2.2.2. Appointment of a PACE rapporteur on the Sarsang water reservoir

A possible humanitarian disaster at the Sarsang water basinwas for the first time internationally put on the agenda of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly (PA). An urgent draft resolution was submitted to the Euronest PA in May 2013. The draft resolution was submitted in line with the rules of procedure and on time. However, due to the efforts of some parliamentarians and heads of political groups, it was dismissed under various pretexts.

Internationally, efforts were made at the OSCE PA session in Istanbul on 3 July 2013 to draw attention to the emergency situation at the Sarsang water reservoir and threats it poses following the occupation. Two amendments on the Sarsang waterreservoir were tabled to the draft resolution on the “Environmental Measure of Energy Security” at the session. However, these amendments were not adopted.

At the same time, the state of the Sarsang reservoir under the Armenian occupation was put on the agenda in spring 2013 in PACE and soon after it, PACE turned into a main battlefield for the approval of the draft resolution on the Sarsang reservoir. Thus, for the first time, in April 2013,1, as a member of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE, tabled a motion on the Sarsang reservoir under occupation of Armenia. The draft resolution was signed by 24 members of the Parliamentary Assembly. However, the draft resolution was vetoed by former PACE President Mr. Jean-Claude Mignon at the PACE’s 2013 spring session in Strasbourg and thus removed from the agenda.

I did not want to put up with this injustice and decided to table a new draft resolution. Together with 31 MPs from 8 PACE member states in the European Union, that is, from Belgium, Poland, Finland, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Iceland, Ireland and Bulgaria, we tabled a new draft resolution on 9 May 2013. This draft resolution expressed concern of the European Union MPs concerning the position of Armenia on its upcoming Chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers and asked to take urgent steps in order to alter Armenia’s position as an aggressor state.

The draft resolution, inter alia, said: “Several resolutions of the international organizations, as well as of the Council of Europe, have openly and repeatedly called Armenia as an aggressor for its armed aggression against Azerbaijan though Armenia’s attitude towards this issue directly contradicts the main principles of PACE. Members of the Parliamentary Assembly are very concerned about this attitude of Armenia that they are seriously worried about Armenia’s Chairmanship, slated for 1 July 2013. We believe that it would be appropriate and correct to recommend our colleagues from the Ministerial Committee that they should seriously reconsider Armenia’s position and put every pressure on the Armenian government to make sure that it immediately takes steps to end its position as an aggressor state.”

A total of 31 European MPs, who undersigned this document, tried to draw attention to the fact that the Council of Europe did not fulfil its commitment to Azerbaijan. However, the Presidential Committee decided “not to take any steps” in connectionwith this resolution which was also vetoed.

Nevertheless, at the end, this draft resolution was printed and published, and in accordance with the rules of procedure, it was included in the agenda of the 25 June 2013 Bureau meeting in Strasbourg. However, the motion signed by 1/10 of the PACE members was ignored. Under the pretext of time issue, they avoided discussions, and thus, the previous decision of the Presidential Committee was not discussed at the Bureau though documents noted that the issue had been considered.

Nevertheless, MP Mike Hancock of Britain insisted that the issue be again raised at the plenary session of the Assembly on 25 June. He called on the Assembly to get closely acquainted with the situation, urging the members to responsibly approach the issue. Mike Hancock also regretted that the Bureau had not held an appropriate discussion on this important matter. Unfortunately, his comments and demand were again ignored by the Assembly with 32 to 22 votes.

Thus, in 2013, though two draft resolutions were drawn up in line with the rules, they were openly rejected under different pretexts without any discussions. However, despite the serious obstacles by the PACE leadership, I was determined and resolute to go ahead with my endeavor. Therefore, though the rejection of any general discussions on the occupied lands by the PACE leadership, underscoring the strategic importance of the Sarsang water reservoir under Armenian occupation and real threats it poses, I demonstrated the urgency of such a discussion. On 26 June 2013,1 put forward a new draft resolution, signed by 45 members of PACE from 18 different countries.

Under the draft resolution, PACE stressed that the state of disrepair and the dangerous condition for the lack of regular maintenance works for over twenty years on the Sarsang water reservoir, which is of vital importance for at least about one million Azerbaijanis of the surrounding non-occupied districts, could result in a fresh humanitarian crisis.

The Parliamentary Assembly therefore strongly condemns the illegal blockade by Armenia of water supplies and irrigation systems in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, in breach of the fundamental principles of international law, and considers this abuse of power by Armenia as inhumane. Under the draft resolution, as a point of vital importance, the Parliamentary Assembly urges the Armenian military forces to hand illegal control of the water reservoir and related irrigation system over to the Azerbaijani government in compliance with the previous international resolutions.

However, the president and the Presidential Committee also blocked this draft resolution, signed by countries, such as Azerbaijan, Italy, San-Marino, the United Kingdom, Finland, Bulgaria, France, Poland, Andorra, Spain, Macedonia, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Romania, Lithuania, Iceland and Austria.

Although the PACE leadership was deliberately blocking all the efforts for preparation of a report on the state of the water reservoir and threats it poses, in March 2014,1 put forward a new draft resolution, titled “Inhabitants of frontier regions of Azerbaijan are deliberately deprived of water”. This motion was first discussed at a meeting of the Presidential Committee in Strasbourg on 6 April 2014.

This time, the Presidential Committee made a decision for preparing a report on the draft resolution. At a meeting on 11 April 2014, the PACE Bureau decided to send the issue to the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development for preparing a report. On the same day, immediately after the Bureau meeting, this decision was approved by the Assembly. Finally, the 12 May 2014 Nicosia plenary session of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development appointed Ms. Milica Markovic, PACE member from Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a rapporteur for the preparation of the report “Inhabitants of frontier regions of Azerbaijan are deliberately deprived of water”.

This was a big step forward. Thus, after many years, for the first time, it was agreed to hold discussions at the international level on a strategic facility of Azerbaijan under occupation and to prepare a report in this regard.

Armenia was protesting the transfer of the issue from the OSCE Minsk Group to another international platform, trying to cover up its occupying policy under the pretext that it will prevent the negotiations process. Armenia was making every efforts to block any discussions at PACE and the passage of any resolution on the occupation of Azerbaijani territories and the Sarsang water reservoir under occupation. Therefore, they rejected to collaborate with Ms. Milica Markovic, rapporteur of the report on “Inhabitants of frontier regions of Azerbaijan are deliberately deprived of water”.

The PACE Secretariat requested Armenia to provide conditions for Ms. Milica Markovic to make on-site visit to the occupied areas where the Sarsang water reservoir is located foron-the-scene control and assessment. However, the Armenian authorities in fact refused to provide opportunities for Ms. Milica Markovic to visit the region where the Sarsang reservoir is located.

Armenia’s response to the PACE Secretariat was frivolous and ridiculous. Thus, the aggressor country of Armenia said the issue had nothing to do with them and advised cunningly to turn to “NKR” – self-proclaimed and unrecognized by any state or international organization.

With this provoking response, Armenia was unable to realize its silly illusions to make the PACE rapporteur to collaboration with the self-proclaimed “NKR” and then to declare to the world that the PACE collaborated with the self-styled Nagorno-Karabakh republic. By making this step, Armenia virtually refused to collaborate with the PACE rapporteur and to fulfil its international commitment.

Despite this destructive position of Armenia, Ms. Milica Markovic twice visited Azerbaijan in her capacity as the rapporteur. During these visits, she held several meetings at Azerbaijan’s official bodies, as well as with NGO representatives, including representatives of ACSDA which was implementing a SOS Sarsang project. During the visits, the rapporteur visited front line regions of Azerbaijan that sustained damages for the occupation of the Sarsang water reservoir, held discussions with locals, got acquainted with the real situation on the scene and after it presented the report to the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development. By all possible means, Armenia was trying to prevent the preparation of the report and its discussion in the Committee. Therefore, Armenian officials, at the level of the president and foreign minister, made phone calls to presidents and heads of governments of PACE member states, diplomats of Armenian embassies to the European countries met with PACE members in order to convince them not to support the report, demanding that it be removed from the agenda as the rapporteur did not visit the region where the reservoir is located.