Member of the British House of Lords and chair of the British-Armenian All-Party Parliamentary Group Baroness Caroline Cox delivered remarks at House of Lords during a debate about the United Kingdom’s relations with Azerbaijan and its role in the South Caucasus on Tuesday.
“I have visited the region 78 times, many during the war against Nagorno Karabakh. I regret that my contribution to this debate will be unpopular, because it is critical of Azerbaijan, but it is based on first-hand evidence,” Baroness Cox said.
“I begin with a brief reference to aspects of recent history relevant to current issues. I visited Azerbaijan in 1991, when I met the then president and political leaders. I was dismayed by the explicit commitment to ethnic cleansing of the Armenians from Nagorno Karabakh. I also visited Karabakh then and met Azeris living in homes which had recently been owned by Armenians who had been evicted by Azerbaijan’s well documented policy, Operation Ring, in which Armenian villagers were surrounded by Azeri troops who killed, tortured and drove villagers off their land,” she continued.
“The Armenians were the primary victims as they had already been victims in the massacres in Baku and Sumgait. Then Azerbaijan unleashed full-scale war. I witnessed 400 Grad missiles daily raining onto Karabakh’s capital city, an aerial bombardment of civilian homes with 500 kilogram bombs. I also witnessed war crimes perpetrated by Azerbaijan on Armenian civilians at Karabakh, such as the cold-blooded massacre of villagers in Maragha. I was there hours afterwards and saw corpses whose heads had been sawn off and burnt, mutilated bodies. I visited Khojaly and can testify that the tragic events were not as portrayed by Azerbaijan-a massacre of Azeris by Armenians. Independent journalists and Azerbaijan’s former President Mutalibov have publicly come to the same conclusion,” Baroness Cox emphasized.
She also noted that the Armenian forces’ taking control over the territories surrounding Nagorno Karabakh was not aggressive land grabbing, but essential for survival, as they were used as bases for constant shelling of towns and villages inside Karabakh. “I was there when one ceasefire was broken by Azerbaijan, with renewed bombing from Azeri bases in these lands,” she said.
“This recent history is relevant to current concerns as the 1994 ceasefire is precarious. There is an urgent need for peace for the peoples of Azerbaijan and Armenia and because the peoples of the south Caucasus do not want another destabilizing regional war. However, Azerbaijan’s continuing hostile policies are detrimental to attempts to reach a solution to this semi-frozen conflict. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Laird, mentioned the case of Ramil Safarov, the Azeri military officer who used an axe to murder an Armenian officer in his sleep while both men were attending a NATO course in Budapest in 2004. Safarov was arrested, convicted and sentenced to a lengthy term of imprisonment. But, when Hungary repatriated Safarov to Azerbaijan, on the understanding that he would continue to serve his prison sentence, he was released from prison and welcomed as a hero. According to the Economist in September 2012, this led to a new war of words in one of the world’s most volatile regions,” she said.
“Patrick Ventrell, spokesman for the US State Department, said that the United States was extremely troubled by the pardon of Safarov and would be seeking an explanation from both Budapest and Baku. Russia, involved in trying to ease relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, said that the actions of the Hungarian and Azeri Governments contradicted internationally brokered efforts to bring peace to the region. May I ask the Minister what representations have been made by Her Majesty’s Government to Azerbaijan concerning the release and the honouring of the convicted murderer Safarov?
The Economist also raised questions about the EU’s credibility when it pledged €19.5 million to reform oil-rich Azerbaijan’s justice and migration systems. Since 2006, Azerbaijan’s economy, with its vast oil and gas reserves, has nearly tripled to $62 billion. May I ask the Minister what the EU’s justification was in giving €19.5 million to such a wealthy country? Moreover, there is widely-held concern over Azerbaijan’s massive investment in its military arsenal-a 20-fold increase in seven years. Apart from expenditure on arms, in a nation where many still live in poverty, there is deep anxiety over the propensity to renew war with Nagorno-Karabakh. This danger is exacerbated by Azerbaijan’s constant use of belligerent and hostile propaganda, which is not conducive to confidence-building or effective peace negotiations,” the Baroness noted.
Finally Baroness Caroline Cox referred to Azerbaijan’s disturbing record on human rights, particularly on freedom of the press and religious freedom.
“No country has an interest in other countries, only interests-and we have oil interests in Azerbaijan,” she concluded.
“Azerbaijan pours massive funds into propaganda, disseminating positive images of its progress while trying to prevent access to Karabakh by intimidating potential visitors who wish to see the situation there for themselves. After one of my visits in recent years, an article appeared in an Azeri newspaper, entitled “Shoot the Cox!”. Parliamentarians visiting Armenia receive letters from Azeri authorities threatening to place them on a blacklist if they visit Karabakh. The British Ambassador is still not allowed to visit Karabakh, although the political and diplomatic representatives of other nations do so. Therefore, it is hard for the Armenians of Karabakh to have their story of Azerbaijan’s policies told.
I deeply regret having had to make such a critical speech. Of course, I can be accused of partiality, but if my contribution is partial, it is accurate, based on first-hand evidence and corroborated by many independent sources. I hope it is helpful to put on record some often untold aspects of the situation, because the search for a just and lasting peace can only be based on an understanding of historic and contemporary reality in all its multi-faceted complexity,” she stressed.