Chancellor Merkel enjoyed strolling on Northern Avenue and taking selfies.

Merkel Concludes Visit to Caucasus; During Armenia Visit Calls Ottoman-Era Killings Of Armenians ‘Heinous Crimes’

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YEREVAN (Combined Sources) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the Ottoman mass killings of Armenians as “heinous crimes against Armenians,” which “cannot and must not be forgotten.”

Merkel, who arrived in Armenia from neighboring Georgia on the second leg of her three-country visit to the South Caucasus on August 24, made the statement following a visit to a memorial dedicated to the Armenian Genocide.

After being greeted at Yerevan’s airport by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan,

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan with Chancellor Angela Merkel

Merkel traveled to the Tsitsernakaberd hilltop complex to lay a wreath at the monument dedicated to the victims.

Before the trip, Merkel’s office said, that during her stop in Armenia and subsequent visit to Azerbaijan on August 25, the chancellor would encourage efforts to reach “a peaceful and consensual solution” to the two countries’ long-running territorial conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

In Yerevan, Merkel told reporters that “it is important that the conflict is resolved peacefully” and that Germany “stands ready” to contribute to a solution.

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Merkel noted that Germany is a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), whose Minsk Group was established to help find a solution to the conflict and that “we stand ready to assume responsibility within the framework of the Karabakh settlement process.”

The stop in Yerevan marked Merkel’s first official meeting with Pashinyan, the former anticorruption campaigner and opposition politician who took office in May after weeks of mass protests against corruption and cronyism.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel lays flowers as she visits the Armenian Genocide memorial complex within the framework of her official visit to Yerevan, Armenia

She told reporters after the meeting that German leaders “followed the events in Armenia and the velvet revolution [that led to Pashinyan’s election].”

She said she spoke with Pashinyan about both bilateral relations and those within the framework of the European Union.

“Our relations can develop in the economic and cultural fields” and that cooperation can be increased in cultural, education, and IT matters, she said.

Pashinyan welcomed the German chancellor’s visit to Armenia. “I greet you in the capital of Armenia, Yerevan. This is the first visit of a German chancellor to Armenia, and in that sense a historical event takes place. Its value is also underlined by the fact that your visit follows the major political changes in Armenia and in the new situation, in new political conditions, we expect effective negotiations with you. We hope that this visit will mark the opening of a new page of relations between our countries. I am convinced that you have already felt the attitude towards Germany and to you personally in your country. Germany is Armenia’s third largest trade and economic partner and the first in Europe,” said Pashinyan.

Merkel thanked Pashinyan for the warm reception, noting, “This visit takes place after major changes in Armenia. We are interested in the further development of relations with Armenia. Today we are in a city that is 2800 years old and in a country whose people have left traces of history in the world civilization. Today I visited Tumo Center, saw young girls and boys who continue to develop and develop innovations, preserving the roots of Armenian culture. I am convinced of what knowledgeable society exists in Armenia. We know that this is a complicated region and we are ready to help you as your partner is dealing with problems. We are ready to boost and develop bilateral economic ties. We are hopeful that we will be able to record new results in that direction.”

Pashinyan, touching upon Armenia-EU cooperation, attached importance to the ratification of the Comprehensive and Extended Partnership Agreement, reaffirming Armenia’s commitment to implementing comprehensive reforms. According to the Prime Minister, Armenia attaches importance to the expansion of the EU targeted assistance based on the principle of “more for more.” The German Chancellor added that his country is ready to assist Armenia in the implementation of reforms in different directions, as well as the expansion of Armenia-EU cooperation.

The sides also discussed issues related to visa liberalization, enhancing contacts between people, cooperation in healthcare, nature protection, road construction, and information technologies. The prime minister underlined that Armenia is ready to become a platform for German companies that want to enter YATM as well as Iranian markets. Nikol Pashinyan and Angela Merkel expressed satisfaction with the Armenian-German cooperation in the spheres of science, education and culture.

Merkel praise the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies, calling it a bright spot for future generations.

Merkel also met with President Armen Sarkissian, telling him Germany wants “to be involved in the reforms” announced by the new government.

“We have closely watched the changes and processes ongoing in your country. We stand ready to continue cooperating on this difficult but important way,” she was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Sarkissian said that “Germany is a very important partner for Armenia. I cannot fail to
mention also Germany’s political assistance, which we feel in the process of our cooperation with the EU, as relations with the EU are of very great significance to us.”

Armenia has pursued a delicate balancing act over the past decade, maintaining strong ties with Moscow while also developing relations with the European Union.

 

Georgian Visit

During her visit to pro-Western Georgia, Merkel said she backed Tbilisi’s aspirations to eventually join the EU and NATO, but said she was not able to provide “hasty promises” and that EU membership was not on the “current agenda.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said during a visit to Tbilisi that Georgia should be classified a “safe country” of origin, a move that would make it more difficult for its citizens to seek asylum in Germany.

Merkel on August 23 said Germany had seen an increase in the number of Georgians applying for asylum in the country since the European Union in March 2017 liberalized visa rules for the South Caucasus nation, although the numbers have begun to slow in recent months.

“Georgia is definitely a safe country,” she said during a joint news conference with Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze as part of a three-day tour of the region that will also take her to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Declaring Georgia a safe country of origin would make it easier for authorities to turn back Georgians seeking asylum to their home nation.

Bakhtadze said his government would continue to assist Berlin in further reducing the number of asylum seekers to Germany and reiterated his country’s desire to eventually join the European Union and NATO.

“We have made our contribution to the formation of European values…but we have no illusions. We still have a lot to do,” he said.

“Proceeding from here, we certainly believe that Georgia will definitely become a member of the EU and NATO,” Bakhtadze added.

Merkel said Germany would support Georgia’s efforts to someday join the two blocs, although she said Georgia was not currently an active candidate.

Russia has vehemently opposed any membership by the former Soviet republic in NATO, with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warning earlier this month that Georgia’s joining the Western military alliance could lead to a “horrible” new conflict.

Georgia, a country of some 3.7 million people, fought a brief war with Russia 10 years ago, and Moscow’s continued military presence in the Caucasus country’s territory adds to tensions in the region.

After the war, Russia left thousands of troops in Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and recognized both as independent countries.

Merkel criticized the continued Russian military presence in Georgia, saying that “during my last visit to Georgia 10 years ago, I demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops.”

“Of course, I am [still] standing by Georgia’s territorial integrity,” she added.

 

On to Azerbaijan

German Chancellor Angela Merkel held what she called “intensive” discussions with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in talks that addressed energy cooperation, human rights, and the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The meeting between Merkel and Aliyev in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, on August 25 included a discussion of the human rights situation in the South Caucasus nation that the German chancellor said was conducted in an “open atmosphere,” Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said on Twitter.

Critics accuse Aliyev’s government of carrying out a targeted crackdown on dissent in recent years, though the Azerbaijani leader has repeatedly rejected such criticism.

“We discussed the issue of the domestic situation in Azerbaijan and addressed human rights, also in a very open atmosphere,” Merkel said, according to a transcript of her press conference with Aliyev released by her office.

“We did not find common ground on all issues. But I argued that a strong civil society must be part of an open, secular society and made clear that we would like to see this strong civil society,” Merkel added.

Merkel’s stop in Baku on August 25 — the final leg of a three-day tour to South Caucasus — also included a meeting with rights activists and the prominent Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, a former RFE/RL contributor.

Ismayilova, who spent nearly 18 months in jail on charges widely viewed as retaliation for her investigative reporting before her release in May 2016, wrote on Facebook following the meeting that she spoke to Merkel “about corruption and how it undermines peace, democracy, and security in Azerbaijan.”

“I asked to be more outspoken on human rights and democracy issues because people here need to see examples of European politicians who aren’t silenced by corruption money,” she wrote.

Merkel “said our concerns are important and some have been addressed in the meeting she had with President Aliyev. I hope to hear more from her,” Ismayilova wrote.

Azerbaijan’s opposition, as well as Western officials and international human rights groups, have accused Aliyev’s government of persecuting opposition politicians, activists, independent media outlets, and journalists, often using what they allege are trumped-up criminal charges.

Aliyev, who has repeatedly shrugged off accusations of corruption and stifling dissent, defended his government’s record on human rights during an August 25 news conference alongside Merkel, saying Baku “is committed to democratic values.”

“All democratic institutions exist in Azerbaijan. All the liberties have been provided, in particular, freedom of speech, freedom of the press. There are hundreds of media outlets in Azerbaijan, including opposition media. Thereby, no one is being persecuted for the criticism [of the authorities] or for the [critical] views in Azerbaijan,” Aliyev said.

The two leaders also discussed energy cooperation between Europe and Azerbaijan, where Aliyev has ruled the nation of almost 10 million people with an iron fist since 2003.

Addressing a business roundtable in Baku on August 25, Merkel described Azerbaijan as “an important partner in the diversification of our energy supply within the European Union,” according to a transcript released by her office.

Merkel also said that Berlin could assist in mediating the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

“Germany wants to help find peaceful solutions,” Merkel told reporters, adding that the conflict over the mountainous territory is a significant burden on the region.

The region, populated mainly by ethnic Armenians, declared independence from Azerbaijan amid a 1988-94 war that claimed an estimated 30,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Since 1994, Nagorno-Karabakh has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces which Baku says include troops supplied by Armenia. The region’s claim to independence has not been recognized by any country.

In Yerevan a day earlier, Merkel told reporters that “it is important that the conflict is resolved peacefully” and that Germany “stands ready” to contribute to a solution.

Merkel noted that Germany is a member of the OSCE’s Minsk Group and that “we stand ready to assume responsibility within the framework of the Karabakh settlement process.”

 

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