Pierre d’Argent, Professor of International Law at the Université Catholique de Louvain, member of the Institute of International Law and Counsel for Armenia before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), then took the floor to present the current case between Armenia and Azerbaijan before the ICJ, highlighting the practice of whataboutism, so dear to Azerbaijan. Indeed, every time Armenia submits a request to the ICJ, Azerbaijan immediately counter-attacks submitting a comparable request of its own. This mirror-effect strategy was also at work at the very moment of the event at the European Parliament, which was hosting the opening of a photo exhibition on “Karabagh after the war”, sponsored by the Azerbaijani Embassy. Maître d’Argent explained the orders issued since 2021 in the current case, which notably concerns the unblocking of the Latchine corridor, emphasizing that these are legally binding orders. While Azerbaijan continues to be in breach of international law by not complying with these orders, the case before the ICJ represents, in his view, a United Nations monitoring body to ensure that what happens there does not take place completely behind a curtain that Azerbaijan would like to be as thick as possible.

Bulgarian MEP Andrey Kovachev, permanent rapporteur on Armenia at the European Parliament, presented the actions taken by the Parliament since the 44-day war in 2020, highlighting among others the urgent resolution on the situation of prisoners of war in May 2021 and the resolution on the blockade of the Latchine corridor in January 2023. He also referred to the two annual reports on the EU’s relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan adopted in March of this year, which very clearly called on Azerbaijan to limit its rhetoric of hatred and called for confidence-building measures in order to be able to engage further in a genuine peace process.

Finally, Monseigneur Pascal Gollnisch, director of Œuvre d’Orient, paid tribute to the Armenian people: we thought that having suffered such massacres and genocide deserved the right to live in respect and peace. What would we say if other genocidal peoples, of which we are aware, were to be attacked again in the same spirit?
Mgr Gollnisch also spoke of the threat to the Armenian cultural heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh, and of the support projects carried out in the region by L’Oeuvre d’Orient.

In his concluding remarks, François-Xavier Bellamy spoke of the “false peace negotiations” underway, and reiterated the need for the European Union to impose sanctions on Azerbaijan: “Our role as Europeans is to ensure that the crime stops, so that negotiations can begin. How can we consider that Armenia is negotiating freely and sovereignly with Azerbaijan when it is today experiencing directly the blackmail of blocking the Lachine corridor? He recalled that Parliament had taken very clear positions since the beginning of the war. Unfortunately, these positions have not been translated either by the Commission, which considers Mr. Aliyev to be a reliable partner, or by the Council, which, despite our appeal, has still not initiated any sanctions procedure”.

Indeed, it’s hard to look at the giant poster in Ukrainian colors emblazoned with the slogan “No More Gas from Putin”, in the agora of the European Parliament in Brussels, without feeling the painful absence of a neighboring poster in Armenian colors proclaiming “No More Gas from Aliev”.


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