EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Toivo Klaar, gave an exclusive interview to NEWS.am, referring to the forced displacement of Armenians from Artsakh because of the military operations unleashed by Azerbaijan, the causes of what happened and the possible developments, the possibility of EU sanctions against Azerbaijan, the possible results of the five-party meeting planned within the framework of the European Political Community Summit to be held on October 5 in Granada, Spain, as well as to the question of what steps Brussels can take if Azerbaijan tries to attack Armenia again in order to open a "corridor".
The authorities of Stepanakert under the compulsion of the war of September 19-20 launched by Azerbaijan were forced to capitulate and announced that beginning from January 1, 2024 the non-recognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic will not exist anymore. The vast majority of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh is forcibly displaced from its homeland and has escaped for Armenia to save their lives, and Prime Minister Pashinyan announced “there will be no more Armenians left in Nagorno-Karabakh in the coming days”. Is the EU considering what is going on as an ethnic cleansing?
We have condemned the use of force and called on the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure the protection of the civilian population. I think it was very difficult – for all actors – to anticipate that the entire Karabakh Armenian population would leave in only a few days. There are legitimate safety concerns among the Armenian population and those need to be addressed by Baku as a matter of priority. It is not just about presenting a substantial offer to the population. That offer also has to be credible. And after 30+ years of conflict it is understandable that people are afraid and have decided to leave. The question now is, will some want to return, and under what conditions? One element that we have deemed to be important is to have a long-term multinational or UN mission in Nagorno-Karabakh, that would help reassure people who would wish to return. In this context, we took note of the first UN mission conducted to Karabakh on 1st October 2023. Finally, regarding terminology, I leave this to lawyers. What I am interested in is that conditions are created to permit those who wish to return, that the property of those who have left is protected, and that cultural, religious and historical monuments are protected.
Throughout the last months Brussels, Washington have been repeatedly stressing that Azerbaijan must give strong guarantees to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh on their security and key rights, but this seems already an outdated demand as Armenians are being forcibly displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh. Why has there been no essential pressure on Azerbaijan to make it refrain from the military solution and prevent the deportation of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh?
Indeed, none of the mediators involved in the Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization process could prevent these events from happening. The Russian peacekeepers were obviously not able to do that either. As tensions were growing over the summer, we have been in close and intense – almost daily – contacts with the Azerbaijani authorities, the Armenian authorities and representatives of Karabakh Armenians to find diplomatic solutions. But Azerbaijan ultimately decided to use force, which was clearly condemned by the EU. The ball is now fully in Baku’s court, since it needs to provide clear reassurances and strong guarantees for the Armenian population to either stay or to return.
The President of Azerbaijan continues to assure that they will ensure the rights and security of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh in the framework of “integration”, but the people of Nagorno-Karabakh were militarily attacked by Azerbaijan, forcibly displaced and Nagorno-Karabakh may most likely be practically de-Armenianized. What rights and guarantees can be discussed anymore?
Since President Charles Michel used it publicly for the first time in May 2022, when he emphasized “the need to address the rights and security of the ethnic Armenian population in Karabakh”, the concept of rights and security of Karabakh Armenians became internationally used terminology. All actors, including Armenia and Azerbaijan, saw it as a key principle of any future comprehensive settlement. It is even more relevant today, after the mass exodus. We continue to be convinced that the right of the Karabakh Armenian population to live where they have always lived has to be guaranteed and their security ensured. Again, the ball is now fully in Baku’s court. It is now a decisive period, which will show which confidence-building measures will be deployed, how effective they will be and to what extent Baku will be able to convince Karabakh Armenians to return. The EU has a variety of models and practices which allow diverse populations to live together peacefully, and we have always been ready to share them with Baku, as relevant and useful.
Azerbaijan arrests former politicians and military: ex-Presidents Arayik Harutyunyan, Bako Sahakyan, Arkadi Ghukasyan, the President of NK Parliament, the ex-State minister Ruben Vardanyan, former commander and ex-deputy commander of the Defense Army, former Foreign minister were abducted and arrested. What is the position of Brussels on the matter?
Regarding the detentions that have taken place we are of course concerned. We have called for a comprehensive amnesty in the past and my conviction is that if there is a desire to overcome the legacy of 30+ years of conflict it is important to turn the page on enmity, in words and in deeds. There are deep scars in Azerbaijan after having had to accommodate hundreds of thousands of IDPs over decades. Memories of the fighting in the 90s and of destruction over 30 years are also vivid there. The flight of the Armenian population from Nagorno-Karabakh also shows the depth of mistrust, enmity and fear that exists and the considerable work that the leaderships in both Baku and Yerevan will have to undertake to change these profoundly held views among the populations. Crimes have been committed by all sides over the course of this conflict; arresting and prosecuting some individuals will in no way help the peoples turn the page, but will keep old wounds festering and open new ones.
Given the fact that Nagorno-Karabakh most likely will be fully abandoned by Armenians, is the page of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict closed?
No. For me the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is closed when borders are open, when people have returned to their ancestral homes wherever those may be, and Armenians and Azerbaijanis are able to – and feel safe to – travel freely across each other’s countries and territories, including Karabakh.
Won’t there be any serious aftermaths for Baku? Is the EU considering, for example, imposing sanctions on Azerbaijan or freezing the cooperation in the energetic sphere? If not, why?
Several options have been explored and discussed in Brussels before and since Azerbaijan’s military operation on 19-20 September 2023. The European Union has made its views on this very clear. We expect now Azerbaijan to do its utmost to provide conditions for those Karabakh Armenians who will wish to return to be able to do so. We also remain engaged in the normalization process between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Does the European Union consider possible the signing of Armenia-Azerbaijan peace treaty during the upcoming summit in Granada?
This seems like an unrealistic goal, which I don’t believe either side is aiming for. However, what we expect to see from a possible meeting in Granada is a strong commitment to the peace process, renunciation of any threat or use of force and recognition of each other’s territorial integrity, among other things. And discussions on the actual text of the peace treaty should be resumed as soon as possible.
Official Yerevan has warned that forcefully imposing on Armenia an extraterritorial corridor, a corridor that will pass through the territory of Armenia but will be out of our control can be the next target of Azerbaijan. What steps will be undertaken by the EU in case of new military actions against Armenia by Azerbaijan for capturing such a “corridor” if possible diplomatic efforts fail as in case of Nagorno-Karabakh?
Again, I don’t want to engage in speculation. For us the position is clear: the future arrangements do not foresee any extraterritoriality or corridor options, since Armenia and Azerbaijan have repeatedly recognized each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Any agreed solution will thus have to respect the principles of sovereignty, jurisdiction and reciprocity.
Russia claims there is incoming information suggesting that Washington and Brussels are actively persuading Yerevan to withdraw from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), intensify cooperation with NATO, make a shift in its military-technical collaboration, and sign a peace agreement with Azerbaijan without considering the rights and security of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians. The western countries, according to Moscow, seek to squeeze Russia out of the region. How would you comment on this subject?
We have seen many such statements by several Russian officials over the past two years, including by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov or Spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova. Everyone has a right to their opinion, but I want to repeat again: these statements have no basis whatsoever. Neither the one about us wanting to ‘squeeze anyone out’, nor the one about the Karabakh Armenians having been forgotten. I have had the occasion to pass these messages directly to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin and Russia’s Special Envoy Igor Khovaev on several occasions, including on the margins of the Geneva International Discussions. On the second point I would also like to refer to President Putin’s statements on Nagorno-Karabakh following the 2020 cease fire, in particular on 17 November 2020. On the first point, it is for the countries of the South Caucasus to decide, which partners they wish to choose. Neither the EU, nor Russia, nor any other third party has a predefined right to have a “foothold” in the region.