(RFE/RL) – Armenia and the European Union will open early next month official negotiations on a new agreement to deepen their political and economic relations, Deputy Foreign Minister Karen Nazarian said on Thursday.
“We expect to start official negotiations in early December,” Nazarian told journalists. He was careful not to speak of any time frames for their conclusion.
“Right now we are discussing the format [of the negotiations.] It’s hard to predict any time frames now. Everything depends on the intensity and content of the negotiations.”
The deal is expected to contain many provisions of an Association Agreement which Armenia and the EU were close to finalizing two years ago. The agreement was abandoned after Armenia unexpectedly decided to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
The EU-Armenia Cooperation Committee discussed preparations for the upcoming talks when it held a regular session in Yerevan on Wednesday. One of its co-chairs, Gunnar Wiegand, said the two sides are aiming for an accord that will have a “very wide scope and good depth.”
Nazarian also said that Yerevan and Brussels will start discussing in January an “action plan” that should lead to the eventual abolition of the EU’s Schengen visa requirements for Armenian nationals.
The EU expressed readiness for visa liberalization in a joint declaration with Armenia and several other ex-Soviet states that was adopted at a May 2015 summit in Riga. The declaration says that such a process is contingent on the “full implementation” of an EU-Armenia agreement on “readmission” of illegal immigrants.
The readmission agreement was signed in April 2013 shortly after the EU eased some of its stringent visa rules for Armenians.
The EU has also continued to provide annual financial assistance to Armenia after President Serzh Sarkisian’s 2013 policy U-turn. Deputy Finance Minister Pavel Safarian said on Thursday that it will total 37 million euros ($41 million) in 2016.
Photo Caption: The Armenian and European Union flags displayed during negotiations in Yerevan on November 4, 2015
Key Amendments Adopted Include Calling for the Protection of Religious Minorities in Syria, Urging States to Prevent the Use of their Territories for Cross Border Attacks on Communities like Kessab, Affirming Principle of Peaceful Settlement of Disputes and Right of Self-Determination of Peoples
June 30, 2014
At a parliamentary meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held in Baku, Azerbaijan earlier today, Armenia’s representative offered two amendments to the Resolution on Political Affairs and Security to protect religious communities in Syria. The first adds language to a section calling for a solution to the crisis in Syria to ensure that not only ethnic groups – but religious ones as well – would be given equal protection in the establishment of a democratic state. Armenia’s second amendment would amend the same section and “Calls upon OSCE participating States to prevent the use of their territories by terrorist and fundamentalist groups for cross-border attacks against civilian populations, including religious and ethnic minorities in Syria.”
Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) voted in favor of both amendments, which seek to protect historic Christian communities in Syria. The second amendment is a reaction to attacks and ethnic cleansing in towns like Kessab, which has been emptied of its Armenian inhabitants, some of whom are survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Both amendments were adopted.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) with Armenia’s delegation to OSCE PA
Schiff said, “Historic Christian communities in Syria and now Iraq are under increasing threat of violence and displacement by radical Islamic terrorists. The international community must do all it can to bring an end to the violence and protect these vulnerable minority populations. I was proud to be present at the OSCE parliamentary assembly and support Armenia’s amendments.”
Armenia offered a third amendment pertaining to Nagorno Karabakh, affirming the right of peoples to self-determination and underlining the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes. The amendment was opposed by Azerbaijan, host of the conference. Rep. Schiff voted in favor of the measure which also passed with majority support.
Congressman Adam Schiff is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which oversees U.S. assistance priorities to Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the South Caucasus region. He is also a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In addition to his leadership on U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide, Schiff has been a stead-fast proponent of ensuring critical aid to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh on an annual basis.
Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved its fiscal year (FY) 2015 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) Appropriations Bill, which covers U.S. economic, humanitarian, and military assistance to the South Caucasus. Earlier this year, the Assembly submitted testimony to the House Appropriations Committee, stressing the importance of U.S. assistance to Artsakh as well as Armenia, and the much needed humanitarian assistance for Armenians in, and those fleeing, Syria.
“Given Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockade of Armenia and the escalating security threats from Azerbaijan, coupled with the unconscionable pardon by Azerbaijan of a convicted axe murderer, as well as other regional developments, the Assembly urges Congress to ensure robust aid to Armenia and Artsakh,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “Moreover, with the latest developments in Syria and Iraq, the Assembly urges Congress to take immediate action to provide urgent humanitarian relief to the Christian Armenian community there,” Ardouny stated.
Prior to the OSCE meeting, Schiff visited the Republic of Georgia where he met with President Giorgi Margvelashvili. During his meeting, Rep. Schiff raised the need to coordinate and focus USAID assistance to meet humanitarian needs in the predominately Armenian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti. Rep. Schiff had worked on this issue with former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and USAID Director Rajiv Shah, and sought to continue the emphasis on assistance to this economically vulnerable area.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) with Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibishvili
President Margvelashvili expressed his willingness to coordinate U.S. assistance to Javakheti, and added a new sense of urgency to the issue, according to Congressman Schiff’s office. With Georgia’s signing of an association agreement with the European Union this week and Armenia’s participation in the Russia-based customs union, it will be more important than ever, the President emphasized, to ensure that trade between Armenia and Georgia can continue unabated and grow.
The Javakheti region is particularly reliant on this trade, making resolution of any trade issues between countries belonging to the separate trade associations – and assistance to the region – all the more timely and vital.
Targeted U.S. assistance to Georgia’s predominately Armenian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, U.S. assistance to Christian minorities at risk in the Middle East, and a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh peace process are three of the nine policy points outlined in the Assembly’s testimony to Congress on U.S. funding priorities earlier this year.