Protestors in Brussels (photo Mélanie Tuyssuzian)

Pan-European Brussels Protest Calls for Action on Artsakh, Punishment for Azerbaijan

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BRUSSELS — On October 1, more than 5,000 European Armenians gathered in front of the European Parliament in Brussels. The protest was organized by the group Europeans for Artsakh. It intended to pressure European politicians to sanction Azerbaijan after its invasion of Artsakh on September 19.

On October 1, Artsakh flags flew in large numbers in the streets of Brussels, the heart of the European Institutions. Mer Hayrenik was played and people were holding huge signs that read “Is Azeri gas more important than 120,000 Armenian lives?” and “Sell 2000 years of Armenian civilization for Azeri gas.”

Protestors in Brussels (photo Mélanie Tuyssuzian)

In July 2022, the European Commission’s President Ursula Von der Leyen signed an agreement to double Azerbaijani gas imports by 2027. That was one of the reasons Armenians came from all over Europe to give voice to their indignation at the European Parliament this Sunday afternoon.

The Europeans for Artsakh Movement is a coalition composed of 500 organizations from 17 European countries, involving more than 200 from France, that have come together to condemn Azerbaijan’s actions against Artsakh Armenians over the last ten months.

The gathering had been planned for several weeks to raise awareness of the Azerbaijani blockade of the Lachin Corridor. However, with the invasion of Azerbaijan in Artsakh last September, the goal of the demonstration took on a new urgency. It was a protest that the European Union officials feared, as they placed long lines of barbed wire to prevent people from crossing the street to the Parliament building.

“It’s surprising that the European Commission is afraid of a peaceful demonstration; all we want is justice,” said Alexis T. from Switzerland.

Barbed wire outside the European Parliament building (photo Mélanie Tuyssuzian)

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Political Promises

Several speeches in support of Artsakh were made during the demonstration. Representatives from Europe’s Armenian communities, including Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany, were present to speak on their behalf. The majority of non-Armenian political figures were French, such as Patrick Karam, vice president of the Ile-de-France region. Moved by his visit to Stepanakert in 1992, he urged European Union members not to vote for Ursula Von der Leyen again for the next election.

Pascall Doll, the mayor of Arnouville, a city with one of the largest Armenian communities in France, and which has a friendship history with the city of Chekher in Artsakh, also spoke. “I’m deeply wounded, and I suffer with the Armenian people. If the European Union does not act quickly against [Azerbaijani President Ilham] Aliyev’s dictatorship, we will all pay the consequences,” Doll stated.

Former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also came especially to support the cause. “Europe must participate in the surveillance of Armenia’s borders. Preserving and protecting Armenia’s borders is very important now,” he told AFP [Agence France Press, or French Press Agency].

Barbed wire outside the European Parliament building (photo Mélanie Tuyssuzian)

‘Aliyev, Murderer’

Those present screamed repeatedly, “Aliyev, murderer,” “Wake up Europe,” and “Artsakh belongs to us, not Baku.”

For the day, Armenians could travel from Paris, Marseille, Alfortville, or Issy-les-Moulineaux on free buses. Parisian Anahid Ouzounian took one of them and traveled for 7 hours that day. “I can’t believe exactly 36 years ago I went to the UN Parliament with my grandfather because they recognized the Armenian genocide,” she said, her face sad. “I remember it was raining but everyone was so happy, we thought it would help Armenia. But today, the UE proved the opposite and completely failed.”

“I’m European, and today I’m ashamed.” That is the sentence used by Daniel Salvatore Schiffer to start his speech, at the end of the demonstration. Around 40 French intellectuals, including Elisabeth Badinter, Edgar Morin and Dominique Schnapper, signed a tribune for the defense of Armenia at the initiative of this Belgian philosopher (link to the tribune : Pour l’Arménie : l’appel des intellectuels (lepoint.fr)).

As a Jew, Schiffer encouraged Israel to abandon its defense pact with Azerbaijan and to provide help to Armenia instead.

In the middle of the crowd, student Arpi Kouyoumdjian, from Germany, listened to the different speeches with emotion. “I went to Artsakh in 2017 and it’s a painful memory because it was such a peaceful place, with the mountains, nature, kind people, and I couldn’t imagine there would be a war there,” she shared. “I came here because I expect Europe and Germany to stand up for European rights, which are human rights and democracy. I hope this demonstration will also allow us to be seen from all over the world,” she added.

Europe Finally Condemns Azerbaijan

After calling for peace on both sides since the invasion, the European Union finally denounced the Azeri aggression this week and voted for a new resolution. The statement mentions “a gross violation of human rights and international law” and “unjustified military attack.” Members of parliament urged the EU and its member states to reconsider their relationship with Azerbaijan and to stop “all imports of oil and gas from Azerbaijan to the EU in the event of military aggression against Armenian territorial integrity.”

Protestors in Brussels (photo Mélanie Tuyssuzian)

Also this week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and European Council President Charles Michel met with Nikol Pashinyan in Spain. Aliyev was scheduled to attend but canceled due to France’s “militarization” of the Caucasus, the European Union’s attitude towards the region and Turkey’s absence. France and the European Union have been among the first three countries to financially assist Artsakh refugees since October 3, contributing €5,000,000 and €12,500,000 respectively.

As Zartir Lao echoed in Brussels, just after another speech full of promises to support Artsakh, the demonstration ended with a tired protester’s voice, which everyone could hear: “I’m not [totally] hopeless, but…a little bit.”

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