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#EU partnership talks with Azerbaijan and Armenia – a chance for peace and prosperity

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The talks between the European Union and Azerbaijan on a new partnership agreement that started on 7 February in Brussels provide a slim ray of hope that the EU will be able to persuade Baku to dismantle repressive policies against civil society and free political prisoners still held in the country’s prisons, writes Krzyszt Bobinski (Unia & Polska Foundation, EaP CSF member).

As the negotiations with Armenia on a new agreement with the EU are already under way, the start of the talks with Azerbaijan means that Brussels will be now negotiating with these two sworn enemies in parallel. The very fact that both Yerevan and Baku need a deal with the EU opening the way for both countries to the EU financial support gives Brussels the leverage and  means to bolster the chances of peace in the region and enable civil society to function normally, especially in Azerbaijan. The challenge facing the negotiators is considerable and will need adroit linkage of seemingly intractable issues, which their every instinct tells them they should keep separate.

Azerbaijan has remained adamant that it will not liberalize its NGO regime and last year’s release of a handful of prisoners was not followed by new releases.

On the other hand, the EU is committed to supporting civil society in the Eastern Partnership countries and elsewhere. Back in 2012, the Communication on the roots of democracy and sustainable development: Europe’s engagement with Civil Society in external relations from the European Commission to the other EU institutions stated firmly that „the international community, the EU included, has a duty to advocate for a space to operate for both civil society organizations and individuals. The EU should lead by example, creating peer pressure through diplomacy and political dialogue with governments and by publicly raising human rights concerns.”

This is a commitment, which the EU negotiating team must not forget. They must be aware that any deal they strike in the talks on the financial and economic parameters of future cooperation will be fundamentally flawed if it is not backed by commitments on the liberalisation of the regimes in Azerbaijan and Armenia. For the agreements will only be seen as legitimate, only, if once they are concluded, the prisons in these countries are clear of political prisoners, and NGOs are able to function normally and work constructively for the  well-being of their country.

The partnership talks must also contribute to a major reduction of tension in Nagorno-Karabakh and thus limit the chances of a new outbreak of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan. If all this happens, the negotiators from both the two Caucasus countries and the European Union will earn a place in the troubled history of the region as those who have brought peace and prosperity to societies, which have long deserved it.

This article was provided by the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum - here is the article on their website .

Armenia

EU and Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement enters into force

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On 1 March, the European Union-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) entered into force. It has now been ratified by the Republic of Armenia, all EU member states and the European Parliament. This represents an important milestone for EU-Armenia relations.

This Agreement provides a framework for the EU and Armenia to work together in a wide range of areas: strengthening democracy, the rule of law and human rights; creating more jobs and business opportunities, improving legislation, public safety, a cleaner environment, as well as better education and opportunities for research. This bilateral agenda also contributes to overall aim of the EU to deepen and strengthen its relations with the countries of its Eastern neighbourhood through the Eastern Partnership framework.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/European Commission Vice President Josep Borrell said: “The entry into force of our Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement comes at a moment when Armenia faces significant challenges. It sends a strong signal that the EU and Armenia are committed to democratic principles and the rule of law, as well as to a wider reform agenda. Across political, economic, trade, and other sectoral areas, our Agreement aims to bring positive change to people's lives, to overcome challenges to Armenia's reforms agenda.”

Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi underlined that: “While these are trying times for Armenia, the European Union continues to stand by the Armenian people. The entry into force of the bilateral EU-Armenia agreement on 1 March will allow us to strengthen our work on the economy, connectivity, digitalisation and the green transformation as priority areas. These will have concrete benefits for the people and are key for socio-economic recovery and the longer-term resilience of the country. In the current turbulent days, maintaining calm and respect for democracy and constitutional order are key.”

The Agreement was signed in November 2017 and substantial parts of have been provisionally applied since 1 June 2018. Since then, the breadth and depth of the bilateral cooperation between Armenia and the European Union have advanced steadily. At the 3rd EU-Armenia Partnership Council held on 17 December 2020, the European Union and Armenia reiterated their full commitment to implementing the CEPA.

The Agreement plays an important role for the modernization of Armenia, in particular through legislative approximation to EU norms in many sectors. This includes reforms in the rule of law and respect of human rights, particularly an independent, efficient and accountable justice system, as well as reforms aimed at enhancing the responsiveness and effectiveness of public institutions and at favouring the conditions for sustainable and inclusive development.

From the entry into force of the Agreement on 1 March, cooperation will be strengthened in those areas which to date were not subject to the provisional application of the Agreement. The European Union stands ready and looks forward to working even more closely with Armenia on the full and effective implementation of the Agreement, in our mutual interest and to the benefit of our societies and citizens.

More information

EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement text

EU Delegation to Armenia website

EU-Armenia relations factsheet

EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement factsheet

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Armenia

Armenian PM warns of coup attempt after army demands he quit

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Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (pictured) warned of an attempted military coup against him on Thursday (25 February) and called on his supporters to rally in the capital after the army demanded he and his government resign, writes Nvard Hovhannisyan.

The Kremlin, an ally of Armenia, said it was alarmed by events in the former Soviet republic, where Russia has a military base, and urged the sides to resolve the situation peacefully and within the framework of the constitution.

Pashinyan has faced calls to quit since November after what critics said was his disastrous handling of a six-week conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and surrounding areas.

Ethnic Armenian forces ceded swathes of territory to Azerbaijan in the fighting, and Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to the enclave, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated by ethnic Armenians.

Pashinyan, 45, has repeatedly rejected calls to step down despite opposition protests. He says he takes responsibility for what happened but now needs to ensure his country’s security.

On Thursday, the army added its voice to those calling for him to resign.

“The ineffective management of the current government and the serious mistakes in foreign policy have put the country on the brink of collapse,” the army said in a statement.

It was unclear whether the army was willing to use force to back the statement, in which it called for Pashinyan to resign, or whether its call for him to step down was just verbal.

Pashinyan responded by calling on his followers to rally in the centre of the capital, Yerevan, to support him and took to Facebook to address the nation in a livestream.

“The most important problem now is to keep the power in the hands of the people, because I consider what is happening to be a military coup,” he said.

In the livestream, he said he had dismissed the head of the general staff of the armed forces, a move that still needs to be signed off by the president.

Pashinyan said a replacement would be announced later and that the crisis would be overcome constitutionally. Some of his opponents said they also planned to rally in the centre of Yerevan later on Thursday.

Arayik Harutyunyan, president of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, offered to act as a mediator between Pashinyan and the general staff.

“We have already shed enough blood. It’s time to overcome the crises and move on. I’m in Yerevan and I’m ready to become a mediator to overcome this political crisis,” he said.

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Armenia

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict flares despite ceasefire

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Four soldiers from Azerbaijan have been killed in clashes in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Azerbaijan's defence ministry says.

The reports come only weeks after a six-week war over the territory which ended when Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire.

Armenia meanwhile said six of its own troops were wounded in what it called an Azerbaijani military offensive.

Nagorno-Karabakh has long been a trigger for violence between the two.

The region is recognised as part of Azerbaijan but has been run by ethnic Armenians since 1994 after the two countries fought a war over the territory which left thousands dead.

A Russian-brokered truce failed to bring about lasting peace and the area, claimed by both sides, has been prone to intermittent clashes.

What does the peace deal say?

  • Signed on 9 November, it locked in the territorial gains Azerbaijan made during the war, including the region's second-largest city Shusha
  • Armenia promised to withdraw troops from three areas
  • 2,000 Russian peacekeepers deployed to the region
  • Azerbaijan also gained a overland route to Turkey, its ally, by gaining access to a road link to an Azeri conflict on the Iran-Turkey border called Nakhchivan
  • The BBC's Orla Guerin said that, overall, the deal was regarded as a victory for Azerbaijan and a defeat for Armenia.

The latest conflict began at the end of September, killing around 5,000 soldiers on both sides.

At least 143 civilians died and thousands were displaced when their homes were damaged or soldiers entered their communities.

Both countries have accused the other of violating the terms of the November peace deal and the latest hostilities flout the ceasefire.

The agreement was described by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan as "incredibly painful both for me and both for our people".

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