EU shares Armenian Prime Minister’s vision of open South Caucasus
YEREVAN, NOVEMBER 20, ARMENPRESS. EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, Toivo Klaar, has expressed support to the Armenian government’s Crossroads of Peace project.
In an interview with Armenpress Brussels correspondent, Klaar said that there ought to be no issue of extraterritoriality concerning the connections. He said that it is quite logical that any road, any railway that goes through Armenian territory is controlled by Armenia.
Special Representative Klaar also spoke about the possible peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the guaranteed right to return of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians.
Unlike Azerbaijan, which regularly talks about the so-called Zangezur Corridor in the context of unblocking regional communications, 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 implies the unblocking of regional communications based on the jurisdiction and sovereignty of countries and as a result of its implementation the region can become an important international logistics and trade intersection and also a kind of guarantee for peace. How would you interpret this initiative of the Armenian government and what opportunities do you see here? Do you consider the implementation of this project possible, taking into account the destructive position of Azerbaijan in the matter of unblocking communications?
First of all, I think that, a few months ago [in May 2023], in Moscow, President Aliyev very clearly said publicly on television, in a meeting that they had with Prime Minister Pashinyan in the presence of President Putin, that naming it a ‘corridor’ doesn't imply extra-territoriality. President Aliyev has said – also on other occasions in smaller settings – that this does not imply extra-territoriality. Yes, calling it a corridor, as you know, we say transport corridors in reference to different corridors that we have in Europe and we never imply extra-territoriality. So, obviously, from our perspective, it is quite logical that any road, any railway that goes through Armenian territory is controlled by Armenia, or any road or railway that goes through Azerbaijani territory or goes through, I don't know, German territory, is controlled by the country in question. So, that is absolutely the one and only logical arrangement. And what is also very legitimate is, for instance, in this case Azerbaijan, to want to have an assurance that Azerbaijani citizens and cargo crossing Armenian territory will be safe and secure. That is perfectly logical and normal. But how that is being done in terms of how it is ensured is the responsibility of the Armenian authorities. I think the vision of Prime Minister Pashinyan of road and railway connections uniting countries is something we absolutely share. We absolutely share that vision of an open South Caucasus where railway and road connections are open, and countries are reconnected in a way that they were at the end of the Soviet period and even more so, because also the road and railway connections across to Türkiye, and naturally Iran, which is already the case, but also to Türkiye, should also be open. That is how we see the future, absolutely, our vision of a South Caucasus at peace is one where these transport connections are all open again and there is trade, there is people travelling across the various frontiers.
Since you have mentioned the Azerbaijani President’s request that the Azerbaijani citizens should cross this corridor in a very safe way, here I want to ask a question, which concerns the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian residents who were forcibly displaced. What is your take concerning the right of these people to go back and also to make sure that we will not forget that and just jump to other issues in a few months’ time? But the Lachin corridor was blocked and Armenians did not have the chance to cross safely, many of them are arrested and charged. And Azerbaijani forces didn’t guarantee any kind of safety for these Armenians. So, Azerbaijan is asking for things that it didn't do as well. So what is your take on this, mainly on the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians’ right to be back?
I think you are bringing in many different issues, but I would focus on the core question of the former residents of Nagorno-Karabakh being able to return. We absolutely believe that this is a very important thing, that first of all, they are guaranteed the right to return. And secondly, that the kind of conditions are created, that will provide them with sufficient security, and a sense of safety that they will wish to do so. And we have said that very clearly from the EU’ point of view, that all persons who have been displaced should be able to return to their former places of residence if they wish to do so, in safety and security. And, in that sense, this is something that we have been pushing for, in all kinds of different fora. We believe that that is a very important issue that does need to be addressed. But of course, nobody can be forced to return if they don't wish to. But if they are, the maximum effort should be made to provide them with the kind of conditions that would allow at least a fair number of them to be able to decide to return.
Since you talked about peace in the region… Azerbaijan continues its expansionist rhetoric and wants to reach a peace agreement only within the framework that suits itself. How do you imagine the peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan? What points should be included in it so that it can be called fair and balanced and be sustainable?
From my perspective, I think it is important that, on the one hand, you have a treaty, you have a text, which may or may not be very exhaustive in its wording. It all depends on how Armenia and Azerbaijan in the end decide how to frame, how to phrase things in that treaty text. At least as important as the eventual peace treaty, is what you refer to as the implementation, the conditions that come afterwards. And there of course, we talked about the opening of communications, we talked about the delimitation of the border, to me also what is very important is to ensure the kind of conditions along the border, which means that there is a distancing of forces, a genuine sense of security that arises, and that is provided to residents along the border, but also more broadly. And then, of course, you have all these issues like, you know, opening of embassies, ensuring opening of direct air links, people being able to travel back and forth. Rhetoric, naturally also, will be an important thing for all concerned. After more than 30 years of conflict, it is not only about rhetoric being used by Azerbaijan, there is also in Armenia. There have been statements by different actors and in different contexts. The whole context has to change in terms of really providing a sense for the populations in Armenia and Azerbaijan, that, really, we are in a different world now, in a situation where the South Caucasus can really fulfil its role as crossroads, crossroads of peace in the north-south and east-west directions. And so, this is to me at least as important as the signing of a peace treaty text, which, as I say is important, but what follows that is at least as important, so that there's this real sense of a change in the circumstances.
The EU wants to be the broker who will mediate this Peace Treaty. However, the Azerbaijani side first refused the meeting in Granada at the last moment, then the meeting scheduled for the end of October in Brussels. How do you interpret these rejections by Aliyev? To what extent does the EU consider Azerbaijan's steps as constructive?
First of all, the EU doesn't have to be anywhere in this context. We have offered, and President Michel in particular has offered, his good offices. For us, the primary interest is to actually have an agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. And where that is ultimately signed is to us much less important than the fact that there is genuine normalisation between Armenia and Azerbaijan. So that's one thing. As far as President Aliyev deciding not to come to Grenada is concerned, well, we were disappointed, we thought that it was an important possibility and quite important forum to send strong messages. We are still, President Michel is still, ready and willing to organise a meeting of the leaders in Brussels at the earliest possible opportunity. Well, dates certainly are important. But the most important thing is to actually move forward and that is what we are focused on, to try to encourage forward movement in a genuine normalisation of relations.
Many political experts think that Azerbaijan is not really interested in the European platform and the 3+3 format is more beneficial to Aliyev. What is your assessment of this approach?
I have no particular opinion, from our perspective, we look at the “3+3” meeting, the recent one as well as the previous ones, as something where countries of the region certainly have issues that, as neighbours, they want to discuss and they should be able to discuss in a sort of regional setting. At the same time, I understand also that the understanding has been, at least initially, that particularly the conflict, the peace agreement, the settlement, should not really be a subject of discussion in that particular format. So, again, for us, the most important thing is progress, where that progress happens is much less important. But we do believe that, actually, in our view, there is no real reason why we cannot have serious progress in the settlement process, because, for us, the issues on the table are very few and we believe these have been discussed many times over, so we don't really see a reason why we could not move and why Azerbaijan and Armenia could not move very quickly towards normalisation of relations.
Azerbaijan criticizes the arming of Armenia, while it has three times higher military budget, and weapons shipments do not stop landing at the Baku airport. How do you interpret this rhetoric of Azerbaijan?
Well, I think that every country has the right to defend itself and to purchase the necessary weapons that it deems necessary for the defense of its territory. That’s my simple answer. Most countries in the world are purchasing weapons from abroad for the purpose of defending their territory. So, in that sense, there is nothing spectacular or wrong about this.
The Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan criticized Mr. Borrell's statement during the press conference and said that "The EU's attempts to supply Armenia with weaponry and thereby support its insidious militarization policy that undermines peace and stability in our region, encourages a policy leading to new confrontations in the region, that lays a responsibility on the EU. Plans to employ the European Peace Facility, which, among other areas, implies the buildup of military capabilities, serve to exacerbate tensions in the region". In fact, Azerbaijan threatens not only Armenia but also the EU. What is your take on this?
Well, I think we very much welcome the interest of the Armenian government to expand its relationship with the European Union. As for Armenia’s interest in the European Peace Facility, from our perspective, this is about potentially supporting Armenia in certain areas where it sees itself to be vulnerable – cyber security has been mentioned as one – and there again, if it does go forward (this is still in the planning phase), we don't see this as being aimed against anybody but rather, for the purpose of strengthening Armenia’s sovereignty, which, I think, is in the interest of everyone, not only of Armenia, but also of Armenia’s neighbours and of the wider international community. We want to have a strong, self-confident Armenia that is a good partner to the European Union and is equally a good partner to its neighbours, including to Azerbaijan.