By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
BERLIN — The visit had been planned long in advance, but it could not have come at a more delicate moment. When Armenian President Serge Sargsyan (also written as Sargisian) came to Berlin on April 6 for a two-day visit, the conflict between Nagorno-Karabagh and Azerbaijan was raging and German-Turkish relations were still being shaped by concerns regarding the refugee crisis. The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel managed to walk the tightrope successfully. But not everyone cheered. Some media coverage, like a TV commentary by Arnd Henze, complained that in her joint press conference with Sargsyan, Merkel had provided a “big stage for a war lord,” letting him accuse Azerbaijan of attacking the “peaceloving people” of Karabagh, who were fighting for self-determination, “which all colonized peoples have always fought for.” The journalist criticized Merkel for “leaving the tirade without comment,” and for announcing, only in response to a question from the press, that the Azerbaijan president would visit Berlin in June. The commentator was particularly upset with the official photographs of the handshakes between the Armenian guest with Merkel and with President Joachim Gauck, which were “a present” that Sargsyan might be able to exploit as an endorsement in his country. Others noted that the issue of genocide recognition, just weeks before the April 24 date, could exacerbate frictions with Turkey.
Germany Stresses Diplomacy
Even those critical of the visit had to recognize that Germany maintains its commitment to a negotiated solution to the conflict, and is utilizing its position as rotating chair of the OSCE to exert diplomatic pressure in this direction. On April 2 German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had issued a statement saying he was “very concerned about the military escalation along the Line of Contact … and about the casualties, including among civilians.” He called on both sides “to end hostilities immediately and to respect the ceasefire in full.” He added that “There is no military solution to the conflict” and urged the two sides to “show the necessary political will to return to the negotiations in the framework of the Minsk Group.” Steinmeier spoke by telephone the same day his Armenian counterpart Eduard Nalbandian and Azerbaijan’s foreign minister the following day. Telephone contacts between Berlin and Moscow occurred on the same days and on April 4, TASS issued a statement on the convergence of views between Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Steinmeier in their conversation, a statement which reiterated the German diplomat’s words almost verbatim. When Azerbaijan and Armenia then announced a new ceasefire, Russian President Putin had spoken with his counterparts in the countries as well, demanding they respect the ceasefire and return to negotiations.
Merkel’s public statements reflected the policy of neutrality pursued by the foreign ministry. In her remarks to the press together with Sargsyan, she stressed the “utmost urgency” of efforts to guarantee an “acceptable and lasting ceasefire” and pointed to Germany’s current OSCE Chairmanship as well as its Minsk Group membership, pledging that Steinmeier would play a productive role. Merkel also focused on the economic advantages of regional peace for Armenia’s development. She acknowledged “that a conflict that has been ongoing for 23 years cannot be resolved by one visit or by relaunching efforts to achieve a solution,” but promised her government’s “constructive assistance.”