LONDON — “For Azerbaijan the issue of Karabakh is a matter of ambition, for the Armenians of Karabakh, it is a matter of life or death,” Stephen Pound, MP from the Labor Party, said during the debate in the UK House of Commons on UK policy towards Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan.
“It is difficult to understand and almost impossible to appreciate the full extent and horror of the war that raged between February 1988 and May 1994 in Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said.
“In 1994, it was recognized that it was, in effect, a frozen conflict. The Minsk group is working as hard as it can to move matters forward,” the MP said, adding, however, that “matters along the line of contact are not good.”
Twenty soldiers were killed along the ceasefire line in 2013, despite the existence of the ceasefire. There were nearly 200 ceasefire violations between 2 and 8 February of this year. Often, the violations involve people firing across the border, including snipers, but there are also more violent incidents. The line of contact is porous and is coming under increased pressure.
“I think that we have a crucial role to play. There is not a massive amount of trade between the United Kingdom and Armenia. Fewer than 10 UK firms are active in Armenia. We gave Armenia £882,000 in aid last year. I pay credit to our remarkable joint ambassadors in Yerevan, Kathy Leach and Jonathan Aves, who work extraordinarily hard to progress British trade interests in the area. However, we could do much more. By contrast, Azerbaijan was given £1,335,000 in aid over the same period, and we have very close trade links. The United Kingdom is actually the 15th largest trade partner of Azerbaijan, and the major role of BP in oil extraction, refining and marketing cannot be underestimated,” Stephen Pound stated.
In addition, the British MP reminded that “we are approaching the anniversary of the great Armenian genocide of 1915.” “If ever there was a time when this House could look to Armenia with support, friendship and solidarity, it is as we approach this anniversary,” he added.
Mr. Pound noted that every time the Armenian Genocide has been discussed at the House of Commons, the MPs have chosen to use comments such as “the so-called genocide.”
“That is a shame, because I would have thought that if there is one thing the House can agree on it is that a genocide of the most horrendous proportions did take place in Anatolia, Van and what was then called Western Armenia. The 1915 genocide was the third genocide and was particularly horrendous. Would it not be a good thing if we were to lend our support, put our shoulder to the wheel, and try to move Minsk forward in time for the commemorations of this appalling genocide?” he stated.
“I am not Armenian and I am not Azeri. I do not have a drop of blood of either of those nations in my veins. However, I cannot help but note that even though much of what we talked about this evening appears to be in the past, it is a past that still resonates,” Me. Pound added.
“Many people will know the situation that occurred on 18 February 2004. Extraordinarily, soldiers from Azerbaijan and Armenia were present at a NATO partnership for peace activity in Budapest. One Azerbaijani soldier, Ramil Safarov, decided to buy an axe and take the head off an Armenian soldier, Gurgen Markarian. This happened in Hungary in 2004. This is not ancient history; this is recent history. At the time, the Azerbaijan human rights commissioner said that Safarov must become an example of patriotism for Azerbaijani youth and the National Democratic Party awarded him the man of the year award in 2005. When the Hungarians released Ramil Safarov, he returned to Azerbaijan to be promoted to the rank of major. He received eight years back pay and was given accommodation. It is that raw and it is that recent. My point is that these emotions simply cannot be allowed to fester. When we have a feeling of animosity between two peoples that leads to a fellow soldier on a NATO joint exercise decapitating another soldier, that is something intensely felt and we must be able to somehow push that forward and improve the situation,” he stated.
“The British Government cannot demand action, but what we can do is to show our concern. We have an opportunity to put down a marker: to say it was an awful, bloody and terrible war, but that it finished 20 years ago. Let us finally end this awful conflict, and allow two nations to emerge into the sunshine to live in peace. Then we can talk about human rights, but at least let us talk without the sound of gunfire, without the smell of cordite and without the chill anticipation of death,” Mr. Pound stated.
Mark Simmonds, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, added, in turn: “It goes without saying that finding a lasting solution will be vital in alleviating the suffering still felt in the region. I am extremely grateful for the work being done to raise awareness of that tragic conflict. Of course, it does not need to be said that we are not much further on than we were 20 years ago, and we are almost at that 20th anniversary.”
“The UK is concerned by the ongoing breach of the ceasefire along the line of contact as well as along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. There were reports of increasing numbers of ceasefire violations in January and early February, as he rightly mentioned. We were pleased that the Presidents of both countries committed to a truce during the winter Olympics. While fighting continues, there is always a danger of escalation, whether that is deliberate or not, and we urge both sides to exercise restraint and avoid provocation,” he added.
“We consistently urge Armenia and Azerbaijan to work with the Minsk group to reduce tensions and create an environment conducive to a peaceful, long-lasting settlement,” he stated.