A Brighter Day on the Horizon for Azerbaijan at PACE?

Azerbaijan’s treatment at the hands of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) may have taken at last a pronounced turn for the better: The body recently approved a resolution decrying Armenia’s terroristic use of a captured reservoir in the occupied territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, calling on Yerevan to leave the immediate area so that a looming humanitarian crisis may be averted. Despite the defeat of a different vote, calling on Armenia to leave the illegally-occupied territory as a whole, Azerbaijan also saw a change in the political winds as Pedro Agramunt, a political moderate who takes a balanced approach to Azerbaijan and Armenia, succeeded Anne Brasseur, a longtime Armenian ally, as the President of PACE.

The state of the Sarsang Reservoir has grown increasingly urgent over time, as Baku has worked to warn the world. The Soviet-era infrastructure has shown early signs of failure for some time, and “Soviet-era” is not a byword for high-quality, long-lasting work. The reservoir was designed to provide water to Azerbaijan’s border region; since Armenia’s illegal occupation began, it has instead served to provide water to Armenia and its client government in Stepanakert, and has been used for state terrorism, flooding Azerbaijan’s surrounding provinces in the winter, drying them in the summer.

At long last, PACE listened, calling on Yerevan to cease using the dilapidated reservoir and its water “as tools of political influence or an instrument of pressure.” The report was approved despite strenuous lobbying by Armenia, which tends to treat any reasonable approach to its illegal occupation and destruction of twenty percent of Azerbaijan as tantamount to genocide.

The Armenian effort barely stopped British parliamentarian Robert Walter’s referendum calling 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.” In plain speak, the resolution would have called on Armenia to obey international law. The narrow defeat assures that the measure will return in the near future.

2015 saw the return of balance to PACE’s dealings with Azerbaijan, as its thorough report on Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections showed. That trend continued with Agramunt’s election to the presidency of PACE. His even-handed approach stands in stark contrast to Brasseur’s, who long used procedural mechanisms and irregularities to stymie Baku’s efforts to bring the plight of Nagorno-Karabakh to the world stage.

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a brutal war as the Soviet Union broke up, ending with Armenia’s ongoing occupation of twenty percent of Azerbaijan and the displacement of over one million civilians for whom Baku has cared since the war ended. Despite numerous resolutions by virtually every international body imaginable, Armenia has continued in its defiance of international law and continuing its occupation. The Minsk Group, mediators from Russia (Armenia’s ally), France (ostensibly neutral, but with a sizable Armenian population), and the United States have for twenty years engaged in endless kabuki which never seems to cause Armenia discomfort.

It is against this backdrop that Baku has fought for every inch in PACE, one of the handful of bodies where both Armenia and Azerbaijan both have representation and both have a stake. Azerbaijan’s successes over the last week will not solve the ongoing tragedy that is the Armenian occupation; but with any luck, they will place a few more pebbles on the scale toward the day when that crime ends.

Today, the world now recognizes the danger of Sarsang’s failure. Tomorrow, it may recognize the world’s failure to bring peace to a brutal occupation on the edge of war for two decades.

Image Copyright The Council of Europe