Ambassador Mkrtchyan: Nagorno-Karabakh doesn't cease to exist

Tigran Mkrtchyan

Tigran Mkrtchyan, Ambassador of Armenia to Greece, in an interview with CNN Greece stressed, among other things, that the ethnic governance of Nagorno-Karabakh, has only "for some time" ceased to exist following Azerbaijan's ethnic cleansing of the region in September.

See the full interview:

CNN Greece: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for this interview and for having us here. Thank you. Thanks for the invitation to have an interview. So, Nagorno-Karabakh will cease to exist from the start of next year. Do you think the Nagorno-Karabakh case is over for Armenia?

Ambassador Mkrtchyan: Nagorno-Karabakh doesn't cease to exist; Nagorno-Karabakh Administration or the governance in Nagorno-Karabakh ceases to exist. The Armenian governance of or Armenian existence in Nagorno-Karabakh has, for some time, ceased to exist.

But the conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh is not over as such because there are several issues emanating from the end of the last violence. You know, as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh people are a compact unit entity in Armenia, there are more than 100,000 refugees who were forcefully displaced from their homes, the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh is not considered solved.

This is what the Azerbaijanis would like to imagine: that there are not the people in Nagorno-Karabakh, therefore, there is not a conflict. But this is a simplistic way of understanding the situation. There are a lot of issues emanating from this situation.

The right of return of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians, their right to their properties, which the Azerbaijanis are trying to quickly get rid of as much as possible. The crimes that have been committed against many of them, for example. The cultural rights of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian cultural heritage, which is richly endowed within Nagorno-Karabakh.

Unfortunately, Azerbaijan is trying to either distort the essence of this Armenian heritage or to destroy some of them. For example, we have evidence also, and these are all horrible crimes, and they need to be taken under international review, under international control as soon as possible.

UNESCO, for example, on account of cultural heritage, needs to step in as soon as possible. The rights of the Nagorno-Karabakh people need to be taken under the protection of the UN, for example, as soon as possible. International safe guarantees for their return should be ensured, and for this, the international community needs, together with Armenia, of course, we need to exert a lot of sort of pressure or incentives so that Azerbaijan would eventually agree to restore their rights in their homelands.

Also, of course, the war crimes that have been committed against the Nagorno-Karabakh people by the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan need to be transparently and internationally investigated. Also, the return of the prisoners of war and also the leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh, former leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh.

They are treated as if they are ‘terrorists’ by Azerbaijan, but this is, of course, you know, these are sham trials that they have started, and this is a shame for the entire international community.

CNN Greece: Almost all ethnic Armenians have fled Nagorno-Karabakh, despite Baku's assurances of their safety and equal treatment as citizens. Do you think Azerbaijan denounces ethnic cleansing? What do you think Azerbaijan intends to do in the area?

Ambassador Mkrtchyan: You just need to look at another Armenian region called Nakhijevan, which 100 years ago contained a lot of Armenian population, a huge amount of Armenian population. Almost half of the population of Nakhijevan was Armenian.

If the international community doesn't act after all, wake up, you know, doesn't alert Azerbaijan that it's not going to tolerate the repetition of what happened in Nakhijevan to Nagorno-Karabakh, unfortunately, we may see a similar scenario developing in the coming decades. I'm not talking about the coming year or two; this will be slower but consistent.

You know, consistent cleansing of Armenian traces. So, what Azerbaijan intends to do is clear: it's getting rid of Armenians first and then the Armenian traces. And the signals, despite, you said, despite the assurances of the safety of Armenians, etc.

You know, despite the assurances, on the one hand, and then on the other hand, you see the fist-waving, Hitler-style fist-waving of Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan, talking about Armenians as if they are dogs. You know, this is all reminding of fascist leaders' behavior.

The horrible mutilations and war crimes committed by their soldiers and none of them has ever been punished. None.

And just recently, we learned that one of the streets in Stepanakert, the Nagorno-Karabakh capital, has been named after Enver Pasha, who was one of the three main organizers of the Armenian Genocide. The signals and the symbols that are referred to do not tell anything good about Armenians' safety in the area.

CNN Greece: Russia had a decisive role in the peacekeeping agreements. Do you think Russia did not follow a balanced approach in the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan? And why do you think the international community did not react as strongly as in the case of Ukraine, for example?

Ambassador Mkrtchyan: The international community acted too late and too little. The reasons for that, of course, were a lot of propaganda ground prepared by Azerbaijan in various countries, working with the media, with certain politicians, backed by, of course, Turkey's support, to silence or minimize the interference and the reaction.

On the other hand, a lot of people forget that Azerbaijan is, as Freedom House characterizes it, a consolidated authoritarian regime where there is no free media, there is no freedom of expression, etc. They do not allow free media to access Azerbaijan and go and shoot any video wherever they want. This is impossible; it's excluded. For 9 months during the Karabakh conflict, not a single journalist was allowed to enter—foreign journalist, Armenian journalist, nobody was allowed to enter. Not even international organizations were allowed to enter, apart from the Red Cross.

As for Russia, I cannot comment on whether they were balanced or not. What I can say for sure is that on the Lachin Corridor, for example, when the blockade was imposed, and this was under the care of, according to the November 9th, 2020, ceasefire statement, the Lachin Corridor was under the care of Russian peacekeepers. Azerbaijan succeeded in imposing and putting a checkpoint there, and the Russian peacekeepers failed to stop this.

So, this is a clear case that the November 9th statement was violated, and Russia was unable to stop it. So, we can bring a lot of versions of why Russians did not intervene, but the fact is on the ground that they were unable to stop it.

On the other hand, you know, the latest attack also happened in the areas which were under the care of Russian peacekeepers, and they again failed to ensure the security and safety of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians.

So, there are legitimate fears that Russia, unfortunately, was unable to make sure that the November 9th statement from 2020 would stay in force.

CNN Greece: Unfortunately, there are analyses and fears that Azerbaijan will claim more territory from Armenia. Are these fears justified? What is your comment on these kinds of talks?

Ambassador Mkrtchyan: These kinds of talks may continue unless there is a robust and very resilient response from the international community. At least on the level of a statement, I can certainly say that some of our partners have been very clearly sending messages to Azerbaijan and Turkey that the territorial integrity of Armenia cannot be violated.

There has been such support expressed from our Western partners, for sure, but this needs to be sustained in the long term. More international presence probably needs to be provided there. Also, the Armenian defence capacities and security sector need to be enhanced as soon as possible because Armenia must itself be capable of defending its own territories.

This is clear, but of course, this needs to be done in cooperation with our partners.

CNN Greece: There is an agreement with Russia that it will protect Armenia in case of an external attack. How safe do you feel after the late events in Nagorno-Karabakh?

Ambassador Mkrtchyan: Well, in 2020 during the 44 Days War, there were also attacks on the sovereign territory of Armenia. And then right now, just after that, there were incursions into the territory of Armenia proper.

And also in September 2022, the latest incursion into Armenia. Altogether, more than 150 square kilometers of Armenian sovereign territory has been occupied by Azerbaijan. This is accepted by almost every partner of ours.

The EU, clearly, the EU foreign affairs representative, responsible for foreign affairs, Mr. Borrell, he clearly accepted that it's an occupation of Armenian sovereign territory. So, despite that, we saw that the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a member of which is the leading member, Russia, was unable to give clear assessments about these violations of the sovereign territory of Armenia. So, this raised a lot of eyebrows in Yerevan, and not only Yerevan.

Very clearly, there are Soviet administrative borders, and these administrative borders on which ground we have agreed with Azerbaijan to proceed in terms of negotiations in the limitation and delineation of the borders. T

his cannot work if we don't have a minimal understanding of what the borders are. We clearly have what the minimal understanding of these borders are.

CNN Greece: What would you expect from the European Union and Greece?

Ambassador Mkrtchyan: With Greece, we have had intense cooperation, in terms of political and diplomatic cooperation. Greece is supporting Armenia in most international organizations that we are members of, both of us are members.

But not only in those organizations, but also in organizations where only Greece is a member. We know that Greece is supporting Armenia. This support needs to get more backing from the other members, and potential disruptors of this support need to be explained and approached.

The EU needs to be as present in Armenia as it is strategically important, and it is as strategically important as ever.

We don't need Europe to exaggerate the strategic importance of Azerbaijan. The actions of Azerbaijan, as you depicted, have been characterized as ethnic cleansing.

Some genocide scholars put this within the definitions of the Genocide Convention, basically that this was a genocidal act. What happened in Nagorno-Karabakh?

So, Greece can help us with support in international organizations, but also bilaterally. Various agencies of Greece have expressed readiness to support Armenia, and we are in close contact with the government of Greece on how to facilitate this support.

In the short term, we don't think that accepting refugees is necessary because we do not want the refugees to get dispersed throughout the world. Their rights need to be addressed, and with the hope, even if it may not seem realistic right now, at least in the near future, their rights need to be restored, and they need to return to their homes.

Therefore, with great gratefulness to the country expressing readiness to admit refugees, we do not want to encourage this process. Other than that, Greece-Armenia relations can and will be enhanced, and we hope that at some point, we will reach a strategic partnership. This is something we are aiming at.

CNN Greece: Okay, thank you very much for this interview.

Ambassador Mkrtchyan: Thank you.

See the video:

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