YEREVAN (Aravot Daily)–In an interview with the Aravot Daily, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian speaks about the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) rulings on the Chiragov vs. Armenia and Sargsyan vs. Azerbaijan cases, and the possible impact the rulings could have on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The cases involved the denial of the right to return to homes and other properties, and the lack of compensation for losses suffered during the Artsakh War by both Armenian and Azeri plaintiffs.
Question: Mr. Minister, the first question is a general one. What is the opinion of the Republic of Armenia on the ECHR?
Edward Nalbandian: Armenia highly values the role of the ECHR in the effective protection of the rights of the 800 million people of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. Armenia has always supported the processes and reforms aimed at strengthening the effectiveness and full implementation of the activities of the ECHR.
Question: Since the publication of the Chiragov case by the ECHR, Azerbaijan has tried to manipulate it, to interpret it in its own arbitrary way, in particular claiming that the Court blamed Armenia for the occupation of Azeri territories. Is that the case?
Edward Nalbandian: As for the interpretations of Azerbaijan, as if the ECHR judgment on the Chiragov vs. Armenia case allegedly refers to the occupation of Azeri territories by Armenia, it should be stressed that the judgment of the Court does not contain any such assertion.
Furthermore, in the 168th paragraph of the case the Court reiterated its principled position that this judgment applies only to the protection of the rights pertaining to the European Convention on Human Rights, and nothing more. As it is mentioned in the case, the judgment refers to the protection of property, respect for private and family life, and an effective remedy.
Question: In your comment just after the Judgment was issued you said that the issues related to the right of the refugees and displaced persons to return are an integral part of the negotiation process, and that they can be settled as a result of a comprehensive resolution of the issue. Can the ECHR’s judgment have an impact on the negotiation process?
Edward Nalbandian: The decision of the Grand Chamber of the ECHR on the admissibility of the case notes that it may be reasonable for applicants to wait for the outcome of political processes such as peace talks and negotiations which, in these circumstances, may offer the only realistic hope of obtaining a solution. At the same time the decision finds that irrespective of the ongoing negotiation process the individuals have the right to pursue the protection of their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Azerbaijan, notorious for its violations of the human rights, does not hesitate to exploit the judgment of one of the most prominent institutions on human rights protection for its own political calculations. Once again Baku tries to present the issues related to the protection of human rights, including the rights of refugees, in its own arbitrary interpretative manner, thus falsifying the whole essence of the case. The judgment of the ECHR on the Chiragov case pertains to an individual court case, to the rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and cannot have any impact on the negotiation process of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution.
Question: Does the judgment touch on the circumstances that made the applicants leave their homes?
Edward Nalbandian: To the observation of the Armenian side that Nagorno-Karabakh has exercised its right to self-defense, in paragraph 197 of the judgment the Court takes note of the claims that the district of Lachin was of military strategic importance and that there was a need to deliver food, medicine and other supplies into Nagorno-Karabakh. In fact, the Court takes note that under the conditions of Azeri aggression the liberation of Lachin was of vital importance for the survival of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh, ensuring the population had to essential supplies.
Question: What was the reaction from Baku on the Sargsyan vs. Azerbaijan case?
Edward Nalbandian: You are right, on the same day of the Chiragov case judgment, the Court adopted another judgment protecting the rights of Mr. Sargsyan, who was forcefully displaced by Azerbaijan from the village of Gulistan in the Shahumyan region. In both cases the judgments of the Court are almost symmetrical. In both cases the Court has registered the violation of the same rights of the Convention. It is noteworthy that Baku has tried to circumvent any mentioning of the Sargsyan vs. Azerbaijan case.
It should be noted that this is not the first time that the Court has made judgments on the protection of the rights of displaced persons. As it is mentioned in the 129th paragraph, the Court examined for the first time the rights of displaced persons in 1996 and later on has had a number of similar cases where it, in accordance to the European Convention, protected the rights of displaced persons.
Question: Are there any formulations in the Sargsyan vs. Azerbaijan case which, as you mentioned, make Azerbaijan refrain from mentioning the judgment of the Court?
Edward Nalbandian: The 32nd paragraph of the Sargsyan vs. Azerbaijan case notes that in April-May of 1991, USSR Internal Forces and the special-purpose militia units (the OMON) of the Azerbaijan SSR launched a military operation with the stated purpose of so-called passport checking. However, that was only the pretext to expel the Armenian population of a number of villages in the Shahumyan region, forcing them to leave their homes and flee to Nagorno-Karabakh or Armenia. The expulsions were accompanied by arrests and violence towards the civilian population. In 1992, when the conflict escalated into a full-scale war, the Shahumyan region came under attack by Azeri forces. The Armenians in other regions faced the same fate. The ECHR confirms that Azerbaijan exercised violence and expelled the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. In the 216th paragraph of the case the Court observes again that the applicant is one of the hundreds of thousands of Armenians who fled during the conflict, leaving property and homes behind. Once you are familiar with the materials of the case, it becomes clear why Azerbaijan stays silent about the judgment.
Question: Is it possible to consider the judgments of the ECHR as interferences to a resolution of the conflict?
Edward Nalbandian: While examining the issues within the Court’s jurisdiction, the Court notes in the 216th paragraph of the Sargsyan case that it is the responsibility of the parties to find a political settlement to the conflict. In other words, the Court itself underscores that its judgment is not related either to the settlement of the conflict or to any of its elements and hence, once again, refutes Azeri falsifications. The Court goes on to state that the comprehensive solutions to such questions as the return of refugees to their former places of residence, or payment of compensation, can only be achieved through a peace agreement.
In paragraph 236 of the case the Court underlines the importance of the peace process in the framework of the Minsk Group Co-chairs and observes that the right of all internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their former places of residence is one of the elements contained in the Madrid Basic Principles, which have been elaborated in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group, and form the basis of the peace negotiation. Here again the ECHR reiterates that its judgment pertains neither to the conflict resolution nor to its elements, including the right to return of refugees and internally displaced persons, which should find their solution within the only internationally mandated framework of the conflict resolution – the Co-chairmanship of the OSCE Minsk Group.
That the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement process runs within the framework of the Minsk Group Co-chairs and has nothing to do with the mentioned judgments of the ECHR has been once again confirmed on June 22 in Strasbourg during the Summer Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) by Igor Crnadak, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Referring to the Chiragov and others vs. Armenia and Sargsyan vs. Azerbaijan cases, he said that the Committee of Ministers monitors the execution of the judgments. At the same time he stressed that the mediation for the settlement of the conflict is done by the OSCE Minsk Group, and that peaceful settlement was a joint commitment by both Armenia and Azerbaijan upon accession to the Council of Europe.
However, even after the unequivocal statement of the Chairman of the Committee of the Ministers, Azerbaijan continues to boast that the judgment of the Court allegedly pertains to the conflict resolution.
Question: What does Azerbaijan strives to achieve by such a policy?
Edward Nalbandian: The manipulation of the judgment of the ECHR can harm the efforts of the Minsk Group Co-chairs aimed at the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. By this, Azerbaijan again tries to shift the negotiation process of the conflict settlement to other formats, mislead the international community, and undermine the efforts of the Co-chair countries.
Based on its own arbitrary interpretation of the judgment of the ECHR, Azerbaijan already makes statements alleging that the withdrawal of the armed forces will ensure conditions conducive to the return of the refugees and that this issues should in no way be considered a compromise. Therefore, Azerbaijan, by its arbitrary and selective interpretations, once again opposes the proposals contained in the five well-known statements of the leaders of the Co-chair countries. Baku forgets that the Co-chairs consider these elements as an integrated whole, as any attempt to select some elements over others would make it impossible to achieve a balanced solution. This is more evidence that Azerbaijan is not ready for a resolution to the conflict based on the norms and principles of international law and elements proposed by the heads of the Co-chair countries in their statements at L’Aquila, Muskoka, Deauville, Los Cabos, and Enniskillen. Azerbaijan’s attitude prevents us from reaching a comprehensive settlement, which would also solve the issues of the refugees and displaced persons.
In the absence of any grounds to justify its non-constructive approach opposing the Co-chairs, Azerbaijan resorts to falsifications as its last available opportunity at its disposal. The exploitation of the ECHR judgment on the Chiragov case is just the latest evidence of this attitude.