I hope that my contribution has evidenced not only how proud we should be of our ties with Azerbaijan but also the very substantial potential heading forward. During my visit I noticed that society in Azerbaijan

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has become freer and more prosperous since gaining independence more than 20 years ago. The Azeri Government appeared highly enthusiastic about advancing international engagements economically, culturally and politically and I would like the UK to play an active part in this.

7.07 pm

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the British-Armenian All-Party Parliamentary Group and as a recipient of awards from the Governments of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. I have visited the region 78 times, many during the war against 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.

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 the enclave of 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.

I tried to follow the example of Andrei Sakharov, who was committed to being on the side of the victim. Clearly, 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.

It is important to understand that the capture of Azeri territories by Armenians 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. Therefore, continued occupation needs to be understood as a necessary buffer zone in any peace agreement.

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 destabilising 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

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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.

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.

Finally, I refer to Azerbaijan’s disturbing record on human rights, particularly on freedom of the press and religious freedom. Accordingly to an article in Time magazine in April this year:

“Despite Azerbaijan’s post-Soviet economic success, international critics say the country remains an autocracy with little respect for human rights…The Human Rights House Foundation described the country’s most recent elections in 2010 as a farce. Azeri citizens who criticise the political elite face reprisal…Azeri authorities have ignored dozens of assaults on journalists in recent years, including two murders. According to the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, a human rights NGO, about 70 people are in jail for political reasons, where many are allegedly tortured.”.

There have also been frequent reports by Forum 18 of imprisonment of people for their religious beliefs. May I ask the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government have raised these widely-publicised concerns over violations of fundamental human rights with the Government of Azerbaijan? Or does the situation remain as it did on a previous occasion several years ago, when I raised the issue of Azerbaijan’s violation of international human rights conventions when it was dropping cluster bombs on civilians? I was told by a senior representative from the Foreign Office:

“No country has an interest in other countries, only interests—and we have oil interests in Azerbaijan.”.

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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.

7.14 pm

Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as someone who has visited Azerbaijan many times, although not nearly as often as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has visited Armenia. I took an interest in Azerbaijan and Armenia when I was in the European Parliament over 20 years ago and then more recently when I was in the Council of Europe. I was one of those who argued strongly for Azerbaijan and Armenia to join the Council of Europe on the same day, in the hope that by doing so and bringing both in equally, it would lead to a resolution of some of the very sensitive problems that exist. We have heard one extreme example of the problems in that part of the world.

I want to underline very quickly one or two things that have already been mentioned. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, mentioned United Kingdom investment. As he said, 50% of the foreign investment in Azerbaijan is by the United Kingdom—mainly in the energy field, of course. As the noble Lord, Lord Laird, mentioned, we must try to get greater British interest in other aspects of investment in Azerbaijan. I congratulate him on securing this debate.

It is a reflection on not only the present Government but earlier Governments that we as a nation, while so heavily involved financially in Azerbaijan, have never sent anyone more senior than a Minister of State to that country. Yet we find that even in the last two years, some 15 top politicians in Europe have visited Azerbaijan. Among them are the Prime Minister of Turkey—naturally, because Turkey and Azerbaijan have very close connections—but also the Foreign Minister of Germany and the French, Austrian, Czech and Polish Presidents. I could continue. These countries do not have as great an investment nor interest in Azerbaijan as we in the United Kingdom have. When one goes to Baku, it feels like little Scotland because there are so many people there from the oil industry. This is why we should be investing more in Azerbaijan and ensuring that the Prime Minister and Foreign

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Secretary go there in the near future. One thing for which we must pay tribute to the present Foreign Secretary of our nation is that he has been developing contacts with foreign countries right around the world. I would like to see him take a further initiative in Azerbaijan to strengthen the British economic presence there.

As has been mentioned, we need to remember that Azerbaijan is a member of the Security Council of the United Nations and will be an important country over the next two years in terms of foreign affairs. It is a partner of NATO, facilitating what is going on in Afghanistan. However, we must always remember that there are two countries looking very closely at Azerbaijan which could destabilise it. One is Russia and the other is to the south: Iran. When I was there I discovered that Iran is now beginning to influence the mosques in the south of the country, and that is always a threat to stability in a Muslim nation. As for Russia—that pillar of democracy—when I monitored the elections on one of my last visits to Azerbaijan, who had the largest delegation there to ensure that democracy was taking place? Russia. They had even more there than the OSCE or the European Union. That is a warning that these two countries are watching Azerbaijan.

One of my great experiences when I went to Azerbaijan a few years ago was going to the border with Russia near Dagestan. I was monitoring an election in the city of Guba. It is mainly Jewish; I had not realised there were so many Jews living in Azerbaijan. It was a most wonderfully controlled election. The officers in the polling stations were very efficient, and it was a great thing to see in a Muslim nation that Jews were happy and welcomed as equal citizens.

However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned, there is of course the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh. Twenty per cent of Azerbaijan is now occupied by Armenia. It is supported by Russia, which also has troops based in Armenia: do not ignore that fact. The United Kingdom should join the United Nations, NATO, the European Parliament and the European Commission in supporting Azerbaijan’s right to reassume control over its own sovereign territory.

I underline what the noble Lord, Lord Laird, said about the Minsk partners. Every time I look at who they are, I realise that there is no chance of them settling the problem. I was deputy leader of my own party in Parliament when we negotiated the Anglo-Irish agreement. There were three elements to it. One element was Irish-British relations. Another, of which I was in charge, was Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland relations. That was a very difficult subject, just like Armenia and Azerbaijan. You had to have an impartial chairman to succeed. Once we have the Minsk process we do not have an impartial organisation. I am sorry to say that it is biased in favour of Armenia.

I am not asking the Minister to reply to any questions tonight. I must apologise because I have to leave quickly. I have a meeting arranged with Christians and Muslims of the Middle East at 7.30 pm. However, one thing we need to look at is how to get someone impartial to help Azerbaijan and Armenia reach a

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settlement over this very difficult subject of Nagorno-Karabakh, which could explode and destroy stability in that whole region if it is not handled carefully. One thing I ask of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is that we join together in opposition to Azerbaijan when it next plays Northern Ireland in the football.

7.21 pm

Lord German: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to underline a couple of the points which have been made in this debate. I declare my interest. I have been to Azerbaijan this year, supported by the European Azerbaijan Society. One of the things that has clearly come out of this debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, is the huge amount of foreign direct investment that the UK has in that country. What needs underlining is the potential for more. It is a country which has enormous amounts of regeneration prospects and the opportunity for other forms of investment from UK companies. I am afraid that we may be losing out to others, particularly Germany, which is seeking to do better and bigger business there as well.

In his winding up, will the Minister agree that we need a high-level trade delegation from this country led by a senior Minister to promote those new opportunities? After all, this country needs more opportunity to trade, to invest and to gain funding for this country.

The second issue that needs underlining underpinned some of our discussion. The amount of trade and investment that we have enables this country to be a critical friend of Azerbaijan. After all, we must recognise that it is not a perfect democracy—perhaps not even ours is a perfect democracy. It has had 21 years of existence since its life within the Soviet Union but it takes a huge amount of time to make the changes to reach a full democratic status. It is a country leaning towards that and it wants to achieve it.

As a critical friend, it seems that that is a role that the UK is well established to play. I regard investment in human rights and investment in justice systems as a crucial part of that journey, which I think this country wants to move on to. I suggest that justice systems’ support, supporting alternative measures and ways of approaching public order issues are things that this country can achieve. I believe that it is much better to support that from within than to try to complain from without.

We are in a unique position to influence the way in which Azerbaijan moves forward. It wants to move forward in a direction to which this country is sympathetic and I believe that we can undertake that. I have met Opposition MPs in Azerbaijan who have a role in human rights and say that they need support and help. They are not overcritical of the way in which their Government behave but they need the extra help that this Government could provide in the way of support. They need support for a free and open media. They have Opposition-leaning newspapers but we can provide more assistance in that direction.

In summing up, I hope that the Minister will give reassurance to noble Lords that we will be a critical but supportive friend working from within.

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7.25 pm

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Laird, for giving us the opportunity to have this discussion. The debate illustrates the difficulties faced by the United Kingdom in balancing, on the one hand, a complex set of concerns which do not always sit comfortably together and, on the other, a very small capability as a single sovereign nation to influence the trajectory of the region. The issues concern us, but it may be more realistic to recognise that it is our work through the European Union and NATO that is likely to have the greatest impact on the country and the region.

I am obviously aware, as noble Lords have been throughout the debate, of the struggles for independence that have taken place in Azerbaijan and the region more generally. I emphasise that history because it appears to me that it is shared to a greater or lesser extent by the whole region. Independence has been fought for in many ways and with diverse allies, each with their own motivations. At the moment, at the heart of all these struggles, one can see the assertion of national identity, but it is based on some very different premises—some national, some subnational, some regional, some ethnic, some religious—in their identity. It is perhaps unsurprising that deep fault lines have appeared and will continue to appear, making it difficult to find simple solutions.

For those reasons, the previous United Kingdom Government and, I believe, the current one, have been consistently concerned about the dangers inherent in conflicts between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territories, the question of the ethnic Armenians in the enclave and the alliances which have been formed around them. What does the Minister believe are the still current and useful bases of the Madrid principles and the work being done by the Minsk group? Do the Government believe that we can achieve a withdrawal of remaining Armenian forces from the country? How do they see the demilitarisation programme? How do they see the deployment of international peacekeepers? What are the prospects for reconstruction and the return of displaced Azerbaijanis? What programme do the Government have? If that programme is a European one, I make no criticism of that whatever; it may be the right way to go.

As I suggested, this is by no means the only fragile regional problem. The breakaway republics in Georgia, which have been supported by Russia, plainly in response to Georgia’s potential closeness to NATO, have created ongoing tension. David Miliband in another place was right in my view to describe Russia’s actions as aggression. The United Kingdom has been right to call for respect for Georgia and for its territorial integrity under international law. I should like to know that the Government still adhere to that position. Georgia is entitled to know that it retains our broad support. I do not for a moment underestimate the difficulties that would occur in discussing any future developments moving closer to NATO that would occur with Russia but, none the less, I am keen to know what the character of those discussions might be.

Several noble Lords made the point that visits to the region in general, including to Azerbaijan, by

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prominent politicians give signals. The first signal is one in the interests of the future of the country but it is also an opportunity—Hillary Clinton took that opportunity on 6 June 2012—to give signals about our expectations for a more normal and generous attitude to human rights, as well as to trade opportunities. Of course, there are signals being given all the time by Europe and by the United States; it may very well be that we can add to those. All speakers in this debate will appreciate the importance of energy supplies but, while we cannot ignore that, we need to place it in a context. The impact of having alternative sources of energy supplies to those provided by Russia unquestionably increases the prospects for energy security throughout Europe. I entirely see the arguments for developing the links and the commercial possibilities that BP and others have produced—not just in the extraction of oil and gas but in the construction of the pipelines. All of these are important economic developments.

In the last few moments that I have, I suggest that these interests should not for ever silence us to the issue of the poor human rights records in Azerbaijan. When one looks at how the wealth that has been generated has underpinned the power of just one political entity in Azerbaijan, it should concern us a great deal. The country is rated as not free by international indices; it has a number of political prisoners; its TV channels are controlled by the Government; its journalists are routinely threatened and, of 178 nations ranked in the 2011-12 press freedom index from Reporters Without Borders, the country ranks 162nd. The political opposition has all but been eliminated.

I therefore ask whether the Government have a view on whether the economic measures we have taken through the European Union and the discussions about the potential for NATO membership are, in themselves, having any kind of impact on a recognition of the need for human rights and democracy in that country. Like others, I do not say that out of a spirit of hostility but rather to make this point. If we believe that our influence has been significant, and significant through international bodies including the EU and NATO, how are we making sure that that influence is beginning to change what I believe is a human rights record which needs urgent attention?

7.32 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for this interesting debate. I am constantly struck by how much diverse expertise we have in this House on the many countries around the world. I can recall the questions that were asked some months ago on the Georgian Government’s reform of public services by a number of Peers who had just returned from Georgia. I recall my first visit to Yerevan in 1995, when the key lady on the floor of the hotel where I was staying said to me, in hushed tones, that I was staying in the very same room that Caroline Cox—the noble Baroness, Lady Cox—had stayed in some months before. I recall some years later in Abkhazia, with Anna Politkovskaya and a number of other journalists, meeting the Foreign Minister of what seemed to me that benighted and unrecognised country. His last

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words to me as I turned to leave were: “May I ask you, when you return to London, to please give my best regards to Lord Avebury?”.

We all recognise that there are many comings and goings. I enjoyed the pictures on the web that I looked at this morning of the noble Lords, Lord Laird and Lord Kilclooney, on their most recent visit to Azerbaijan. If I may make just one partisan point: when noble Lords demand that Ministers should travel more often and then demand that Ministers are always here at short notice to answer debates, it should be recognised that this coalition Government have visited more countries with more senior Ministers than our predecessors but that the demands of Parliament are one of the things that hold us all back.

The coalition Government are of course keen to promote Britain’s security and prosperity and, at the same time, to influence the Governments with whom we deal to improve the quality of their rule of law, human rights and democracy. None of the three countries in the Caucuses is yet a fully-fledged democracy. All of them have had problems with media freedom and media ownership; all have had problems with the rule of law. We are extremely happy that Georgia has just had an election which was ruled by most observers to be free and fair, and in which there has been a democratic change of Government from one party to another. Azerbaijan has not yet reached that stage, nor is there a fully-fledged opposition in Azerbaijan, but there was not one in George until relatively recently. Armenia has elections next year, which we very much hope will be up to the standard of being assessed as free and fair.

We are working across the region with our partners in the EU, the Council of Europe and the OSCE. I should say to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that our assessment of the EU’s mission is that it is there to strengthen the stability of our neighbourhood. The basis of the European neighbourhood policy—the eastern partnership is part of this—is that we export security or we import insecurity. It is much better to export security. There is no more expansionist mission than that. I have visited Georgia on a number of occasions and talked to the EU and OSCE representatives there, and that is very much what they are attempting to do. He commented that the relationship between Russia and Georgia is very similar to that between Britain and Ireland. I did once say in a discussion in Moscow that it seemed to me that the attitude that the Russians—with whom I was talking—had towards Georgia was very similar to that which the British had towards the Catholic Irish in the middle of the 19th century. That is part of the problem of accepting that these are countries which are entitled to their independence and to be treated as equal partners. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who complained about the Azeris acquiring weapons in large quantities from others, that the Russians sell weapons to Azerbaijan and to Armenia. That is one of the problems in trying to resolve that frozen conflict.

We are, as several noble Lords have remarked, the largest foreign investor in Azerbaijan—primarily in the oil industry, but also now spreading to the retail sector and others. I recognise that several noble Lords have commented that they would very much like to see

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a senior Minister going there. As we speak, the Minister for Culture, Ed Vaizey, is in Baku attending the internet governance forum. The Prime Minister has met the Azerbaijani President twice in the last six months. Other Ministers have visited the country. There are at the present moment no plans for a Cabinet Minister to visit in the near future, but such plans are kept fully under review. I had the great pleasure last night of speaking at the Iraqi-British business commission with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, who was, as always, fully up to speed. It is not simply a matter for the Government: I encourage all noble Lords to be as actively engaged as possible in encouraging further British investment and trade with all these developing countries.

Why are we interested in the region? Of course for all these connections; the transit of oil and gas to Europe via a southern energy corridor is of considerable importance to Europe’s energy security as a whole. The region is important to us in terms of security, and is one of the many transit routes to Afghanistan. Noble Lords have mentioned that Iran is also a neighbour and that the sanctions on Iran have led to an increased Iranian interest in both Azerbaijan and Georgia. The Azeris are always conscious that there are more Azeris living in Iran than in Azerbaijan itself and that to go to Nakhchivan you have to go partly through Iran.

However, our common security means that we are engaged with the region. All three countries have contributed to the ISAF in Afghanistan. There are now two Georgian battalions in Helmand, taking over some tasks from the US Marine Corps and thus actively assisting the British forces in that region. The Eastern Partnership sees this as a collective Western relationship with the region. Georgia is the country which has most openly declared its intentions of joining both the European Union and NATO. This is a long-term process, but deeper relationships are currently being negotiated with Armenia and Georgia, and a deep and comprehensive free-trade area, to use the EU jargon, is now under way in terms of negotiation with both these countries.

We have also talked about the frozen conflicts. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, what happened across Georgia and between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and in a number of other areas as the Soviet Union broke up, were some very bloody and disorderly conflicts, which have left us with what we have now. There were faults on all sides. Let us also touch on what happened in Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine. We are left, however, with the enormous problem of the Nagorno-Karabakh and with people on both sides of this ethnic conflict who feel deeply aggrieved at each other.

The Minsk process has failed yet to make much progress. We do, however, have only that process to work with. The United Kingdom, which is not a member of the Minsk group, continues to support the Minsk process, difficult as it is. We cannot entirely get rid, for example, of Russia as a major player in all this. Therefore, to rebuild a group which would attempt to negotiate without Russia would not be particularly helpful. If we were to invite China to adjudicate, I am sure that the Chinese Government would be much

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more impartial than the current chairs of the Minsk group but they might not necessarily be that much more helpful.

The British Government are putting in a certain amount of money themselves in terms of supporting NGOs, British and others, within Azerbaijan and across the region. We also support what the EU is doing in terms of promoting human rights and the rule of law. Of course, we invest as well. We would love the Azeris to fund what we do but we have, across the whole of eastern Europe, invested heavily, as we now are also doing in north Africa, in rule of law missions, in improving the capability of political parties to take part in elections and in looking at the administration of elections. That is very much how we see our democratic mission.

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To wind up, we are committed to this region because it is part of the wider European neighbourhood. We are committed with our European partners because we share common interests. We are committed as a country that is an active exporter to compete with our European partners—the Germans, the French and others—for business and investment in the region. So we have a mixture of interests in which we recognise the growing importance of Azerbaijan, the importance of the Caucasus as a whole to our future energy security and the importance of helping the Caucasus to become more stable, more prosperous and more democratic for the peace of that region and of our broader region as a whole.

Committee adjourned at 7.44 pm.