EU hopes for ‘some understanding’ between Armenia and Azerbaijan during border delimitation talks – Ambassador Maragos
The European Union is committed to peace and stability in the South Caucasus and is investing important, high-level, political capital in this process, Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Armenia, Ambassador Vassilis Maragos said in an interview with Armenpress.
The Ambassador said that the EU will also consider further support to the forcibly displaced persons of Nagorno-Karabakh who’ve settled in Armenia after the Azerbaijani attack in September.
Ambassador Maragos said that the EU is actively working with Armenian partners to identify ideas for further cooperation in various areas.
Armenpress: Mr. Ambassador, as you know, after the large-scale Azerbaijani military attack, Nagorno Karabakh was depopulated, thousands of Armenians were forcibly displaced, leaving their homeland and place of birth. In essence, Azerbaijan implemented its policy of ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh. First of all, I would like to hear your opinion about this situation, about the behavior of Azerbaijan. Until this moment, we have heard condemning statements, but why does the EU not take active steps to impose sanctions on Azerbaijan?
Ambassador Vassilis Maragos: Let me be clear, the European Union is committed to peace and stability in this region and we are investing important, high-level, political capital in this process. As you said, the European Union has made very clear its position against the use of force and in support of the human rights of Karabakh Armenians. As EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar gave extensive comments on the matter in his interview with ARMENPRESS a couple of days ago, I would not make further comment on these issues.
Armenpress: Azerbaijan has violated the territorial integrity of Armenia, since May 2021, Azerbaijani forces have invaded the sovereign territory of Armenia in some parts. I would like to ask you again to present your position on this fact. How can the EU influence on the diplomatic level the restoration of territorial integrity of Armenia, how can the EU exert pressure on Azerbaijan regarding this issue and the return of Armenian prisoners illegally held in Azerbaijan?
Ambassador Vassilis Maragos: The European Union, including through the EU Mission in Armenia and our contacts with both Yerevan and Baku, has a very clear understanding of the situation on the ground. We are also aware of the importance these issues have for Armenia and more broadly for peace and stability in the region, which is our primary aim. The EU has repeatedly called on the sides to ensure non-use of force and a distancing of forces to reduce tensions and potential escalation on the ground. We have also called for all issues to be addressed peacefully in the framework of meetings of border delimitation commissions and the broader normalisation process. We hope that some understanding can be reached in the near future on this and other issues, including during the next meeting of Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s border commissions, now scheduled for 30 November 2023.
Armenpress: The EU announced that it provides another 5 million euros in humanitarian aid for the needs of forcibly displaced people from Nagorno Karabakh. However, later in the European Parliament, the Prime Minister of Armenia announced that Armenia needs the support of the international community to help those forcibly displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh. Is the EU considering additional support?
Ambassador Vassilis Maragos: So far, the EU together with its Member States has provided over €50 million for the emergency support for the refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh. This support has been channelled via different means. We have already provided assistance in kind and we are working with humanitarian partners to deliver this on the ground. Our humanitarian support has focused on food, hygiene, shelter, but also livelihood. More than 60% of the refugees have already benefited from our support. We are also working together with the government to deliver the €15 million budget support package which was announced in Granada by President von der Leyen and will contribute to the government’s multi-purpose support schemes addressing among others cash support food, energy and temporary accommodation needs of refugees. In the context of our current discussions with the government on further strengthening EU-Armenia relations, further support will be also considered. The EU’s focus remains to attend to the humanitarian needs of the over 100,000 Karabakh Armenians that have fled to Armenia, and to their livelihood.
Armenpress: The civilian mission of the European Union operates in Armenia, which carries out patrols on the Armenian side of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and submits a report to the EU. What records, conclusions has the European Union made so far based on these reports? We have not come across an official statement. There are opinions that the mission is late in responding to border incidents, how would you react to this? Does the EU plan to expand the number of mission members in the near future?
Ambassador Vassilis Maragos: The EU Mission in Armenia is tasked with observing and reporting on the situation on the ground on the Armenian side of the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border; contributing to human security in conflict-affected areas and based on the above, aims at contributing to building confidence between populations of both Armenia and Azerbaijan and, where possible, their authorities. All EU civilian missions report to the EU and its Member States on their observations. Since its deployment, there has been a move towards stabilisation of the situation on the ground, thus the mission’s presence is clearly delivering on its mandate. As far as the Mission’s expansion is concerned, as mentioned recently by High Representative Borrell, we are working to ensure we have more monitors and more patrols. I would like to add that since I arrived in September 2023, I have met most of the monitors and am following very closely their activities. I am impressed by their professionalism and dedication. I am also impressed by the warmth of the reception by the Armenian population which is very much appreciated by the EU and facilitates the Mission’s work.
Armenpress: The Prime Minister of Armenia after his recent visit to Granada, stated in an interview that there is a consensus in the European Union regarding the deepening of relations with Armenia. Can it be assumed that, apart from the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement, there are or will be other arrangements as well?
Ambassador Vassilis Maragos: Both EU and Armenia are before all interested in acceleration of CEPA implementation. CEPA on its own holds great potential, and many initiatives take place based on CEPA. We are now actively working to further realise the potential of this agreement and bring more benefits to the citizens and the businesses in Armenia. The European Council of 26-27 October invited the High Representative and the Commission to present options on how best to strengthen EU-Armenia relations in all their dimensions. At the 13 November Foreign Affairs Council a first discussion on the various areas of cooperation including security cooperation took place.
We are actively working with Armenian partners to identify together ideas for further cooperation. In this regard, a team from the European External Action Service and the European Commission visited Yerevan this week to discuss various options for strengthening EU-Armenia relations with our Armenian partners. The High Representative will also invite the Armenian Foreign Minister to join EU Foreign Ministers in the margins of the next Foreign Affairs Council in December, to continue the discussion.
Armenpress: Now many citizens of Armenia have difficulties to book a visa day at the embassies of EU countries. When can the visa liberalization dialogue begin?
Ambassador Vassilis Maragos: Let me be very clear that Armenian applicants are largely benefiting from the Visa Facilitation agreement, and there has been an increase in the issuance of multi-entry visas. However, we are well aware of the challenges, and we are actively working to address them. A couple of weeks ago, we had a very productive meeting of the visa facilitation joint committee, which recognised the progress achieved and thoroughly discussed all issues.
Concerning the increased number of appointment requests, the Commission has asked the member states to improve their operational capacity to address the issue of increased number of visa applications by providing more appointment slots. I want to recall that the Foreign Affairs Council, which took place on 13 November 2023, also discussed options for visa liberalisation for Armenia. We will actively work in the next period to explore such options.
Interview by Anna Grigoryan