YEREVAN, OCTOBER 18, ARMENPRESS. Member of the National Council (lower house of the Federal Assembly) of Switzerland, Stefan Müller-Altermatt, who is also the Co-Chair of the Switzerland-Armenia Friendship Group, says if the international community agrees with Azerbaijan that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict is solved and the Minsk Group doesn’t have to say anything, and there are no more peacekeeping troops, there will be a new genocide against the Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh. He sees the solution of the conflict only through political means.
Speaking to ARMENPRESS, Stefan Müller-Altermatt said that Azerbaijan is an aggressor, and Armenia is the victim. He states that Azerbaijan must be punished for its war crimes.
- Mr. Müller-Altermatt, the Azerbaijani forces have invaded the sovereign territory of Armenia. In September they again attacked Armenia. There was a footage showing execution of Armenian prisoners of war by the Azerbaijani troops. As a member of the international community, what is your reaction to these incidents?
- It’s illegal and it’s a crime. These words we need to use. Azerbaijan is an aggressor, and Armenia is the victim. Tragically, these roles are not that clear for big part of the international community, I think, because of their own interests perhaps, perhaps also because of less knowledge, but I think there are interests, of course, with big part in the energy sector. And Azerbaijan there has at the moment, because of the Russian weakness, a very good position. That’s the fate of Armenia now.
- In your opinion, what steps should the international community take or what role could it play to restrain Azerbaijan’s aggression?
- First of all, we need the truth. It has to be spoken out that there is an aggression, and it will be judged, and justice must work. War crimes have to be punished. At the moment it doesn’t look like, but there need to be justice and the truth. And then we need to have the same right for all the countries. We have an aggression of Russia against Ukraine. And it was clear, we need sanctions against Russia. We have now an aggression of Azerbaijan against Armenia, but we have no sanctions at all. In contrast, we have new agreements and statements from European Union that Azerbaijan is a reliable energy partner. But that cannot be.
- As you know, Azerbaijan is still holding Armenian prisoners of war and refuses to return them. What role could the international community play on this matter in order to force Azerbaijan to return the Armenian POWs?
- Even in this case we need international judgment. The humanitarian law is clear - after a war prisoners of war have to be exchanged. Even before, if they are not an element of the conflict, they have to be exchanged, they have to go home. We need pressure from the international community by judgment, by punishment and by sanctions.
- Azerbaijan claims that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict is resolved, thus, rejecting the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship format. Whereas, Armenia says that the final settlement of the conflict should take place within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. What is your comment on this? Do you think that the Minsk Group has nothing to do now? How do you see the final settlement of the conflict?
- The solution must be a political one, not a solution by violence, because there will be a second genocide, for me, it’s clear. If we say now it is solved as Azerbaijan likes to say, and the Minsk Group doesn’t have to say anything and Russia is weak, and we have no more peacekeeping troops, so there will be a genocide. Because it is after decades of hatred and recession against Armenians there will be crimes and cruelties against the Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh. So, we need a political solution. Of course, the Minsk Group is weak because of the weakness of Russia, but there is European Union that has responsibility for this region, there are the Western, all the Western nations, that have responsibility for Armenia, and the de facto Republic of Artsakh is democracy and I think we should stand for this democracy, we should stand for the freedom of expression, for human rights, and all this we find in Nagorno Karabakh, but not in the rest of Azerbaijan. So this is clear. The people is there, the human rights are there, we cannot eliminate both.
- You mentioned that the Minsk Group is weak, but it is the only internationally recognized platform for the NK conflict. What do you think? Should the negotiations continue within this format or not?
- The problem is negotiations in the Minsk Group are negotiations with Russia, nobody wants to negotiate with Russia at the moment. So perhaps, that could be a role for Switzerland. We say, guys, we have a problem, and you need to negotiate, if you need adaptions of the framework of the Minsk Group, so come to us, we speak together. Perhaps there need to be an additional role for the EU or for Great Britain or whoever. We could be a podium, we could facilitate, Switzerland, perhaps an adapted Minsk framework. But it is a fact, the Minsk framework is weak at the moment.
- Now let’s speak about the Armenian-Swiss relations. In which areas can the two countries develop the bilateral ties? What prospects do you see?
- Well, we already have a lot of cooperation projects in terms of development mainly in the south of Armenia, it’s part of the executive work. There are several topics that are worked with in this cooperation - energy, housing, and so on. There is a lot of work and very good cooperation. The Ambassador today briefed me and he said that we had 21 million Swiss Francs in Syunik during the last years. By the way, these are money that is threatened now if there will be a war in the south Armenia. So there needs to be cooperation and there need to be a lot of engagement in the south Armenia. That’s our own interest. On the other fields, of course, we have, Switzerland has a very long tradition of strong institutions. I am very interested in the exchange of this legislative power we have in Switzerland, of this long tradition of strong institution. I think there could be a real good relevant exchange with the goal that all democracies of the world form together this community of values. We have to strengthen this community of values. And Armenia and Switzerland there can play an important role.
- And what kind of economic cooperation do you imagine? Maybe trade?
- Trade, of course. I very like apricots. We quite count by Armenian apricots in Switzerland. We have cooperation projects in agriculture in the south. Together with these cooperation projects, we could also stimulate trade between the countries. So that would be all in one line for the further development of the relations.
Interview by Anna Grigoryan
Photos by Mkhitar Khachatryan