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IFBG - Latest News

01 August 2020

Protests by the Armenian Diaspora in Brussels last week turned violent, with a premeditated attack on the Azerbaijani Embassy. Similar incidents were orchestrated around the globe in what appears to have been a coordinated campaign of terror. In this opinion editorial, our guest correspondent Dr Ceyhun Osmanli warns of the dangers for Europe if this conflict continues to spiral out of control.

Demonstration outside Azerbaijan Embassy in Brussels on 22 July

The Caucasus saw the worst hostilities in the last few years when the Armenian armed forces used distillery fire to attack the Tovuz district of Azerbaijan on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border on July 12th, writes Dr. Ceyhun Osmanli.

The attack resulted in 12 Azerbaijani deaths, including a 75-year-old civilian, leaving 4 injured and causing serious damage to Azerbaijani border villages and farms.

Since 1993, Armenia has been occupying 20 percent of the Azerbaijani territory in Nagorno-Karabakh and its 7 surrounding districts despite calls from the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament for the immediate withdrawal of the Armenian troops. The recent attack demonstrates not only that Armenia has no intention to comply with international law but also intends to make further territorial gains in north-western Azerbaijan, which is far away from the conflict zone subject to peace talks under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group.

Although the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan came to power with the promise of a peace settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh, he ended up joining the ranks of the Karabakh clan he had fiercely opposed, especially when it comes to foreign policy. Facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis and large public criticism for its bad management of the pandemic, the Pashinyan government first clamped down on the opposition in violation of democratic principles. And now it seems that it is instrumentalising the escalation of tensions with Azerbaijan to further distract and silence critics with "new advantageous positions" in the Armenian Defence Minister Davit Tonoyan's words.

The recent attacks in Tovuz in addition to the unconstructive attitude of Armenia towards the mediation efforts co-chaired by the US, Russia and France ring the alarm bells for a more belligerent state of affairs in the Caucasus region. Not only did the current Armenian administration refuse to adhere to the OSCE framework agreement, which was agreed upon in principle, but asked for a start-over of peace negotiations from scratch.

By dissimulating fake news about the instigators of the current conflict, Armenia is further seeking to mislead the international community, which shall once again be reminded that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resulted in the loss of more than 30, 000 lives and in the displacement of about 1 million Azerbaijani IDPs and refugees. Our young nation cannot afford another Khojaly massacre, where entire Azerbaijani villages with their women and children, were subject to ethnic cleansing.

Now, Armenia goes so far as to openly attempt to cut the lifeline of our economy by destabilising the Tovuz district. The district is not only of strategic importance to Azerbaijan but also to Europe, as it provides energy and transport links to Georgia, Turkey and Europe for the Azerbaijani oil and gas as well as other export commodities. Major infrastructure projects, such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and the main highway to the west run through the Tovuz district. By cutting these strategic links, Armenia would not only harm Azerbaijani national interests but could hamper the smooth functioning of TANAP and TAP projects in the future, which are of vital importance for European energy diversification. The destruction of critical Azerbaijani infrastructure has been a longstanding goal of Armenia and its former Defence Minister Seyran Ohanyan had even openly threatened to strike Azerbaijan's Mingachevir hydropower plant back in 2014. The current situation poses an existential threat to our country and cannot remain unreciprocated.

In fact, some 200,000 Azerbaijani citizens took it ot the streets to demand the restoration of Nagorno-Karabakh following the recent incident. Within one week after the attack, the Azerbaijani army registered more than 50,000 new volunteers.

Unless both parties are brought back to the negotiating table and international pressure is mounted to stop the aggressive Armenian policy towards Azerbaijan, our country will not be able to embrace the much-awaited justice that it deserves. The international community shall finally make Armenia comply with its international obligations and respect the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan in line with the UN Security Council Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 on Nagorno-Karabakh. It is commendable that the US Congress passed an amendment on July 21st on displaced and killed people from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova but the international community ought to take a yet tougher stance on these grave border and human rights violations.

Otherwise, the region could find itself on the brink of an all-out war, bringing major regional actors at geopolitical odds, as was recently the case in other parts of the globe. Now is the time for action and not for words, for the cost of inaction could turn out to be extremely high. The issue at stake is not only Azerbaijan's future but also the European energy security as well as its geopolitical stability.

The Author, Dr. Ceyhun Osmanli is a former Azerbaijani MP and Analyst on International Relations and the Political Economy 

This article first appeared in EU Political Report and is reproduced here with their permission.

01 August 2020

By James Wilson

While Europe and the rest of the world is trying to cope with the coronavirus and searching for ways to re-energise their pandemic-affected economies, fighting and heavy artillery fire broke out on 12th July on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The fighting was concentrated in a border zone some 300 kms to the north of Nagorno-Karabakh resulting in 20 casualties, both military and civilian.

The EU has urged both sides to stop the armed confrontation, refrain from action and rhetoric that provoke tension, and undertake immediate measures to prevent further escalation. They have called both countries to devote energy and resources to fighting the coronavirus pandemic, and meaningfully re-engage in substantive negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs.

There has been sporadic violence across the line of contact between these two "arch-enemies" for years, following the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Both countries are amongst the most heavily militarised in the world.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have long been in a state of conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory which is internationally recognised as belonging to Azerbaijan but is currently under Armenian occupation.

The last major clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh erupted in April 2016 with significant advances and strategic gains by Azerbaijani armed forces. Armenia, having relied on Russia (which has a base in Armenia) and the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisaton (CSTO), was surprised to discover that the military backing of Russia and the CSTO did not extend to Nagorno-Karabakh.

This time around both sides blame the other for starting hostilities, and have traded accusations about shelling civilians.

But Armenia would appear by any rational analysis to have the only motive for starting the border skirmishes this time. It has been the post-Soviet nation hardest hit by the pandemic: with reportedly over 30,000 infection cases and more than 500 deaths, as of mid July. The country declared a state of emergency in March, and since then economic activity has collapsed, businesses have closed and unemployment has spiralled.

There has been an estimated decline in GDP of between 2-3.5%, and the Armenian health system is now clearly at the limit of its capacity to deal with the crisis. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has been severely criticised by the opposition for ineffective crisis management and failing to tackle the pandemic.

The situation has shattered the position of Armenia's post-revolution government and destroyed the optimistic sentiment on which Nikol Pashinyan was elected in 2018. His critics say that Pashinyan needs a border provocation with Azerbaijan, to deflect public criticism of his handling of the pandemic. "Rally round the flag" is always an effective tool for ruling circles during periods of international crisis or war, to mobilise the population and change the agenda.

This time, however, the provocation seems to have been planned well in advance. The border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and not the frozen conflict zone of Nagorno-Karabakh, was chosen for starting the conflict. Armenia's renewed national security strategy, adopted on July 10 also put an emphasis on its alliance with Russia and membership of the CSTO. In other words, a relevant reminder on collective security was sent to the Kremlin a couple of days before the skirmish.

From a military point of view, Azerbaijan`s north-western provinces might have also seemed an easy target to the Armenian military. The Azerbaijani side had been restructuring its military units and facilities in this area since 2018 as part of a deliberate policy of demilitarising this area, and the border services have replaced more experienced armed forces.

Aware of these significant changes across the border, the Armenian side was hoping in this blitzkrieg to advance into Azerbaijan`s territory and to occupy new territories. This new tactic is also in line with the Armenian Minister of Defence David Tonoyan's publicly announced strategic doctrine of "New war for new territories", which he declared "will rid Armenia of this trench condition, the constant defensive state, and will add the units which may shift the military actions to the territory of the enemy".

Another reason for choosing this specific region as a battleground is the key infrastructures passing in the vicinity. Built and developed by Azerbaijan over the past two decades, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, and Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway form a critical energy and transport corridor between Europe and Asia; they bear geopolitical significance as critical transport and energy infrastructure As a country, which has been left out of such important projects due to its hostile policies toward Azerbaijan and Turkey, Armenia threatens to target this infrastructure in order to exert economic and political pressure.

These border skirmishes which Azerbaijan assert have been initiated by Armenia may yet escalate into a full-scale war and could further develop into a major geopolitical confrontation. There have been massive demonstrations in Baku calling on the Parliament to mobilise troops for outright war against Armenia.

A rational analysis of the situation points to the likely motives that have pushed Armenia into triggering these clashes. Despite his democratic image and calls for peace, Pashinyan has cold-bloodedly planned to provoke this military incident: diverting the population's attention from his failure to handle the COVID-19 crisis and resultant economic problems, occupying "new favourable positions" in Azerbaijani territory, and dragging the CSTO into a conflict with Azerbaijan.

It is important for the EU to step up its diplomacy in the Caucasus, broker a lasting peace and halt the carpet bagging opportunism of Pashinyan which threatens to plunge the region into a war that will benefit nobody.

The Author, James Wilson, is the Founding Director of the International Foundation for Better Governance