We Armenians, most of the time, define European or Western values in sarcastic terms, and for good reason.

A case in point was the destruction of thousands of khachkars (cross stones) in the Julfa region of Nakhichevan by Azerbaijani forces, when world organizations, and particularly the United Nations Educational, Social and Educational Organization (UNESCO), did not respond to the outcry raised by the Armenian and various cultural organizations, nor did they even raise the issue.

Now that Europe has acted forcefully, though belatedly, we may revise our perceptions of those European values and work around them to convert them into political assets.

Politics are based on self-interest. Viewed through that prism, Europe has every reason to cater to Azerbaijan, when the latter has come forward to offer to Europe its supply of gas, in case the Russian gas flow is interrupted due to the Ukraine war. Therefore, in the first case, we have to appreciate the European Parliament’s principled stand before we deal with the context and impact of its recent resolution.

Indeed, on March 10, the European Parliament adopted a landmark resolution on the destruction of Armenian cultural heritage in Karabakh (Artsakh). The overwhelming vote in support of the measure underscores the sentiments of the European community with regards to this heritage issue, with universal dimensions; the vote was 635 against 2, with 42 abstentions. Such resolutions do not come by easily as tremendous networking and diplomatic maneuvering are required. It looks like this time around, Armenian diplomacy worked diligently, enlisting the support of friendly countries and diasporan organizations.

The resolution is not a simple and generic condemnation of Azerbaijani actions against Armenian cultural heritage, but it deals with specifics and presents the issue to other world political and cultural entities to stop the destruction and pave the way for their future preservation. It has even further political implications for the destiny of the people in Karabakh, if Armenia’s diplomacy can tie the issue to the future plight of Armenians in Karabakh.

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The resolution cites that over the past 30 years, Azerbaijan has committed irreversible destruction of religious and cultural heritage, especially in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, where 89 Armenian churches, 20,000 graves and more than 5,000 tombstones were destroyed. Incidentally, we need to mention that the Nakhichevan-born historian Argam Ayvazyan, nicknamed spy-researcher, has clandestinely photographed, researched, documented and published the process of Azerbaijan’s destruction drive there.

After outcries, resolutions and negative media coverage in the past of these Azerbaijani actions, the government there decided on a ruse to cover up their grizzly policies; most recently President Ilham Aliyev himself and his Minister of Culture Anar Karimov came before the news media to claim that the Armenians are not the actual creators of those monuments and that the Azerbaijanis only action consisted of “correcting” history by relabeling the monuments as the heritage of the Caucasian Albanians. The European Parliament resolution also addresses directly those actions as “falsifying history by presenting it [that heritage] as the so-called Caucasian Albanian.” Therefore, the resolution denies any legal fig leaf for Azerbaijan to hide behind.

Europa Nostra also endorsed the resolution of March 10, “which strongly condemns Azerbaijan’s continued policy of erasing and denying the Armenian cultural heritage in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, in violation of international law and the recent decision of the International Court of Justice.”

It looks like this resolution will have a domino effect by involving other relevant bodies, such as UNESCO, the European Union, Council of Europe, International Court of Justice and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The European Parliament’s resolution also “welcomes UNESCO’s proposals to send an independent expert mission and calls for it to be sent without delay” and “stresses that Azerbaijan must grant unhindered access to all actual heritage sites in order for the mission to draw up an inventory on the ground to see what has happened on the sites.”

This is a direct call for action. In the past, Azerbaijani authorities have challenged international authorities by banning access to the areas which they are destroying.

The threat to erase the identity of Armenia’s cultural heritage has direct relevance for the physical existence of the Armenians in the same areas. On December 7, 2021, the International Court of Justice issued a ruling which, in essence, targeted Armenia and Azerbaijan but zeroed in particularly on the latter’s actions, as the court had found there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm to the rights of Armenians under the “International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination” and ordered Azerbaijan to: “protect from violence and bodily harm all persons captured and detained in relation to the military conflict of 2020, as well as to ensure their security and equality before the law.”

The symbolic and symptomatic actions of convicted Azerbaijani murderer Ramil Safarov and the documented torture and dehumanization of Armenian POWs do not leave any room to doubt Azerbaijan’s state-sponsored policy of hatred against Armenians.

These facts have to lead the international authorities and particularly the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to understand that under any condition, Armenian life is not safe under Azerbaijani control, in any shape or form.

This realization has to lead the OSCE co-chairs to consider, in Karabakh’s case, remedial seccession, the same principle of security under international law for minorities which was effectively used in Kosovo, South Sudan and East Timor to create independent nations.

The international community had arrived at the conclusion that the minority’s life was no longer safe in an alien majority. It therefore justified the minority’s secession from the majority and the former’s ultimate independence.

This brings the issue of Karabakh once again to the doorstep of the OSCE, as much as the latter has its hands full with the war raging in Europe.

Turkey and Azerbaijan have coordinated their actions to force Armenia into a corner and extract concessions which Armenia would not accept under normal conditions, now that the OSCE’s and the world’s attention are focused on Ukraine.

The OSCE Minsk Group thus far has maintained that the 44-day war has not resolved the status issue of Karabakh, and that it should be solved under the principles adopted through Helsinki’s Final Act, which calls for resolving conflicts through peaceful means, without the use of force. Those principles also propose to reconcile the principles of territorial integrity and the right to self-determination. It is a challenge to the Armenian diplomacy to integrate the principle of the right to “separate for security” with the right to self-determination.

While the resolution at the European Parliament was making headways in diplomatic circles, Armenia and Turkey were in the process of negotiations to establish diplomatic relations, to lift the blockade and open roads and lines of communication.

Although the sides began negotiating without preconditions, this column had predicted that the Turkish side had to coordinate its comments with the Azerbaijani government, and lo and behold, that has come true. The move constituted Turkish preconditions which supposedly were not there. During these negotiations, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu had suggested that it is better for Armenia to respond positively to Azerbaijan’s peace proposal. Parallel to these negotiations, Azerbaijan proposed a five-point peace plan, which practically defies Turkey’s pledge to negotiate with Armenia without preconditions. Basically, Baku has presented an ultimatum for Armenia to recognize its territorial integrity without entertaining any hopes for the future of the people in Karabakh and recognition for Karabakh as an entity. Turkey and Azerbaijan have coordinated their act to move any settlement away from OSCE to avoid the application of the principles of the Minsk Group. This so-called peace plan does nothing but move the negotiations to a dead-end. Ankara and Baku believe that as the OSCE is fully engaged in Ukraine, this is the opportune time to keep that organization away from the negotiations.

Nevertheless, it looks like the ball is moving into the court of the OSCE, which has made a positive statement to a question from Armenpress, stating, “The Polish OSCE chairmanship considers the protection of all historical and cultural monuments as our joint commitment. The preservation of Armenian historical and cultural monuments has been on the agenda of the Permanent Council. Against this backdrop, the Polish OSCE Chairmanship fully supports all relevant OSCE structures, including the OSCE Minsk Group and its cochairs in their endeavors towards achieving a comprehensive and lasting peace. It would considerably improve the security, stability and prosperity of the entire region and safeguard the protection of all historical and cultural monuments.”

Opportunities appear and disappear in international relations. It is up to organized and perceptive foreign policy establishments to rise to the occasion and take advantage of such opportunities.

The current situation is a challenge to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, which we hope will detect opportunities and take positive actions.

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