Dr. Marsili: Europeans cannot continue to ignore an Artsakh's 'de facto' independence which, over time, becomes lawful

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Dr. Marsili: Europeans cannot continue to ignore an Artsakh's 'de facto' independence which, over time, becomes lawful
The elections held in Artsakh resonated among European intellectual and political circles. Many of them, for objective reasons, could not attend the elections, but continue to witness the emergence of Artsakh’s independence. One of them and our interlocutor is Dr. Marco Marsili, who, within the framework of the Artsakh 2020 project, answered Dialogorg.ru questions.

Q: Dear Dr. Marsili You and many other international figures agreed to come to Artsakh as observers to the presidential elections. This act itself represents an important support to Artsakh. What else could be done by freedom-loving European intellectuals and politicians in this respect?

A: I’ve been honored to be invited to observe the general elections that have been held in Artsakh on the 31st March. I’m so sorry that, because of emergency measures in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the authorities restricted the access to foreigners, so I didn’t have the opportunity to benefit of this chance for visiting this wonderful country. I wished that European mainstream media and fellow academics would have dedicated a major attention to the elections and, more broadly, to the question of the independence of Artsakh. Europeans cannot continue to ignore a 'de facto' independence which, over time, becomes lawful; I find ridiculous to keep on calling the Artsakh question a conflict' ‘frozen’ for 15 years.

Q: How the Armenian side could contribute to their respective initiatives?

A: Armenia is a strategic ally to Artsakh. It’s not a win-to-win allegiance; it’s a ‘brotherhood’ cemented by blood ties. Armenia and Artsakh share the same culture; the same language; the same religion. It’s a deep link that cannot be broken. Only a fool can think to separate brothers by administrative boundaries.

Q: As an advocate of the right of self-determination and independence of the peoples, how would you describe and distinguish the Artsakh’s (Nagorno-Karabakh) case from other well-known cases, (for example, the case of Catalonia)?

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A: Catalonia joins a special autonomy within Spain. Catalanism and vasquism, alongside with other nationalisms and regionalisms in Spain, arosed at the end of the 19th century, but Armenia, as a nation-state, has an ancient cultural heritage that is rooted. Two thousand years ago, when Spain was under the Visigothic rulers, and afterwards under the Arab rulers, and was so far away to become a unique and independent nation-state, the Kingdom of Armenia was already been established and was the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion. Later Armenia suffered many occupations until modern times, when was under the Ottoman and Iranian empires – both of Muslim religion – before being conquered by the Russian Empire and later incorporated, as founding member, into the Soviet Union, until it regained independence in 1991 after the dissolution of the USSR. But, during the Bagratuni dynasty that restored the Armenian kingdom at the end of the 9th century AC, the Kingdom of Artsakh arose and an independent entity still recognising the supremacy of the Bagratid kings. We could talk about other cases: Kosovo, Palestine, South Sudan, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Crimea, each with its own peculiarities and/or similarities with the Artsakh case, but it would take too long.

Q: Why the virulent Armenophobia displayed by the Azerbaijani governement remains largely unnoticed by the European media and intellectuals, exclusions aside? Thus, the well-documented destruction of thousands of Armenian architectural monuments in Nakhichevan did not prevent UNESCO to hold its session of the World Heritage Committee in Baku June, 2019.

A: Tensions between Muslim Azerbaijan and its then autonomous district of Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to the twilight of the Soviet era, when the pacific claims to restore the independence of Armenia resulted in protest and deaths, soon later the pogrom of Armenians in Baku in January 1990. The tension increased in 1988 when Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence with the intention of reunifying with the newly independent Armenia. On my opinion, although they both are members of the Council of Europe and of the OSCE, Armenia and Azerbaijan, are perceived by Europeans as ‘Asian countries’, far away from the very heart of the Old Continent.

That said, I am astonished that UNESCO decided to hold its session of the World Heritage Committee in Baku in June 2019, despite the well-documented destruction of thousands of Armenian architectural monuments in Nakhichevan. The concept of war crimes has recently been expanded to encompass cases yet not included. In September 2016, the International Criminal Court sentenced a Malian national, Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, a member of Ansar Dine, a Tuareg Islamist militia in North Africa, to nine years' imprisonment for war crimes for the destruction of historical and religious monuments in Timbuktu. Al Mahdi was the first person to be jailed on war crimes against cultural heritage, including holy shrines, sites dedicated to religion and historic monuments that were not military objectives. This is an important case law that broadens the range of crimes tried by the ICC. On these grounds, the Azeri leaders should be held responsible for war crimes, as they destroyed deliberately Armenian monuments as reprisal, which falls among the grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions that are considered war crimes and is in itself a serious violation of international humanitarian law. The state of Palestine is moving in the same direction with the complaint filed with the court against the state of Israel. I am surprised that UNESCO ignores this jurisprudential orientation, and I regret that, if aware, it has not canceled the session scheduled in Baku in protest. Unfortunately, as we know, international organizations are often subject to the will of the strongest and justice takes second place.

Q: In your opinion, what are the chances for the European Union to recognize Artsakh’s independence in the near future? What additional steps taken by the two Armenian states could facilitate the recognition of the Artsakh Republic?

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The right to self-determination and independence of peoples is enshrined in the main documents on fundamental human rights, inter alia: the UN Charter; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966; the Helsinki Final Act adopted by the CSCE in 1975. On these grounds, I think that the European Union should move forward, despite fears of Spain of setting a precedent for the claim of independence of Catalonia. However, there is the precedent of Kosovo, that still unrecognized by many states including Spain. The British government, which allowed twice Scotland to hold a referendum on independence is to be commended; this is the model to follow.

Europe and, more broadly, the international community, does not have, indeed, a unique foreign policy. The press statement released by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group in the aftermath of the recent elections in Artsakh – Russia, France and the U.S. – demonstrates some ‘confusion’. While they ‘recognize the role of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh in deciding its future’, they note, however, that the sovereignty of Stepanakert is not recognized by any country. I think the authorities of Yerevan can and should do something more, as Russia did with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It’s a long way to gain independence, but there is still space for new nation-states, as the recent aforementioned cases demonstrate.

I’d like to take advantage of this interview to wish all the best to al the Armenian nationals whether they live in the motherland, whether they are separated in Artsakh, or elsewhere in the world. I visited Armenia for the first time in 2018, when I served as observer in the mission deployed by OSCE/ODHIR for the parliamentary elections, and I keep a wonderful and imperishable memory of this land and its people. I still have in my memory the frozen Lake Sevan, and the view of mount Ararat that was so near from the view of my hotel, and the hearts of the Armenians, but so far to be reached easily. So, for me, this interview is an opportunity to strengthen a connection that started then, and has never interrupted. Thanks to the editorial staff of Dialogorg.ru., and a special greeting to all readers.

Marco Marsili is a research fellow based in Lisbon, where he holds positions at the Research Center of the Military Academy/Portuguese Army (CINAMIL), at the Centre for Research and Development of the Portuguese Military University Institute (CIDIUM), at  the Center for International Studies of the ISCTE-Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (CEI-IUL), at the Research Centre of the Institute for Political Studies of Catholic University of Portugal (CIEP-UCP). His area of interest comprises international relations, international law, unconventional conflicts, defense and security. He serves as election observer since 2007, both for intergovernmental organizations and as independent. Currently, he is involved as an expert in two projects funded by the European Defence Agency.
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