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4th Dec 2023

EU and US urge Azerbijan to allow aid access to Armenians

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The EU and US have urged Azerbaijan to give aid groups more access to ethnic Armenians, as tens of thousands flee the conflict zone.

"The EU stressed the need for transparency and access for international humanitarian and human rights actors and for more detail on Baku's vision for Karabakh Armenians' future in Azerbaijan," the EU Council president, Charles Michel, said in a statement on Tuesday (26 September).

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Michel spoke after hosting talks between Armenian security council chief Armen Grigoryan and Azeri presidential aide Hikmet Hajiyev in Brussels.

The meeting included aides to French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Olaf Scholz, in a novel format.

They discussed the "urgent needs of the local population" in the Nagorno-Karabakh region — an ethnic Armenian exclave in Azerbaijan, which Azerbaijan reconquered last week as Russian peacekeepers stood idly by.

The EU-led talks also spoke of the possibility that Armenian and Azeri leaders would meet on the sidelines of an EU summit in Granada, Spain, on 5 October.

The EU has unarmed civilian monitors on the Armenian side of the border but no soldiers in the region.

The European Commission had also cozied up to Baku for more gas sales to the EU in the run-up to the latest hostilities, prompting sharp rebukes by MEPs.

On the US side, Samantha Power, the head of the US Agency for International Development, speaking in Yerevan also on Tuesday urged Azerbaijan to "maintain the ceasefire and take concrete steps to protect the rights of civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh."

"It is absolutely critical that independent monitors as well as humanitarian organisations get access to the people in Nagorno-Karabakh," she said, according to Reuters.

"We have heard very troubling reports of violence against civilians. At the same time given the chaos here and the trauma, the gathering of testimonies ... of the people who have come across is something that is just beginning," she added.

More than 19,000 ethnic Armenians out of 120,000 or so who lived there have already fled Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia proper in recent days.

And the exodus is growing, with media reports of a 100km-long traffic jam of refugee vehicles snaking toward the Armenian border.

Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev had promised them full rights as Azeri citizens if they stayed, but few appeared to believe him, given his long record of anti-Armenian aggression and propaganda.

Speaking to MEPs last week, the EU foreign service's Russia director Luc Devigne, said Russian peacekeepers had waved through Azeri forces during the brief combat operations because Russia wanted to punish Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan for making overtures to the West.

And the resulting refugee flow risked destabilising Pashinyan's pro-Western government, giving Russia the opportunity to install a pro-Russian figure in his place, Devigne warned.

Pashinyan doubled down on his pivot to the West on Sunday, however.

"The systems of external security in which Armenia is involved are ineffective when it comes to the protection of our security and Armenia's national interests," he said, referring to Armenia's former reliance on Russia as a security guarantor under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

Armenia should also join the International Criminal Court (ICC), he added, making it a potential no-go zone for Russian president Vladimir Putin, for whom the ICC has issued an arrest warrant due to his war on Ukraine.

In reply, the Russian foreign ministry said Monday Pashinyan was trying to distract people from his alleged "failures in domestic and foreign policy by shifting the blame to Moscow".

He had "shied away from working in rhythm with Russia and Azerbaijan and instead had run to the West", it added.

Pashinyan came to power in a peaceful revolution in 2018 that resembled the so-called Rose, Orange, and Tulip uprisings in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan some 20 years ago, which the Kremlin has always blamed on Western intrigue.

The Armenian leader has already faced mass protests in Yerevan over his Nagorno-Karabakh defeat.

But Russia said: "The head of the Armenian government should be well aware that Moscow does not get involved in such things [fomenting opposition protests] — unlike the West, which is pretty adept at organising 'colour revolutions'."

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