Senate motion calls on Canada to recognize independence of Nagorno-Karabakh

Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos is calling on Canada to recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh and "immediately condemn the joint Azerbaijani-Turkish aggression" against the breakaway Armenian-populated region in the South Caucasus.

Sen. Housakos's motion would make the Senate the first legislative body in the world to recognize the region

A woman sits next to her wounded child during shelling by Armenian forces at a hospital in Barda, Azerbaijan, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (Aziz Karimov/Associated Press)

Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos is calling on Canada to recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh and "immediately condemn the joint Azerbaijani-Turkish aggression" against the breakaway Armenian-populated region in the South Caucasus.

In a motion presented in the Senate on Tuesday, Housakos called upon the federal government to "recognize the Republic of Artsakh's inalienable right to self-determination and, in light of the increased escalation and continued targeting of innocent Armenian civilians, recognize the independence of the Republic of Artsakh." (Nagorno-Karabakh is also known as Artsakh in Armenian.)

The non-binding motion also calls on Ottawa to "uphold a permanent ban on military exports to Turkey."

If the motion is passed, it would be a significant symbolic victory for the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh.

It also would make Canada's Senate the first national legislative body in the world to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh, whose majority Armenian population has governed itself with economic and military support from neighbouring Armenia since declaring independence from Azerbaijan in December of 1991, in the dying days of the Soviet Union.

Azerbaijan has never recognized the legitimacy of the 1991 referendum and maintains that, under international law, Nagorno-Karabakh is an inalienable part of the country.

Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos's motion, if passed, would be a symbolic victory for Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In a speech on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, Housakos said he has been watching with "grave concern" the ongoing conflict between Armenian troops and what he called Azerbaijani forces backed by Turkey and "foreign jihadist mercenaries."

On Sept. 27, fierce fighting broke out all along the "Line of Contact" when Azerbaijan launched a massive offensive to reconquer the self-declared republic, as well as seven districts of Azerbaijan proper that ended up under Armenian control following the war in the early 1990s. The Line of Contact had separated Azerbaijani and Armenian forces since the 1994 ceasefire.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has voiced strong support for Azerbaijan and condemned the co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group — Russia, France and the U.S. — for failing to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict in over a quarter of a century of talks.

Armenia has accused Turkey repeatedly of supplying Azerbaijan with arms (including drones equipped with Canadian technology and F-16 fighter jets), military advisers and jihadist Syrian mercenaries — an accusation supported by French President Emmanuel Macron and the head of Russia's foreign intelligence service.

Medical workers transport a wounded man in a hospital during shelling by Azerbaijan's artillery in Stepanakert, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. (The Associated Press)

Three recent attempts by Russia, France and the U.S. to broker a humanitarian ceasefire have failed so far to end the fighting — which is estimated to have killed more than five thousand soldiers and over 100 civilians on both sides in just over a month.

"Make no mistake, if the ongoing war continues and the Turkish-backed Azerbaijani forces and foreign jihadist mercenaries enter the Republic of Artsakh, a second genocide of the Armenian people will take place," Housakos said, referring to the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.

Upholding the right to self-determination and recognizing the Republic of Artsakh as a free, sovereign state is the only viable and long-lasting solution to this conflict, he added.

"And it is the only way we will be able to deter further violence in the region and prevent other conflicts from happening in other parts of the world," Housakos said. "This is the time for Canada to step up and act."

Armenian Canadian organizations applauded Housakos's motion. Hagop Arslanian, vice chair of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), said he wants Canadian senators to put aside geopolitical considerations.

"Artsakh, at this moment, is a human rights issue and Canada has enough moral authority and international gravitas to rightfully address this issue as champion of human rights and dignity," Arslanian said.

Officials with the Turkish and Azerbaijani embassies did not respond to Radio Canada International's request for comment.

Anar Jahangirli, associate director of the Network of Azerbaijani Canadians, called the wording of the motion presented by Sen. Housakos "unfortunate."

"We are calling upon the members of the Senate to reject the motion, given its incongruousness with the basic principles of international law, and Canada's and [the] international community's position of support to the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan," Jahangirli said.

"'Republic of Artsakh', as referred to in the statement, is a sovereign territory of Azerbaijan, as confirmed by the United Nations and the UN Security Council Resolutions."

The motion also fails to recognize the right of nearly 800,000 Azerbaijanis displaced by the war in 1993-94 to return to their native lands, Jahangirli added.