A storm in a tea-cup....or? Azerbaijani pro government politicians attack Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum for reaching out to unrecognised entities.
23 April 2013

An attempt by the Steering Committee of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum to find a formula which would allow bona fide non-governmental organisations from conflict areas such as Abkhazia or Transdnistria to take part in the work of the Forum has led to an angry protest from Elkhan Suleymanov, head of the Azerbaijani Euronest parliamentary delegation. Mr Suleymanov has written to the Forum accusing it of contradicting "the legal basis of relations of Eastern Partnership countries with the EU". Mr Suleymanov, has suggested that the initiative "is sabotage, and it may have successive, serious and heavy results in future, and at the same time is directed against the spirit and objectives of the EU's Eastern Partnership program"

In a similar vein, a pro government party in Azerbaijan, the United Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (not to be confused with the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party which is a main opposition Party) yesterday issued a statement attacking the decision of the NGO Forum. A statement by the Party, carried by the APA news agency, says that at a meeting in Yerevan on April 4-5 the Board of Directors of Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum "passed a decision supporting separatist regimes". The decision provides for the participation of NGOs operating in the unrecognized regions (Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transdnistria) in the fifth annual meeting of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in Moldova, and on starting discussions in the National Platforms of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum to allocate 10 seats under the name of "Eastern Partnership regions".

In its statement the United APFP said that "the characterisation of occupied Azerbaijani territories as a separate entity under the name of 'Eastern Partnership region' and discussions over the participation of NGOs illegally operating in these regions in "Eastern Partnership" Civil Society Forum is tantamount to supporting occupation and encouraging separatism" and condemned it: "The United Azerbaijan Popular Front Party demands the annulment of this unlawful and provocative decision and urges Azerbaijani NGOs attending the Forum to take urgent measures in this regard", the Party added.

The Steering Commitee of the Eastern Partnership NGO Forum on its part issued a statement on its website in which it  "fully rejects these charges and explains in a reply to Mr Suleymanov's letter that it merely wants to avoid having non-governmental organizations from conflict areas excluded, for no fault of their own, from the work of the Civil Society Forum."

In a comment, political editor said

"the incident can be regarded as a storm in a tea cup, with little significance in the wider scheme of things. However it reflects much bigger and more serious questions. There has in recent years been a contradiction in Azerbaijani policy towards engagement with the resident population of Nagorno-Karabakh. On the one hand the Azerbaijani side has supported meetings between people from the different communities of Karabakh - resident Armenians and displaced Azerbaijanis, even if they are held in third countries. On the other hand Azerbaijan continues with the policy of trying to isolate Karabakh from international contacts. The decision of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum to try to be inclusive and provide space for the participation of civil society activists from the unrecognised entities in the work of the Forum is a positive one, especially since it in no way refers to the unrecognised entities as independent, indeed referring to them as conflict regions. The Forum can be a safe space for interaction between civil society activists from across the conflict divide and its work should be welcome by all, and not criticised."

source: with APA