The European Union’s visiting foreign and security policy chief, Federica Mogherini, described a peaceful resolution of the protracted Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh as a priority for the 28-nation bloc as she spoke in Yerevan on Tuesday on the second leg of her South Caucasus tour that also included a stop in Baku.
After talks with Armenia’s leadership, including President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, who is also vice-president of the European Commission, expressed support for the current efforts of international mediators to broker a peaceful solution to the conflict.
“The status quo is unsustainable to us. The conflict does not have a military solution and needs a political settlement in accordance with international law,” Mogherini said at a joint press conference with Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian.
The senior EU official said that Brussels supports the efforts of the Minsk Group co-chairs representing the United States, Russia and France to facilitate progress drawing on the three Madrid principles and elements and calls for the intensification of high-level talks to advance the settlement.
“It is also important to reverse recent negative trends of escalating tensions and create an enabling environment, in particular by refraining from actions on the ground and confrontational rhetoric that heighten tensions and undermine the peace process.”
During their last face-to-face meeting in Switzerland in December, the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliyev, discussed ways of defusing tensions in the conflict zone where the number of casualties on both sides reportedly grew during 2015 as heavier weapons were used in violations of the 1994 ceasefire.
One of the measures proposed by the mediators to ensure the ceasefire regime was introduction of an incident investigation mechanism. Armenia quickly welcomedthe initiative, while Azerbaijan, which considers Armenia to be an aggressor in Nagorno-Karabakh, did not appear to accept the idea.
Mogherini said in Yerevan that the EU supports the calls of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs for this incident investigation mechanism.
“We will continue to extend support to the Minsk Group co-chairs, including through the work of the EU special representative… The European Union also stands ready to further support peace building activities and people-to-people contacts to help overcome the conflict,” she said.
Foreign Minister Nalbandian, for his part, reaffirmed Armenia’s position that there is no alternative to a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to be achieved by means of negotiations. But he added: “We share the opinion that maintaining the status quo does not meet anyone’s interests. But it is clear that steps contributing to the escalation of the situation, the rejection of the commitment to solve the conflict solely through peaceful means, attempts to change the format of the negotiations, rejection of the proposal to set up a mechanism of investigating [border] incidents and war rhetoric are damaging to the process and contribute to the preservation of the status quo.”
At the press conference Mogherini also said that during her meetings with Armenian officials she also discussed other regional issues, including Iran and Syria.
Earlier, during his talks with the EU official, Nalbandian stressed that since the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011 Armenia has accepted about 20,000 refugees. Virtually all of these refugees are ethnic Armenians. “Thus, our country is the third country in Europe by the number of accepted [Syrian] refugees per capita,” Nalbandian stressed.
Mogherini said: “We also discussed the integration of Syrian refugees. The European Union is considering whether it can support Armenia in this respect also through the EU trust fund that was established to address the crisis.”
Mogherini and the Armenian leadership also discussed domestic political reforms in Armenia reflecting the nation’s commitments under a new legal framework of relations with the EU. Negotiations on the new agreement were formally launched in Brussels last December.
The EU official also discussed in Yerevan the latest constitutional changes in Armenia envisaging the country’s switch to a parliamentary form of government. In this respect, she said that particular attention is needed as regards the reforms of Armenia’s electoral system. “It should be carried out in due time and in an inclusive manner so that all stakeholders would be able to build broad consensus on it. The European Union supports the recommendations of the OSCE/ODIHR referendum expert team’s final report and the previous OSCE/ODIHR recommendations, which still need to be addressed.”
“Without a transparent investigation of all alleged frauds as well as appropriate measures taken, if these are confirmed, the recent constitutional referendum would be a missed opportunity to increase the confidence in and the integrity of electoral processes in Armenia,” Mogherini concluded.