Political Affairs Committee of PACE calls for “the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from Nagorno-Karabakh and the other occupied territories of Azerbaijan” reports MP Suleymanov

What follows is a recent, firsthand account of momentous developments at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which we are pleased to present as they unfolded.

(PARIS) After very tough debates over several hours, on November 4, 2015, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Political Affairs Committee eventually adopted – with a large majority of 26 in favor, 10 against and 3 abstentions – a resolution proposing that the Assembly call for “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.”

After a fierce fight of many years, this is a major accomplishment for Azerbaijan, in its attempt to bring this issue back to the attention of the international parliamentary organization.

The resolution also calls on “all parties directly involved in the illegal conviction of Dilgam Asgarov and Shahbaz Guliyev by unrecognised ‘courts’ in Nagorno-Karabakh and their continuing imprisonment there, to ensure their immediate release by the occupying power, Armenia.”

Furthermore, the resolution proposes that “the Assembly strongly condemns the lack of cooperation by the Armenian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly and the government of Armenia in the preparation of this report. The Assembly considers that such behavior is in breach of Armenia’s commitments as a member of the Council of Europe and resolves to consider what measures can be taken in this instance and to ensure that its Rapporteurs are not hindered in the future in the pursuit of their mandates.” Rapporteur Robert Walter (United Kingdom) specified during his keynote speech that the Assembly should envisage this lack of cooperation by Armenia as being in breach with the Rules of the Assembly, insisting that this should be fully investigated by the PACE’s Rules Committee, expectedly leading to sanctions against the Armenian delegation.

“At last, after so many years of desperate silence, the illegal occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories of Azerbaijan by Armenia is now fully back on the international agenda, “ exclaimed Azerbaijani MP Elkhan Suleymanov.

For almost three years, several initiatives by Suleymanov to have this issue back on the international political agenda were thwarted, and supportive Members of Parliament (MPs) were intimidated by Armenia, without any scruples.

Precisely the same low behavior was on display this time in Paris. During the crucial votes, an Armenian MP stood up to take pictures with her cell phone of those MPs voting in support of Azerbaijan, by raising their hand. This was done by this Armenian MP with the obvious purpose to pressure, even blackmail, MPs later on.  This shameless and scandalous Armenian behavior was loudly contested by many MPs, as it is in breach of basic deontology rules, but the biased secretariat didn’t stop this Armenian MP. On the contrary, after the final vote, which turned out to be a tremendous victory for Azerbaijan, Secretary-General Sawicki – who was also present, as he is only for important occasions – could no longer hide his strong dissent with the Committee’s decision. His very evident negative body language in public was shocking to many MPs. Full of anger, he immediately rushed out of the meeting room towards a small office to make a few apparently very urgent calls. Who was he calling? One can only guess, but it was certainly no call to congratulate the Azerbaijani delegation.

Less than one hour after all this, the first MPs from several European countries already received phone calls from their respective governments, being alarmed by Armenian officials about the Armenian defeat. European MPs were strongly pressured to review their vote; it was alleged that Armenian officials even openly blackmailed them. Throughout these contacts, Armenians were using all kinds of pressure, mainly geostrategic and religion-inspired, but obviously they never use one single argument directly related to the issue of their illegal occupation of Azerbaijani territories. They always call on the great international Christian community against the evil Muslim country of Azerbaijan, whereas it’s commonly known that Azerbaijan is far more religiously tolerant than Armenia. Armenians cannot admit that Azerbaijani claims are right, just and fair, even when they have no proper argument against it.  One can only hope that all MPs who voted in support of Azerbaijan in Paris will have a strong backbone and will be able to resist this tremendous and very well-organized Armenian pressure, and that they will keep on defending this just and fair cause into the future.

Developments

Already in April of 2013, a first motion for a resolution critical of the international community turning a blind eye to Armenia’s illegal occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and its 7 surrounding regions, signed and tabled by Elkhan Suleymanov and 24 of his colleagues in PACE, was blocked by a veto by Mr. Mignon, then President of the Assembly, during the PACE 2013 spring session in Strasbourg.

“On May 9, 2013, I tabled a new motion, together with 31 members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,” explained Mr. Suleymanov. “And whereas this motion was not subject to veto by the President of the Assembly, it was again blocked with his support, this time by Presidential Committee.” So both 2013 motions for resolution, even when clearly in order, did not get the political response that could be expected fairly. Both were blocked before any debate.

“Why? Why does the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe blindly support Armenians and ignore the just right of Azerbaijan? What is the purpose of these repeated actions?” Suleymanov’s questions remained unanswered.

Sarsang reservoir

But it’s not Suleymanov’s style to abandon issues so easily. With the general discussion on occupied territories constantly being blocked, he then demonstrated the huge urgency of this debate by highlighting the strategic importance and genuine threat of the neglected Sarsang reservoir.

“On June 26, 2013, I tabled a third motion for resolution, co-signed by 45 MPs, members from PACE, originating from 18 different countries. This motion calls on some urgent and immediate political action from the PACE, stressing the high emergency of the very poor and dangerous condition of the Sarsang reservoir, being of vital importance for at least one million Azerbaijani inhabitants of surrounding non-occupied provinces in Azerbaijan, due to the lack of maintenance as a result of the occupation, and its danger for the population of surrounding provinces,” Suleymanov recalled. But this motion was also blocked, once again by the President and Presidential Committee.

This new setback would drive many to distraction, but not Elkhan Suleymanov.

On April 1, he reiterated a new motion on Sarsang, and after a considerable effort had been put into it, he could eventually convince decision-makers. So it was adopted for a report by the Bureau, to be prepared and discussed in the Social Affairs Committee. As Elkhan Suleymanov recalled, “It was a big step forward, as it was the first time in many years that any report on such topic was agreed. We now hope that the outcome of this report on the Sarsang reservoir by beginning of 2015 will be fair, neutral, and comprehensive.”

Sanctions against Armenia?

In the meantime, a new motion for resolution, on the Suleymanov’s initiative, demanding the application of sanctions against the Armenian delegation for its continuous armed occupation of Azerbaijani territories, was published on the PACE website on June 18th, 2014. This motion was co-signed by no less than 58 Members of Parliament representing 14 PACE member states.

But once again, PACE Secretary-General Sawicki held high the torch of Armenian interests, and he raised a trumped-up procedural objection against the motion.

But no “Rule” to justify his objection could be quoted. Nevertheless, Suleymanov wanted to use this momentum, and he immediately tabled a new motion. “In only two hours’ time, I collected 28 new signatures from colleagues from 16 member states, and Mr. Sawicki, who was fighting against us since the beginning, was so perplexed by this realization, that he had to accept my new motion!” Suleymanov recollected.

But the battle was not over. Mr. Suleymanov commented on the Bureau meeting of Friday, June 27, 2014: “Now Mr. Sawicki – as a civil servant supposed to be neutral! – even openly calls my initiative a provocation to Armenia, and the proposed title totally unacceptable. The Armenian mandarin drops his mask!” After some controversial interventions by the Secretariat, the Bureau meeting ended in total confusion, and the decision was once again postponed until the September 2014 meeting of the Bureau in Paris. “After so many deceptions, so many blockades and postponements, the September 2, 2014 meeting in Paris had to be decisive,” Suleymanov said.

Fortunately in Paris, common sense prevailed over the ongoing maneuvers by the Head of the Secretariat. With a vote of 20 to 5, motions were referred for the report to the Political Affairs Committee. But Mr. Sawicki was not giving up easily: he warned the Bureau that their decision still needed to be ratified by the Chamber, and still could be contested in the Committee. For Suleymanov, “it was for sure a historical day, this victory in Paris, but it became crystal clear that over the next month all the stops would be pulled out. And that’s exactly what happened.”

Next battle

Monday, September 29, 2014 at 3 p.m., Plenary Chamber: Ratification of the report on Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories, votes.

The most important moment of that week was – beyond any doubt – the debates and votes on the Progress report on Monday, as it included the ratification by the Chamber of the Bureau’s decision in Paris to have a report on Nagorno-Karabakh and the other occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Under normal circumstances, this report, including the Bureau’s decisions, is always accepted unanimously, even without any vote. The initiator of the report, Mr. Suleymanov, was also surprised: “It was a quite strange to see that so many MPs were present in the Chamber this time, on an ordinary Monday afternoon meeting. All this was clearly the result of the strong lobbying and mobilizing by Armenian diplomats, who during recent weeks addressed every single MP in all European capitals, in order to convince them to be present and NOT to ratify the Bureau’s decision on Monday. But many of those MPs spontaneously informed me about Armenian’s sly maneuvers, so we were ready.”

All Armenians took the floor, heavily criticizing the Bureau’s decision, furiously arguing that this issue is the monopoly of the OSCE-Minsk-Group and nobody else is allowed to discuss it. “But this made me smile,” Elkhan Suleymanov recalled, “as it was obviously an argument that would return right in their face: how can you get sympathy from a parliament by convincing them that they are not competent?”

Several other MPs mentioned the overwhelming majority in Paris, 20 votes against 5, in support of the report, as an extra argument in favor of Azerbaijan. After a two-hour debate, the vote took place. For Elkhan Suleymanov, the author of the motion, it was one of the tensest moments in his life: “The Armenian proposal to kill my motion being referred for report was rejected by 74 to 41, with 13 abstentions. This landslide victory for Azerbaijan was welcomed by many friends, but I realized that now the battle to confirm the title and to appoint the rapporteur in the Committee still had to follow.”

Wednesday, October 1, 2014 at 2 p.m, Political Affairs Committee: Last attempt by Armenia to reject the report, last attempt to change the title, appointment of rapporteur, all through votes.

Some 70 European MPs attending the meeting were first confronted with a last possible attempt by Armenians to reject the start of this report. But since the debates in the Chamber, the unreliability of Armenia’s arguments became clear to the huge majority of MPs. “The Armenian position was only supported by 3 MPs, while dozens of others spontaneously supported the Azerbaijani position,” exclaimed Suleymanov. “It gave me real hope that maybe today I could write history for my country!”

As expected, and even predicted earlier by the omniscient Secretary-General Sawicki, the Armenian delegation furiously challenged the title of the report “Escalation of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories of Azerbaijan”, but also in vain. Once the title was confirmed by vote, Armenians slammed the doors of the Committee room. Their fight was over.

But the sting is in the tail! The appointment of a rapporteur was the very last decision, but beyond any doubt most important one, before the commencement of the report itself. One single candidate, Mr. Bob Walter, was informally accepted by group leaders and supposed to be appointed. But at very last minute, the socialist leader, Mr. Gross proposed Mr. Mignon, the former president of the Assembly! The whole committee was perplexed by this proposal, realizing that a person with authority such as the former president was a very likely candidate.

“For me, this last underhanded trick was more than I could take,” Suleymanov recounted. “Mignon had extensively proved to be against this report, as he vetoed it twice during his presidency. How can such a man be the proposed rapporteur? A few days ago, he was a candidate, then he pulls back, now he rises again. During the meeting, Armenian delegates expressed exactly the same wordings that he used to pronounce, opposing the report as he is in favor of dialogue between both countries, which shows again how close Mignon stands to Armenians and their diaspora.”

Suleymanov continued: “Moreover, it was then president Mignon who suspended activities on the sub-committee on Nagorno-Karabakh. Was such a decision also inspired by his ‘favor for dialogue’? Mignon knows perfectly well that Armenians never showed up for any meeting ‘to enhance dialogue,’ because they run away from being confronted with their criminal behavior in occupied territories.

“During the Committee meeting I exposed the biased position of Mr. Mignon to all committee members, and urged all not to support him. The vote took place: Mr. Walter beat Mr. Mignon, with 35 against 32, a very narrow result, but justice at last!”

The preparation of the report and resolution by Rapporteur Walter

Mr. Walter proposed in one joint letter, addressing both the governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia, to pay visits to both countries and to the line of contact in the occupied territories, from each viewpoint. He was granted full cooperation by Azerbaijani authorities and paid visits accordingly. All his repeated requests to Armenian authorities remained without any concrete answer, Armenia postponing his possible visits again and again, for various groundless reasons.

As usual, the Armenian strategy consisted in keeping the status quo and not allowing any discussion to unblock the existing deadlock for over twenty years.

Mr. Walter rightly identified this unacceptable Armenian attitude in his resolution: “The Assembly notes that the displacement of 600,000 IDPs from the region means that the status quo is not acceptable and must not be seen as a fait accompli, ultimately to the benefit of one party.”

The report and the resolution being adopted by the PACE’s Political Affairs Committee, is now an official PACE document.

What can Azerbaijan expect from both reports?

Sarsang report

When the rapporteur will make fact-finding visits and will report on assessments, it can strongly raise awareness on this future tragedy. Neutral international experts will prove the bad condition of the Sarsang premises, and the immediate danger for thousands of citizens living there. In this case, a call for sanctions will eventually seem evident, and could be implemented as a possible leverage to return this reservoir to its rightful owner, Azerbaijan.

Water deficiency is becoming a global problem, threatening millions of people in the near future. The United Nations predicts that by 2018 Azerbaijan will be ranked as the 37th country in the world, suffering from water deficiency.

So, by all means, this report will be both very acute and factual.

Occupied territories report

The final decision to have a report, a rapporteur being appointed, and a resolution being adopted by the Committee is a landmark in Azerbaijan’s fight for justice. It is a genuine historical victory to have put the ongoing injustice on occupied territories under international political attention again, after almost ten years of silence.

It does not mean that the occupied territories will be released now or in the near future; Azerbaijanis need to be realistic. But it will certainly raise awareness in Europe and elsewhere in the world that Armenians are illegally occupying one-fifth of their neighboring state Azerbaijan and that their ethnic cleansing policy led to one million IDPs. It will unmask their refusal to comply with international decisions. “That’s precisely the reason why Armenians are so hesitant regarding this report,” explained Suleymanov. “They know perfectly well that the occupation occurred under the leadership of Gorbatsjov, and that it was implicitly endorsed by all global powers at that time. They managed not to be called aggressors for the last 20 years, and they’re obviously afraid that this could change now, after such report. Be assured that they are terrified to be called an aggressor in international legal document from now on!”

Conclusion

“It remains a most surrealistic scene in my memory that my initiatives were vetoed and blocked so many times,” Suleymanov remembers. “That discussions continued at all levels, even when the Bureau eventually decided in favor, after the Chamber also decided in favor, it looked like lawyers continuing the debates even when the court already took judgment. One can only imagine to what extent Armenians are desperate to face the truth.”

“But first of all this is a great day for my country,” Mr. Suleymanov continued, “because a major topic for us, which by Armenians was already buried in the cemetery, is now publicly resurrected. And I do hope that other international organizations will now follow soon and also include this topic on their agendas.

“Moreover, we show the world that we don’t give up our rightful demands, that we will always defend the integrity of our territory. If the report will be neutral, not biased, the whole world will know what happened to hundreds of thousands of IDP’s.  And hopefully it will open the eyes of the western world that religious arguments, which are always raised by Armenians, are only a false pretext to gain their sympathy and support, and to cover up the illegal occupation of their neighbors’ territory. Religion is a personal capacity of every individual human being, it cannot be abused to cover up criminal behavior.

“Very finally,” he added, “I want my Azerbaijani compatriots to know that Europe is happy to cooperate with Azerbaijan when it’s in its own interest, but that Azerbaijan always will stand alone, if some situation would get tough. To my feeling there is no sincere and genuine support for us, and Azerbaijanis should consider that!”