OSCE Offices At Risk Over Armenia, Azerbaijan Spat

A brouhaha between Azerbaijan and Armenia is threatening to hamper the operations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in multiple member nations, including Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

OSCE country mandates are the responsibility of the organization’s permanent council, which deals with all the OSCE day-to-day business and is comprised of representatives of all 57 member states. But as the OSCE told EurasiaNet.org “participating states have not yet reached consensus on extension of mandates of a number of OSCE field operations.”

“The Chairmanship continues to lead negotiations on this with the aim of early agreement,” an OSCE press officer said in an email

A source familiar with the situation has said the holdup is down to a battle of wills between Azerbaijan and Armenia over budgets for certain security-related programs. The standoff between the two foes has precipitated a veto from Armenia on the normally automatic extension of field office mandates.   

The OSCE has said that its field operations will, this impasse notwithstanding, remain open and continue administrative and non-mandate-related work pending agreement on this issue.

Meanwhile, Moscow-based news website ferghana.ru has cited its own sources as saying the existing situation has had a negative impact of moods within the staff and fostered much disillusionment about the organization’s inability to fulfill its stated missions.

“There is growing disappointment over the nature and purpose of the OSCE, which is supposed to prevent conflicts and yet is powerless when it comes to pursuing consensus, even in such basic matters as the extension of mandates,” the source told the website.

Quite what role the OSCE has to play in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan has, in any case, come into question over the past year with both those countries governments bristling at what they perceive as the organization’s excessive meddling in their internal affairs.

In September, Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry declared that as of this January it would seek to have the OSCE Center in Bishkek downgraded to a program office. That threat came in reaction to a speech given by ethnic Uzbek entrepreneur Kadyrzhan Batyrov in September at an event in Vienna hosted by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Batyrov, who is wanted by Kyrgyz authorities for his alleged involvement in the 2010 ethnic riots, used the platform to roundly criticize Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev.

The OSCE managed to also incur the rage of the Tajik authorities at the same event, when supporters of banned opposition organizations, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and Group-24, turned up to to hold a low-key picket.

In a reaction to the stunt, the Tajik delegation left the event on that day. In subsequent days, groups of pro-government students activists held rowdy protests outside the OSCE offices in Dushanbe, accusing the organization of giving political coverage to the opposition.

In neither instance has the OSCE endorsed the positions of opposition figures or critics of either government, but such are the extreme sensitivity of the leaderships in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that even allowing criticism at an open venue is considered grounds for offense.

- An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the OSCE has a field office in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory and that this was at the heart of the standoff between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

OSCE Offices At Risk Over Armenia, Azerbaijan Spat

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