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.

2.2.1. Emergency situation triggered by occupation of the Sarsang water reservoir and its discussion at the international level

As was stated, a number of facilities of strategic importance for Azerbaijan have also remained in the occupied territories. Naturally, several water reservoirs under occupation are also among those strategic facilities. Thus, the ongoing occupation of a significant part of Azerbaijani territories for many years has inflicted extensive damage to the economy and agriculture of the front line districts. The deliberate deprivation of the front line residents of Azerbaijan from water by the aggressor and the use of water resources as a threat against these residents have led to devastating consequences.

The Sarsang dam is the largest of the water reservoirs under occupation. This water reservoir has been built on Tartar River and was inaugurated in 1976. The total water capacity of the Sarsang water reservoir is 570 million m3 and the operational capacity is 560 million m3 with the inactive capacity of 60 million m3.

The normal filling level of the reservoir is 726 m, the maximum filling level is 728.5 m when discharging flood waters, inactive capacity is 662 m, the length of the water reservoir is 11.75 km in normal filling level, the width is 1.75 km, and the depth of the dam is 103 meter in a normal level.

The area of the water surface is 1,346 ha in the normal level and 270 ha in the inactive level. The border line is 50.25 km long. The height of the dam is 125 meter, the length is 555.1-meter-long, and the width from above is 10.2 meters.

We should note that the Tartar hydro complex is also made up of the Madagiz water reservoir with 5.86 million m3 water capacity and a dam, located 20 km lower than the main water reservoir as a smaller regulator.

The Madagiz water reservoir was built on Tartar River for daily distribution of water from the Sarsang water reservoir and Toragacay River. Some 80 km segment of the 92.6-km-long Tartar right and left canals, fed from the hydro junction on the Sarsang water reservoir, are under occupation. Therefore, over 56, 000 ha of lands in Tartar, Barda, Agdam, Goranboy, Yevlax and Agcabadi districts have been deliberately deprived of irrigation water for a long time and thus, the economies of these districts sustain irreparable damage every year.

The Sarsang water reservoir was primarily built for electricity production and irrigation purposes. A hydro-power station with two turbines each with 50MW was built on the water reservoir. As each turbine has the maximum 30 m3/s water discharge capacity, it was meant to discharge a total of 60 m3 water from the hydro-power station. Six flood gates were installed on the dam of the reservoir to discharge water into the river when power plant is idle. Through these water discharge devices, it is possible to discharge all in all 30 m3/s water to Tartar River through the water gates each with 5 m3 per second. It was possible to discharge 740 m3/s flood water into Tartar River throughemergency water discharge when the basin is overfilled.

When the Sarsang dam was commissioned, 240-km-long irrigation canal was built for irrigation of lands under cultivation in six districts of Azerbaijan, namely Tartar, Agdam, Goranboy, Barda, Yevlax and Agcabadi districts.

Prior to Armenia’s occupation, water discharge was regulated through two turbines with 50MW each installed on the reservoir. Thanks to it, water was flown to the irrigation canal for the irrigation of areas under crop in the abovementioned six districts of Azerbaijan. Over 100, 000 ha of lands under cultivation in lowland areas of Azerbaijan and in the territories of the abovementioned districts were irrigated with water of the main canals fed from the Sarsang water reservoir. As the Sarsang water reservoir has been under occupation, these districts have now been deprived of using water from these canals for many years.

We should underscore that for its geographical location and for the structure of the territory, the Sarsang dam is referred to one of the most structurally complex water reservoirs. Thus, the territory, where the Sarsang water reservoir is located, is hypsometrically very high and was built at a height of approximately 726 m. This fact increases the probability of horrendous consequences of a possible accident.

We should note that it is always necessary to carry out detailed on-the-spot surveys on structurally complex reservoirs, such as Sarsang, built in the area with hypsometric parameters. However, the lack of regular maintenance work for over twenty five years on the Sarsang reservoir, located in an area of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenia, poses a danger to the whole border region. As mentioned above, the reservoir was commissioned in 1976, exactly, 42 years ago. The facilities and hydro-devices of the reservoir have already finished their technical exploitation lifespan. The state of disrepair of the Sarsang dam could result in a major disaster with great loss of human life and possibly a fresh humanitarian crisis.

And there are too many reasons for an accident to occur. First, an accident might be of a technical nature. As already mentioned above, facilities and hydro-devices of the water reservoir have already run out of their lifespan. For the lack of technical maintenance throughout the occupation period, an accident might happen at any time.

Second, an accident might happen for a natural disaster, a flood and for other natural phenomena. Recently, the intensity and scale of natural disasters, floods, earthquakes, etc. world-wide has gone up dramatically. These kinds of natural disasters often occur in the regions unspecific of them. One cannot rule out the probability of occurrence of such a disaster in the region of the Lesser Caucuses Mountains where the Sarsang water reservoir is located.

Finally, the likelihood of a deliberate explosion of the dam by Armenians remains high, and in case, this occurs, water might become a weapon of mass destruction in the hand of the aggressor state. The Sarsang water reservoir is under occupation of Armenia and the occupying regime has repeatedly threatened Azerbaijan with exploding the dam. As soon as international organizations step up pressure on Armenia, the aggressor state deliberately escalates the situation on the front line and carries out armed provocations. Armenia threatens Azerbaijan with the use of water factor and warns it of a possibility of blowing up the water reservoirs owned by Azerbaijan.

The trans-border Araz River is constantly polluted by Armenia with household and industrial wastes. The amount of heavy metals, toxic elements, as well as other substances dangerous for human health, the environment and agricultural products are many times over the pollution control standards. Armenia regularly floats explosives into Azerbaijan’s territory through small rivers. One of such incidents resulted in a tragedy a few years ago. A little girl from Russia on a trip to her relatives in Tovuz District was killed by a toy dog exploded in her hands when she picked it from a small trans-border river flowing from Armenia into Azerbaijan.

We wonder, what can be said about negative consequences and the scale of a possible accident at the Sarsang water reservoir? If an accident happens for any reason, the speed of water from the water reservoir does not slow. As the water basin is located higher, it flows with an increasing speed due to big kinetic energy. According to estimates of experts from the Emergencies Ministry, if an accident occurs for any reason, huge water masses will pass the 48-km distance in about 60-70 minutes to reach Barda town. The height of possible flooding in the town might reach 40-50 cm. As a result, 30,000 ha of territory will remain under water in a short space of time and water would completely destroy the infrastructure, the flora and fauna, in general, all living beings on this territory.

Given this situation, a humanitarian crisis would be inevitable in the region, since huge masses of water would flow with an increasing speed and cover 48-50 km distance within a short period (in all an hour) and destroy all living beings on its way It is impossible to evacuate people living in this area to safer places in a short time.

The population of the above-said six front line districts of Azerbaijan, deprived of using the Sarsang reservoir is 400,000. It is obvious that the lives of the population of these districts are under constant danger. A part of internally displaced people, who fled their homes following the ethnic cleansing policy of Armenia in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, has been settled in the said front line districts. These people once faced a humanitarian crisis following the ethnic cleansing policy of Armenia that followed after its armed aggression at the outset of 1990s. After many years, they are again facing a similar threat.

Thus, Azerbaijani population of lowland areas lives under danger now because of the emergency situation at the water reservoir due to the lack of the technical maintenance for many years. Furthermore, aggressor Armenia discharges water from the reservoir in winter and as a result, land is flooded, roads are washed away. However, in summer, when people and agriculture particularly need water, they halt water flow from the basin.

As a result, the organic composition on the surface of land decomposed, the agriculture was inflicted enormous damage and productivity dropped sharply. In many areas, green areas died out, the process of deforestation started, the ecological balance in the region was violated and the biodiversity was heavily damaged.

When analyzing the international and legal aspects of the emergency situation at the Sarsang water reservoir and threats this reservoir pose for the surrounding districts, its ownership is considered one of the most important issues from the international legal point of view. When it comes to the issue of ownership, it should be noted that the Sarsang water reservoir was constructed in the territory of Azerbaijan and at its expense. The Sarsang water reservoir is located within the internationally-recognized borders of Azerbaijan and is Azerbaijan’s property.

We should underscore that since 1992, the Sarsang water reservoir has been under occupation of Armenia. The international legal norms consider illegal and bans any activities with regard to the facilities on the occupied lands by an occupying country. Under international legal norms, an occupying country is responsible for any accident that happens or might happen for any activity or inactivity on an occupied territory. Thus, Armenia undoubtedly bears legal responsibility under international norms for any humanitarian and environmental crisis, which might happen as a result of an accident at the Sarsang reservoir for various reasons.

Under such circumstances, what steps should be taken to prevent a possible accident at the Sarsang water reservoir, as well as a humanitarian and environmental crisis that might happen as a result of such an accident?

We should take into consideration that the problem of Sarsang water reservoir cannot be regarded as a separate problem. This problem has emerged as a result of Armenia’s armed aggression against Azerbaijan, the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and other territories of Azerbaijan by Armenia, and the continuation of this occupation for more than 25 years and it should only be looked into in this context. On other hand, it is impossible to achieve a long-term solution to this problem without the liberation of Azerbaijan’s territories from occupation. Therefore, the territories of Azerbaijan must be immediately liberated from Armenia’s occupation. For this to happen, the world community should respect international legal norms, be unbiased and compel the occupying state of Armenia to swiftly end the occupation by using all available mechanisms both universally and regionally. Finally, once the occupation is over, the technical examination of the Sarsang water reservoir should be conducted immediately by experts, appropriate restoration and reconstruction works should be done, the irrigation network should be upgraded in accordance with modem requirements.

2.1. The consequences of the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and other territories of Azerbaijan by Armenia: A brief summary

Late in the 1980s and early 1990s of the XX century complicated public and political processes were underway across the former USSR. These processes were accompanied by armed conflicts in several constituent republics of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijani civilians living in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR), in Nagorno-Karabakh and other adjacent territories of the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) were extremely suffering from these events. In 1988-1989, within a few months, official Yerevan deported over 250,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis from the current territories of the Armenian Republic, that is, from their historical homeland. Simultaneously, these events occurred against the background of Armenia’s groundless territorial claims against Azerbaijan. In order to realize its claims and in violation of international legal norms, Armenia launched a large-scale armed aggression against Azerbaijan.

Also by adopting several documents contrary to the international legal norms, Armenia was intending to lend legitimacy to its policy of aggression. To this end, the decision of the Armenian SSR Supreme Soviet “On the reunification of the Armenian SSR and the Nagorno-Karabakh” dated from 1 December 1989, and a declaration on the state sovereignty of Armenia from 23 August 1990 should be highlighted. These documents that declared the Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan as “an inseparable part of the Republic of Armenia” diametrically opposed the international legal norms.

Along with the Armenian armed forces, groups of armed mercenaries, made up of ethnic Armenians worldwide and international Armenian terrorist organizations were fighting against Azerbaijan.

The latter’s Nagorno-Karabakh region (NKR) and seven adjacent districts (Latin, Kalbacar, Agdam, Fuzuli, Cabrayil, Qubadli and Zangilan) were occupied as a result of the aggression of the Armenian armed forces. Together with the abovementioned districts, a number of villages of the Naxçivan Autonomous Republic, Qazax, Tartar, Agcabadi and Gadabay districts of Azerbaijan on the front line and on border with Armenia were occupied, and some of them in Agstafa, Beylaqan and Tovuz were extensively damaged. At the same time, one of the two occupied villages of the Naxçivan Autonomous Republic, 80 of the 81 occupied villages of Agdam District, 54 of 76 villages of Fuzuli District, 13 of Tartar District, seven of 12 occupied villages of Qazax District together with Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent regions are still under Armenia’s occupation.

Armenia’s territorial claims against Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region have led to the destruction of hundreds of residential areas, deaths of thousands of people and the displacement of about 1 million civilians from their permanent homes.

Armenia’s armed aggression against Azerbaijan was accompanied by massive and gross violation of human rights. The Armenian armed forces killed over 20,000 people, more than50,000 people were wounded and disabled, thousands of people went missing. Armenians carried out extrajudicial killings and mass murders of civilians, took hostages and used them in forced labor camps. Prisoners of war and hostages were subjected to torture and inhuman treatment, the wounded and patients were even refused first medical aid.

The massacre of Azerbaijanis in Khojaly town is one of the heinous crimes in history. Together with the Armenian armed groups in Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, Armenia’s armed forces occupied Khojaly (Xocalı) town located between Xankandi (Stepanakert) and Asgaran on the night from 25 to 26 February 1992 and committed an act of genocide against Azerbaijanis. The personnel and military hardware of the 366th motorized rifle regiment of the former USSR stationed in Xankandi were directly engaged in the crimes in Khojaly town.

Before the town was stormed on the evening of 25 February, it came under heavy shelling and pounded by various heavy weapons. As a result of the bombardment, a fire started in the town and at about 5 o’clock in the morning on 26 February, it was completely engulfed in flames. Around 2,500 residents of the town surrounded by Armenians had to flee in the hope of reaching the neighboring Agdam District of Azerbaijan. However, civilians trying to survive by fleeing were brutally killed by Armenians waiting in ambush.

Of civilians, 613 people, including 63 children, 106 women, 70 elderly were tortured to death with chilling brutality on the night of the occupation of Khojaly, where people were beheaded, their eyes were gouged out, and abdomens of pregnant women were bayoneted. Some 1,275 people were taken captive, 150 people went missing and 487 people were disabled. Of them, 76 were under-aged children. As a result of this massacre, 8 families were entirely killed, 25 children lost both parents, 130 children lost one of their parents, and 56 people were tortured to death. Khojaly town was razed to the ground.

Armenia has carried out ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijanis in the occupied territories and turned these areas into a mono-ethnic zone. The native Azerbaijani population has been expelled from their permanent homes, who have become internally displaced persons. Thus, after the occupation of Azerbaijan’s former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, ethnic Azerbaijanis were forced out of their homeland. The same scenario was carried out in other occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

In general, 71,000 people from Lacin, 74,000 from Kalbacar, 165, 600 from Agdam, 146, 000 from Fuzuli, 66, 000 from Cabrayil, 37,900 from Qubadli and 39,000 from Zangilan districts of Azerbaijan have become internally displaced persons in their homeland. In other word, over 660,000 civilians from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan have become internally displaced persons as a result of the armed aggression and ethnic cleansing of Armenia.

Over 100,000 Azerbaijani citizens had to abandon their homes on border areas with Armenia or along the front line zone to seek refuge in secure regions of the country. As mentioned above, over 250, 000 ethnic Azerbaijanis were deported from the current territory of Armenia late in 1988 and early 1989, and they have settled down in Azerbaijan as refugees.

In a nutshell, following the occupation of 20% of the Azerbaijani lands and the ethnic cleansing on the occupied territories, thousands of people were killed, got varying degrees of injuries, taken hostages or went missing; civilians went through heavy psychological and spiritual hardships, including the deportation of Azerbaijanis from the current territories of Armenia. Over a million Azerbaijanis were displaced from their historical motherland and homes, who have become refugees and internally displaced persons.

Azerbaijan faced an emergency humanitarian situation following Armenia’s armed aggression and the ethnic cleansing on the occupied territories. The serious concern over the emergency humanitarian situation in the region as a result of the aggression was reflected in the UNSC Resolutions № 822, № 853, № 874, № 884 passed in 1993.

The UN General Assembly Resolution № 48/144 from 20 December 1993 on “Emergency international assistance to refugees and displaced persons in Azerbaijan” expressed serious concern about the ongoing aggravation of the humanitarian situation in Azerbaijan because of the continuous displacement of a considerable number of civilians. For the first time, the international document confirmed that the number of refugees and internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan exceeded 1 million as a result of the Armenian aggression.

National and cultural monuments of the Azerbaijani people were also totally destroyed and our rich cultural heritage – an integral part of the culture of the peoples of the world – was inflicted an unprecedented damage during the occupation of Azerbaijan’s territories by the military units of Armenia.

The famous Azix and Taglar caves, Qarakopak and Uzarliktapa kurgans – the first human settlements – are currently being used for military purposes and being deliberately destroyed. Along with rare monuments – kurgans in Khojaly, Agdam, Fuzuli, Cabrayil districts, cemeteries, shrines, tombstones, mosques, temples and monuments of the Caucasus Albania and other national monuments of the Azerbaijani people in the occupied districts of Susa, Lacin, Kalbacar, Qubadli, Zangilan and Fuzuli have now been devastated. The aggressors, carrying out large-scale and unprofessional archaeological excavations, are destroying kurgans and take plundered findings to Armenia.

Some 13 historical and cultural monuments of cosmic importance (6 architectural and 7 archaeological), 292 monuments of national importance (119 architectural and 173 archaeological), 330 of local importance (270 architectural, 22 archeological, 23 gardens, parks, monumental and memorial monuments, 15 decorative works of art) have remained under the Armenian occupation.

A total of 247,352 ha forest area, as well as 13,197.5 ha valuable forest lands, 152 natural monuments and 5 geological facilities are also under the Armenian occupation. The majority of these valuable monuments of huge importance are now being brutally destroyed by the occupying state. Wood processing industry in Armenia is developing owing to the deforestation in the occupied regions.

Thus, Ayifindigi trees (Corylus columa) covering 968 ha of lands on the Red Book of the Azerbaijan Republic are massively cut and sold to foreign countries. At present, Armenia is pursuing a policy of ecocide against nature in Azerbaijan. Many of Azerbaijani lakes of ecological importance under the Armenian occupation are undergoing huge anthropogenic influence and undermined the ecological balance in the region. Fresh water resources, such as Boyuk Alagol, Kicik Alagol, Zalxagol, Qaragol, Canligol, Isiqli Qaragol, located in the highlands of Kalbacar and Lacin districts, as well as Qaragol in Agdara District, are under Armenian occupation.

A total of 198-km-long Azerbaijani state border with Iran, stretching from Horadiz settlement to Zangilan District, and 360-km-long Azerbaijani-Armenia border, all in all 558 km, have been violated by Armenia and still remain under its control.

Buildings, posts, border facilities, demarcation lines constructed along the border line during the former Soviet Union were demolished by Armenia. Smuggling of goods, including trafficking in narcotics, is carried out through the unprotected segment of the Azerbaijani-Iranian border under occupation.

Karki village in Sadarak District of the Naxçivan Autonomous Republic, Asagi Askipara, Yuxari Askipara, Quscu Ayrim, Barxudarli and other villages in Qazax District bordering Armenia have been occupied and destroyed. The occupation of those villages endangers a water reservoir, built on border with Armenia on Agstafa River, which is of economic importance for the western districts of Azerbaijan. Agstafa River reservoir with 120 million cubic meters of water capacity and 72.3 km long irrigation canal provides the lowland farms and villages of Qazax, Agstafa, Tovuz and Samkir districts with irrigation water.

Over 900 residential settlements (towns, settlements, villages etc.), about 150,000 houses and flats with a total area of 9.1 million square meters, 4, 366 social and cultural facilities, 7, 000 public buildings, 1, 025 schools, 855 kindergartens, 798 health service facilities, including 695 hospitals and other medical facilities, 4 sanatoriums, 1, 510 community centers, 927 libraries, 598 communication facilities were destroyed by the Armenian aggressors in the occupied regions of Azerbaijan.

At the same time, 5,198 km roads, 286 km railway line, 348 bridges, 116 railway bridges, 7,568 km water pipelines, 224 water reservoirs, 2,000 km gas pipeline, 76,940 km electricity lines were demolished. Some 7, 296 hydro installations, 36 pumping stations, 26 irrigation systems, 18 main irrigations systems installations, 1,200 km inter-farm irrigation canal, 5,600 km intra farm system were put out of order, 127,700 ha of high quality irrigated land remained in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

Thus, the historical, cultural and national monuments of the Azerbaijani people, natural resources, socio-economic facilities of the region, as well as the region’s ecological system were inflicted colossal damages as a result of Armenia’s armed aggression and the emergency humanitarian situation has sprung up in the region.

The armed aggression has caused a colossal material and spiritual damage to Azerbaijan. Numerous historical, cultural, national monuments, state institutions, social and public facilities were destroyed in the occupied regions and the ecology of the region were subjected to gigantic destruction.

As obvious, what is happening in the region is not a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is Armenia’s large-scale war and armed aggression against Azerbaijan. Armenia’s war and armed aggression have resulted in the occupation of 20% of Azerbaijan’s territories and inflicted enormous spiritual and material damages on the Azerbaijani state and its people.

International organizations, including UN Security Council and the General Assembly, the European Parliament, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted different documents over the armed confrontation and humanitarian crisis in the region. These international institutions have endorsed the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and demanded an immediate end to the armed attacks and the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from the region. Among these documents, it is particularly necessary to underline UN Security Council Resolutions № 822 (1993), № 853 (1993), № 874 (1993) and № 884 (1993), as well as official documents of the General Assembly. Thus, such documents are of universal nature and include the following provisions:

-Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as a region of Azerbaijan and the fact that this region belongs to Azerbaijan is confirmed unanimously;

-It is admitted that the territory of Azerbaijan was occupied;

-The population remaining in Nagorno-Karabakh, after the ethnic cleansing leading to the expulsion of Azerbaijani population from Nagorno-Karabakh, is recognized as the “Armenians of the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh”, but not as the “population of Nagorno-Karabakh”;

-The sovereignty territorial integrity, inviolability of international borders of all the countries in the region and inadmissibility of using forces in order to seize territories are approved;

-The occupational forces are demanded to be withdrawn immediately, completely and unconditionally from all the occupied regions of Azerbaijan;

-It is confirmed that the people expelled from the occupied territories of the Azerbaijani Republic have the right to return to their homes and the necessity of establishing vital conditions, as well as the rehabilitation of the territories damaged from intervention is noted;

-The necessity of establishing normal, safe and equal living conditions both for Armenian and Azerbaijani communities of Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh is admitted;

-It is particularly noted that the legitimacy of the condition occurring as a result of the occupation of Azerbaijan’s territory should not be recognized by any state and they should not assist for the maintenance of such a condition.

It should be noted that after Azerbaijan was admitted as a member to the Council of Europe, in the report (Doc. 10364) presented by the PACE’s special rapporteur David Atkinson on 29 November 2004, it was said that “considerable parts of the territory of Azerbaijan are still occupied by Armenian forces.”

The report specifically notes that “the borders of Azerbaijan were internationally recognized at the time of the country being recognized as independent state in 1991. The territory of Azerbaijan included the Nagorno-Karabakh region.” (Section III, Paragraph 5).

Based on this report, PACE adopted Resolution № 1416 (2005) titled “The conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region dealt with by the OSCE Minsk Conference”. In the resolution, the PACE regretted that the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region remains unsolved; hundreds of thousands of people are still displaced and live in miserable conditions; considerable parts of the territory of Azerbaijan are still occupied by Armenian forces, and separatist forces are still in control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The Assembly expressed its concern that the military action, and the widespread ethnic hostilities which preceded it, led to large-scale ethnic expulsion and the creation of mono-ethnic areas which resemble the terrible concept of ethnic cleansing. The Assembly reaffirmed that independence and the secession of a regional territory from a state may only be achieved through a lawful and peaceful process based on the democratic support of the inhabitants of such territory and not in the wake of an armed conflict leading to ethnic expulsion and the de-facto annexation of such territory by another state. Pointing to the occupation of considerable part of Azerbaijan’s territories by the Armenian forces, the Assembly reiterated that the occupation of foreign territory by a member state constitutes a grave violation of that state’s obligations to a member of the Council of Europe and reaffirms the right of displaced persons from the area of conflict to return to their homes safely and with dignity.

The Assembly recalled Resolutions 822 (1993), 853 (1993), 874 (1993) and 884 (1993) of the United Nations Security Council and urged the parties concerned to comply with them, in particular by refraining from any armed hostilities and by withdrawing military forces from any occupied territories. The Assembly asked its Bureau to create an ad-hoc committee, comprising the heads of the national delegations of the countries of the OSCE Minsk Group.

As the continuation of this process, during the meeting of PACE’s sub-committee on Nagorno-Karabakh held in Strasbourg on 9 January 2006, the occupation of Azerbaijani territories, the separatist regime in Nagorno-Karabakh, the displacement of 1 million Azerbaijanis from their homeland and other facts found their reflection in the report prepared by late Lord David Russell-Johnston.

However, because of the non-constructive position of the Armenian delegation, in accordance with the PACE Resolution 1416, the sub-committee on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in fact stopped its functioning after the death of Lord David Russell-Johnston. Though PACE took a decision on restoring the functioning of the sub-committee in 2011, the Armenian delegation rejected to join the sub-committee’s work and has been boycotting its activity by now.

During its summer session in 2008, PACE once again demonstrated its position with regard to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. According to the report on “The functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan” prepared by the co-rapporteurs of the PACE Monitoring Committee, Andres Herkel, and Evguenia Jivkova, Resolution 1614 with the same title was adopted on 24 July 2008.

Paragraph 25.1 of the resolution read that “the Assembly considers that sustainable democratic development will be extremely difficult in Azerbaijan as long as the country’s territorial integrity has not been restored”. A lot of time has passed since the PACE adopted Resolution 1416 (2005) on the occupied territories entitled “The conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region dealt with by the OSCE Minsk Conference”. The regular aggravation of the situation on the line of contact of the armed forces, the increasing number of deaths among the civilians living in the regions close to the front line zone, non-acceptance of long standing states-quo, and quickly changing political situation in the world required the preparation of a new report about the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

4.6.The Independent External Investigation Body report passed… intentions shed light on…

After the Assembly approved the report of the Independent External Investigation Body, the Committee on the Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs held hearings to follow-up the recommendations and findings with regard to behaviors of the Assembly members whose names were mentioned in the report.

On 8 June 2018, the committee chairwoman, Petra de Sutter, sent a letter to me, highlighting that the Investigation Body, in its report, established that “there are substantial grounds to believe that I was engaged in activities of a corruptive nature and that I seriously breached paragraph 12 of the PACE Code of Conduct” and I did not cooperate with the body. The committee chairwoman called on me to give evidence, stating that should I prefer to be heard directly by the committee, she would be ready to invite me to attend the committee meeting to be held during the June Assembly part-session in Strasbourg. I told her that I had not cooperated with the body in protest at the fact that the establishment of the Independent External Investigation Body contradicted the Statute of the Council of Europe, its terms of reference violated the sovereign rights of member states and the investigation body limited its mandate to Azerbaijan. In view of the above-mentioned reasons, I stated that I would not attend any hearings and make any comments on this issue in the PACE Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities  and Institutional Affairs.

On 27 June 2018, the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs adopted a decision on the follow-up to the conclusions, pertaining to behaviors of Assembly’s incumbent and former members on the basis of the report of the Independent Investigation Body on the allegations of corruption within the Parliamentary Assembly.

Under the Committee decision, 14 MPs were deprived of the right to access the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly premises for life. This decision of the Committee surprised me very much.

Thus, only one person out of 14 “sanctioned” by the Committee on the Rules of Procedure in a form of” deprivation of the right to access the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly premises for life” was a PACE member and the remaining 13 people were former PACE members.

On the other hand, as the most of the sanctioned people were former parliamentarians, they were no longer members of their national parliaments in their respective countries and consequently they were out of active politics and public job.

It is very surprising, isn’t it? If a person, who is not a member of any organization, is prohibited to access the premises of the Assembly, how would this prohibition be interpreted? Even if that person does not have a chance to apply for a membership status of the organization, namely, in our case, if he/she is not a member of his/her country’s parliament, what will happen in this case?

On the third hand, in the decision, the use of the phrase “deprivation for life” regarding each “sanctioned” person sounds very weird. Thus, PACE members visit Strasbourg to attend Assembly sessions and committee meetings, and these visits are financed by the national parliaments of those parliamentarians.

However, it was unreal for anyone, who is not a member of PACE and his/her respective national parliament and no longer in active politics, to visit the Council of Europe at the expense of his/her pension. Thus, as mentioned above, some of the sanctioned persons are no longer MPs and have ended their political activities for over ten years ago.

One may ask: if they were to meet any PACE member, could they not travel to his/her city or meet at a cafe in another European capital or just in Strasbourg? At the same time, to what extent does “punishment for life” of those, who have dedicated most of his/her live to public and political activities and are in advanced age, and primarily committed no crime, comply with often-voiced humanism principle of Europe? Is taking such a decision not of a foolish and tragicomic nature and dirty democracy game?

We wonder, what does PACE want to say by taking a decision, depriving the right to access the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary  Assembly premises for life of people who are not members of this organization and are mainly those who are retired and had engaged in public and political activities the most part of their conscious experience? Does it mean that PACE is now engaged in activities of imitative nature rather than the real work?

On the fourth hand, when we look through the list of persons “sanctioned” by the Committee, it appears clear that these persons are politicians who defended Azerbaijan’s just voice and time after time voiced objective opinions on the Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan. I believe that this point is very serious enough to cast a permanent doubt on the objectivity of the European institution that reveals the real face of the decision-makers.

It is clear that Azerbaijan’s recent achievements in PACE, particularly, the defeat of Strasser’s biased report in 2013 had seriously annoyed the anti-Azerbaijani forces. Those forces tried to bring back the allegations of political prisoners in Azerbaijan into the agenda under different pretexts and tricks.

The anti-Azerbaijani forces, convinced of the impossibility of achieving their malicious plans against Azerbaijan through putting the reports back on the agenda, namely through internationally recognized democratic vote, chose a new strategy.

In their opinions, at the heart of this strategy should be punishment of PACE members, who cooperated with Azerbaijan and demonstrated independent positions during discussions of issues related to Azerbaijan. To this end, backed by the PACE secretariat, those forces made allegations that PACE members, who had voted against Strasser’s report, were parties in the corruptive business with Azerbaijan, and several reports were prepared by European Stability Initiative NGO on cases of alleged corruption within PACE.

Thus, the setting up of an Independent External Investigation Body on the allegations of corruption within PACE was put on the agenda, and the decision was made on establishing the Independent External Investigation Body, in contrast to the Statute of the Council of Europe.

Thus, the reason behind the establishment of the Independent External Investigation Body to look into the allegations of corruption within PACE was to put back the issue of political prisoners again on the agenda and to use it as a tool of political pressure against Azerbaijan. Indeed, in spring of 2018, after the report of the Independent External Investigation Body was adopted, anti-Azerbaijani decisions were made in PACE.

First, Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt put forward a draft resolution on the preparation of a PACE report on the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan and on the appointment of a new rapporteur. The Bureau made a decision on this issue in early June. During Assembly’s summer session, on 25 June, Icelandic MP Thorhildur Sunna Aevarsdottir was appointed the chairman of the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and as a rapporteur on the report of “political prisoners in Azerbaijan”.

Second, during the Assembly meeting on 26 June, a report was adopted on the results of the 11 April 2018 presidential elections in Azerbaijan. In order to justify the unfair and biased pressures against Azerbaijan and mainly to cast a shadow on previous elections in Azerbaijan, the outcome of the 2018 election was negatively assessed in the report.

Third, on 27June 2018, the Assembly adopted the report by Luxemburg MP Yves Cruchten, known for his biased position against Azerbaijan, titled “How to prevent inappropriate restrictions on NGO activities in Europe?” Azerbaijan was specifically emphasized among the countries, where rights of civil society institutions are allegedly violated and conditions for the activities of the non-governmental organizations were seriously deteriorated in the country.

The report alleged that before that the Council of Europe called on the Azerbaijani government to abolish the law on NGOs and to take note of the opinion of Venice Commission. However, in 2015-2016, the Azerbaijani government made the legislation on NGOs stricter; banned the activities of foreign donors in Azerbaijan, took complete control over NGO activities, and in fact, banned NGOs from receiving foreign grants.

Fourth, the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs in May 2018 imposed sanctions on Cesar Florin Preda, co-rapporteur of the Monitoring Committee on Azerbaijan. Consequently, during the Assembly’s summer session, Roger Gale with traditional anti-Azerbaijani position was appointed a new co­rapporteur of the Monitoring Committee on Azerbaijan.

It should be noted that after the report of the Independent External Investigation Body was adopted in PACE, decisions regarding Azerbaijan were passed in the European Parliament, too. In mid­May, the EP Committee on Foreign Affairs adopted a package of recommendations, containing the conditions with regard to the cooperation and partnership with Azerbaijan, with 56 votes for, 2 votes against, with 7 abstentions, and submitted it to the EU leadership. On 4 July, European Parliament approved these recommendations by 564 votes in favor, 69 votes against, with 47 abstentions.

The recommendations addressed to the heads of the EP European Commission and EU Foreign Policy Office stipulate that until the completion of the negotiations, it is necessary for Azerbaijan to release political prisoners and prisoners of conscience and that the Azerbaijani government should bear in mind that if it does not conform EU’s fundamental values and rights, no comprehensive agreement will be ratified. The letter stressed that specific measures should be taken to fight against economic crimes, corruption, money-laundering, tax dodging, and the case of money laundering within the “Laundromat” should be investigated.

As can be seen, even the European Parliament put forward the issues of the political prisoners and corruption allegations as a condition for signing and ratification of cooperation and partnership agreement between Azerbaijan and the EU.

4.5. Hidden moments of the Independent Investigation Body report on allegations of corruption within PACE

The Independent External Investigation Body presented its “Report of the Independent Investigation Body on the allegations of corruption within the Parliamentary Assembly” on 15 April 2018. At the 26 April 2018 meeting, the Assembly adopted the 217-page report that covers the post 2008 period.

We should remind that under the mandate of the Independent External Investigation Body and the terms of reference, the investigation should have probed active and passive corruption activities of incumbent and former members of PACE with involvement of all member states of the Council of Europe.

However, close scrutiny of the report reveals that only one page is about other member states with the rest devoted to Azerbaijan. Thus, while drafting the report, members of the Investigation Body limited their mandate to Azerbaijan and “investigated” the alleged cases of corruption organized directly or indirectly by the state of Azerbaijan. The cases of corruption related to other states are mentioned in the report only as a mere formality and without any investigation into them. Corruption files related to other states are formally referred to in the report without any investigation.

Indeed, in part “B. Scope of the Investigation Body’s review” of the “Introduction”, the authors clearly highlighted that they have limited their mandates to Azerbaijan. Thus, part B starts with contradicting sentences. On the one hand, they wrote “The terms of reference establishing the mandate of the Investigation Body do not identify any particular example of alleged corruption, nor do they name any individual, entity or country alleged to have been involved in corruption or fostering of interests.”

However, in the following sentence, refuting the first one, they immediately mentioned Azerbaijan and said: “Nevertheless, several NGO reports, the substance of which is set out in detail below, openly denounced alleged efforts on the part of Azerbaijan to silence criticism in PACE in exchange for gifts and money, notorious as “caviar diplomacy”, have directed the Investigation Body’s review to such allegations concerning Azerbaijan.” So, the report apparently says that “several NGO reports… have directed the Investigation Body’s review to such allegations related to Azerbaijan”.

Another noteworthy point is explained in part “B. Scope of the Investigation Body’s review” of the “Introduction” section. European Stability Initiative was referred to as a source of allegations against Azerbaijan, and it appears clear that the Investigation Body prepared its report mainly on the basis of the materials prepared by European Stability Initiative and other NGOs, participating in the anti-Azerbaijan alliance from time to time. As we have made sufficient analysis regarding biased and open hostile position of this organization against Azerbaijan, there is no need to analyze the materials they have prepared.

The Investigation Body’s report notes that there is a group of persons working in PACE for the interests of Azerbaijan. However, the Investigation Body “couldn’t establish with a sufficient degree of certainty that they all formed part of a single orchestrated structure”. Thus, the Investigation Body did not find any group working for the interests of Azerbaijan with a single orchestrated structure within the Assembly and claimed without picturing any facts that those members have acted contrary to the Assembly’s ethical standards.

As expected, the Investigation Body, in its report, has paid special attention to the “gifts” presented in connection with the activities related to Azerbaijan. However, as the authors of the report did not find any ground or fact, they acknowledged that it was not possible to establish that “such gifts were given in exchange for the agreement of particular MP or secretariat member to act in a particular way”.

The report focused on the performance of lobbying activities in PACE and the Investigation Body found that a number of former PACE MPs had performed such activities, being contrary to the PACE Code of Conduct.

However, as for corruption in exchange for backing Azerbaijan, the Investigation Body established in its report that “there was a strong suspicion that certain current and former members of PACE had engaged in activities of a corruptive nature”. Thus, as the authors of the report outlines, the Investigation Body investigates the allegations of corruption concerning Azerbaijan on the basis of “strong suspicion”.

Interestingly, the report mentions no specific allegations of corruption, but only expressions, such as “according to the claim of an unidentified source”, “heard that”, “rumors one had heard”. Moreover, the report notes that the report of European Stability Initiative contains allegations that “systematically at each session” caviar was offered “to “key friends” of Azerbaijan in PACE and to other three or four members of the Secretariat”. Secretary General of PACE Sawicki sent a letter to European Stability Initiative, asking for “evidence concerning the allegations of corruption made against the secretariat”. Alas, no reply was received.

However, “in his oral evidence given to the Investigation Body, Knaus explained that ESI source had given some names of people who had been receiving gifts, but ESI had decided not to use those names because it was not sure about the accuracy of the information.” It’s interesting, is not it?!

It is noteworthy that the “strong suspicion”, to which the Investigation Body referred to, included indirect considerations based on rumors. Thus, the Investigation Body does not confirm with any proofs suspicions of corruption against PACE members alleged to collaborate with Azerbaijan.

To justify their suspicions, the Body refers to the media allegations by a number of radical opposition representatives, both in Azerbaijan and abroad, and foreign-based anti-Azerbaijani elements and to their evidence to the Investigation Body.

However, the Investigation Body did not have investigative powers or sufficient willpower to investigate those allegations. Apparently, the allegations of corruption have not been officially confirmed in the report.

One of the sources referred to by the Investigation Body includes reports by European Stability Initiative (ESI), a European-based think tank, one of the authors of the so-called allegations of corruption on Azerbaijan, which demonstrates hostile attitude towards Azerbaijan. Interestingly, European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center (ESISC) has stated in its report that ESI was created by George Soros and intended to destabilize Azerbaijan in favor of the Armenian cause.

In response to that report, Knaus, the head of ESI, told on 6 September 2017 that ESI had never received money from Armenia and had only once produced a report on Armenia, which concerned the issue of the so-called genocide. The report of the Investigation Body noted that “according to Knaus, the George Soros Foundation had financed 16% of the overall ESI budget that had been intended for work on Albania, some general work on the EU and other work on human rights. Knaus also stressed that the George Soros Foundation still financed about 20% of ESI’s current budget and in 2012, it made a payment of some € 39,000 for the first ESI report”.

Actually, Gerald Knaus was insincere in his testimony and was swindling. Though he presented European Stability Initiative as an international NGO in the final report of the Investigation Body, this organization was registered as a lobby organization in the European Commission and the European Parliament on 22 December 2014. European Stability Initiative received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Soros Foundation between 2012 and 2018 for lobbying activities (particularly, for preparing reports against Azerbaijan) in the Council of Europe. Thus, Gerald Knaus deliberately lied to the Investigation Body during a hearing and said that he had received $39,000 from the Soros Foundation in 2012. Indeed, this figure is equal to $100,000. In 2013-2014, European Stability Initiative received $150,000 grants from Soros Foundation for each year in order “to increase the efficiency of the Council of Europe on the issue of political prisoners”. The copy of the bank documents, which confirms the financing of European Stability Initiative by the Soros Foundation and the payments carried out by that foundation, eliminates all doubts regarding the aforementioned.

1.6. The day of Azerbaijan in PACE: Strässer’s biased report rejected

In the course of PACE’s 2013 winter session, 23 January, on the one hand, could be described as a day of Azerbaijan, on the other hand, as a day for parliamentarians of the Council of Europe for passing the test of supremacy and impartiality of laws with dignity.

On that day, two important reports on Azerbaijan were simultaneously tabled for discussions at the plenary session of the Assembly. One of them was a report on “The honoring of obligations and commitments by Azerbaijan” by Pedro Agramunt (EPP) and Joseph Debono Grech (SOC), the co-rapporteurs of the PACE Monitoring Committee. The second was a report on “The follow-up to the issue of the political prisoners in Azerbaijan” by Christoph Strâsser (SOC), the rapporteur of the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

The report by the co-rapporteurs, Pedro Agramunt and Debono Grech, underlined that “the Monitoring Committee recognizes the progress made by Azerbaijan with regard to the establishment of the legislative framework in some areas crucial for the functioning of democratic institutions since its accession to the Council of Europe; at the same time, it encouraged the Azerbaijani government to make strides in enforcing the legislation in these spheres.”

The report underscored the strategic significance of the “secular and multi-religious” Azerbaijani society and credited the Azerbaijani government for the “pro-European commitments” and for managing to “keep away the Islamic fundamentalism” and for pursuing “the policy of integration into Euro-Atlantic


The lion’s share of the report that mentioned the “occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts with a total of up to 20% of the Azerbaijani territories” was devoted to the Nagorno-Karabakh war.

The report regretted that “900,000 people, or 10% of the country’s population, are internally displaced persons (IDPs) and they remain a heavy burden on the political and social state of Azerbaijan” and that “Armenia’s reluctance to cooperate hinders thead-hoc committee”.

The report covered a whole range of issues, starting from economic and social issues, free and fair elections, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and association.

Over 20 items of the report discussed the issue of political prisoners. A list of 22 political prisoners, as alleged by international NGOs at that time (21 of them were released under the latest presidential acts of pardon) was looked into by the report.

In general, the report of the Monitoring Committee was a balanced and comprehensive document. Thus, the co-rapporteurs made numerous fact-finding visits to Azerbaijan within the framework of their competencies. During their visits, the co-rapporteurs held meetings with the opposition, the government, NGOs, as well as with the dvil society representatives.

They cooperated with representatives of the Azerbaijani government, the opposition, as well as with the civil society sector representatives in an effort to unbiasedly assess any issue that emerged. Consequently, the report prepared by the co-rapporteurs was assessed as a balanced document.

However, the same opinion could hardly be said about the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. Thus, after being appointed as the rapporteur of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Christoph Strässer decided to exert pressure on the Azerbaijani government and politicize the issue, instead of establishing cooperation with the Azerbaijani government, as well as with different actors in society. Azerbaijan twice sent an invitation letter to Christoph Strässer, inviting him to visit the country.

Under various pretexts, within his rapporteur mandate, he had never paid visits to our country. When it turned out that he is reluctant to visit Azerbaijan, a letter was sent to the Secretariat of the Committee to inform that an official of the Azerbaijani Presidential Administration was ready to meet with Christoph Strässer in Strasbourg.

However, Christoph Strässer did not also take advantage ofthis opportunity and went on politicizing the issue, started a political campaign against Azerbaijan by making false claims that he was refused a visa. Moreover, contradictory discussions were being held at the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights when Christoph Strässer was the rapporteur. Christoph Strässer was refusing to carry out inclusive and detailed researches in all member states. He was personally insisting on isolating Azerbaijan. From this point of view, there emerged questions about his impartiality and neutrality.

For this reason, the discussion of Christoph Strässer’s report at the 26 June 2012 meeting of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights proceeded in a tense atmosphere. This tension reached its peak during the PACE’s winter session. Christoph Strässer’s report focused only on the issue of political prisoners. A single list of 85 alleged political prisoners was attached to the report. The rapporteur did not update the list, though he himself admitted that some of the convicts had been released. Heated discussions were underway on both reports at the plenary session of the Assembly. Many MPs were praising the report of the Monitoring Committee, while focusing on the drawbacks in the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

British MP Robert Walter, leader of the European Democrats Group (EDG), announced that his group would reject Christoph Strässer’s report. MP Catherine Werner from Germany, leader of the Unified European Left Group (UEL), said she would abstain. The European People’s Party (EPP) chose free voting. Only the leader of the European Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), Anne Brasseur, said that her group would unanimously support the report of the Monitoring Committee.

Simultaneously, she added that the majority of the Group was in favor of Christoph Strässer’s report. In fact, Anne Brasseur tried to hold indicative voting regarding Christoph Strässer’s report in the ALDE Group beforehand, and as a result, it turned out that 11 liberals were for the report and 9 were against it. During the discussion, it appeared that almost all liberals, who took the floor, called for rejecting the report. In the end, the Socialists resolutely called to support their leftist colleague Christoph Strässer.

The criticism, pro-and-anti arguments of anti-Azerbaijani MPs, like Viola von Cramon-Taubadel (Germany, SOC), Liz Kristofferson (Norway, SOC), Michael McNamara (Ireland, SOC), Marina Schuster (Germany, ALDE), as well as members of the Armenian delegation on both reports were quickly and fully analyzed and responded by responsible MPs.

Though a number of MPs noted that they faced irrational situation because of the contradictory messages the two different reports on the same topic carried, they underlined that their duty as politicians was to vote rationally using their own judgements.

Although the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights carried a list of 85 political prisoners, a number of MPs underlined that the report of the Monitoring Committee contained names of only 22 political prisoners and asked which figures were correct and to what extent they were reliable and up-to-date. Recalling that 75 political prisoners were recently pardoned, some MPs underlined that many on Christoph Strässer’s list was already out of jail. Parliamentarians asked to clarify who were in prison at the moment and wanted to be sure that all those persons, who had been jailed, were only for “political” reasons.

The MPs also noticed contradictions between the reports by Christoph Strässer and by the co-apporteurs of the Monitoring Committee. Several MPs recalled that the co-rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee had prepared their report, relying on their fact-finding visits to Azerbaijan, as well as the information obtained from various international and local NGOs.

Some MPs complained that the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights was based on information two Azerbaijani human rights champions gave him in Berlin. They accused Christoph Strässer of jumping to a conclusion based on information obtained from far away without visiting the country and inability to see the reality comprehensively and effectively.

MPs drew a conclusion that two contradictory reports could not be approved on the same day as they were not only confusing, but would also show the Assembly in a bad light. Considering the importance of the Monitoring Committee’s report for the Assembly as it was more comprehensive and precise report and contained the exact names and the number of the political prisoners in 20 items, a number of MPs approved the report of the Monitoring Group and decided to vote against the report by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

Some MPs complained about difficulties in realizing the work distribution at the Assembly. They noted that the activities of the Monitoring Committee were to monitor the human rights situation only in a member state, that is, in Azerbaijan, adding that the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights was also tasked with the same issue.

MPs said it would lead to false conclusions that the Monitoring Committee was incapable of fulfilling its duties and called on their colleagues to be attentive. They drew attention to the risk of parallel systems that may overlap and replicate each other’s functions.

As to the special country under the monitoring procedure, many MPs noted that it was senseless to prepare additional separate reports on the issue that was envisaged comprehensively in two items (7.1 and 7.2) of the report of the Monitoring Committee. They also called for and supported the idea of preparing a comparative legal report on the issue of the “political prisoners”.

Some MPs went to even greater extremes and accused Christoph Strässer of dual approaches, as he was not willing to include other countries into memorandum on the alleged issue of political prisoner, saying that those countries were under the monitoring procedure.

Some MPs said that an addendum to the report on “the merged list of the presumed political prisoners” as well as a list closed for discussions and amendments of other MPs were inaccurate.

They underlined that even Christoph Strässer “had accepted that many of the presumed political prisoners on the single list were released on different grounds” (item 11). Later they criticized Christoph Strässer for the failure to draw up an exact list of the prisoners in prison at present.

They concluded that he deliberately wanted to bring into disrepute the country he was named the rapporteur. MPs said that the PACE rapporteur’s false statements were out of synch with reality, adding that they both undermined Azerbaijan’s reputation and the credibility of the Council of Europe.

The reason why several MPs did not vote was that Christoph Strässer’s report was directly interfering in the key mission of the Monitoring Committee. They noted that the report of the Monitoring Committee was a priority for them. It was said that the alleged issue of political prisoners should be monitored regularly and continuously, and this was merely the methodology of the procedure of the Monitoring Committee.

A group of MPs expressed their concern over the interference in a mission of the European Court of Human Rights by referring to the wording in items 16 and 37 of Christoph Strässer’s report that “No doubt that, a precedent interpretation of the Convention is the exclusive right of the European Court of Human Rights” and “I am aware that this Assembly is not the court of law. Therefore, I will not reach a final conclusion on the issue of the alleged political prisoners brought to my attention”.

However, on individual cases, he jumped to dozens of conclusions and did vice versa:

-“I decided to include these people in the list of the political prisoners” (Paragraph 36)

-“I consider Mr. Samadov as a political prisoner.” (Paragraph 104)

-“I believe that Mr. Dadashbayli and other members of the group are considered to be alleged political prisoners”. (Paragraph 117)

-“I consider Mr. Farhad Aliyev as presumed political prisoner in accordance with our criteria.” (Paragraph 143)

-“In my opinion, Mr. Rafig Aliyev is also considered to be a political prisoner…” (Paragraph 145)

-“However, I am sure that he can be recognized as a political prisoner by using the same criteria” (Paragraph 146).

Taking into consideration a statement in Christoph Strässer’s report, MPs got the impression that he was at odds with Azerbaijani government officials: (Paragraph 197): “…after they failed to collaborate with me, I am not sure that the current Azerbaijani leadership has a political will.”

Some MPs reminded him that it was exactly his task to establish constructive working relations based on mutual trust with the member state where he worked as the rapporteur in order to prepare a fair, unbiased, objective and impartial report based on facts rather than assumptions.

Parliamentarians, unable to realize his problematic relationship with Baku prior to undertaking his mission, expressed their disappointment over Christoph Strässer’s failure to get in touch with all the sides before making judgments.

Further, they expressed disappointment with Christoph Strässer’s offensive and threatening tone, as well as with the hostile position against Azerbaijan as reflected in paragraph 37 of his report: “The bodies of Azerbaijani government were not able to deliver the real alternative version of the alleged facts during the period of preparation of the report and now they should act as a part of the follow-up to the issue in order not to be held responsible.”

Some speakers said that the role of the Assembly in member states, especially in young democracies, is to promote reforms in the sphere of human rights. In order to increase the level of democracy in those countries, this process should be constructive and pleasant rather than threatening or isolating.

The speakers drew attention to the fact that Christoph Strässer’s report did not focus on comprehensive and precise analyses but mainly the rapporteur’s personal hopelessness. They said that Christoph Strässer turned the report into a battleground between himself and Azerbaijan – a member state, and this unhealthy situation has been marred with obvious biased feelings.

The parliamentarians warned the rapporteur against direct interference with procedures of the European Court. They urged their colleague to be careful since the approval of the report would boil down to the fact that these conclusions were not a position of the rapporteur, that is, of an individual but of PACE’s official and public position.

For instance, Mr. Alexander Sidyakin (Russian Federation) said that the 89/89 result of the voting was very disputable – if an MP did not leave the meeting for a cup of coffee, the definition would not be adopted at the Assembly. He said that everybody should be engaged in own work and if Montesquieu saw one country dictating another country, he would turn in his grave.

Numerous MPs expressed their concern about big differences between the two lists proposed by the rapporteurs of the committees on monitoring and legal affairs on the alleged political prisoners; they warned that it would lead to contradictory results on the same issue, in case both reports were adopted.

Liberal MP Meritxell Mateu Pi from Andorra said that she did not understand why the Assembly was discussing the second report that caused a great commotion in the battle of the figures. Asking “who can deny the existence of political prisoners in other countries of the Council of Europe?” and “Why only Azerbaijan?” Meritxell Mateu Pi put a question to the rapporteur, saying that “political prisoners are everywhere, even in Western Europe, according to Christoph Strässer’s definition. We should monitor the issue of political prisoners in all member states. Otherwise, depending on power and influence of a country in question, we would apply double standards”.

British MP Robert Walter added that “Christoph Strässer’s list did not overlap with the figures of Amnesty International, which visited prisoners in Azerbaijan, or OSCE figures.

Unfortunately, the rapporteur of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights did not pay a visit to the country.” Walter insisted that “the report of the Monitoring Committee rejected Christoph Strässer’s confusing report and its attachment”.

British MP Mike Hancock of ALDE Group referred to the report of Human Rights Watch that shed light on the problem of political prisoners in 13 member states. He suggested that reports should be drawn up for all those countries.

Mike Hancock added that “a member state was targeted. The approach cannot be fair and honest and this cannot be turned a blind eye at the Assembly.” To recap, he said that “the Council of Europe is a serious institution and the rapporteur of this organization should be capable of getting to the bottom of the truth when dealing with such sensitive issues. I cannot undersign such biased and individual statements without profound arguments; so I am not going to endorse your report.”

Some parliamentarians drew attention to the peculiarities in Christoph Strässer’s report, including persons convicted for non-political crimes, such as the premeditated assassination of a prosecutor (Paragraph 178). They added that although independent experts did not consider such cases “political”, nevertheless Christoph Strässer’s personal feeling and consideration rejected thoughts of the experts “who are concerned for the negligence of such opinions”. Incapable of assessing the results of the indepen dent experts with bigger resources to deeply verify these issues, Christoph Strässer added all six persons to his list made up of 85 people.”

Some people were surprised at finding out that views of indeendent experts were not seriously taken into consideration by the rapporteur. However, this encouraged Christoph Strässer to prepare his report and substantiate the main part of his investigation on the results of those three people.

MP Agustin Conde (EPP, Spain) expressed his concern about the persons who were not recognized as political prisoners by independent experts, as well as non-political crimes such as a premeditated assassination included in Christoph Strässer’s list.

“According to the report we adopted in 2012, a murderer or a terrorist can never be considered a political prisoner,” Spanish MP reminded again. “This is absolutely unacceptable. If anybody premeditatedly assassinates a prosecutor in my country, he can never hide himself under the guise of a political prisoner.”

MP Agustin Conde also said that he found hard to understand “why Christoph Strässer was concerned about the non-recognition of the detained three persons as political prisoners”. Numerous MPs drew attention to Christoph Strässer’s dangerous messages on the Islamic extremism.

Nessa Pasquale (EPP, Italy) said that Christoph Strässer wanted members of the extremist groups, detained for plotting to form a Shari’ah state, be immediately released. This approach would undermine many rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. MP Nessa Pasquale referred to Article 17 of the Convention, which indicates that every country has the right to protect its constitutional order from the groups wishing to overthrow it.

“Kalashnikov assault rifles, hand grenades and ammunition were found on these people. Isn’t it dangerous to create conditions for the propagation of fundamentalism in the already complicated region?” Italian MP asked, underlining the latest events occurring in a number of countries.

Thierry Mariani (EPP, France) joined his colleague and added: “We should take into consideration that Iran is a large neighboring country of Azerbaijan and finances a political party, as well as a TV channel in Azerbaijan.” He also noted that rights of women are fully protected in Azerbaijan and condemned the efforts to pin labels on the country.

In addition, Thierry Mariani criticized Christoph Strässer for not obtaining a visa to visit Azerbaijan though the rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee can fulfil their fact-finding missions without any problem.

Theodora Bakoyannis (EPP, Greece) warned against the danger of classifying terrorists as political prisoners. She said that “under the dictatorship in Greece, like my father, I was also a political prisoner when I was 14 years old. The terrorists murdered my friend. There were three murderers, but 10 executors. The first committed the crime, the second took a decision. Now, they want to be called political prisoners and this is unacceptable”.

She said that “if we continue cooperation, we could release people by keeping them under our sphere of influence”. Therefore, I will vote for Pedro Agramunt’s report and be against Christoph Strässer’s.”

Tugrul Turke§ (Turkey) said that Christoph Strässer’s report contained factual mistakes with names of people at large, murderers, and terrorists and even non-existing persons. He alsogave an example of a presumed political prisoner who was convicted for attacking an underground station, killing 14, wounding 20 people, including children.

Terry Leyden (ALDE, Ireland) called for continuing the monitoring process, saying that Christoph Strässer’s parallel report undervalues that of the Monitoring Committee. “I will vote for the report of the Monitoring Committee, as Christoph Strässer’s report is imprecise,” he noted. “We should also take into account that the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan has been through a long way and we should believe in the achievements made by this country so far.”

Alexey Ivanovich Aleksandrov (EDG) noted that “Russia assessed these subjective lists as senseless as they damaged the role of the law-enforcement agencies”.

Christoph Strässer was hying to defend his report as a supplement to the continuous research-based report of the Monitoring Committee. However, these arguments, as well as his disappointment were too weak to save his report. Making his last notes, rapporteur Debono Grech said that he knew what a political prisoner was, as he was a captive of the British government 40 years ago. Agramunt underlined Azerbaijan’s geopolitical significance, as well as its importance in the energy supply of Europe.

With regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the MP said: “My Armenian colleague Davut Harutyunyan (EDG) said that only 13% of Azerbaijani territories had been occupied not 20%and the number of the internally displaced persons is 900,000 not 1 million. It does not matter how many percent it is. The only problem is that the territories are still under occupation.”

In fact, four parliamentarians from the Armenian delegation were very active during the debates and repeatedly took the floor to criticize human rights situation in Azerbaijan. Interestingly, in the same vein, they were interfering in domestic affairs of neighboring independent states. At least, two Armenian MPs were trying to prove that Azerbaijan was using Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as an excuse to cover up the problems pertaining to human rights issues.

Upon hearing such hostile remarks, everybody could feel seriousness of the problematic relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia that cause major obstacle for security and peace in the Caucasus region. At the same time, Armenian MPs were rejecting the fact that the Armenian aggression caused 1 million people to become internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Azerbaijan.

Nevertheless, the majority of MPs once again felt certain that the allegations about human rights violations in Azerbaijan was a drop in the ocean as against the enormous negative impact of the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and other territories by Armenia which led to the violation of human rights, as well as the emergence of 1 million internally displaced persons.

With regard to the issue of the political prisoners, Agramunt underlined that “21 out of 22 political prisoners on his list had been released and there remained only one political prisoner in Azerbaijan”, announcing that he rejected Christoph Strässer’s report as it contradicted to that of his.

The result of the voting was too outright. The report of the Monitoring Committee was adopted with a big majority, 196 votes for and 13 votes against. However, the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights by Christoph Strässer was overwhelmingly rejected with 125 votes against and 79 votes for.

Thus, this was a consensus support for the report of the Monitoring Committee and the expression of trust in two co-rapporteurs. A little bit earlier, some NGOs severely criticized both co-rapporteurs, and even demanded their resignation.

However, by expressing great support to the co-rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee, 196 out of 225 representatives of the population of the European countries proved that their mandates were not completely controversial.

Unequivocal rejection of Christoph Strässer’s report by the Assembly was a triumph of justice and unbiasedness as well as of human rights and the rule of law in Europe.

Exactly, on this issue, Azerbaijan had been subjected to double standards at international organizations for many years and 23 January 2013 gave hopes that such biased attitudes would be ended. However, further developments of the events showedthat those hopes were in vain…