Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence - Sixth Report


Memorandum submitted by Christian Solidarity Worldwide

  I understand that the Foreign Affairs Committee will be discussing the FCO's role in promoting British interests in and relations with countries of the Transcaucasus and Central Asia. I also understand that the Foreign Affairs Committee is planning to visit the region in May 1999.

  In view of these events, may I bring to your attention the tragic conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, which has caused so much suffering for both Armenians and Azeris and continues to affect the lives of Armenians and Azeris. There are a number of issues, which are critical to any consideration of the conflict. I am therefore enclosing an "Update" briefing and a report by an independent member of the House of Lords, both of which might be pertinent to discussions on the Transcaucasus region.

  After reading these documents, it will be apparent that our sympathies are now with the Armenians, especially with those who live in their ancient homeland of Nagorno Karabakh. However, may I emphasise two points:

  First, Baroness Cox, the President of CSW originally visited the region, on behalf of the Andrei Sakharov Conference on Human Rights which was being held in Moscow in May 1991. Lady Cox was accompanied by an international delegation of independent human rights experts. On that occasion, they visited Armenia and met victims of deportations then being carried out by Azerbaijan, in conjunction with Soviet 4th Army troops. They also crossed the border to speak to Azeris to hear their point of view, but felt that they should visit Baku to obtain a more systematic account of Azeri policies regarding Nagorno Karabakh. They subsequently returned to the region, visiting Baku and met the Azeri political leaders. The delegation concluded that there was cause for grave concern over Azerbaijan's policies.

  CSW subsequently returned to the region, visiting Karabakh in January 1992 as Azerbaijan was escalating its military offensives against Armenians of Karabakh. The evidence obtained throughout all subsequent visits has led us to the conclusion that Azerbaijan has been the primary aggressor throughout these tragic years.

  Of course we are concerned for the many Azeris who suffer as a result of the conflict and the continuing political impasse. Indeed, Lady Cox helped to raise the money for one of the humanitarian initiatives carried out by MERLIN (Medical Emergency Relief International) working with Azeri refugees in Azerbaijan.

  However, all the evidence which we have obtained has persuaded us that the Armenians of Karabakh have been the primary victims; that the suffering of Azeri civilians has been largely caused by Azerbaijan's continuing and repeated attempts to try to impose a military solution on the political problems of the status of Karabakh; and that the Armenians of Karabakh can not be expected ever again to accept Azeri sovereignty, given the suffering they have experienced at the hands of the Azeris, not only in recent years but over many decades.

  Azerbaijan has the resources and the freedom to invite many politicians and representatives of the media. Moreover, the development of Azerbaijan's oil industry means that many people with commercial interests are based in Azerbaijan or visit frequently. Thus many people from the international community have the opportunity to hear and to represent the situation in Azerbaijan and the Azeri version of events, both historical and contemporary.

  But the people of Nagorno Karabakh are generally denied the opportunity to show their suffering or to present their case. Consequently, the plight of the people of Karabakh cannot be seen at first hand by most of those people representing the international community whose decisions shape their destiny.

  While it is clear that we have moved from a position of impartiality to a position of advocacy, we wish to assure you that this advocacy is not based on an uncritical commitment to one side of the conflict; it is rooted and grounded in first-hand experience and evidence.

  I would be most grateful for your consideration of this information. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you require further information or wish to discuss these issues with our President, Lady Cox, or myself. We would also be delighted to arrange a meeting with one of the founders and leading figures of the Karabakh independence movement, eminent writer and speaker, Dr Zori Balayan of the Artsakh Committee1, should you be included in the forthcoming visit to Armenia.

March 1999

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