A senior U.S. diplomat on Friday criticized a key committee of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) for backing a draft resolution that demands Armenian withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh and the territory’s return to Azerbaijani rule.
The resolution on the Karabakh conflict approved by the PACE’s Political Affairs Committee on Wednesday has been drafted by Robert Walter, a pro-Azerbaijani former British parliamentarian. The Strasbourg-based assembly will debate it at its next plenary session due in January.
The 3-page document calls for a peaceful settlement that would start with “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.” It also contains thinly veiled criticism of the OSCE Minsk Group, saying that the body co-headed by the United States, Russia and France should “consider reviewing its approach to the resolution of the conflict.”
Peace proposals made by the three mediating powers over the past decade markedly differ from the Karabakh settlement advocated by Walter’s resolution. Their Basic Principles envisage an internationally recognized referendum in Karabakh in which the disputed territory’s predominantly Armenian population would apparently be able to reaffirm its de facto secession from Azerbaijan.
The referendum would take place years after the liberation of virtually all seven districts in Azerbaijan proper that were fully or partly occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war.
“PACE and other [international organizations,] should consult with OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs before issuing reports or resolutions on Nagorno-Karabakh,” James Warlick, the group’s U.S. co-chair, tweeted on Friday in a clear reference to the proposed PACE resolution.
Azerbaijan was quick to reject Warlick’s criticism and defend Walter’s resolution. “So far the work of the OSCE Minsk Group has produced zero results,” Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Hikmet Hajiyev said, according to Haqqin.az. “Other international structures trying to contribute to the conflict’s resolution do not need to consult with the Minsk Group co-chairs engaged in meaningless activities.”
The Armenian government has not yet officially reacted to the proposed resolution. Still, its chief of staff, Davit Harutiunian, hit out at the PACE in comments to the press on Friday.
“It has turned from an organization protecting human rights into an organization protecting special interests,” Harutiunian said. “Unfortunately, recent years’ [PACE] votes on various issues testify to the fact that special interests have started taking precedence.”
The authorities in Yerevan are now under fire from the Armenian opposition and independent media because of their failure to block the pro-Azerbaijani document. The pro-government head of the Armenian parliamentary delegation at the PACE, Hermine Naghdalian, is facing particularly harsh criticism.
Walter was named by the PACE leadership last year to launch a fact-finding mission to the Karabakh conflict zone and draw up the resolution titled "Escalation of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories of Azerbaijan.”
This title prompted vehement protests from the Armenian members of the PACE and the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan. They said that it predetermines Walter’s findings and runs counter to statements made by the U.S., Russian and French mediators.
The Armenian side also accused Walter of having close ties with Azerbaijan’s government, saying that the then British lawmaker has repeatedly defended Baku’s dismal human rights record frequently criticized by Western human rights groups.
Walter led a team of PACE members that observed Azerbaijan’s last presidential election held in 2013. Unlike other Western observers who reported widespread fraud, the PACE mission concluded that the vote met democratic standards.
Walter visited Baku in March 2015 and hoped to travel to Armenia and Karabakh later on. However, Naghdalian made clear in April that officials in Yerevan will not discuss the Karabakh dispute with him. Karabakh’s leadership, for its part, said that the controversial rapporteur is not welcome in Stepanakert.
Walter did not run for reelection in Britain’s subsequent general elections and formally ended his parliamentary tenure on May 7. The 67-year-old, who is married to a Turkish woman, became a Turkish citizen later in May. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was reported to have personally handed a Turkish ID card to the retired Conservative parliamentarian at the Turkish Embassy in London.