by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Armenian Mirror Spectator
Berlin - February 16, 2023— If the growing crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh has finally landed on the political agenda in Berlin, it has a lot to do with the working visit of Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan to the German capital last week. In two packed days, he met with the people and institutions that could make a significant contribution: his German counterpart Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, Chancellor Scholz’s foreign and security policy advisor, senior members of parliamentary committees, the head of the Munich Security Conference, as well as representatives of German experts and think-tanks. In all venues, his primary focus was on the need for action by Germany and the European Union to lift Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachin corridor. In remarks delivered during a joint press conference on February 7, Baerbock finally demanded the blockade be ended and outlined concrete commitments to actions aimed at achieving security and durable peace in the region.
On the first day of his two-day visit, the Armenian foreign minister met Christoph Heusgen, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference. This, the largest and most important international security conference, has been meeting every year in the Bavarian capital since 1963. This year’s gathering, which takes place February 17-19, will see the biggest delegation ever from the US, with a third of the Senate, as well as 45 heads of government and state, and hundreds of ministers. Mizoyan briefed Heusgen on the humanitarian crisis created by the Lachin corridor blockade, stressing Azerbaijan’s ethnic cleansing policy against Armenians and calling for international efforts to prevent it. The two discussed cooperation, including in the context of the Munich Security Conference, which hopefully means the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis will be on the agenda.
On February 7, a large group of the senior members of key Bundestag (parliamentary) committees convened for a discussion with their Armenian guest. These included committees on foreign affairs, defense, human rights and humanitarian aid, and EU issues. Present at the meeting were members of the Germany-South Caucasus Friendship group, whose chairman, Dr. Johann Wadephul, received Mirzoyan before the gathering.
The German-Armenian Forum, which co-organized the event, is a caucus of parliamentarians, civil society representatives, academics, diplomats, and others, which promotes political, economic, and cultural relations between the two countries. In his welcoming remarks, its president, FDP parliamentarian Till Mansmann, said Germany “supports the EU’s stabilization efforts for stability and peace in the region,” adding that the most important task is opening the Lachin corridor. Mirzoyan underlined the importance of this ongoing inter-parliamentary cooperation, for its contribution to enhancing the bilateral agenda and deliberation on regional issues. Their discussion covered progress in Armenia’s reform agenda, which has enjoyed the support of Germany and the EU. Mirzoyan, who briefed participants on the ongoing humanitarian crisis, expressed his appreciation for their commitment to unblocking the corridor and reinstating free movement. He also brought them up to date on the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process, which, he said, was being undermined by Baku’s warmongering rhetoric, maximalist ambitions, and aggressive stance.
The same issues dominated the exchange between the Armenian Foreign Minister and Jens Plötner, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Foreign and Security Policy Advisor, when they met on February 7. The emphasis was on the need to lift the Lachin corridor blockade immediately to address the humanitarian crisis. Both stressed the importance of further deepening bilateral ties as well as the EU-Armenia partnership. The most important development in this connection is the recent decision by the EU to send a long-term monitoring mission to the region, along the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Concrete Steps by Germany, EU
Mirzoyan and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock held extensive bilateral talks on February 7, followed by a joint press conference. Both prefaced their remarks with condolences to the families of earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria, and pledges of assistance. Germany had dispatched rescue teams with search dogs and Armenia, “despite the complexity of relations and realities,” Mirzoyan said, was sending humanitarian aid as well as rescue teams.
Bilateral relations, economic cooperation and trade, as well as political collaboration were at the top of their agenda. Mirzoyan commended the high level of their political dialogue, singling out Germany’s support for his country’s ambitious democratic reforms. Equally important is the positive dynamic in economic cooperation. Germany, Armenia’s most important trading partner in the EU, is expanding investment, facilitated by financial and technical aid provided by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and German Development Bank (KFW). The GIZ, active in Armenia since the early 1990s, supports sustainable economic development, urban planning, and technical training, whereas the KFW, which started work there in 1998, is a state-owned investment and development bank.
Beyond nation-to-nation cooperation, Mirzoyan expressed appreciation for progress in Armenian-EU relations; here Germany plays an important role, for example, in the dialogue on visa regime liberalization. Progress continues as well in the context of the Armenia-EU Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership, signed in 2017 and in effect since 2021.
Regarding the critical security situation in the region, Mirzoyan stressed above all the importance of the most recent EU initiative. “I would like once again to commend and express our gratitude to the European Union regarding the decision to deploy a new long-term monitoring mission in Armenia.” He expressed his confidence that “it will play a crucial role for the human security on the ground and stability in the region, as well as for the timely and reliable presentation of the current situation to our partners in the EU and its member states.” The objective of the mission, as announced in an EU release, is “to contribute to stability in the border areas of Armenia, building confidence on the ground, and ensuring an environment conducive to normalization between Armenia and Azerbaijan supported by the EU.” The new unit is to replace an earlier, short-term mission, include 100 monitors, and have a mandate of 2 years.
Mirzoyan elaborated on the issue of regional security and stability, reporting on the briefing he had given his interlocutors in Berlin during his working visit. He went through the facts and figures of the blockade, 120,000 Armenians suffering a humanitarian crisis, lacking food, medicine, and vital energy supplies. He specified that the single goal pursued by Azerbaijan through aggressive actions prior to and including the blockade, is “a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing.” The consequences of Azerbaijani aggressions against the Republic Armenia itself in May and November 2021, as well as September 2022, still have not been eliminated: prisoners of war, civilian hostages, the unknown fate of those forcibly disappeared, as well as the destruction of Armenian cultural heritage sites. In concluding, Mirzoyan stressed the importance of Germany’s position for peace and democracy, and as a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group.
German Foreign Minister Baerbock has been under pressure to not only speak out against the Azerbaijani blockade, but to engage in humanitarian efforts to provide vital food and medicine to the besieged population of Nagorno-Karabakh. Demonstrations have taken place regularly in Berlin and the minister has received petitions and letters by human rights organizations. To date, no official responses have appeared.
Before addressing this central concern, Baerbock recalled that 2022 marked a 30 year jubilee in bilateral relations, and highlighted achievements in the cultural realm; a new cultural cooperation agreement is in process, to add to the 49 cooperation pacts between institutions of higher learning. Contacts are expanding in film, theater, ateliers, monuments, and universities. The foreign ministry wants to ensure that Yerevan has a fully functioning Goethe Institute, which is the country’s official cultural representative abroad.
Coming to strategic issues, Baerbock stated Germany’s recognition of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The reestablishment of independence for both in 1991, she said, was an important juncture in the region; at the same time, “30 years of conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh have brought enormous human suffering.” Detailing the human and material destruction, she said it would be an illusion to expect quick solutions, as indicated in the ongoing humanitarian disaster created by the blockade, which has halted deliveries of food and medicine; families are divided, children are freezing in unheated classrooms. “This is the reason why it is so important that the Lachin corridor blockade be immediately lifted. This is the responsibility of Azerbaijan and Russia.”
Baerbock detailed the purpose and function of the new civilian EU Mission stationed along the border of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Through presence and dialogue, the mission members are to create stability and above all trust. The concrete instruments to achieve this include hotlines set up between capitals and between local authorities, in hopes that reliable communications channels may lessen the risk that “tiny sparks might ignite blazing fires.” The responsibility Germany assumes in the Mission involves the participation of police, state and federal officials, as well as civil experts. It will thereby “not only provide a significant share of personnel, but also the head of the Mission.” It is to be a neutral observer group, tasked with providing security for both sides. Clearly, a durable solution, she added, requires negotiations, in this case mediated by EU Council President Charles Michel.
In the interests of reaching a secure peace, with guaranteed minority rights, and a solution to the drama of missing persons, Baerbock and Mirzoyan discussed four concrete areas of collaboration. First, Germany will assist the International Committee of the Red Cross in the recovery, identification, and return of the deceased, in and around Nagorno- Karabakh. Second, Germany offers its assistance in border demarcation, and third, it will continue its role in mine clearing operations. Finally, Germany wants to find areas of security cooperation, for example, in cyber security, out of concern for destabilizing activities by Russia.
Germany’s engagement in the South Caucasus, she concluded, is in Europe’s own interest. Security among neighbors opens opportunities for economic growth. Here Baerbock referenced the EU’s Global Gateway, a project for enhancing investment and trade, without ulterior motives. “We want a close connection of the Caucasus with Europe and stronger regional networking between the Caucasus and Central Asia.”
What perspectives are there for achieving a durable peace in the region? Baerbock outlined the areas for joint action that she had discussed with Mirzoyan, and noted that peace can come about only through direct negotiations among the concerned parties. In answer to a question by the press about new proposals to Azerbaijan by Armenia for a draft peace treaty, Mirzoyan answered at some length. First, he explained that, due to the blockade, Armenia postponed participation in a meeting with the foreign ministers of Russia and Azerbaijan, Sergei Lavrov and Jeyhun Bayramov, planned for December in Moscow. That notwithstanding, he confirmed he had presented new proposals for a peace treaty to Azerbaijan. He reported that “a few days ago,” Armenia had received Azerbaijan’s reply, along with other proposals, without going into further detail. He emphasized that this shows that, despite the blockade, “the negotiation process is not at a standstill, the negotiations are ongoing.” In response to a further question regarding Armenia’s assistance to earthquake victims in Turkey, Mirzoyan recalled his own country’s experience in 1988 and Armenia’s appreciation of the importance of international solidarity. He added, with regard to Turkey, that Armenia was continuing the dialogue to open borders and to reestablish diplomatic relations; “there is some progress … the process is a little slow,” he said, “but it is still very positive.” One example is the decision to lift the ban on air cargo transportation.
Germany and the EU are responding to the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis, albeit with significant delay. Minister Mirzoyan’s visit to Germany has provided valuable input. It is to be hoped that Baerbock, whom he invited to visit Armenia, will do so sooner rather than later.