Ambassador Ashot Smbatyan

BERLIN — Representatives of the Armenian government and the church have issued urgent appeals to the German government and Bundestag (Parliament) to intervene in search of a diplomatic solution to the ongoing war in Nagorno Karabakh. But, to date, Berlin has declined the invitation, suggesting that Armenia and Azerbaijan handle it themselves.

Both the Ambassador to Germany, Dr. Ashot Smbatyan, and representatives of the church, as well as members of the Armenian community in Germany, appeared last week in events organized by the Bundespressekonferenz, an independent German journalists association, to present their views.

Speaking on October 20, Smbatyan reviewed the history of the conflict and listed war crimes committed by Azerbaijan, which is deploying weapons provided by NATO member Turkey as well as foreign mercenaries. Smbatyan warned that a “humanitarian catastrophe“ was looming and human lives — both Azerbaijani and Armenian — were being destroyed. He called for stopping Turkey’s interference and issued a plea for concrete steps to be taken to contribute to a peaceful solution.

Antranig Aznavour, representing the Central Council of Armenians in Germany (ZAD), criticized German press accounts that deny Karabakh’s right to independence, in utter disregard for the right to self-determination. Germany “is calling for de-escalation but lacks determination,“ he said; Berlin should put Turkey and Azerbaijan in their place. He called for economic sanctions and an arms embargo, and urged the media, parties, the government and civil society to become active: denounce the Azerbaijani aggression and Turkey’s role; and acknowledge Karabakh’s legitimate right to self-determination and independence.

Georgi Ambarzumyan, president of the AGBU-Germany, also criticized the press for its “equidistance,“ noting that only the tabloid BILD-Zeitung had denounced Azerbaijan as aggressor. Ambarzumyan recalled the clause in the 2016 Bundestag resolution recognizing the genocide which acknowledged Germany’s historical responsibility, and stressed that this refers not only to the past, but to the present; Germany has a responsibility to defend Armenian life.

In discussion with journalists, the Armenian spokesmen lamented the lack of active interest shown by German politicians and press, as indicated by the fact that only BILD-Zeitung has a correspondent in Karabakh, and only the right-wing extremist Alternative for Germany party has visited the region — a visit neither the embassy nor the ZAD had anything to do with. (Another sign of disinterest on the part of the press was the number of journalists present at the event; one could count them on the fingers of one hand.)

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Smbatyan concluded by expressing his thanks to Germany, France and the United Nations for mediating a ceasefire. But more is required; humanitarian aid is urgently needed. Asked by a journalist whether Russia would agree to an initiative launched by Germany, Smbatyan replied, that Germany is part of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

In the afternoon, another group of Armenians convened in the same venue, this time featuring representatives of the church, Bishop Sevropé Isakhanyan, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church in Germany, and Ilias Uyar, Cologne lawyer and representative of the Diocese. Writer Dogan Akhanli also participated.

Ilias Uyar opened with an urgent call for German intervention, given the “impending humanitarian catastrophe,“ and complained that nothing has come from Berlin except appeals. Germany, he said, enjoys the trust of both sides to the conflict, so why does it not act? “Germany is in the Minsk Group, has the EU chairmanship and sits on the UN Security Council.“ Concretely, Uyar listed a series of steps to be taken: Germany must actively initiate talks between the warring parties; denounce Turkey’s role and impose sanctions; in light of its historical responsibility, take political responsibility for the future by recognizing Artsakh; provide aid; and, investigate war crimes by Azerbaijan. He concluded by expressing his fear that the conflict could spill over into Germany, and recalled the arson attack on an Armenian embassy car last summer.

Bishop Isakhanyan was on hand “to condemn the war.” Prayers for peace, he said, take place daily in Cologne, the seat of the diocese, in parallel to those in Armenia. He issued a passionate appeal for peace, for which there was “no alternative;” this is not a sign of weakness, he said, but a means of protecting creation. “There is no just war,” he went on, “every war in unjust.” Rejecting the notion that this is a religious war, he recalled the centuries of peaceful coexistence among Muslims and Christians. He himself was born in Iran, and said he harbored no hate for Azerbaijanis. “I want these two peoples to live peacefully side by side.“ He recalled his participation in demonstrations in Yerevan in 1988, at the age of 24, for a peaceful solution. He demanded politicians find solutions, with a willingness to compromise, in the recognition that the war must be ended at all costs. Specifically, he said Germany should monitor the Line of Contact.

Dogan Akhanli highlighted the role of Turkey, noting that there is also a threat against the minorities inside Turkey. With historical insight, he warned against the danger that Germany could again ignore the elimination of Armenians.

A day later, the same journalists association hosted an event with the Ambassador of Azerbaijan, Ramin Hasanov, joined by a human rights lawyer, Prof. Dr. Hans-Joachim Heintze. Speaking to an even smaller number of journalists, Hasanov gave the Azerbaijani version of events: the Armenians had provoked and Azerbaijan had responded in self-defense. There was no question of self-determination, but of Azerbaijan’s claim to territorial integrity. Armenians were the occupiers and Azerbaijan was merely “liberating its own territory.“ Dr. Heintze supported this, arguing that the Armenians in Karabakh were a “national minority,“ with no rights to self-determination, but only to minority rights. (Kosovo was an “exception“ to this principle.)

In answer to a series of hostile questions. Hasanov rejected all allegations of war crimes, as “Armenian propaganda.” The were no jihadists from Syria or Libya, because Azerbaijan, with its huge, modern, well-trained and well-armed military, “did not need them.” Turkey was a brother state, but was not involved at all. Azerbaijan had every right to purchase weapons from Turkey (and Israel), though most of its arms came from Russia. Asked why independent human rights groups were denied entry to the conflict zone, Hasanov answered, the government could not guarantee security during a war.

What would be the response from Berlin?

On October 22, Deutsche Welle news agency reported that on a German government statement in which it “calls on Armenia and Azerbaijan to respect the agreements reached on 10 and 17 October 2020, regarding a humanitarian ceasefire between the two countries, to immediately end all hostilities and to avoid further casualties at all costs.“ The foreign ministry statement noted that “Armenia and Azerbaijan have committed to facilitating humanitarian assistance,“ and that it was now vital that they “immediately resume efforts towards finding a peaceful and lasting solution to the conflict, based on the fundamental principles of conflict resolution.“

Would that be possible? On October 27, the opportunity to do will present itself. In a highly unusual initiative, the Korrespondenten-café in Berlin has invited Dr. Ashot Smbatyan and Ambassador Ramin Hasanov, to appear together in a meeting with journalists. It will be the first time the two share the podium, and the proceedings will be on the record.

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