YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will continue to promote wide-ranging reforms in Armenia despite the closure of its Yerevan office forced by Azerbaijan, OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier said on Tuesday.
“The closure of the office does not mean that we will conclude our cooperation with Armenia,” Zannier said during a visit to Yerevan. “There are many important issues on our agenda.”
“We will therefore try to find various ways of working together and ensuring that the closure of the office only means that one chapter of our cooperation has been closed but other avenues of joint work have opened up,” he told a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian.
The OSCE office has implemented projects relating, among other things, to human rights, tax and police reforms, gender equality and press freedom ever since it was opened in 2000. Azerbaijan vetoed late last year a further extension of its mandate, objecting to a humanitarian demining program sponsored by it in Armenia. It claimed that the program could “strengthen” the Armenian military in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Armenia has repeatedly shrugged off those allegations. It says that Baku is simply keen to force the closure of the Yerevan office after having a similar OSCE office in Baku shut down in 2015 in line with its poor human rights record.
OSCE decisions on opening such missions and extending their activities have to be unanimously approved by all 57 member states of the organization.
Baku did not drop its objections even after the Armenian government agreed in January to exclude demining from the wide range of OSCE activities in Armenia. Its uncompromising stance prompted a stern warning from the United States, with a senior U.S. diplomat saying in February that the office closure would “reflect poorly on Azerbaijan.”
A representative of Austria, the current holder of the OSCE presidency, told the OSCE’s Permanent Council in Vienna on May 4 that the Azerbaijani government remains adamant in demanding the shutdown.
The issue seems to have dominated Zannier’s separate meetings with Nalbandian and President Serzh Sarkisian. The OSCE secretary general described the talks as “useful” in a written statement issued later in the day. “I would like to see the achievements of the Office preserved and built upon as far as possible,” he added.