YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenian lawmakers insisted on Monday that they will not cooperate with a pro-Azerbaijani British colleague who has been tasked by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) with drafting a report on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The rapporteur, Robert Walter, was named by the PACE leadership last year to launch a fact-finding mission to the conflict zone and prepare the report titled “Escalation of Violence in Nagorno-Karabakh and Other Occupied Territories of Azerbaijan.”
This wording prompted furious protests from Armenian members of the Strasbourg-based assembly and the government in Yerevan. They say that it predetermines Walter’s findings and runs counter to statements made by U.S., Russian and French mediators trying to broker a Karabakh settlement.
The Armenian side has also accused Walter of having close with Azerbaijan’s government, saying that the British parliamentarian has repeatedly defended Baku’s dismal human rights record criticized by Western human rights groups.
Walter led a team of PACE members that observed Azerbaijan’s last presidential election held in 2013. Unlike other Western observers who reported widespread electoral fraud, the PACE mission concluded that the vote met democratic standards.
Walter visited Baku in March and hopes to travel to Armenia and Karabakh later this year. The head of the Armenian delegation at the PACE, Hermine Naghdalian made clear last month that although officials in Yerevan may agree to receive him they will avoid discussing the Karabakh conflict.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s leadership has gone further, saying that Walter is not welcome in Stepanakert. “If Walter considers Karabakh a part of Azerbaijan then he should come to Karabakh from there,” Davit Babayan, a senior Karabakh Armenian official said recently.
Anne Brasseur, the PACE president, urged the Armenian side to “actively participate” in the drafting of Walter’s report when she began a visit to Yerevan on Monday. Speaking after meetings with Armenian members of the PACE, Brasseur said their involvement would ensure that the document will be a “balanced” one.
The Armenian parliamentarians remained adamant, however. “I and other members of the Armenian delegation told Ms. Brasseur that we are not going to cooperate with Azerbaijani lobbyist Bob Walter in drafting such a biased report,” said one of them, Naira Zohrabian. “We know very well that the report has long been drawn up and that Bob Walter will only sign it.”
Levon Zurabian, another member of the Armenian delegation in Strasbourg, agreed. “By referring to Nagorno-Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan, the PACE engages in an unacceptable interference in the course of negotiations,” he said. “That would only undermine the shaky peace process.”