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Armenia and Azerbaijan

Volume 824: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2022

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Azerbaijan regarding (1) recent military offensives inside Armenia, and (2) that government’s failure to release Armenian prisoners of war and hostages under the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire agreement.

My Lords, on 13 September, following fighting along the Azerbaijan/Armenia international border, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Azerbaijan spoke to President Aliyev. Further, the Minister for Europe, my honourable friend Leo Docherty MP, spoke to Armenian Foreign Minister Mirzoyan and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Bayramov on 15 and 17 September respectively. In these engagements, we urged de-escalation and a return to peaceful negotiations.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his encouraging reply, but I point out that I have visited Armenia twice this year and witnessed the pain inflicted on Armenians by Azerbaijan with impunity, including failure to fulfil its commitment in the 2020 ceasefire agreement to release all prisoners. Whereas Armenia released all Azeri prisoners, Azerbaijan recently confirmed holding at least 33 Armenian captives, including three civilians, and several hundred Armenians are still missing, with Azerbaijan refusing to allow Armenia to retrieve its dead from the occupied territories. There is recent video footage showing the maltreatment, torture and slaughter of Armenian prisoners. What significant initiatives have been or are being taken by the UK Government to call Azerbaijan to account?

My Lords, first, I acknowledge the noble Baroness’s work in this area and in bringing these issues to your Lordships’ House. I assure her that in our most recent engagements directly with the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister the issue of the return of all prisoners of war was raised again, as well as the remains of those who are deceased. I assure her of my good offices, of those of others within the FCDO and of the ambassador to continue to do so. On the wider issue, we continue to work with our key partners, including at the OSCE, to call for calm, peace, de-escalation and, one hopes in time, a restoration of relations between those two countries.

My Lords, the recent border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan highlight the urgent need to accelerate the EU-led peace and normalisation process between those two countries. Does the Minister agree that to achieve a sustainable solution to all the remaining issues and fully normalise the relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a comprehensive peace agreement needs to be in place? Furthermore, can the Minister reaffirm the British Government’s support for the EU-led mediation efforts between the two countries?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord on both fronts and of course, ultimately, we need a political settlement. We are fully supportive of the EU as well as the OSCE.

My Lords, negotiations are of course key, but are solutions made more complicated by the promotion of disharmony, particularly when the UK has no real leverage to bear on this quagmire? Doing so is counterintuitive, restricting the ability of Armenia to attract direct inward investment.

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Viscount on the UK’s position. We are active in our engagement with our EU partners, but we are also central to, and support, the efforts of the OSCE. In terms of stability and security, we need peace between those two countries, which will see the resumption of inward investment, boosting the economies of both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The Government’s efforts to de-escalate are certainly welcome, as are their efforts to work with the EU and the civilian mission that will go there. One of the advantages of the Minister’s longevity in post is that he will remember my repeated questions to him about Russian involvement in this area. What is the Government’s assessment of this, and what is being done to ensure that Russia does not provoke even more violence than it already has?

On the noble Lord’s first point, time shall tell. On the more substantive point of Russia’s role, we have been very clear, and I appreciate His Majesty’s Opposition’s strong support for the position on Russia. Russia is playing a particular role in the region, between those two countries. We have made no attempts to engage with Russia—we are very clear on this issue—while other partners do so. The important role for Russia, or anyone else mediating or keeping the peace, is to do exactly that.

My Lords, I strongly endorse what my noble friend said about the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. Will he arrange for her to see and to brief our new Foreign Secretary? The noble Baroness has more knowledge of this subject than almost anyone else and serves the whole House in what she does. Will he try to arrange for her to talk to the Foreign Secretary?

My Lords, when I look around your Lordships’ House, that is probably a description of many within it and I am sure that the Foreign Secretary would have a busy schedule if I arranged that kind of expert insight and briefing for him. However, I can assure my noble friend that the Foreign Secretary will be fully aware of the noble Baroness’s remarks, as I always ensure he is, and we will look for opportunities for a full briefing from the FCDO with those interested, and for colleagues in your Lordships’ House to come into the FCDO to meet other key Ministers.

My Lords, may I draw the Minister’s attention to the very important humanitarian issue of explosive mines and mining mats for demining efforts in the Armenia-Azerbaijan normalisation process? I commend His Majesty’s Government for their financial assistance of £1 million for demining efforts in Azerbaijan. Most explosions over the past two years have been caused by mines, and 260 civilian casualties have occurred in Azerbaijan. Clearly, this is a continuing human tragedy. There are 3,890 missing Azerbaijanis, about whom Armenia refuses to release any information. What, if any, discussions have His Majesty’s Government held with the Government of Armenia about the release of fully accurate mine data to achieve cleaning of the territories of Azerbaijan? What further support are His Majesty’s Government considering?

I get the gist of the noble Lord’s question and assure him that we are working with both Governments. First, on the deceased, as I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, this is an important issue to bring closure to those families who have lost loved ones, and we will continue to do so. On demining, I am looking over to the Lib Dem Benches, where the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, is a great advocate for these issues in conflict zones. I am very proud of the UK Government’s support for these activities and pay tribute to the key players in this sphere, such as the HALO Trust, which does phenomenal work on demining across the world. Of course, I will take specifically what the noble Lord suggests and make sure that our Ministers and officials are briefed appropriately.

My Lords, just before the pandemic, I participated in dialogue sessions with young people from Armenia and Azerbaijan in Georgia. Will the Minister ensure that any work of dialogue that the UK is participating in involves young people, who have the biggest stake in any form of peace arrangements? I understand that in the recent political community meeting—at which I was glad that the UK was represented—President Macron chaired a session with representatives from the two countries. Were British officials involved in any of those discussions? Are we offering any technical assistance on the valid issues of human rights abuses, investigations and peaceful dialogue? What technical assistance is the UK offering?

My Lords, there were three questions there. On UK Government’s direct engagement, I will write to the noble Lord. On ensuring that we are giving technical assistance, I have already alluded to that and, of course, we stand ready to support that. As for involving young people, we are celebrating one of the youngest Prime Ministers in two centuries to hold the No. 10 office, so the noble Lord can be assured that young people’s views, or those who are slightly younger, will be fully sustained in all negotiations.

My Lords, I welcome the recent discussions held in Prague on 6 October. It is a fact that, following the trilateral ceasefire agreement, the Azerbaijanis have not been provided with any details of 3,890 missing Azerbaijani persons. Families have been in turmoil for the last 30 years. What are His Majesty’s Government doing to urge the Government of Armenia to fully co-operate with Azerbaijanis so that these outstanding humanitarian crises are eradicated?

My Lords, I believe I have already answered that question in part. We have talked to both sides about the importance of the return of not just prisoners of war but the remains of the deceased on either side. We will continue to make that point very poignantly. I share with the noble Baroness the view that families need closure, and it is important that we continue to work on that key priority.