Friday, 01 12 2023
Friday, 01 12 2023
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Armenia must control any road that passes through the territory of Armenia. Toivo Klaar

According to Toivo Klaari, the European Union’s special representative for the crisis in the South Caucasus and Georgia, it is entirely logical that, in the context of unblocking communications in the South Caucasus, any road or railway that passes through the territory of Armenia must be controlled by Armenia.

In an exclusive interview given to the “Armenpress” reporter in Brussels, Klaar referred to the “Crossroads of Peace” project proposed by the Armenian authorities, the possible peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the safe return of Nagorno Karabakh Armenians to their homes guaranteed.

Unlike Azerbaijan, which in the context of unblocking regional communications regularly talks about the so-called Zangezur Corridor, obviously implying the idea of having an extra-territorial corridor through the sovereign territory of Armenia, the Armenian government proposes the “Crossroads of Peace” project, which means the unblocking of regional communications under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of countries based on which, as a result of implementation, the region can become an essential international logistical and commercial crossroads. it can also be a kind of guarantee of peace. How would you interpret this initiative of the Armenian government, and what opportunities do you see here? Do you consider implementing this project possible, evaluating Azerbaijan’s destructive position regarding unblocking communications?

– First, I think that a few months ago (edited in May 2023) in Moscow, President Aliyev announced on television during a meeting with Prime Minister Pashinyan in the presence of President Putin that calling it a “corridor” does not imply extraterritoriality. President Aliyev has said on other occasions, in narrower settings, that it does not mean extraterritoriality. Yes, calling it a corridor, as you know, we say transport corridors, referring to the various corridors we have in Europe, which never imply extraterritoriality. Logically, Armenia controls any road or railway that passes through its territory. Or any road or railway that passes through Azerbaijan or, I don’t know, through the territory of Germany, is controlled by that country. Therefore, it is the only logical arrangement. For example, in this case, Azerbaijan wants to guarantee that the citizens of Azerbaijan and cargo passing through the territory of Armenia will be safe. This is entirely logical and normal. But how it will be done is the responsibility of the Armenian authorities.

Prime Minister Pashinyan’s vision of road and rail connections uniting the countries is something we share entirely. We absolutely share the vision of an open South Caucasus, where rail and road connections are available and countries are reunified as they were at the end of the Soviet Union period and even more. Road and rail links to Turkey and Iran, which is already the case, should also be open. This is how we see the future. Our vision of a peaceful South Caucasus is that these transport links are available again and trade people travel across borders.

– Since you mentioned the demand of the President of Azerbaijan that the passage of citizens of Azerbaijan through this corridor should be very safe, here I want to ask a question that concerns the forcibly displaced Armenians from Nagorno Karabakh. What is your approach to the right of these people to return to their homes? But let me draw attention to one point. The Lachin Corridor was closed, and Armenians had no chance to cross safely; many of them were arrested on false charges. Azerbaijani forces could not guarantee the safety of those Armenians. Thus, Azerbaijan is demanding things that it has not done:

– You bring up many different issues, but I would focus on the possibility of the return of Nagorno Karabakh residents. It is an essential thing that their right of return is guaranteed. Secondly, conditions are created that provide a sufficient sense of safety and security for them to want to return. We have made it very clear from an EU perspective that all displaced persons must be able to return safely and securely to their former places of residence if they want to do it. In that sense, this issue we have raised on various platforms is critical and needs to be resolved. But, of course, nobody can be forced to return if they don’t want to. But if some wish to return, then maximum efforts must be made to provide them with conditions that will allow the majority of these people to decide to return.

– Since you spoke of peace in the region, Azerbaijan continues its expansionist rhetoric and wants to reach a peace agreement only on its terms. How do you imagine the peace treaty? What points should be included in it so that it is fair, balanced, and ensures stability?

– It is essential that, on the one hand, you have a contract; you have a text that may or may need to be more comprehensive in its wording. Everything depends on how Armenia and Azerbaijan will ultimately decide how they will formulate the contract’s text. Equally important is implementing the final peace treaty and fulfilling the conditions that come after it. And here, of course, we must talk about the opening of communications and the demarcation of a border. It’s also essential to me to ensure the distance between the forces along the border, the real sense of security given to the residents along the border, and on a broader scale. And then, of course, you have all the issues like, you know, opening embassies, directly ensuring the opening of air links, and the possibility of people traveling reciprocally: Rhetoric will also be necessary for all parties concerned. After more than 30 years of conflict, it is not only about rhetoric from Azerbaijan but also about Armenia. There have been statements by different actors and in different contexts. The whole context has to change in terms of really providing a feeling for the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan that we are now in a different world, in a situation where the South Caucasus can fulfill its role as a crossroads, a peaceful intersection in north-south and east-west directions. This is at least as important as the signing of the peace treaty text, which, as I say, is essential, but what follows it is necessary so that there is this real sense of change in circumstances.

The EU wants to be the mediator of that peace treaty. However, at the last moment, the Azeri side refused first the meeting in Granada and then the meeting scheduled for the end of October in Brussels. How do you interpret this dodge of Aliyev? To what extent does the EU of Azerbaijan consider these steps constructive?

– First, in this context, the EU does not have to be on any side. We, particularly President Michel, offered his friendly services. For us, the primary interest is to have an agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. And where it is signed is much less critical for us than there is an actual settlement of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is one point. As for President Aliyev’s decision not to come to Granada, we were disappointed; we thought it was a significant opportunity and quite a vital forum to send strong messages. President Michel is still ready and wants to organize a leaders’ meeting in Brussels as soon as possible. The dates are, of course, important, But the most important thing is moving forward, and that is what we are focused on, to encourage progress towards an actual settlement of relations.

Many political scientists think Azerbaijan is not interested in the European platform and the 3+3 format is more beneficial for Aliyev. What is your assessment of this approach?

– I don’t have a particular opinion; we consider the 3+3 format in the last and the previous meetings as a format where the region’s countries, which certainly have problems, can discuss them as neighbors. At the same time, I also understand that, from the beginning, the understanding was that the conflict, the peace treaty, and the settlement should not be discussed in that format. So, again, the most important thing for us is progress and on which platform is much less critical. But in fact, there is no real reason why we cannot make serious progress in the settlement process because, for us, the issues on the table are very few, and they have been discussed many times. Therefore, we see no reason why we cannot move forward and why Azerbaijan and Armenia cannot quickly normalize relations.

Azerbaijan criticizes Armenia’s arming, while it has three times the military budget, and airplanes with ammunition do not stop landing at Baku airport. How do you interpret this rhetoric of Azerbaijan?

– Every country can defend itself and buy the necessary weapons to protect its territory. That is my simple answer. Most countries in the world buy weapons from abroad to protect their territory. So, there is nothing spectacular or wrong about this.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry criticized the statements made by Josep Borelli during the press conference held after the Council of Foreign Ministers of the EU meeting. In Azerbaijan, they announced that “by supplying weapons, the EU contributes to Armenia’s militarization policy, which undermines peace and stability in the region.” Azerbaijan has also announced that the EU will receive an adequate response, effectively threatening Armenia and the European Union. What is your attitude to this?

– We welcome the Armenian government’s interest in expanding its relations with the European Union. What about supporting Armenia within the framework of the European Peace Fund? From our point of view, it refers to potential support in some areas where Armenia considers itself vulnerable; for example, cyber security has been mentioned as one of them. And again, if this goes ahead, because it’s still in the planning stages, we don’t see it as a move against anybody. Instead, it is done to strengthen Armenia’s sovereignty, which benefits everyone, not only Armenia but also Armenia’s neighbors and the wider international community. We want a strong, self-confident Armenia that is a good partner for the European Union and an equally good partner for its neighbors, including Azerbaijan.

Արթուր Աղաբեկյան
Արթուր Աղաբեկյան
Դավիթ Գրիգորյան
Դավիթ Գրիգորյան