YEREVAN–The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose Minsk Group is tasked with mediating a peace in the Karabakh conflict, closed its offices in Yerevan on Thursday, per a decision in May, which came under pressure from Baku.
On the same day, Azerbaijani forces opened fire at an OSCE monitoring mission in the Chinari village of the Tavush Province.
In an announcement issued in May, the OSCE leadership expressed regret over the decision to close the Yerevan office, with a representative of Austria, the holder of the OSCE chairmanship, saying at the time that the Azerbaijani government’s adamant demands were at the heart of the decision.
Last year, Baku vetoed the extension of the OSCE’s office in Yerevan, which opened in 2000, by objecting to a humanitarian demining program that the Yerevan office was implementing.
In January, the Azerbaijani delegation to the OSCE headquarters in Vienna stated that the Yerevan office “can strengthen the capacity and skills of relevant Armenian structures” within the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, accusing Armenia of seeking to “misuse the OSCE Office in Yerevan against legitimate interests of Azerbaijan.”
In an ironic twist in this story, the Azerbaijani government, in June of 2015, gave the staff of the OSCE mission in Baku one month to vacate the premises and the country, ejecting the organization from Azerbaijan. It was a direct reaction to the OSCE Baku office’s criticism of the Azerbaijani government’s crackdown on the media and opposition activists.
Opening of OSCE office and extending their mandates require unanimous approval by all 57 member-states. Baku’s veto last year effectively thwarted the continuation of the OSCE mission in Armenia.
Although, the Armenian government agreed to drop the demining project in January, Baku continued its objections to the mission in Yerevan, angering Washington, which warned Azerbaijan at the time that the closure of the Yerevan office would reflect poorly on Azerbaijan.
“Should the Office in Yerevan be forced to close, this will reflect poorly on Azerbaijan and its government’s commitment to the OSCE,” Kate Byrnes, the charge d’affaires of the U.S. mission to the OSCE warned at the time. “We urge the government of Azerbaijan to constructively engage in finding a compromise solution as soon as possible that will allow the office in Yerevan to remain open.”
“The United States regrets the impending closure of the OSCE Office in Yerevan,” Byrnes said at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in May. “We lament the loss of the last OSCE field operation in the South Caucasus.”
“Armenia, in the spirit of compromise, agreed that the Office in Yerevan would end these [humanitarian demining] activities,” she added.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry strongly condemned Baku’s uncompromising stance on the issue during the May meeting with its spokesman, Tigran Balayan, saying that Azerbaijan’s authoritarian leadership is highlighting its dismal human rights record and “deepening the gap between itself and the international community.”
The Office in Yerevan discontinues its operations in Armenia
VIENNA, 31 August 2017 – The OSCE is closing its Office in Yerevan today.
The Organization opened its field presence in Armenia in 2000. During the years of its operation, the OSCE Office in Yerevan and its dedicated staff promoted the implementation of OSCE principles and commitments, conducted successful operations and implemented valuable projects in all three OSCE dimensions of security – the politico-military, the economic and environmental and the human dimension. The OSCE’s activities in the country included, among others, assistance with police reforms, promoting environmentally-sound natural resources management, support for streamlining the national regulatory frameworks affecting business activity, and support to formulation and implementation of reforms affecting the justice system and electoral management.
The closure of the OSCE Office in Yerevan follows months of negotiations and extensive efforts by the 2016 German OSCE Chairmanship and the 2017 Austrian OSCE Chairmanship to reach consensus among OSCE participating States on the extension of the Office’s mandate.
The Organization will seek to continue its engagement with Armenia in line with existing OSCE commitments.