Armenia: in search of a lasting peace

Human rights lawyer and politician Edmon Marukyan is contributing to negotiations for a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan in his new role as ambassador-at-large.

Edmon, a John Smith Fellow since 2013, was appointed to the role of ambassador-at-large in March and represents his country at a high level on issues assigned by the prime minister.

In 2020, long-running tensions between Armenia and neighbouring Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh region reignited into a violent war that lasted for 44 days and cost more than 6,500 lives. In his new role, Edmon is taking part in efforts to negotiate a peaceful solution.

He explains: “I accepted the prime minister’s proposal to become involved in Armenia’s diplomacy and make my contribution in this crucial time when Armenia and Azerbaijan are negotiating about the peace agreement.

“There’s a real opportunity for dialogue with Turkey on establishment of diplomatic relations and reopening the borders closed for the last 30 years. Restoration of peace in the region is a priority for our government. So, we’re doing everything possible to reach and sustain long-lasting peace.”

From lawyer to politician

Edmon is the leader of a progressive political party called Bright Armenia and was a member of parliament from 2012 to 2021. But before he became involved in politics, he had a career as a human rights lawyer.

He says: “I spent my childhood in a city where a post-soviet practice of police brutality still existed. I decided to become a lawyer to know and protect my own rights, as well as the rights of vulnerable groups and people.

“I used my skills in the sphere of human rights protection for around ten years. Then I wanted to do more and apply my knowledge, as well as the skills I acquired from my legal practice, a human rights defender’s experience and my master’s degree in International Human Rights Law. My motivation for moving into politics was to use my influence for the public good.

“Nowadays, I am representing the interests of my country in the context of international relations. So, I will be defending the rights of my people and representing my state on different international platforms.”

Checks and balances

Edmon undertook his John Smith Trust fellowship in 2013, soon after winning a seat in the Armenian parliament as an independent candidate. His action plan focused on strengthening parliamentary oversight in Armenia. This is a way of scrutinising the work of a government and countering corruption through a series of checks and balances.

While in the UK, Edmon visited Westminster to study how oversight works within the UK parliamentary system. “The fellowship gave me a lot, especially the friendship and the connection with Fellows from public posts in different countries,” he says. “Most importantly, I spent a considerable part of the fellowship examining the parliamentary oversight mechanisms at Westminster.

“This function is known as one of the cornerstones of democracy, as it holds the executive accountable for its actions and ensures effective implementation of policies. Weak parliamentary oversight mechanisms risk imbalance of power and misrepresentation of the people’s interests.”

Peaceful revolution

When Edmon returned to Armenia, the country was in the process of making constitutional reforms. He proposed his vision to strengthen the parliamentary oversight system based on his newly gained knowledge from Westminster. This included scrutiny of: legislation; executive response to European Court of Human Rights; the state’s compliance with existing international human rights treaties; and international treaties prior to ratification.

Edmon’s proposals were rejected. But in 2015, the government adopted a new constitution.

Then in 2018 a peaceful revolution took place. Edmon says: “This was widely seen as the culmination of a long struggle against corruption in government. Freedom of speech, the independence of the judiciary, democratisation of the electoral system, economic and many other important freedoms are on a much better level now. Different international organisations such as Freedom House and Human Rights Watch acknowledge this progress.”

Challenges and opportunities

Today, Edmon is a member of the Constitutional Council and continues to advocate for greater oversight and accountability. “As a Member of the new Constitutional Council, I am using the skills I obtained from the UK parliament to propose a parliamentary oversight system of checks and balances again,” he says.

According to Edmon, the biggest challenge and opportunity Armenia faces right now is the chance to negotiate a peace deal with Azerbaijan and bring peace and stability to the region. At the same time, the Armenian-Turkish dialogue is an opportunity to establish diplomatic relations and reopen borders. But securing a deal that is palatable to the majority of Armenians is probably the biggest test Edmon and the rest of the negotiating team have faced in their careers to date.

He adds: “As Einstein said, in the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity. Now the world is in crisis, but we have a chance to be united defending liberal democracies and human rights values worldwide, only through which we can avoid a new war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.”

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