Gahrton Presents Biased Report on EU South Caucasus Policy

BRUSSELS (European Armenian Federation)–On January 27–The European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) will examine and vote on a proposed report detailing EU Policy on the South Caucasus–presented by Swedish MEP Per Gahrton (Green Party). In seeking to formulate a balanced policy toward the region–members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs–including those of Gahrton–have proposed more than 100 amendmen’s.

The report reviews the situation in the South Caucasus and makes recommendations to the European Council. In its draft form–the 2004 report seeks the inclusion of South Caucasus countries in the Commission’s Wider Europe New Neighborhood initiative. It also calls for the establishment of a Stability Pact–similar to the one that exists for the Balkans.

On energy–Gahrton recognizes that Europe cannot demand the decommissioning of the Medzamor nuclear power plant without providing mechanisms that would allow Armenia to acquire alternative energy resources. In an unexpected move–however–the report lends its support to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline project–without mentioning the environmental problems and serious threats to human rights and minority rights that could result from its establishment.

"We are surprised that a representative of the Green party is supportive of a largely disputed energy project–without thoroughly examining the serious environmental or ethical issues surrounding the issue. As it stands–the BTC serves the interests of the US more than those of the EU or the peoples of the Caucasus," commented Laurent Leylekian–Executive Director of the European Armenian Federation.

"We recommend a concerted effort to bring about a fair redistribution of the region’s energy resources that would ease tensions and offer a sustainable solution to the Medzamor issue. That would be in the interest of the South Caucasus as well as the EU. Clearly–several parliamentarians share these concerns–as indicated by the proposed amendmen’s to the report," he added.

On the Karabagh conflict–the draft report claims to advance concrete solutions that respect the principle of territorial integrity–as well as the right of autonomy for minorities. To that end–as a first step towards a final settlement of the Karabagh conflict–it recommen’s the return of Azeri IDPs [internally displaced persons] to occupied territories. Gahrton later proposed an amendment advocating the formulation of a political and financial plan–aimed at the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from five occupied regions of Azerbaijan (Fizuli–Djabrail–Zangilan–Gubadly and Agdam) and the creation of conditions necessary for the return of Azeri IDPs to their homeland.

"When we hear references to homelands–we recall the Armenian homeland that stretched from the Euphrates to the Caspian. If the European Union wants to approach the Karabagh status from that angle–it should also call for the restoration of Armenian populations to Nakhichevan and Eastern Turkey–and debate global statutes regarding these areas," said Leylekian.

"It should be noted that Gahrton does not question the independence of Karabagh per se–but raises the issue of refugees in the bordering areas. By focusing solely on Azeri refugees–the report demonstrates a blatant and counterproductive bias. In fact–there are refugees in Armenia–Georgia and Azerbaijan. One does not resolve conflict by advancing simplistic–one-sided solutions. The only possible consequence of such a position is to undermine the renewal of Armenian-Azeri dialogue and obstruct the prudent efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group," continued Leylekian.

"Moreover–Mr. Gahrton performs a narrow reading of International Law–mistaking peoples’ right to self-determination with minority autonomy rights. Our concerns regarding this interpretation have resonated with many deputies from all political parties and from all nationalities–many of whom have proposed amendmen’s aiming to re-establish the impartiality of the report by making reference to the status of all refugees in the region," specified Leylekian.

The draft report makes no mention of the ongoing Azeri and Turkish blockades of Armenia. Several proposed amendmen’s–however–condemn the blockade both for obstructing European aid to the Caucasus–and for aggravating the energy shortage in Armenia. Specifically–one the amendmen’s introduced by Gahrton–cites the gradual reopening of the border with Armenia as a precondition for Turkey’s candidacy to the EU.

The draft report is equally silent on the Armenian Genocide; three proposed amendmen’s–however–cite the necessity of Turkey’s recognition of the Genocide–as a pre-condition to its participation in an eventual regional Stability Pact. An amendment introduced by Arie Oostlander–author of the EP’s report on Turkey–urges Ankara to normalize its relations with Armenia.

Finally–an amendment from Gahrton expresses concern about the human rights situation and media freedom in Azerbaijan.

The rapporteur apparently had difficulty reconciling the concept of professional integrity with pressures exerted by the Turkish-Azeri lobby.

"With the help of parliamentarians who have proposed amendmen’s–we hope the overall balance of the report will be reestablished," commented Leylekian.

After its adoption by the Committee of Foreign Affairs–the report will be submitted to the plenary session of the European Parliament in the coming weeks.

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