Armenia delegation call for increased UK influence to encourage peace in the south Caucasus
BGIPU was delighted to host a delegation from Armenia from 6-8 March 2023. Arranged in close collaboration with the APPG for Armenia, the visit was led by Eduard Aghajanyan MP, Chair of the Armenian friendship group with the UK, and also included Sargis Khandanyan MP, Chair of the Armenian Foreign Affairs Committee, Maria Karapetyan MP, Mariam Poghosyan MP, Artur Khachatryan MP and Hayk Mamijanyan MP. The visit also benefitted from the support of the Ambassador H.E. Varuzhan Nersesyan and his excellent team at the Embassy.
Monday morning began with a comprehensive ‘scene setting’ overview of Westminster procedures by Clerk of the Interparliamentary Relations Office, Lynn Gardner. This was followed by a tour of the Palace led by Armenia APPG Chair, Tim Loughton MP, who shared with his Armenian friends some of the rich history of the Palace of Westminster as well as some personal insights on the life of an MP. The tour ended in the Chess room off Strangers Dining room, with a working lunch where other Members of the Armenia APPG and BGIPU former Chair, Harriett Baldwin, where able to ask questions and get an update on relations between Armenia and her neighbours. The delegation was keen to remind Members that the aim of their visit was simple; they were here to make Armenia’s position on tensions in the region clear. They delivered a message that international presence in the region would help to verify their account, and the international community should put pressure on Azerbaijan to open up the Lachin corridor linking Armenia to communities in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and return to the negotiating table; they also asked that their international friends mount pressure on Turkey to open up the border and cease arming Azerbaijan.
The first meeting after lunch was with Deputy Speaker, The Rt Hon Dame Rosie Winterton, where again the delegation had an opportunity to update her on the current situation in Nagorno-Karabakh in addition to broader discussions on bilateral relations and regional developments, including in Ukraine. The last substantive meeting that day was with the UK delegation to the NATO PA, led on our side by Kevan Jones MP. The first day of the visit ended with a very well-attended welcome reception hosted by former BGIPU Chair and long-standing friend of Armenia, the Rt Hon Sir John Whittingdale MP.
Tuesday morning began with a chance for the delegation to observe a Select Committee in action. The delegation attended an evidence session of the Defence Select Committee entitled Ukraine: One year on, which was very interesting and useful for them and a good precursor to their meeting with the committee chair later that day. The next meeting that day was with Shadow Europe Minister, Stephen Doughty MP, where again the focus of discussions was on Nagorno Karabakh and the Lachin corridor; and again, the delegation reiterated that they wanted UK to exert its influence more directly in the south Caucasus, but were pleased that there was now an EU monitoring mission on the border. The working lunch that day was hosted by BGIPU Chair, the Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP, who was joined by a cross party group of MPs, as well as former Member and friend of Armenia, Stephen Pound. The afternoon was spent in meetings with Foreign Affairs committee Member Drew Hendry MP and Defence Select Committee Chair Tobias Ellwood MP, where the delegation had the chance to update their UK colleagues on the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Nagorno-Karabakh as a result of the blockage on the Lachin corridor. They also informed their colleagues of continuing hostilities with 3 Armenian policemen recently being tragically killed by Azerbaijani forces in the area.
Wednesday morning began with a meeting with the UK Delegation to PACE, led by delegation leader John Howell MP. The delegation was keen to point out that Azerbaijan was also a member of PACE and yet they were not adhering to a key clause in the cease fire agreement that prisoners of war would be returned home; the delegation stated that there were currently 33 Armenian prisoners of war still in Azerbaijan whilst Armenia had returned all their POWs. After enjoying another lively session of Prime Minister’s Question time, the delegation was hosted in Peers Dining Room by Baroness Cox and some of her colleagues. The final meeting of the visit was a roundtable discussion with the APPG for Armenia. At the end of the visit UK Members had been delivered a clear message that Armenia had 4 neighbours and enjoyed good relations with two (Georgia and Iran) but needed help from the international community to achieve its ultimate aim of workable relations with all four neighbours, with hopes for long overdue peace in the south Caucasus.