If Azeri MPs are sincere, they should resolve this issue immediately – Euronest PA Co-Chair on Armenian POWs
YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 24, ARMENPRESS. Co-Chair of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly Andrius Kubilius says if Azerbaijan’s statements for peace and stability in the region are really a sincere wish, then they must resolve the issue of the return of Armenian POWs immediately.
Co-Chair of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, MEP Andrius Kubilius, who is also a former Prime Minister of Lithuania, was in Armenia these days within the frames of the sessions of the Bureau and committees of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.
He gave an interview to ARMENPRESS, talking about the Armenia-EU relations, the achievements of Armenia in the fight against corruption and other topics.
-Mr. Kubilius, the sessions of the Bureau and the Committees of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly were held in Yerevan. How would you assess the sessions, and what important issues did you discuss?
-First of all it’s pleasure to come to Yerevan and thanks to hospitality of Armenian delegation which was responsible to organize these sessions. Secondly, this was the first session after almost two years, it’s the first session personal, not anymore online. That’s again was pleasure to enjoy that moment in Yerevan. On content, well, first of all, committees were discussing some very important reports on energy, security, on Green Deal which is important topic for all the European Union. Of course, we were also discussing quite deeply the geopolitical security in South Caucasus, and also the recent developments, the Russian aggression against Ukraine. And we approved a special statement on that, from one side with a very critical language on what Kremlin is doing, what President Putin is doing, threatening the sovereignty of Ukraine, from another side what we as an EU need to do in order to strengthen Ukraine. So these were the most important topics which we were discussing in Yerevan.
-You are the Co-Chair of an organization whose members are both Armenia and Azerbaijan. What role can the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly play in promoting stability in our region and also why not resolving the conflict?
-Well, first of all, of course, we are a parliamentary assembly. So it’s more a body which can discuss some issues, can recommend what kind of solutions should be adopted either by the national governments or by the European institutions. But we are not a body implementing any kind of decision. So what was important here in Yerevan it was that we had also a delegation from Azerbaijan. We discussed South Caucasus issues, we invited prominent exerts both from Armenia and Azerbaijan to make an overview of the whole situation and what is the future options, and then we discussed among ourselves. Of course, still there are quite painful issues to be resolved, but I hope that really what we can call normalization of situation both in the relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan and between Armenia and Turkey can proceed. I am very happy that during the last Eastern Partnership Summit in the middle of December in Brussels President of the European Council Charles Michel invited and organized an informal conversation between Prime Minister Pashinyan and President Aliyev. As I was informed, it took something like five hours, and it looks like that it was a rational conversation. Of course, it’s very difficult to avoid emotions in such situation, but rationality is what can bring stability and peace. So there are different issues which need to be resolved, like border demarcation, opening of interconnectivity, railways, roads and so on. Those are very important practical issues which need to be pushed forward. And I hope all the sides in this very important region will look for the possibilities how to create those opportunities. That is our vision, EU can play here an important role being and offering some kind of platform for discussion, and that is what Euronest Parliamentary Assembly is doing. We are a good platform to discuss. Sometimes the discussions are emotional, sometimes angry. In any case, we are not only looking into the past, but also into the future. I think Armenia can tell the success stories much more widely not only for the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, but also for the European Parliament. I was joking that Armenians are very good at keeping their achievements as very deep secret. For example, what Armenia achieved in fighting corruption during recent years, that is something remarkable and that is not very well known in Europe. And that is what other Eastern Partnership countries should learn from Armenia how to achieve such a result. So that is what Euronest Parliamentary Assembly helps us both to learn about your achievements and also to offer some kind of platform for dialogue. And that is much needed exactly both for the stability and peace in the region.
-In your article “Transcaucasia: the Armenian Dilemma”, in which you also referred to the 2nd war of Nagorno Karabakh, you also mentioned the genocide committed against the Armenian nation. Here is a quote: “The most prominent details here are the genocide towards the Armenian nation and the location leading to dangerous geopolitical neighbourhood”. In other words, can we describe the 2nd Karabakh war as an act of genocide committed against the Armenian nation?
-Well, I think your quote maybe is not in the precise way.
-I just quoted a little part.
-I was saying that that is a very painful history of Armenia, that you faced also a genocide, which, for example, Lithuania recognized. That was during the First World War, that is a tragedy that we need to have in mind. That very much impacts your mentality, your way of thinking. But also I was saying in that article that after the 2nd Karabakh war, which really was a tragedy and catastrophe and so on, I was saying that Armenians need to look more deeply into their history, achievements and problems and to try to have some kind of a review of the national strategy. I was quoting very well-known book of American historian Jared Diamond “Upheaval”. Here he was exactly telling the stories of perhaps 7 or 6 big countries which in their history faced something like national catastrophe, and then they managed to review their own strategic vision on how the country should recover from that tragedy and how the country should move into future, changing their positions and strategy, and so on.
-1.5 year has passed since the end of the 2nd Karabakh war, but Azerbaijan still continues holding the Armenian prisoners of war. There is evidence on torture against the POWs. What role can the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, whose member is also Azerbaijan, play in forcing Azerbaijan to return the Armenian POWs? How do you and also the Parliamentary Assembly assess such behavior of Azerbaijan?
-Well, of course, we are concerned about some of those human rights violations, no matter who is doing it. That’s our concern always. I would say definitely that in building stability and peace first of all trust should be brought back in between neighbors. It’s difficult, your history is a very complicated history, it’s difficult to advice something. But first of all what is very much needed is an open dialogue. And that is when the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly can provide that dialogue to allow both members of the parliaments of Armenia and Azerbaijan to talk, to explain each other all the complaints, to have some kind of exchange of opinions. We can be those who are listening to both sides, and if one of the sides is doing some kind of a mistake or misbehavior, or crime against human rights, we can clearly state our opinion. But I will repeat again and again, and I was talking to the Armenian delegates, the members of the parliament of Armenia that you should try to engage much more intensively with European institutions, with European Parliament. We see Armenian members of parliament not so often. I was telling to colleagues from the Armenian parliament that they should learn for example from the Georgian and Ukrainian parliamentarians who have a good tradition to visit Brussels and Strasbourg much more often to speak to parliaments, to tell both achievements and problems. That is what will help first of all the European institutions to understand much better all those facts which you are saying. Secondly, it would be a possibility for Armenians to talk not only about the problems, which really are very huge, but also about those achievements which I was saying. You are the country which managed to achieve remarkable results in fighting corruption. The Transparency International showed that most rapid improvement among the 180 countries is what Armenia managed to achieve during the last four years. And second, you managed to show that you have very mature and very deep democracy. Despite all the tragedy of the war, your people again voted and gave a new mandate to the government which in some way lost the war. It’s a very rare occasion when people after such a national tragedy would again give a new mandate to the government in such a situation. I think you should tell the whole story to Europeans.
-I would like to hear your opinion, how do you assess this behavior of Azerbaijan as it is still holding the Armenian POWs.
-I think this is a big mistake. I hear from Azerbaijani members of parliament that they will like to work for peace and stability in the region. So if that is really a sincere wish from the Azerbaijani side, then they should resolve that problem, that issue immediately.
-I would like also to talk about the relations between Armenia and the European Union. You know that last year the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement came into force. In what spheres do you see potential for deepening the partnership between the two sides and how?
-One thing is agreement which is important, and second, what is really important also not only the formal relationships, but also everything that creates better understanding, people to people relations, political relationship in between political parties. That is what I would like Armenians to be more active in that area, and members of parliament, experts should come to Brussels much more often, to different institutions, to the European Parliament, first of all to tell us the stories of your success, and also to talk about the problems, issues and challenges. Challenges in this part of Europe and in eastern part of Europe are really becoming quite big ones. We see what authorities in Russia are doing, that will continue, we need to be ready for whatever developments, and that is when the relationship between Armenia and the European Union can be of a very great value.
One of the topics which we are pushing forward, not only speaking about Armenia, but also about other Eastern Partnership countries, especially those who have an Association Agreement, a Free Trade Agreement, like Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, the so-called Trio countries. So now under all the threats which we see in the region, we are pushing that EU should engage with those Trio countries much more in more accelerated integration towards EU. And first of all, we are talking about integration to single market, which is economical integration. I think for Armenia it would be also beneficial to look into some spheres where that integration could go forward. We know that you have different relationships with the EU, if to compare with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, but there are areas where that cooperation can be pushed forward. Second, definitely I think that you should demand what you can get from European Union, much more speedy developments on visa free regime for Armenians. As I understand, some member states still are reluctant to open that possibility which is open for Georgians, Moldavians and Ukrainians. And I think that it would be really important and very good also that such a possibility will be given to Armenians. That is what we can try to push both Armenians and us, the European parliament, the friends of Armenia, what we can try to achieve.
-As you are from Lithuania, in what spheres do you see a potential for cooperation between Armenia and Lithuania?
-I haven’t looked very much into some kind of specific relationship issues, but again we can be of assistance, help, in bringing more of a relationship in between Armenia and the European Union. We can assist with our experts in different spheres, bringing some knowledge of European type of reforms could be made here in Armenia. I know that our experts were quite intensively involved for example into police reforms, which, as I understand, you managed to implement and also are giving good results. In other spheres also, reforms could be in medical sector, healthcare sector and economy. We can be really of assistance in bringing not only the Lithuanian knowledge, but also the European knowledge. And I would again speak about not only about the formal relationships, but also about the relations between peoples, political parties. That is very important. In Vilnius we know what a good kitchen you have, and what good wines you have.
-In the end, what impressions did you manage to get from Armenia?
-Well, my impression, first of all, is very simple. I would like to come back here as soon as possible and for a longer period of time, and without maybe political agenda, but just to enjoy your very nice country, very nice people. I had no possibility to see anything more, just spend my time in Yerevan, but I liked it very much.
Interview by Anna Grigoryan
Photos by Gevorg Perkuperkyan
Cameraman Hovhannes Mkrtchyan