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Volume 832: debated on Thursday 21 September 2023

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what representations have been made to the government of the Republic of Azerbaijan concerning the military action against Nagorno-Karabakh.

My Lords, Tuesday brought devastating news of the resumption of armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Government urge Azerbaijan to cease military action and return to peaceful dialogue. Violence is never the answer. Yesterday details emerged of a ceasefire. We call on parties to respect this and encourage Baku to continue talks with the local population on a settlement that protects the security of all and enables the humanitarian needs of residents to be met.

I thank the Minister for his response. Although we welcome the news of a ceasefire, we are still uncertain as to the intentions of Azerbaijan’s involvement in this area. We are also aware of evidence that many Armenian civilians appear to have taken refuge in Khojaly Airport, including over 1,000 children. This attack on the independence of a people who have an often-overlooked history of devastating bloodshed will traumatise a future generation. The provision of their safety and right to land and independence is now an urgent priority.

The events in Nagorno-Karabakh might be described as ethnic cleansing. Will the Minister ensure that the Foreign Office understands that this is also a matter of religion and faith, risking the danger of further martyrdom for a people and a Church already familiar with that experience, and touching the congregations of many Armenian Christians domiciled here in the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I could not agree more with the right reverend Prelate. As he is aware, the situation is unclear at present. That is why we are pushing so hard for talks and a lasting peace. He also mentioned the relationship to faith. I will of course make that clear to my noble friend Lord Ahmad, who is at the United Nations.

My Lords, Azerbaijan appears to be adding to the territorial gains it made after its victory in the 2020 war against Armenia. In the view of the Government, will the ceasefire—brokered by Russia after the failure of the US and EU in this regard—hold? Will the claims of Azerbaijan that it will now seek the integration of Armenian nationals be likely to be resolved? Will the Government urge the Azeri Government to seek the reconciliation of all groups in Nagorno-Karabakh?

The noble Lord mentions reconciliation and is quite right on that issue. There have to be talks between the parties, a lasting peace, a cease of violence, and humanitarian access. The points he makes are well made.

My Lords, I associate myself with the noble Earl’s words regarding the further tragic deaths just this week. Will he agree that part of the UK’s assistance could be in technical support for peacebuilding work? There is likely to be further huge movement of individuals. There is uncertainty as to who will be the guarantors of the security and there is confusion over the role of Russia and the former peacekeepers. The UK can play an important role in this, so I hope we are offering that.

The noble Lord makes some good points. As he is aware, Russian peacekeepers are there, but Azerbaijan’s ability to conduct a military operation in full sight of them shows how committed Moscow is to peace and security in this area. This is an ongoing situation and the position is unclear, but we are making every effort to make representations. As I said earlier, my noble friend Lord Ahmad is at the UN. There is a UN Security Council meeting later today, where he will make these points. Later in the week, he has meetings with Foreign Ministers from that area, particularly the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan.

My Lords, I was in Armenia and at the border of Nagorno-Karabakh last week. I would like briefly to raise three concerns from personal experience. First, Azerbaijan has trapped the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh inside the region for many months; it has blockaded the so-called Lachin corridor, which is the only road from Armenia into Nagorno-Karabakh. Not only that but it has prevented food and medical supplies entering, and people have started dying of starvation. Secondly, in recent military offensives Azerbaijan has targeted civilians. Civilians have been killed, including a child, and many have been wounded. That is a very serious violation of human rights and may be a crime against humanity. Thirdly, I witnessed Azerbaijan’s invasion of Armenia. I was in Armenia and saw Azeri settlements on Armenian hillsides. A few kilometres from Goris, there is an Azeri settlement which is visible from the town.

I ask the Minister if he will be able to raise with appropriate sources the suffering inflicted by Azerbaijan on the Armenian people and the potential crimes against humanity. I also ask if he will respond appropriately to the need of the Armenian people for protection against the infliction of military offences and crimes against humanity in Nagorno-Karabakh.

It is always good to hear the experiences of the noble Baroness. The points she makes are well founded and there are many concerns. It is particularly right and proper that my noble friend Lord Ahmad is at the UN this week; as noble Lords know, he is the Human Rights Minister. The noble Baroness also mentioned the Lachin corridor which, as she correctly said, was used for fuel and goods to be taken into the area and is now closed; it has been closed since December. There are considerable humanitarian problems faced by the population there now.

My Lords, on that point, France called for the meeting of the Security Council under Article 35, which will take place this afternoon, to address this escalation. Can the Minister outline how we at the United Nations will support a negotiated solution through the OSCE Minsk Group at today’s briefing? How exactly is the United Kingdom supporting efforts for the permanent lifting of the blockade of the Lachin corridor?

The noble Lord makes some very good points. As he pointed out, the French, the EU and US have been hugely busy over the last few days on this. The US and EU have been large actors over the last year in facilitating meetings between the different parties. This is a difficult issue but, as I said earlier, at the OSCE yesterday and at the Security Council later today my noble friend will be making those points. Once he returns from the UN I will ask him if he could inform the noble Lord of any progress.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comprehensive record of the actions that the UK is going to be taking this afternoon. Could I add to his list of requests to my noble friend Lord Ahmad that he press on him the urgency of action on this issue, to alleviate the concerns of people on the ground? The situation is really determined by demography. As we speak, thousands of ethnic Armenians are leaving Nagorno-Karabakh to Russia, which will then upset the balance within the region.

My noble friend Lord McInnes is quite right. The important things here, as I said earlier, are to end hostilities, commit to talks with the Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh, stop acts of violence and ensure that humanitarian access is brought to this area.

My Lords, can the Minister pay particular attention to the constructive proposals and suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis? The problems in Nagorno-Karabakh are intractable and have gone on for many years: I remember visiting the front between Azerbaijan and Armenia as far back as the 1990s. But there have been other intractable problems in the world, not least in places like Colombia and Northern Ireland, where we have particular expertise —that is an 800 year-old problem. Have the Government already offered, or do they intend to offer, some practical assistance to the process of reconciliation? It may be too early for that but it is never too early to make the offer, because there is a reservoir of experience and talent in this country arising out of the Northern Ireland peace process. Of course there is no template that can just be moved on to Nagorno-Karabakh but, nevertheless, the essential elements of that and the Colombian and other reconciliation processes mean that we are in a position to offer constructive assistance.

As the noble Lord said, if we can get reconciliation between the parties, we will go a long way towards resolving some of this crisis. He commented on the process and, as I said, our position at the moment is that the US, the EU and France are taking the lead for a number of reasons, as he will be aware. But we will of course be there to offer any aid we can, and it will be interesting to hear what my noble friend Lord Ahmad has managed to achieve at the UN.

Let us remember that one more intractable problem is the existence in Baku of thousands of displaced Azerbaijanis from the original struggle. They have lost their lands and are living in extreme poverty and difficulty and, understandably, are putting on pressure to get back and reclaim their properties. That is one more angle that is important for our Ministers to remember at the United Nations. Also, of course, Azerbaijan has been a good and supportive friend of the United Kingdom and vice versa, and it is important in the overall geopolitics of the region. We should bear that in mind as well. There is injustice and justice on both sides; that is why the problem is intractable.

My Lords, notwithstanding the noble Earl’s answers, is he aware of reports only this morning, from Stepanakert, the capital Nagorno-Karabakh, that street fighting is still going on despite the ceasefire announced yesterday? Does he not agree with the points being made across the House that verification of these things is pretty crucial? Have we set in motion the sending of diplomats or observers to see for ourselves what has been happening in the Lachin corridor and now in Nagorno-Karabakh? As the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, asked, at the United Nations Security Council later today, will we reinforce the call not for Russian peacekeepers —the noble Earl mentioned their inadequacy—but for an international peacekeeping mission and a mandate to require that to be established?

My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the ceasefire. I had a call on this half an hour ago from the department and, as I understand the situation, we feel that the ceasefire is holding at the moment, and we hope it continues to do so. He mentioned other factors, which are all really important in the whole scale of things. I will of course bear them in mind and make sure that the department is aware of them.