Moldova’s Ombudsman Aurelia Grigoriu arrived in Yerevan to participate in the Pan-European Conference on European standards of the rule of law and limits of the authorities’ discretion in the member-states of the Council of Europe. In her speech on respect for human rights in areas of frozen conflicts on July 4, she called Armenia an “aggressor” that “occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory” and carried out an “ethnic purge towards the Azerbaijani population in both Armenia and the occupied territories,” followed by a “genocide act in the Azerbaijani town of Khojaly in February, 1992.” Grigoriu’s speech, re-published by Day.az on July 8 from her Facebook page, reads that “…the aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan became the biggest impediment to development in the South Caucasus region and its integration to Europe.”
Such a “diplomatic” mistake could cost Grigoriu her post. The speaker of the Moldovan parliament Igor Korman told journalists in Chisinau that “the statement of Aurelia Grigoriu is an inadmissible, serious mistake. By no means can a parliamentarian advocate allow such a statement that damages the image of Moldova.” He stressed that Grigoriu’s statement does not reflect the official position of Chisinau and that Moldova needs to build constructive relations with both Armenian and Azerbaijan.
At a news conference upon her return to Moldova, Grigoriu stated that her speech was based on the resolutions of the UN Security Council related to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and that she “did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings … my aim was to draw attention to violations of human rights in conflict zones to prevent similar events in the future.”
Armenian politicians provided the story with a new dimension by claiming that Grigoriu was serving the interests of Azerbaijan. “To be realistic, we can say that she has been bribed,” Kiro Manoyan, a representative of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation from the Dashnaktsutyun Party, told Aysor.am on July 9. In an interview with Panorama.am on July 5, the Vice-Speaker of Armenia’s National Assembly Ermine Nagdalyan said the idea of the Moldovan Ombudsman’s speech “was actually interesting as Armenians sitting in the parliament either had to bring a counterblow and look intolerant and undemocratic in front of the international community or they had to keep silent, leaving absolutely dirty condemnations without response. In both cases, the authors of the idea could feel satisfied.” Immediately after Grigoriu’s speech in parliament, Nagdalyan retorted by saying that she believed Grigoriu arrived in Armenia with “a deliberate purpose” and stressed that her speech was given according to “an order and, moreover, it was paid.”
Grigoriu also condemned Nagdalyan as the issue escalated. In an interview to 1news.az, Grigoriu said that “The vice-speaker of the Armenian parliament actually triggered this whole scandal at the international conference and started the tantrum first ... If Armenia claims that it is a country, a developing democracy, and welcomes the freedom of speech and expression, the officials of this country should not have escalated the situation.” Grigoriu denied all allegations that she would have been bribed by Azerbaijan: “This is a lie. Such actions of Armenia are nothing but a cheap PR maneuver.”
Grigoriu said she was not allowed by Armenian authorities to go to the airport together with the rest of the Moldovan delegation: “…40 minutes before the flight, the driver of the car, sent by the organizers of the conference, said that he would not allow me in … I stayed in the hotel and began to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Moldova every 30 minutes … Some people were attempting to get to me, but the hotel staff restricted the access … the workers of the hotel ensured my safety.” According to Grigoriu, the Armenian authorities demanded that she apologize publicly for her speech, but she refused to do so. She left the hotel accompanied by representatives of the Embassies of Georgia and Romania.
The scandal was picked up by Azerbaijani officials who generally praised the “brave” statement of the Moldovan representative. Elnur Aslanov, Chief of the Presidential Administration’s Political Analysis and Information Provision Department, said that “The reaction of the Armenian side to the fair statement of the Moldovan Parliamentary Advocate on the Khojaly genocide, the persecution and pressure on Aurelia Grigoriu in Yerevan showed the Armenian government’s terrorism policy,” according to Azerbaijan’s APA agency.
Aslanov called on European institutions to express their positions on the issue: “If any citizen’s rights are violated in another country, members of the European Parliament should respond to the issue. The European Parliament should demonstrate its support for the protection of human rights and not pursue a policy of double standards.”
The Executive Secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party Ali Ahmadov called Grigoriu’s speech a “very brave” step. “First of all, it is a moral victory for Grigoriu. It is a victory of courage and justice. The act of the Moldovan Ombudsman should be an example for representatives of international organizations, who are used to voice statements in Baku that would be favored by Azerbaijanis and speak the language of Armenians in Yerevan. We must stop this practice, which complicates the process of settlement [of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict]”, Ahmadov said. He added the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs in particular should follow Grigoriu’s example.
Meanwhile, the Armenian Diaspora in Moldova demanded Grigoriu’s resignation before her parliamentary mandate formally expires in three months, but the Moldovan Parliament’s Commission on Human Rights did not come to this conclusion after discussing the issue.
The issue did not affect Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s visit to Chisinau on July 11, when the sides stressed the “importance of closer cooperation” and signed two intergovernmental agreements.