Kovatchev: Peace treaty could be valuable step in confidence-building between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Kovatchev: Peace treaty could be valuable step in confidence-building between Armenia and Azerbaijan
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Andrey Kovatchev – Member of the European Parliament (EPP, Bulgaria), Rapporteur on EU-Armenia Relations

1.As the rapporteur on Armenia-EU relations how do you assess the present stage of bilateral relations?

Between the EU and Armenia relations continue to deepen. The great example is the CEPA which entered into force. The EU is financially supporting reforms in Armenia, namely in crucial spheres such as the judiciary system, sectoral cooperation and human rights improvement. The EU is also trying to step up its mediation efforts between Armenia and Azerbaijan towards the signature of a peace treaty. Today the EU has set up a mission on the Armenian side of the border with Azerbaijan to monitor the current situation on the ground. The Union is trying to encourage and support Armenia and Azerbaijan to sign a Peace Treaty. We do not consider Russia as a fair mediator, as the Russian interest is to have its own influence in the region, its foot on the ground and not to provide a fair long lasting solution.

2.The EU is trying to play an active role in the normalization of Armenia-Azerbaijan relations. In about three years, the contractual term of the Russian peacekeepers to protect the people of Artsakh will expire. How does the EU imagine ensuring the security of the indigenous people of Artsakh? Do they realize in Europe that if Artsakh comes under the control of Azerbaijan, the Armenians there will undergo ethnic cleansing?

Yes, one of the most important questions for me is how to ensure the safety of Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, based on the three fundamental principles on which the sides agreed on in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group in 2009. The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan should be respected, and Azerbaijan, in turn, should respect the territorial integrity of Armenia, but Azerbaijan cannot just pick the points it likes. The non-use of force and the people's right to self-determination are also of vital importance and should be respected in the same way. Today, the only mechanism that is being talked about regarding the protection of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh is the constitution of Azerbaijan, according to which all citizens are equal regardless of ethnic origin.

3.Recently, we have often witnessed how Azerbaijan tries to achieve what it wants by threatening to use force; continuous escalations, aggression against the internationally recognized borders of Armenia. How constructive is this behavior for a possible and lasting peace process?

Of course, the decades-long conflict cannot be settled with one document, but confidence building must start from somewhere and the peace treaty is a valuable step. Another important point would be to ensure that the education systems in both countries do not encourage hate and teach young people to live in peace with each other. Azerbaijan also emphasizes the importance of smart and new technologies in the development of a modern country, and I believe these new technologies also have the ability to help establish a long-lasting peace.

4.In your report you “call on Armenia to consider diversifying its security partnerships, as its long-standing reliance on Russia and its allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization has proved insufficient.” But in whom could Armenia have trust, considering that during the war in Nagorno-Karabakh and even today when sovereign borders of Armenia are violated the West keeps total silence by always calling both sides to de-escalate while the aggressor is obviously Azerbaijan?

Armenia should rely on democracy and the civilized world. Yes, Europe does not have an army to send, but it has other tools. For a long time, there have been voices calling for balance in European Parliament reports on the situation in Armenia and Azerbaijan, but it is important to be objective, not balanced. In my report, I clearly emphasize that the aggressor in the recent escalation on Armenian territory is Azerbaijan. Ukraine and Moldova have already been given the status of a candidate for EU membership, and Georgia, if it meets certain criteria, will receive that status. In the same vein, Armenia can see its future under the European umbrella as well in the future.

5.Today Europe treats Azerbaijan as a “worthy partner” because of its gas and oil. But is Europe aware that Azerbaijani gas reserves are not unlimited and furthermore almost 20% of Azerbaijani gas interests are owned by Russian multinational company Lukoil? It seems soon ‘Russian gas’ will come to Europe via Azerbaijan

The important thing for Europe is to get rid of its dependence on Russia in the long term. Azerbaijan's contribution to the European diversification is just a part of a bigger picture with more suppliers, not fully reliant on it. In order to prevent Russian gas from flowing to Europe through Azerbaijan, gas production and export need to be closely monitored and a comparison needs to be made between how much it produces and how much it exports, in order to avoid the situation that you mention.

6.Turkey’s influence in the South Caucasus has increased during and since the 2020 war, now it even has military presence on the ground. Also, Turkey continues to condition normalizing its relations with Armenia on a “peace treaty” between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Is this a recipe for a real peace or another war?

I have always called on Turkey to normalize relations with Armenia without preconditions. Today, Turkey is also talking about the Zangezur Corridor, which is unacceptable in every sense. In general, the idea of ​​a corridor is unacceptable. No one can demand from Armenia or force Armenia to provide uncontrolled access on its sovereign territory to another state. Azerbaijan says ‘I don't want my trucks or cars to be checked, etc.,’ but this is unacceptable. Today, Turkey and Azerbaijan rely on the trilateral statement of November 9, 2020, but in that statement, they talk about establishing connectivity without a clear definition of what that means, which opens it to interpretation. I think check points are a not a bad start. In the end, one day Armenians and Azerbaijanis should be able to travel on the same highway. This can be the beginning of confidence building. After the Second World War in Europe, we did not forget the criminal leaders, they are still in our history books, but we do not convey a message of hatred through textbooks. Today, a French child is not taught to hate a German, or vice versa. Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia should do the same.

7.Opposition forces in Armenia claim that Pashinyan does not have legitimacy to reach new agreements with Azerbaijan and Turkey, because during the 2021 June parliamentary elections they promoted a completely different agenda, so they actually lied to the people. So, the opposition’s argument continues, any agreement Pashinyan signs with Azerbaijan and or Turkey is null and void. Your thoughts on this? 

There is no alternative to peace and we must move towards that agreement. I can understand the indignation of the opposition, but I also understand the motivation of the authorities. Of course, it is not my right to say who should do what, but today the opposition and the government should unite around one issue: the interest of their country.