HL Deb 01 July 1997 vol 581 cc154-71

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Cox rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, in view of their commitment to a human rights-based foreign policy, what is their position with regard to the relationship between the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity, with particular reference to the resolution of the conflict between Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of the conflict between Azerbaijan and the Armenians of Karabakh, which has cost tens of thousands of Armenian and Azeri lives, caused incalculable suffering and destruction and continues to cause misery to thousands of displaced people and instability in the entire region. I am also grateful to all noble Lords who will be speaking and especially delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Powis, has chosen to make his maiden speech tonight.

I shall set the scene by highlighting some historical facts and relating them to the principles of territorial integrity and self-determination, which must be reconciled if a just and lasting peace is to be found. I must first declare an interest—not pecuniary, but personal. I have just returned from my 32nd visit to the region. My first was in May 1991 when I was asked to lead an international delegation from the Andrei Sakharov Memorial Congress in Moscow to investigate reports of deportations by Azeri forces of Armenians from their ancient homelands. We went without prejudice. We returned deeply disturbed by the evidence of brutality inflicted on innocent Armenian civilians. We subsequently visited Azerbaijan to hear the Azeri viewpoint and returned even more disturbed by their attitudes and policies.

My position has since become one of advocacy for the Armenians of Karabakh, who have been blockaded, besieged and bombarded with ruthless ferocity by Azerbaijan, intent on an explicit policy of ethnic cleansing. As the then Azeri President Elchibey said in June 1992, If there is a single Armenian left in Karabakh by October of this year, the people of Azerbaijan can hang me in the central square of Baku".

Many Azeris have also been displaced. But the cause of their displacement has not been repeated massacre and attempted genocide. Azerbaijan encourages visits by politicians and the media to see their people suffering and to hear their version of events. But few people, including the politicians whose decisions will shape the future, visit Karabakh to see the suffering of the Armenians and to hear their point of view. Moreover, major aid organisations such as UNHCR have not been present in Karabakh so the Armenians of Karabakh have been denied both aid and advocacy.

Armenians have repeatedly suffered atrocities at the hands of Turks and Azeris, including the murder of 1.5 million Armenians by Turkey in the genocide of 1915; the massacre of 20,000 Armenians in the ancient Armenian city of Shushi in 1920; and massacres in Sumgait and Baku in 1988 and 1990. That history of genocide and massacre explains why the Armenians of Karabakh can never again accept Azeri sovereignty, and the conduct of the war initiated by Azerbaijan confirms that unacceptability beyond doubt.

During this war the 150,000 Armenians who live in Karabakh managed to withstand assaults by 7 million strong Azerbaijan, helped by Turkey with manpower and weapons and by several thousand mujahedeen mercenaries. In any war human rights will be violated by both sides. But there is a systematic asymmetry which proves that Azerbaijan has been the primary aggressor for at least seven reasons.

First, it was Azerbaijan, with Soviet 4th Army troops, which undertook "Operation Ring" in 1991: the brutal policy of systematic deportation of Armenians. Secondly, in October 1991 Azerbaijan announced its intention to annul Karabakh's autonomous status and to rename its capital city Stepanakert with a Turkish name. The Armenians saw that as the beginning of the end and resorted to the only constitutional means available to them. They held a referendum which gave an overwhelming mandate for independence and they elected their first parliament. Azerbaijan responded with full-scale military offensives.

Thirdly, in the ensuing war it was Azerbaijan which first used Grad multiple-missile rocket launchers against civilians. Between January and May 1992 I counted 400 Grad missiles every day bombarding civilians in Stepanakert. Other towns and villages also suffered sustained bombardment from towns in Azerbaijan proper, which eventually forced the Armenians of Karabakh to occupy those towns as a buffer zone.

Fourthly, only Azerbaijan used aerial bombardment of civilians, dropping 500 kg bombs from low-flying aircraft on to women and children. Fifthly, only Azerbaijan used ground-to-air missiles, detonated to explode over civilian targets. With no advance warning, people could not take cover. missiles exploded and razor-sharp shrapnel shredded anyone in the fall-out area. Sixthly, Azerbaijan and Turkey still maintain the infamous blockade of Armenia. Even after the earthquake in 1988 Azerbaijan would not allow the passage of humanitarian aid to the affected areas. Seventhly, in Armenia just a few weeks ago I met young Armenian soldiers abducted during the ceasefire and saw on their bodies the evidence of torture inflicted by their Azeri captors. That is why it is a travesty of the truth for so many media to label Armenians as the aggressors.

To come briefly to the present, despite the precarious ceasefire, which has held for over three years, people on both sides continue to suffer. Many Azeri refugees are still kept in harsh conditions in camps in Azerbaijan, and visitors are taken to see them. By contrast, Armenia, with comparable numbers of people made homeless by earthquake and war, and suffering from the continuing blockade, has found accommodation for all its displaced people. Visitors to Azerbaijan might ask what Azerbaijan has done with UNHCR money and why it has not been as successful as Armenia, with all its problems, in providing for its displaced people.

Current demands by Azerbaijan for the return of Shushi and Lachin to Azeri control indicate a lack of serious willingness by the Azeris to achieve a positive outcome to negotiations. The taking of the Lachin corridor and the town of Shushi by the Armenians of Karabakh were essential for their survival. That corridor is a vital lifeline for supplies, and Shushi, on a hill above Stepanakert, was a base for firing 400 Grad rockets a day on to the capital city. It is the equivalent of a Golan Heights.

Armenians cannot ignore the continuing build-up by Azerbaijan of its armed forces and weapons. Recent reports of Russian sales of weapons to Armenia fail to mention the massive purchases of arms by Azerbaijan by countries such as Ukraine, including Smerch and Uregan long-range missiles and fighter aircraft. If further conflict were to break out, and Azerbaijan attempts another genocide or ethnic cleansing, Armenia cannot stand passively by. If Armenia were to engage, this could trigger a regional war, which would cause incalculable suffering and destabilise the entire region, militarily, politically and economically.

It is thus of the utmost importance that the international community prevails on Azerbaijan to desist from further military offensives and to seek a political solution which takes into realistic account the deeply-rooted fears of Armenians, based on long experience of Azeri repression, which prevents them from ever again being able to accept Azeri sovereignty.

Such a political solution must give comparable weight to the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity, recognised in the foundation of the OSCE. It was very unfortunate that the OSCE chairman's statement at the Lisbon Summit prejudged the outcome of the Minsk deliberations, giving unwarranted preference to the principle of territorial integrity at the expense of self-determination. That is totally inappropriate, as those borders have no moral or legal integrity. Karabakh had never been part of Azerbaijan until Stalin's autocratic decision in the 1920s. There is no legitimate justification for Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.

The UN recognises that no people should be required to live under the rule of a state which has attempted their genocide. The Armenians of Karabakh genuinely desire peace and are willing to discuss political solutions, such as a horizontal relationship with Azerbaijan, but they cannot accept subjugation to Azerbaijan. The credibility of the OSCE is at stake; it cannot be in its long-term interests to try to inflict a political solution which flouts the principles of justice and demonstrates the truth of Churchill's comment that the tragedy of the Armenian people is that blood is lighter than oil.

I therefore ask the Minister whether he can give an undertaking that any contribution made by Britain to the OSCE deliberations will respect both the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity.

Your Lordships will remember Hitler's cynical question before embarking on the genocide of Polish Jews: "Who now speaks of the Armenians?" This debate shows that there are people who still speak of the Armenians. If the international community betrays their just cause and relegates them to an unjust subjugation to Azeri Turks who have already attempted their genocide, we will continue to speak of them; and those who consign them to this fate, in the interests of economic gain or political expediency, will be criticised by us, and, I dare to venture, condemned by history.

7.55 p.m.

The Earl of Powis

My Lords, my father was shy of public speaking and believed he could help more with local matters than with broader political issues. He never in his short period as Earl felt he could usefully contribute to the House of Lords, although he did say that there were two issues which would bring him here: if it looked likely that capital punishment was about to be re-enacted, or if it looked likely that women were going to be denied the priesthood. The four-year delay before my maiden speech is in part because I am my father's son. I am nervous and would find it easier to stay at home, but I feel that the subject today is important.

Your Lordships may have noticed that, curiously, I am quoted in a recent Telegraph supplement already as a spokesman for your Lordships' House, having not yet spoken in it. I failed to resist the temptation to fill out a questionnaire on the House. I have attended as an observer a number of times and have noted that this House is an unusually benevolent and efficient entity.

I also feel that the House has, in its characteristic reticence, not managed to draw public admiration. So few know the truth and so many continue to believe that here is merely a gentleman's club where dining and whining are at public expense and where the inhabitants generally get in the way of sensible change.

Nagorno-Karabakh has a similar publicity problem but with dire consequences. It is a small and isolated Armenian community surrounded by Azerbaijan, a country which, the world on the whole allows, has a right to remove the traditional inhabitants and replace them with its own. As a member of Christian Solidarity International—CSI—I have been deeply concerned about the tragic conflict between Azerbaijan and Karabakh and the suffering it has caused to both Armenians and Azeris.

I am aware that a maiden speech should not be controversial, and I have found this to be a difficulty, particularly in the context of a war. But my focus is on the need for a secure peace, and the desperate need for humanitarian aid for the people of Karabakh, who have been denied help from major aid organisations.

I must first declare an interest, as a Christian. Karabakh has always been Armenian, as far back as 310 AD when Armenia became the first officially Christian nation. Karabakh has a number of ancient churches and Christian monuments, confirming its venerable Armenian history. Counter to this, chiefly because of Stalin's policies towards different cultures in the region, the Azeris feel that Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan, and this dispute is what lies behind the fighting in recent years between a country of 7 million Azeris and an enclave of 150,000 Armenians.

During the 1991 offensive, when Azerbaijan had overrun 40 per cent. of Karabakh, the Azeris tried to destroy all of these cultural evidences. Remarkably, this offensive was repelled. Churches and houses are now gradually being rebuilt. In this struggle 80,000 people had to flee to Karabakh's capital, Stepanakert, where bombardment and starvation made survival improbable. Major aid agencies did not help and this has remained largely the case since then. There is considerable suffering now in the enclave, and this will be worse when winter returns.

Azerbaijan has rich oil fields; it has inherited Soviet arms; and it has had publicity on its side because many visitors come to Azerbaijan in connection with oil, and they report the Azeri point of view. The Karabakhis have virtually no opportunity to present their plight because of the blockade. This, combined with the absence of humanitarian aid, puts Nagorno-Karabakh in a desperate situation. There is precedent for aid. In other disputes over territory in that region Christian aid agencies have helped both sides.

They are a people the world has forgotten. They have survived, but unless they receive a degree of recognition from Her Majesty's Government and others, their days are numbered. I do not have the time now to put before noble Lords the policy of ethnic cleansing stressed by a succession of Azeri leaders. This aim, together with the Karabakh concern to preempt it, can only lead to further bloodshed. A proper peace cannot come unless other nations provide an impartial atmosphere. The prevailing tacit endorsement of the Azeri position can only contribute to more death and horror.

I therefore ask the Minister, first, whether Her Majesty's Government would recognise that Karabakh cannot accept Azeri sovereignty. Secondly, would the Government press for access by organisations so far excluded from Karabakh, who could meet the urgent needs of the civilians there? Thirdly, in the absence of such organisations, would the Government provide some assistance to organisations such as CSI, which are able to take in urgently needed aid?

I thank your Lordships for your patience. The time limits and the traditions of your Lordships' House, which expect a maiden speech to be brief, mean that I must stop.

8 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, on behalf of the whole House, I warmly congratulate the noble Earl on his maiden speech. That he has chosen to support the noble Baroness in a noble cause—that of the human rights of a small and beleaguered group of people—and that he has done it so effectively and with no sign of the nerves that he mentioned, is a happy augury for this House. We look forward to hearing him again on many future occasions.

It is always an honour to be able to support the noble Baroness. She has often taken her life in her hands to bring help to beleaguered and suffering people and to tell the world about them, as she so well knows how to do. She has been in distinguished company—Andrei Sakharov, for one. But I have never admired her courage more than I do today.

After the Denver Summit 10 days ago, Russia, the United States and France commended the latest OSCE proposal for Nagorno-Karabakh. These, recognise the republic as a multi—ethnic autonomous identity under Azerbaijani sovereignty, with the right to its own constitution, emblem, national anthem and flag"— very generous— and [proclaims it] a free economic zone with a budget financed exclusively from its own resources, and the right to its own national guard and military police". The proposals go on to require the Karabakh armed forces to be withdrawn within the boundaries which existed in 1988, (i.e., the original Soviet-dictated borders). That would require the Armenian-occupied Lachin corridor—Nagorno-Karabakh's only access to Armenia and thus to the world, and the lifeline of the country for which it fought when Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey tried to cut it off—to be given up. The OSCE then proposes the following interesting plan, Around the 1988 borders the OSCE would create a sort of buffer zone, of which the parameters have not been set". As for the Lachin corridor, it would be, leased to Azerbaijan by the OSCE"— a very novel idea— which would set the borders and be responsible for the link between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Lachin district would come under Azerbaijani jurisdiction. Azerbaijani refugees would be returned to Armenian-held territory". Many of these Azerbaijanis are the equivalent of the Turks imported into northern Cyprus by Turkey.

The Caspian could become as much a flashpoint as the Middle East has been on occasion, and for the same reason—the presence of oil. The British, French, Russians, Americans, Turks, Japanese and even the Iranians now have substantial oil interests there, and so the governments concerned want to see peace in the area. I do not quarrel with that, but I do most strongly suggest that Azerbaijan needs us as much as we need them and we should be using the much-vaunted European Union, which believes it has a foreign policy entity, not to appease, but to exert influence in favour of a just settlement for a small and beleaguered Christian entity.

A US congressman who visited Nagorno-Karabakh in January said that the US must be persuaded that it could resolve the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh without damaging its oil interests in the Southern Caucases. It is in our long-term interest to do the same.

The OSCE proposals will have to be rethought. Whose troops would enforce the OSCE plan and for how long? We have many levers at our disposal to bring pressure to bear on the Azeris. They want to join the Council of Europe and are actually being encouraged to think that they can do so while they continue to abuse human rights. In January they had a large grant from the European Union to help Azerbaijani refugees who suffered in the conflict. What about those in Nagorno-Karabakh? The IMF, the World Bank, and the EBRD are all supporting the Azeris. Azerbaijan is a Partner for Peace. Let us put peace and genuine enforceable freedom for the country on the agenda for the first meeting of the NATO—Russian Council.

I believe that because of the very great importance that Russia as well as the West attach to stability and peace in the area, it is in our power, through NATO, because of the CFE treaty and many other things, through the Council of Europe and through all the major international funding bodies to whom the Azeris are supplicants, to exact a settlement which would preserve Nagorno-Karabakh's lifeline, the Lachin corridor, opening the country to investment and letting in UN aid and refugee agencies which are so conspicuous by their absence. I urge the Minister to recognise that our vital interests in the area, stability and trade, actually require us to exert a positive influence on Baku in relation to human rights rather than to appease them. I urge the Minister to recognise that. Both Azerbaijan and Armenia have given a cautious welcome to the Denver statement because they need the great powers to be committed to a solution. But the OSCE plan is no solution at all for Nagorno-Karabakh itself and is in any case unworkable.

Finally, I suggest that BP should be strongly encouraged, in the interests of its own public relations, to indicate clearly to the Azeris that it is in their interest to work for a sensible and fair settlement.

8.6 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I feel that I should start by expressing my sympathy for the very sad and unexpected bereavement suffered by my noble friend Lady Cox whose husband died last Saturday. I feel sure that none of us who know her is surprised that she has decided to carry straight ahead with this debate, which she opened with her unique knowledge of the subject, her customary compassion and accuracy. Indeed, having been privileged to enjoy the friendship also of her late husband, Dr. Murray Cox, I am sure that that is exactly what he would have wished her to do.

I also join my noble friend Lady Park in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Powis, on his excellent and well informed maiden speech.

My justification for participating in the debate is that in the summer of 1991 I went with an international human rights delegation, led by my noble friend Lady Cox, on the second of her 32 missions to Nagorno-Karabakh. I have also read all of her reports of the 30 subsequent visits. In case anyone should think that my noble friend is in any way affected by Christian bias against the Azeris, I can tell your Lordships of one occasion, at the height of the conflict, when she asked me (in that rather irresistible way she has) if the charity which I founded would send what was for us a very large sum of money to support Azeri refugees. Medical Relief International (MERLIN) had obtained a promise of the sum in question from European Union sources, but it would have taken months to be paid, too late to help the refugees in question. I am glad to say that we were able to provide the bridging loan in question, plus some additional finance and MERLIN's mission was successful. But those Azeri refugees would not have been helped without the intervention of my noble friend Lady Cox.

The purpose of our visit in 1991 was to discover whether there was any truth in Armenian allegations about the savage clearance of the Armenian villages in Nagorno-Karabakh, largely by Azeri OMON troops, but with Russian Soviet Spetznaz and political support. We also visited Baku, still under the communist control of Mr. Mutalibov at the time, and we went to Yerevan as well. Alas, the Armenian allegations certainly were true. Mr. Gorbachev was in London at the time, needing to make a good impression at the G7 talks. That may explain why we were allowed unprecedented access by Soviet helicopters to most of the villages in Nagorno-Karabakh which we asked to see.

I will not trouble noble Lords with the brutality of what we saw and heard. A full report, together with very distressing photographic evidence, was given to the Foreign Office at the time. Suffice to say that the Armenian villagers of Nagorno-Karabakh were ruthlessly cleared out to be replaced by Azeri inhabitants. At the time the Armenian population was almost entirely unarmed. Its crime was merely that Armenia had voted to secede from the Soviet Union whereas Azerbaijan had not yet done so. Of course, we went to a number of Azeri villages as well to hear their side of the story.

I have time to offer your Lordships only one impression from that process; it shows how different the two races are. Sometimes the villages were less than a mile apart, but the people had not intermarried. Each side accused the other of firing the first shots, but the presence of so many Spetznaz troops made one suspect that they were perhaps the guilty party. Be that as it may, after so much bloodshed in the five years which followed our visit, peaceful cohabitation must be an impossible prospect, as my noble friend Lady Cox said.

I offer one other observation. Your Lordships' House has discussed the tragic plight of the Armenians at Karabakh perhaps half a dozen times in the past six years. Yet as far as I know, not a single one of your Lordships has yet spoken against the position born of such hard experience and so knowledgeably put forward by my noble friend Lady Cox. And this is in spite of the support which Azerbaijan inevitably attracts outside this Chamber because of her massive oil reserves.

Now that I have made the point, perhaps some noble Lord will come forward to say that my noble friend Lady Cox is wrong and that the Armenians, not the Azeris, are the villains of this terrible piece. All I can say is that I trust that the noble Lord in question, if he emerges, will read with care your Lordships' guidelines on the declaration of commercial interests before he dares to put forward such an absurd proposition.

No, my Lords, my noble friend is right. If the Armenians of Karabakh are returned to any form of Azeri control, yet more bloodshed must inevitably follow. The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh are Armenian and must be part of Armenia forever.

8.11 p.m.

The Earl of Shannon

My Lords, I start by declaring my interest as chairman of the British-Armenian parliamentary group. As we have heard, we are discussing one of the potential powder kegs of the world today.

The ancient Armenian kingdom stretched from the Mediterranean to the Caspian. It was an area continually fought over by the Assyrian, Persian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Most recent was the genocide of 1915. That is a fact corroborated extensively in the Foreign Office files in Whitehall. It led to condemnation by all the leaders of what were later to be the victorious allies. But in 1918, nothing was done because Turkey was saying, "You need us against Bolshevism", as it did in 1945 when it said, "You need us against communism. Oh, and by the way, can we join NATO?"; and as it did at the break-up of the Soviet Union when it said, "We are a good export market".

In spite of all that evidence here, Her Majesty's Government are still about the only civilised Western Government who have not officially recognised the genocide of 1915. Perhaps this new Government will consider doing so, or are Turkish blandishments still too strong?

In 1920, Armenia chose to come under the protection of the Soviet Union because the Armenians preferred to be red rather than dead, as they certainly would have been had they remained independent and at the mercy of Turkey. Comrade Joseph Stalin, working on the old Roman principle of keeping the vassal states at loggerheads with each other so as not to cause him any trouble in Moscow, gave the Armenian province of Artsek, now known as the Nagorno-Karabakh as an autonomous oblast to Azerbaijan and in the early 1930s cut the land links to Armenia proper at Lachin.

To keep the pot boiling, he then gave part of the old Armenian Khanate of Yerevan, now known as Nakhichevan, to Azerbaijan, although it had no land connection to Azerbaijan and a large part of Armenia lay in between.

Acting under the old Soviet constitution—I think it was Clause 60—covering the rights of self-determination subject to a referendum, Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence and secession from the Soviet Union on the latter's demise. Although Whitehall sanctimoniously wrings its hands and bleats the sanctity of the later Helsinki Agreement to preserve the status quo, in fact, the legal status quo at the time was an independent Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nakhichevan was the subject of ethnic cleansing by Azerbaijan. Having a common border with Armenia, the Armenian inhabitants were able to leave but not so in Nagorno-Karabakh, whose inhabitants were cut off from Armenia proper.

As we have heard, two presidents of Azerbaijan are on record as saying that they will exterminate all Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and, after invasion, have continually tried to pursue a military solution. But the Armenians are front-line soldiers while the Azeris were always in the administrative corps of the old Soviet army. The result was obvious. Excellent though they are, it would be like putting up the Army Catering Corps against a brigade of Guards, a pretty obvious outcome in any battle. The Azeri invaders were kicked out and a cordon sanitaire was established to avoid shelling by Grad rockets, as we have heard from the noble Baroness. So there is no military solution.

But there is one development which can either ignite the powder keg or, in my opinion, create an enforced peace in the area. I refer to the vast quantities of oil under the Caspian Sea. When I was first in the Karabakh in 1993, I proposed at an interview that, as the Black Sea and Iran are out of the question, the only sensible way to get that oil out for world markets would be a pipeline from Baku and the Baku area, across Azerbaijan, through southern Armenia to Nakhichevan and there, via its common border with Turkey, to the presently under-used oil port at Sihan on the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, the drawback now is that the oil would be going into Turkey through an area where the Turks are now, with their true traditional Genghis Khan attitude, knocking hell out of the poor Kurds.

In that way, all participants would benefit and would have a measure of control, having their own tap which they could turn off. Also, under the Helsinki Agreement, the illegal blockade of Armenia by Turkey and Azerbaijan would come to an end. I use the simile that, if everyone has their hands on everyone else's throat, nobody will start squeezing.

The Macchiavellian oil companies, with their massive wealth, evidently silenced the UN Security Council when Azerbaijan invaded the Nagorno-Karabakh, and they mounted a vast PR campaign against the Karabakhi Armenians, who were fighting for their homeland and against the ethnic cleansing with its attendant atrocities, as we have heard from the noble Baroness. Those companies are still actively subservient to Azerbaijan in the hope of good contracts, although it is still subject to doubt as to which nation owns what of the Caspian oil.

The recent announcement through OSCE that Nakhichevan should be linked to Azerbaijan by a land link is merely prompted by a desire for a route for the pipeline to pass wholly through Azerbaijan territory and give away yet another part of Armenia. Is that going to be another lever to try to obtain sovereignty by Azerbaijan over the Karabakh? If so, it will just be the match to the powder keg. Her Majesty's Government should please watch out and they should be grateful to the noble Baroness for asking this Question.

8.18 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I wish to thank my noble friend Lady Cox for introducing this Question this evening with her usual indomitable courage at this time, matched only by her courage in all her activities around the world.

I congratulate also the noble Earl, Lord Powis, on his maiden speech. My wife had the pleasure of sitting at his feet when he was speaking in Swansea a few days ago and so I am not surprised at his eloquence. I hope that we shall see him here often.

I wish to ask the Government about the political settlement between the Azeris and the Armenians which has been mentioned by other noble Lords. The facts have been well documented this evening. There are 150,000 Armenians living in that enclave in Azerbaijan and their ancestors have been there for centuries and centuries.

The Azeris have talked quite clearly, from the president downwards, of their desire for ethnic cleansing to remove all Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azeris tried to conquer the enclave but the Armenians held out extremely successfully, as has been said. There has been a ceasefire for three years but it is rather tremulous and not entirely working.

The suffering on both sides has been terrible. The fighting has caused misery, as has the bombing. Also, there is terrible suffering for those taken prisoner. That needs to be highlighted. Perhaps I may give a couple of instances. Most recently, there was an example of a young Azeri soldier who deserted to the Armenians because of the abuse that was taking place in Azerbaijan's army. It seems likely that that young man will now be given political asylum in Armenia. Other returning prisoners of war from Azerbaijan speak of systematic abuse and maltreatment. For instance, one man was beaten unconscious almost daily—sometimes three times a day—denied food and water, burnt with hot skewers and finally scarred with knives and cigarettes which left a cross etched on his back. Another example is that of a woman who was captured in August 1996 during the supposed ceasefire. She is now mentally ill as a result of multiple rape and other maltreatment endured at the hands of the Azeris. These horrific stories bear further testimony to the asymmetry that is evident in this conflict and its continuation even during the ceasefire.

I should like to put three questions to the Minister. First, what is the present position with regard to OSCE activity and its supposed aim to bring to this area a settled, permanent and just peace? We all know how important that is. Obviously it is important to BP and the oil interests of other countries. It is essential to avoid the suffering, hardship and cruelty that has occurred. Both civilians and armed forces are suffering very much. The recent publicity given to the OSCE's activities has been discouraging. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide more encouraging information about what that body is doing at the present time. Secondly, will the Government use their influence with both the Armenian and Azeri governments as well as with the OSCE to promote justice in the area? Thirdly, will the Government press for an independent public investigation of the violations of the third and fourth Geneva conventions and ensure that the results are publicised?

The Government have strongly emphasised their commitment to human rights. Human rights are being violated in these countries time and again. Will the Government do their utmost to ensure that they are properly and publicly investigated by people who do not have commercial interests in either country so that they are truly independent? I hope that that investigation will then be fully publicised.

8.23 p.m.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I should like to speak very briefly in the gap in support of my brave and noble friend Lady Cox. Some years ago I walked through the Peers' Dining Room and met her having tea with a group of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh. She asked me to join her. I listened to their tragic stories of horror. They were brave, good Christian people. I happened to have with me a bunch of snowdrops which I was arranging at the Peers' Entrance. I gave the Armenians a snowdrop which they placed in their Bible. I told them that it was the flower of hope. My noble friend Lady Cox has been the snowdrop of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. She is their flower of hope.

8.24 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, I too rise to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Powis, on his maiden speech. It is appropriate that he should speak with such sensitivity, confidence and strength in this debate. He does so on a day when my noble friend Lady Cox has spoken from the heart. Her personal courage is second to none. Not least for that reason she remains greatly loved and admired by all with whom she works both inside and outside this House.

The principles of self-determination and territorial integrity have been at the heart of foreign policy and diplomacy across the centuries. Throughout the 20th century they have shaped our geopolitical landscape, and there is no doubt that they will continue to do so. If one were to compare maps of Europe throughout this century, from its early years to its dying days, one would be able to chart the geographical and physical effects of modern territorial integrity and self-determination. It would become clear as one looked at the maps that such forces could be dangerous and harmful if unleashed and harnessed to the cause of extremism. Self-determination—the right of a people to govern themselves—is often a fine and praiseworthy goal, but self-determination extended too far can become separatism and nationalism, which we have seen lead to ethnic cleansing and genocide in our century. Territorial integrity—a nation's right to maintain its borders—has a justified place in international law, but not if it is extended too far and becomes territorial encroachment.

The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and the resultant dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan is but one example of the destruction that these forces can wreak. The unresolved eight year-old conflict over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh continues to plague both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The stakes are very high. Neither country can achieve its economic potential while the dispute remains unresolved. The external trade embargo imposed by the Azerbaijani Government on Armenia has caused much economic hardship, while Azerbaijan cannot fulfil the estimated huge potential of the Caspian oil reserves with so much instability within its territory.

As my noble friend Lady Cox has argued, the Armenian parliament has understandably refused to accept any solution to the conflict which refers to Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, while Azerbaijan has annulled Nagorno-Karabakh's former autonomous status and prospects for negotiated settlement remain as elusive as ever.

I should be grateful if the Minister could answer a few questions. Is it the Government's objective to maintain diplomatic relations with both countries but to continue with the imposition of the two arms embargoes imposed in 1992 as a result of a decision by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe? Is it the Government's view that any solution should be based on the sovereignty of Azerbaijan with real autonomy for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh?

One of the UK's priorities rightly has been to provide humanitarian relief to the estimated one million displaced people in Azerbaijan. To meet their needs is a keenly felt and urgent humanitarian requirement that arises from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Over £5 million in direct humanitarian relief has wisely been provided to Armenia since 1993. Since December 1992 the United Kingdom has provided almost £3.8 million in direct humanitarian aid to Azerbaijan, primarily to assist the displaced population. Can the Minister inform the House whether the Government intend to continue this? Much of this has been channelled through the UNHCR, the World Food Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross, MERLIN and Christian Solidarity International, bringing relief and food to the displaced population. Will this policy on disbursement continue?

Given their commitment to a human rights based foreign policy, I very much hope that the Government will continue the admirable work that has already been done by the former Overseas Development Administration for the resettlement of refugees and the humanitarian relief of the populations of both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The UK has responsibility to both of these westward-looking countries to continue to take a proactive role in finding a solution to their dispute and in assisting to build the infrastructure and economic reforms through trade, investment and the exchange of know-how that will lead those countries to a peaceful and prosperous future.

There are three key areas in which I urge the Government to continue to act for the benefit of the region and the global community. First, there is an historic opportunity to change the face of this region dramatically. I urge the Government to continue to play a role in this by subscribing fully to the OSCE principle that frontiers are inviolable and can be changed only peacefully by agreement. Any change in the status of Nagorno-Karabakh would have to be mutually agreed with the authorities of the countries concerned. The right to self-determination does not equate automatically to a right to succession.

Secondly, the UK has a fine record for the sharing of ideas with policy makers in the Caspian region. The United Kingdom has a diplomatic presence in both countries, and there have been regular high level visits on both sides since diplomatic relations were established. I urge the Government to continue the work of the Know How Fund. This has enabled both Armenia and Azerbaijan to benefit from the wealth of expertise in the United Kingdom on subjects ranging from privatisation to environmental legislation.

Thirdly, I hope that the Government will continue their assistance to British companies operating and trading in the region. Trade is the key to long-term success for the nations of the former Soviet Union, which cannot build firm relations with the West unless international business invests resources to help entrench real independence from Russia.

In conclusion, I fear that the disputes caused by movements of self-determination and the resultant conflicts to maintain territorial integrity can never be relegated to the history books. However, over the past 17 years the UK has always been ready to act with the international community, and to play a full and respected role in finding a solution to such conflicts. I wish the Government well in ensuring that that reputation remains intact and untarnished.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating the debate. Her presence in distressing circumstances demonstrates only too clearly her commitment to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. Everything she said, echoed by other noble Lords, indicates that. I commend the moving and informed maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Powis. I trust that now he has decided to take an active oral part in the business of the House he will continue to find us benevolent and, it is hoped, even efficient.

In her report of Christian Solidarity International's visit to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, the noble Baroness noted that a just and lasting peace would enable the region to develop its economic potential and democratic process to the full. The Government entirely agree with that objective. The region has great potential. Unfortunately, the immediate consequences of independence from Soviet rule were catastrophic ethnic conflicts and horrendous human rights abuse leading to disruption of economic, commercial and private life, not just in Nagorno-Karabakh but in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia.

Since the ceasefire in 1994 in Nagorno-Karabakh all three countries have taken drastic and successful measures which have improved their position, but the human rights problems remain. The noble Baroness says that she is an advocate of the Armenian people of Nagorno-Karabakh. I respect that and the position taken in support of the Armenian cause by other noble Lords. There are two sides to the issue. It may well be that the aggression in response to the declaration of independence was started by the Azeris, but 20 per cent. of the internationally recognised territory of Azerbaijan is under Armenian occupation. There are 900,000 Azerian refugees and 300,000 Armenian refugees. We have heard horrific stories from the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, and others.

Within Azerbaijan itself, the human rights position still causes the Government concern. Human rights organisations are concerned about breaches of due process in trials of political prisoners. We and our partners within the EU have urged the Azeri authorities, and will continue to do so, to move towards democratic reform; to allow political parties access to the media; and to establish an independent electoral position. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, and other noble Lords asked whether I could give a commitment that the Government would put pressure on the Azeris to follow down that road. We will do so directly and with our partners in the EU. The authorities in Azerbaijan realise that progress on human rights must be a condition of the entry to the Council of Europe which they seek, and that human rights performance is one of the criteria taken into account in the partnership and co-operation agreement with the EU.

Against that tragic background, the Government have been working to try to encourage all three Transcaucasus states to perceive their common interests. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, referred to aid under the previous government. Between 1992 and 1994 nearly £1 million was given in aid to agencies working with refugees and internally displaced people as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Since 1992 over £9 million has also been given in bilateral emergency relief to Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is the Government's intention to continue that generous policy.

The noble Earl, Lord Powis, referred to possible help for Christian Solidarity International. He will be aware that there was a grant of £327,000 to that organisation. We will look at the position in future. The best form of aid in these circumstances is bilateral; that is, aid which goes to both sides—to Armenia, and thereby to Nagorno-Karabakh, and to the Azeris.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked about the Government's position on the relationship between the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, also asked about that. The OSCE's principles guiding relations between participating states were adopted in 1975. The second of those principles refers to the inviolability of internationally recognised frontiers, and the fourth refers to the territorial integrity of states.

The Government have not yet reviewed the position in relation to the Caucasus developments, but our principal position is that the OSCE principles that frontiers are inviolable is the only sensible way of proceeding in international relations. Any change in the status of Nagorno-Karabakh has to be mutually agreed by the authorities of the countries concerned. Territorial integrity is, after all, at the heart of the UN and the OSCE's approach to international relations, and whether international boundaries were imposed by history or Soviet imperialism, or by any other form of imperialism elsewhere in the world, our approach has always been that those boundaries can be altered only by agreement.

The eighth OSCE principle relates to self-determination. It is worth mentioning that for the purposes and principles of the UN Charter that is operative with reference to the relevant norms of international law. They include not just references to human rights but those relating to territorial integrity of states. Our position on the issue does not apply just to Nagorno-Karabakh. It applies throughout the world, but in particular in that part of the world it applies to Abkhazia where we have made clear our support for the territorial integrity of Georgia.

A number of accusations have been made that the position of Her Majesty's Government, of the previous government and of other countries, has been swayed unduly by commercial interests within Azerbaijan. The noble Earl, Lord Shannon, went as far as to suggest that the UN Security Council was persuaded by such motives. I cannot answer for every country, but although the UK has major commercial and oil-based interests in Azerbaijan our support for the integrity of the borders of Azerbaijan predated Britain's involvement in the exploitation of Caspian oil. Indeed, the first major oil contract was not signed until 1994. We do not let the oil interests affect our policy. It is interesting that 53 out of the 54 OSCE member states supported maintaining the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Many have no commercial or other interests within Azerbaijan. Our approach is shared by the international community as a whole.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, and others asked about the position of the OSCE. At its summit in Lisbon in December, the OSCE's chairman-in-office issued a statement which, as I said, was supported by 53 out of 54 member states. The exception of course was Armenia. That confirmed that three principles should form the basis of the settlement. I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that they are, first, the territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijan Republic; secondly, the legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh to be defined in an agreement based on self-determination to the highest degree possible; and, thirdly, the guaranteed security for Nagorno-Karabakh and its whole population, including mutual obligations to ensure compliance by all parties with the provisions of the settlement.

The Government's view continues to be that these three principles should provide the framework for an agreement. The key question is the degree of autonomy that Nagorno-Karabakh will have, in particular in relation to the human and democratic rights of its population. The Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh needs to be reassured on how its future security, so seriously threatened by recent years of conflict, can be protected. The British Government, with their commitment to human rights, will ensure that the international community puts the issue central to reaching an agreement on this difficult matter.

The international community has worked extremely hard since 1992 to try to find a settlement. The OSCE has mandated its Minsk Group to lead international effort to resolve the conflict. Since the beginning of this year, the group has been led by a troika of the US, Russia and France. Although the United Kingdom is not a member of that group, we are giving full support to its efforts. Your Lordships will have noticed that Presidents Clinton, Yelstin and Chirac emphasised in a side statement at Denver their commitment to that process.

The noble Baroness and others referred to the maintenance of the ceasefire. That is, indeed, a positive sign. There have been intermittent violations of the ceasefire, which demonstrates that the situation remains fragile. We would urge all parties to maintain restraint while the OSCE initiative is followed through. It is, however, the unfortunate fact that all parties seem to believe that time is on their side. The Karabakhis have established military control over the enclave and occupied large surrounding areas. For their part, some in Azerbaijan argue that once the oil starts flowing they will be able to re-arm and recommence the aggression. We must all agree that such attitudes are dangerously misguided and could lead to the kind of conflagration referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Shannon.

This region ought to be prosperous and peaceful and have many resources and it ought to work together. If the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh were resolved, surely we could begin the new developments; that is, transport, pipelines and other economic developments in the area. There is no doubt that the resumption of hostilities, if it occurred, would be a disaster for all sides. It is therefore absolutely essential that the parties in the region, plus the international community, give very serious consideration indeed to the latest proposals of the Minsk Group and commit themselves to negotiating in good faith. We in the United Kingdom Government trust that they will do that and will give them every help.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.45 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.43 to 8.45 p.m.]