European commissioners for Energy and for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Kadri Simson and Olivér Várhelyi, recently visited Baku, Azerbaijan on February 4th to participate in the 8th Ministerial Meeting of the Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council. The EU cooperates with Azerbaijan in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy and its eastern regional dimension, the Eastern Partnership. The objective of this meeting was to strengthen the strategic partnership on energy issues in order to develop new markets. The issue is particularly urgent in the international context, which has been worsened by the Ukrainian crisis. Europe intends to develop gas supplies from Azerbaijan in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, which could result in a reduction in gas supplies to Europe.
Energy was not the only objective of this trip. The European commissioners took the opportunity to increase their contacts with various members of the Azeri government, including the minister of economy and the minister of foreign affairs.
What was not discussed during the visit was the issue of Armenia and the Azeri government’s destruction of Armenian cultural and religious heritage. Energy imperatives took priority, and the ravaging of Artsakh continues without major international reaction. In this strategic region, which gave rise to an armed conflict a few months ago, the Azeri President plans to destroy the traces of Armenian heritage, putting forward the restoration of an “Albanian” culture that the Armenians themselves would have erased. These practises are not new: twenty years ago, the Azeri government destroyed 3000 Armenian khachkars—stone steles decorated with crosses—dating from the Middle Ages at the archaeological site of Djulfa.
However, through a videoconference hosted by Emmanuel Macron on Friday, February 4th, with the president of the European Council Charles Michel present, these European leaders arranged with Azeri President Aliev and Armenian Prime Minister Pashinian for eight Armenian prisoners held by Azerbaijan since the Artsakh war to be released. Many Armenian prisoners are still in the hands of the regime of Aliev, and two of them would have been executed in November 2021 because of their part in the clashes at the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.