For the last several days, Azerbaijani politicians and the general public have been celebrating a diplomatic victory. After several hours of intense and heated debate on January 25, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution on the Karabakh conflict. The resolution, initially prepared by the British parliamentarian Terry David and later concluded by his colleague David Atkinson, was approved by a vote of 123 in favor and seven against (Turan News Agency, January 26).
The resolution contains a description of the Karabakh conflict as well as recommendations for the warring sides. While the authors of the document urge Azerbaijani authorities to enter a dialogue with the Armenian community of Karabakh, something that Yerevan has desired for a long time, two specific phrases have generated severe criticism from the Armenian side. The document states, “Considerable parts of Azerbaijan’s territory are still occupied by the Armenian forces and separatist forces are still in control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region.” It also pointed out that the military activities between 1988 and 1994 led to large-scale ethnic expulsions and the creation of mono-ethnic areas that “resemble the terrible concept of ethnic cleansing.” The Armenian delegation immediately objected to the words “occupied” and “separatist forces” and proposed an amendment urging the European lawmakers to substitute the words “separatist forces” with “supporters of democracy.” The motion failed.
Both Azerbaijani and Armenian politicians rushed to label the adoption of the resolution as a diplomatic victory for Azerbaijan. Vahan Hovannisian, deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament and a leading member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, described the resolution as the direct consequence of the failure of the Armenian side to prevent Azerbaijan’s efforts to induce international organizations to exert pressure on Armenia over the Karabakh conflict (RFE/RL Newsline, January 31). Regnum Agency quoted another Armenian politician, Aram Sarkisian, head of the Democratic Party of Armenia and member of the parliamentary “Justice” faction, as saying, “It will be difficult to move away from this terminology [‘separatist forces’]” (Regnum, January 29). Sarkisian added, “Major players — the U.S., Europe, and Russia, recognize Nagorno-Karabakh only as part of Azerbaijan.”
Gultakin Hajiyeva, a member of the Azerbaijani parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe, told an interviewer, “Both sides have seriously prepared for the debates in advance” (Space TV, January 31). Hajiyeva also stressed that major Armenian Diaspora organizations in Europe have lobbied hard to persuade European lawmakers to veto the bill. Indeed, on December 23, 2004, the Brussels-based European Armenian Federation issued a press release ringing the alarm bells over the draft resolution. The release declared, “The Atkinson report is the report for Azerbaijan” and “called upon the European citizens and organizations to intervene with their representative in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.”
Atkinson himself refuted all accusation that the report is biased, reportedly telling the BBC’s Russian service, “The Council of Europe, just like other international organizations cannot admit the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, the principle of the “rights of nations for self-determination” cannot be applied in the case of Karabakh” (Turan, January 27).
Speaking at the PACE session, Atkinson also drew attention to the plight of internally displaced persons, who are still denied the right to return to their homes. “I was the [PACE] assembly’s first rapporteur on the refugee situation, when my report described the temporary shelters in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, [including] dilapidated railway cars outside [the Armenian capital of] Yerevan, and appalling tent cities outside [the Azerbaijani capital of] Baku, housing hundreds of thousands of displaced families,” Atkinson said. “Since then, a time-bomb generation of young refugees has grown up, as in Palestine, with nothing much to lose” (RFE/RL, January 25).
The PACE resolution comes as part of a series of diplomatic offensives that the Azerbaijani side has launched lately. Prior to this decision, the UN Security Council agreed to start discussion of an Azerbaijan-sponsored bill on the illegal settlement of the occupied territories by Armenian families. The Security Council decided to postpone its debate after the OSCE agreed to send a fact-finding mission to the conflict zone. Furthermore, local media have reported Iranian President Mohammad Khatami re-affirming his country’s commitment to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, while U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones told the Moscow Times, “It is in Russia’s interest for these areas — whether it is Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, or Nagorno-Karabakh — to be stable, for corruption to end there, for criminal secessionists who rule there to be removed” (January 14).
While the Azerbaijani side celebrates its victory and the Armenian side continues to oppose the document, some independent analysts are wondering what would be the consequences of the PACE resolution. While noting its importance for the negotiating stance of Azerbaijan, the analysts come to the conclusion that the resolution will face the same fate as that of past UN General Assembly resolutions on the conflict, namely existing on paper only. Elkhan Mehtiyev, director of the Baku-based Center for Conflict Resolution, summed it up neatly: “No resolution returns lands,” meaning that adopting a resolution would not automatically return the occupied territories to Baku (Yeni Musavat, January 31).