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Elisabeth Schroedter
Member of the European Parliament

FACT-FINDING MISSION ON THE POLITICAL SITUATION
IN ARMENIA AND AZERBAIJAN

with particular reference to the Nagorno-Karabakh region;
also the plight of refugees and the current state of human rights observance.
15-30 August 1996


In December 1995, the EU provisionally signed partnership and cooperation agreements (hereafter PCA's) with the republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, approval by the European Parliament and ratification by the parliaments of member states is scheduled for the end of 1996. These agreements have an extremely high prestige value for the newly emerging Caucasus republics. Paving the way for political dialogue and determining the guidelines for economic relations, they provide written acknowledgment and confirmation of the republics' status as equal partners and democratically developed countries within the EU.

Signatories to PCA's declare their support for the principles of human rights within the meaning of the UN Human Rights Convention and the Helsinki Final Agreement (article 2). They likewise commit themselves to upholding the rules of international law and striving to maintain good relations with neighbouring countries (article 3). In addition, the signatory states undertake to "cooperate in all matters pertaining to the creation and reinforcement of democratic institutions" (article 68). As a countermove, the republics have been allocated the status of "safe third countries", whereby the gates of the EU should definitely be closed to asylum seekers from these regions (article 71).

In view of the far-reaching consequences of these agreements and taking into account that 1) in spite of the cease-fire declared in March 1994, the conflict in and around Mount Karabakh, ongoing since 1988, is a serious impediment to the resumption of normal relations between the two states, that the situation between a state of war and peace has not been resolved up to the present and that 2) a considerable number of reports on infringements of basic human rights emanates from both these states, I decided to undertake a two-week fact-finding mission to this region in August 1996,the main purpose of which was to:

- Gain an insight into the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the difficulties and problems with refugees,

- And an impression of the activities and success rate of the Minsk Group appointed by the OSCE to mediate whether the OSCE represents a suitable framework for the negotiations and whether they are completely up to the task,

- To put myself in a position to work out concrete proposals for a joint EU policy in the region.

My journey, on which I was accompanied by Jan Ratschinski, a representative of the human rights organization "Memorial" in Moscow, and an interpreter, took me first via Moscow to Erevan in the Armenian Republic. From there we travelled by car through the Latschin corridor to Nagorno-Karabakh. I then flew to Baku in Azerbaijan, touching down in Tiflis in Georgia, and finally back to Berlin via Moscow. I used my time in Moscow at the beginning as well as at the end of my trip for talks with Mr Jukalov, representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry and co-chairperson of the Minsk Group and with representatives of the human rights groups "Memorial" and "Human Rights Watch". In addition, in the areas I visited, I held discussions with TACIS and ECHO members on the EU coordinator's staff, also with the delegates of the OSCE mission; in Azerbaijan, I held talks with the IFRK,UNO and UNCHR representatives.

I also met with the Deputy Foreign Ministers in the respective local governments, in Azerbaijan with Foreign Minister Hassanov himself; in Stepanakert, I spoke with leading representatives of the self-appointed administration in Nagorno-Karabakh. In all three states I further met with the presidents of the green parties (who in Armenia paved the way for a meeting with the Minister for the Environment), as well as with representatives of environmental and human rights groups. In Armenia and Azerbaijan, I visited several refugee camps in the company of operatives from international aid and human rights organizations.


I)      The situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict
a)      Background to the Conflict

A crucial element in any explanation of the tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the role of the Turks in the early years of the emerging Turkish Republic. The genocide of 1915 which wiped out Armenian culture in Eastern Anatolia forms the cornerstone of Armenian national identity. As no admission of guilt has ever been forthcoming from Turkey, there has never been anything approaching a normalisation of relations as has been the case between Germany and Israel. During the period between 1918 and 1920 when there were independent republics in Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the area of Nagorno-Karabakh populated by Armenians enjoyed virtual autonomy, massacres of Armenians took place in Azerbaijan with Turkish support. Even today, Azerbaijanis of Turkmen origin are still lumped together indiscriminately with mainland Turks by the Armenians.

At this point, mention must be made of the significant role of the Armenian Diaspora, which adopts a much more radical position in its attitude to relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan than the population in the Republic of Armenia, who are more interested in an improvement in their quality of life than in any ideological disputes. The Diaspora supports the Armenians in Karabakh with large financial contributions, pressurising them to be uncompromising in their attitude to Azerbaijan.

The ideological interface to the conflict has been provided by the Armenian intelligentsia. The Karabakh Committee, founded in 1988, and made up mostly of members of the Armenian intelligentsia, among them the current president Levon Ter-Petrossian, issued extremely nationalistic demands such as the unification of Armenia with Karabakh that contributed largely to the outbreak of the conflict.


b)      Nagorno-Karabakhh and the Conflict Area

Nagorno-Karabakhh is an enclave of 4,400 square kilometres inside the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan. At the beginning of the conflict in 1988 it had a population of approximately 140,000, the majority of whom were Armenians. Nagorno-Karabakhh possesses optimal conditions for agriculture, but has little industry or natural resources.

Depending on the source, the present population varies between 50,000 and 120,000. From a juristic point of view, Nagorno-Karabakh was a part of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan from 1921, when it was subjugated to the SSR of Azerbaijan by decree of Stalin, until the end of the Soviet era. Upon declaration of the Republic of Azerbaijan in August 1991, the local soviet in Karabakh proclaimed its independence from Azerbaijan, citing the constitution of the USSR, which in the event of the withdrawal of member republics from the Soviet Union recognized the right to independence of any autonomous regions within the territory of said republics. In contrast to the Soviet republics, however, the independence of this and other autonomous regions was not recognized by the international community of nations.

The bloody conflict which broke out in 1988 over the Armenian enclave Mount Karabakh situated within the national territory of Azerbaijan, was brought to an end in the spring of 1993 with the military victory of the Karabakh Armenians, who since then have been occupying not only the Karabakh region but also several other neighbouring areas within Azerbaijani Territory. At present, approximately 15% of the territory of Azerbaijan is controlled by Nagorno-Karabakh troops. The Karabakh Armenians have been condemned in several UNO resolutions and ordered to re-establish Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Since May 1994, there has been a cease-fire mediated by Russia with the help of the CSCE and this is largely respected by all sides.

In September 1991, the "Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh" was proclaimed in the area of the former autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh by the Armenians living there, but was not recognized by any other state in the world, not even the Republic of Armenia, which itself lays absolutely no claims to the area of Nagorno-Karabakh1: thus hoping to prevent the escalation of an interstate dispute into an international conflict in which Armenia would be seen as the aggressor. The Republic of Armenia constantly emphasizes that it has no part in the conflict. However our observations revealed quite obvious economic, political and military entanglements. For the majority of Armenians, however most particularly for the inhabitants of Karabakh, the two are inextricably linked. Nagorny relies almost 100% on the delivery of goods from Armenia; the only relatively practicable means of access overland is by the so-called "Latschin Corridor", which passes through Azerbaijani territory but is under the complete control of the Karabakh Armenians. A regular bus service through this corridor conveys the impression of a complete link-up of Karabakh with the Republic of Armenia. The only currency accepted in Karabakh is the Armenian dram.

Construction work is in progress along the Latschin Corridor, with all roads currently being completely resurfaced with funds from the Diaspora, a fact which is advertised on prominent billboards all along the route. We also noticed a new transformer station and new power lines in the Corridor. Many refugees have settled in the town of Latschin itself and according to the OSCE representatives have been encouraged to do so by the Armenian government. Factions are thus being created to cement the Armenians' claim to the region. Our observations in Schuscha were identical, with Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan being systematically resettled and construction work booming.

In Stepanakert, which was almost completely destroyed in the war, traces of war damage have disappeared, in contrast to the surrounding countryside. Only one building has been left in ruins in the town centre, obviously to serve as a memorial.


c)      Russia's Role as Interested Party

Russia's interest in the region is coloured by political, strategic and economic considerations. For one thing, Russia still regards the area as its back yard and is attempting to assume a role similar to that of the USA vis-a-vis the Latin American countries. Accordingly, she has concluded troop deployment treaties with Georgia and Azerbaijan; the Armenian borders with Turkey and Iran are guarded on a 50/50 basis by Russian and Armenian troops. To date, Azerbaijan is the sole CIS country to refuse to accept the deployment of Russian troops on its soil. This refusal is all the more distressing for Russia since, on the one hand, the country is at the gateway to the Islamic world and, on the other, has extracted for itself a Kiev/Baku/Tashkent axis of independence from the Russian sphere of influence. Moscow has considerable strategic interest in the anti-aircraft defence installations at Gabala in Azerbaijan which are of vital importance for Russian air defence2.

The facts point to it being in Moscow's interest to keep the conflict on the back burner, in the hope that the Azerbaijanis, being in the weaker position, will eventually be forced to return to the Russian orbit and permit their security to be guaranteed by the Russian Army.

Furthermore, there is growing concern in Russia that Moscow could be out-trumped by the international groups in the struggle for exploitation of the vast oil deposits in the Caspian sea.


II)     Political and Economic Background of the States Involved in the Conflict
a)      The Current Situation in the Republic of Armenia

At the start of the Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan declared a total blockade against Armenia. As the border to Turkey is hermetically sealed and the links to Russia through Georgia have been disrupted by the fighting in Chechnya, the most important transport routes now lead through Iran. In spite of this, a large number of Turkish products find their way into the country via Georgia.

The blockade is having a disastrous effect on the energy sector. The country scarcely has energy reserves, except for a nuclear power plant which is of the same type as the one in Chernobyl and in addition to that is situated in an earthquake-prone zone. A pipeline running from Turkmenistan through Georgia carries natural gas into the country, but has been sabotaged several times (there is an active Azeri minority in South Georgia). Erevan has an average of two hours electricity a day and drinking water is only available an hour at a time. Industrial yields have fallen to 15% of what they were in Soviet times.

One of the largest opposition parties, the nationalistic "Daschnak-Tsutyun" is still illegal3. The government exercises a radio and television monopoly and a publication ban is regularly imposed on opposition newspapers. There are frequent reports of whole families being arrested for the crimes of one member. International observers pronounced the parliamentary elections of autumn 1995 as being free but not fair. On 22 September 1996, presidential elections were held in which the previous office holder, Levon Ter-Petrossian, won a narrow majority. The close election results plus a number of irregularities detected by the international observers, led to mass demonstrations and rioting in Erevan with dead and injured. It must be noted though that the irregularities detected by the OSCE were not regarded as sufficient to call into question the election result.

The new citizenship law in the Armenian republic makes no provision for dual nationality, the basic principle here being to keep the Diaspora out of Armenia's internal affairs. However, Erevan is applying a double standard here as steps are underway to issue the inhabitants of Karabakh with passports from the Republic of Armenia once their old USSR passports have expired. A member of the Nagorno-Karabakh parliament proudly showed us his Armenian diplomatic passport in which his place of residence, Stepanakert, had been entered These facts show that Armenia is itself in conflict with its official declaration recognizing the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.


b)      The Current Situation in the Republic of Azerbaijan

Around 10% of the 7 million inhabitants of Azerbaijan are refugees; the minimum income is presently $15 per month. Privatisation of state industries is progressing very slowly, but the country is hoping for international investment in the exploitation of the vast offshore oil deposits. In September 1995, the state-owned Azerbaijani Petroleum Company, SOCAR, of which one of state president Aliev's sons is chairman, signed the so-called deal of the century regarding exploitation of the oil deposits in the Caspian Sea with an international petroleum syndicate in which both Azerbaijan and Russia have a 10% interest.

The political opposition currently finds itself in a position between being spoonfed and being banned; the opposition press is censored. The leader of the opposition is either in exile or in prison. According to reports from human rights groups, there are around 1,000 political detainees in the country, physical abuse while in police custody is rife, cases of systematic torture have been proven and the arrest of family members in addition to the individual wanted by the police is more often the rule than the exception. Since independence in 1991, the country has had three presidents, all of whom came to power by means of a coup d'=E9tat, as well as seven governments. The last coup in June 1993 against former president Eltschibey brought to power the former head of the Azerbaijani KGB, current president Gaidar Aliev, who has since been guiding his country single-mindedly towards independence. A new constitution was put to the plebiscite in November 1995 and approved by 92% of all votes.


Full text is in the ZIP file

Elisabeth Schroedter
Member of the European Parliament


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