Without justice there's no trust, without trust there's no reconciliation – For just peace in S. Caucasus (OPINION)

Causeur, a French magazine, has published an open letter addressed by Thierry Vally, President of the Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience, to President of France Emmanuel Macron.

News.Az republishes the letter, entitled “Without justice there's no trust, without trust there's no reconciliation – For just peace in S. Caucasus”, which was published in French.

After the Second Karabakh War of 2020, a thorny process of the normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan started. This process is notable for its complexity and sensitivity for several reasons. The main reason is the mutual distrust of the conflicting parties, caused by three long decades of enmity and bloodshed.

At the root of this conflict, there are two crucial issues.

The first is the issue of territorial integrity which, according to UN Security Council resolutions, has been violated by Armenian troops that had occupied approximately 20% of internationally recognized Azerbaijani territories for 30 years.

The second is the safety of Armenians in Karabakh – an enclave in Azerbaijan, where the outbreak of the separatist movement coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Since last year, the European Union has intervened in the fragile discussions to mediate between the two states with a view to achieving lasting peace and reducing the dependence of the two parties on Russia.

Several trilateral meetings between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan were organized by European Council President Charles Michel.

Contrary to the general opinion in Azerbaijan that France stands by Armenia, French President Emmanuel Macron participated in some of these talks as an impartial mediator.

The latest meeting, held in Prague in early October, held out hope for peace, with the parties agreeing to resolve some fundamental issues, namely mutual recognition of their territorial integrity and the need for a direct communication mechanism between Baku and the Armenians in Karabakh. It was also agreed to deploy EU observers to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border to reduce the “Russian monopoly” in the region.

A few days after this meeting, which some consider a historic breakthrough, the French President made an awkward statement, openly siding with one of the parties: “Armenia has always fought for tolerance and peace in this region”. Moreover, in contrast to the decision taken in Prague by the parties to mutually recognize each other’s territorial integrity, President Macron announced that “Armenia was in Karabakh because Karabakh is at the center of this country [Armenia].”

Such a statement not only constitutes an attack on a fundamental principle of international norms such as territorial integrity but undermines the role of France as an impartial mediator in the Armenian-Azerbaijani normalization process. Due to France's presidency of the EU Council and the French President's close association with the EU mediation process, the statement casts a shadow over all recent European efforts to bring Baku and Yerevan into direct negotiations for a historic peace agreement. It is not surprising that in Azerbaijan, this statement was received not as “a new proof of the partiality of France”, but as an offense to the grievances of the Azerbaijanis, for whom the conflict has claimed thousands of civilians. As a result, the President of Azerbaijan rejected the future mediation role of France in the peace process. If we add that the main beneficiary of the effect caused by the statement will be Russia, which manipulates the parties to aggravate the situation, Macron's remarks become the most important diplomatic gesture in the history of France's relations with post-Soviet states.

But this unfortunate statement is not only politically undermining France's position in the South Caucasus. It is also inflicting a blow to the moral position of the French Republic anchored in the “Equality” principle of its motto. Equality must be translated into action at the international level as well as at the national level.

In this regard, we must refer to a meeting of the European NGO Coalition recently held in Geneva on the sidelines of the UN Human Rights Council. The conference was aimed at developing a context to foster direct dialogue between Azerbaijanis and Armenians in order to overcome the memories of the conflict and find together ways of reconciliation and lasting peace. The meeting highlighted the most horrific and darkest page of the old Karabakh conflict, namely the massacre of innocent Azerbaijani civilians in the city of Khojaly. In a single night, on February 26, 1992, when Armenian forces captured the city, 613 innocent civilians, including 63 children, 106 women, and 70 elderly people, were brutally murdered, 487 civilians were seriously injured, and a thousand of them were taken hostage.

Mr. President of the French Republic

The Khojaly massacre is the subject of a long-standing enmity between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is certainly not the way of acting expected of a state such as Armenia which has “struggled for tolerance and peace in this region”.

The European NGO Coalition has tackled this dark memory of the bloodiest massacre of the Karabakh war in an innovative way: asking for transitional justice to be applied so that the wounds of the victims are healed. The meeting at the UN concluded that encouraging Armenia to properly recognize the Khojaly massacre and publicly apologize to its victims, as well as encouraging Azerbaijan to open a public space for direct dialogue on the Khojaly issue between the civil societies of the two countries – would be an important step in establishing genuine reconciliation between peoples.

As a French citizen attached to the values of the Republic and as a defender of human rights who is dedicated to the fight for justice, human dignity, and peace, I seek your political and moral responsibility, which requires satisfying the grievances of both parties in order to strengthen the peace process.

It is very necessary to remain committed to a lasting peace process to get the Armenian government to take a bold step to break the taboo around Khojaly, to recognize the seriousness of this crime perpetrated by previous governments and to encourage the emergence of truth. By doing so, you will not only restore France's impartial position in the politics of this region, but you will restore the confidence of the peoples of this region in what you call “our values and our principles”.

As Munira Subašić (President of the Association of the Mothers of the Srebrenica), representative of the European moral symbol of the struggle for justice and defender of the victims of Srebrenica, which was the last European genocide, declared at the UN conference: “Without justice there's no trust, without trust there's no reconciliation”.

Only by being sincerely honest, we can be trusted as a nation respected for its high values and principles and as a nation mediating for peace in the South Caucasus.


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