More than twenty years ago, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Recommendation 1247 (1994). The Recommendation read: “In view of their cultural links with Europe, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia would have the possibility of applying for membership provided they clearly indicate their will to be considered as part of Europe”.
This proposition was an invitation to the South Caucasian States to remember, rethink and rebuild their European roots and identity.
At that time, the Russian Federation was still two years away from membership. Russia joined the Council of Europe in 1996. Georgia followed in 1999 and, in January 2001, Armenia and Azerbaijan completed the membership as regards the Caucasus region.
From the political point of view the Caucasus is part of Europe. That has been confirmed not only by the Pan-European Council of Europe but also by its smaller sister, the European Union, e.g. just recently when the summit of the Eastern Partnership took place in Riga with the participation of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
We often speak about European family of democratically-minded nations, about European, or Council of Europe standards. But what it is to be European? What is the meaning of Europe in the 21st century? What does it mean with regard to stability and security in a region belonging to Europe?
Seen from Baku, Yerevan or Tbilisi, the Europe of Berlin, Paris, London, Vienna may seem impossibly prosperous and peaceful. Let me remind that Europe of 1949, when the Council of Europe was created, was quite different: war-torn cities, ruined economy and uncertain future.
The Council of Europe was created as a reaction to the horrors of war. What was the remedy? Respect for Human Rights, pluralistic democracy and the Rule of Law. These were the principles enshrined in Article 3 of the Statute. And Strasbourg, long the centre of bitter Franco-German conflicts, was chosen as the headquarters of the Organisation.
I invite you to pause and think for a moment: the guns of the Second World War went silent 70 years ago on 9 May 1945. Four years later, on 5 May 1949, the Statute of the Council of Europe was signed. Now imagine that four years after the Armenian-Azerbaijan cease-fire of 9 May 1994, on 5 May 1998, a regional Organisation for the respect of Human Rights, democracy and the rule of law was created and the town of Shusha was chosen for its seat.
That is the meaning of Europe. Perhaps not everybody saw that back in 1949, but today there is no doubt: Europe is all about renouncing war, once and for all – also in the minds of political establishment and the public. Europe is all about reconciliation, assuming past history, learning how to live with one’s neighbours, accepting and enjoying diversity.
Europe is by far not yet perfect. There is still a lot to be done, not only in the Southern Caucasus, in Europe and its neighbourhood.
And what about the South Caucasus as part of Europe? Even without detailed knowledge of history, a look at the map is enough – with Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhichevan, with their interspersed and mixed populations, Azerbaijan and Armenia are tied together like Siamese twins. As late as 2001, it was manifested in the “joint Council of Europe accession option for Azerbaijan and Armenia”, chosen by all Council member States.
When I spoke in 2002 to an audience in the Yerevan State University I used for the first time the metaphor of the Siamese twins. It was not to the liking of everybody. Several weeks later, the Armenian Ambassador to the OSCE mentioned it in Vienna and argued against my message. I found no reason to change my mind: yes, Azerbaijan and Armenia are inseparably linked together, as I pointed out also at the Baku University. trying to separate Siamese twins by the sword will inevitably lead to death for both. Azerbaijan and Armenia have only one future – to live together, as one organism, as two neighbours separated by borders which have lost all meaning in everyday life, as two states within the larger European family.
As Secretary General I was used to organize workshops of young people from still existing conflict regions, e.g. Kosovo, Cyprus, Israel and Palestine in our proximity and of course the Southern Caucasus. In general it was always refreshing and promising how fast young people can overcome prejudices and stereotypes. E.g., when I had invited youngsters from Kosovo and the Middle East, on the first day the Albanians and Serbs from Kosovo told me how surprised they were seeing Israelis and Palestinians talking to each other, while the participants from the Middle East were shocked that the relations between different people living in the same area could be worse than in their part of the world. But after one week they all became friends!
Another year I brought together again young Israelis and Palestinians, Greeks and Turks from Cyprus and … Armenians and Azerbaijanis. I asked them to sit together in regional groups and work on conflict resolution. But not on their own conflict, but on one of the other regions, the ones from the Middle East on the Cyprus conflict, the Cypriots on the Nagorno Karabakh issue and the Caucasians on the Middle East case. All of them elaborated reasonable suggestions, for Cyprus a blue print of the Kofi Annan plan – but one year before the Secretary General of the UN came out with it, for Armenia and Azerbaijan a compromise which seemed for me to be acceptable for the partners and a very interesting approach for the Middle East.
What did young Armenians and Azerbaijanis suggest to Israel and the Palestinians? The essence was, don’t argue about the past, don’t waste time by blaming each other for mistakes of the past – just start where you are now. This is of course the only way to solve the Middle East conflict – if you are going to the past you end up with the Holy Books as land register, arguments used by the extremists of both sides.
But then I asked my young friends from the Southern Caucasus – why shouldn’t we apply the same principle for your region. You do not need to deal with the past looking for problems. There are current problems enough. Of course, they are rooted in the past, and several of them belong to what I would call the Soviet legacy.
There is the problem of Georgia, with two separatist entities, protected and supported by Russia. Hundreds of thousands refugees from these entities are staying in the rest of Georgia, dismantled of their property, separated from their homes, now nearly since a quarter of a century. The result of the attempt of former Georgian president Mikhail Sakashvili to solve one of the conflicts with military means is well known. The situation with Southern Ossetia became worse than before when there was a kind of status quo for ethnic Ossetians and ethnic Georgians.
Azerbaijan is still suffering from the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. A large part of the country beside Nagorno Karabakh is occupied by Armenian forces, more than 1 million people had to flee from these 7 Azerbaijani districts and are living now as IDPs, far from their destroyed homes. I visited refugees in 2004 and about 9 years later. I realized that Azerbaijan did a lot to provide for a life of dignity for these people. They have suffered enough; they should not endure alone the consequences of an unsolved conflict. Due to the conflict Azerbaijan has to spend more than 4% of its GDP for the army. Another consequence of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict is that the province of Nakhichevan is separated from Azerbaijan by Armenian territory and cannot be reached on land.
But Armenia is suffering from the conflict too: The economies of both sides have been hurt by their inability to make substantial progress toward a peaceful resolution. Also here more than 4% of GDP goes to the military. The border to Turkey has been closed by Ankara in support of Azerbaijan as retaliation to the conflict with Azerbaijan. Between Yerevan and Ankara is also the open question of the recognition of the genocide of 1,5 million Armenians in the Ottoman empire. Allegedly up to half of the population has left the country due to the circumstances. The situation seems even worse in Nagorno Karabakh where 180,000 ethnic Armenians lived before the armed conflict and according to well-informed sources only one third is left. Due to the conflict Armenia is to a large extent dependent on Russian support.
Talking about stability and security in the region one should not forget that Russia despite its involvement in Georgia and in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict has its own problems in the Northern Caucasus, being confronted with islamist extremism.
The international community succeeded in my view only to freeze the conflicts. The OSCE is involved in mediation efforts in several unresolved conflicts:
The conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh – through the Minsk Group (co-chaired by France, the Russian Federation and the United States) and a Personal Representative of the Chairman-in-Office on the Conflict Dealt with by the OSCE Minsk Conference.
In the post-2008 conflict in Georgia – the OSCE, together with the UN and EU, co-chairs the international Geneva Discussions in the wake of the conflict in Georgia. It also, with EUMM, co-facilitates the meetings of the Dvani/Ergneti Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) dealing with matters that affect the daily life of populations on the ground
You see what I mean when I say one does not need to deal with the past looking for problems. There are current problems enough. Priority should be given to solve the current problems the population of the whole region is suffering from. I admit that I don’t have a perfect recipe. But what I certainly know is that there is no military solution for any of the conflicts. The key words are dialogue, cooperation and reconciliation.
This is what was happening in Europe, earlier or later. France and Germany have led the way. Shortly after Azerbaijan and Armenia joined the Council of Europe, the remaining border control facilities on the Bridge of Europe, connecting the neighbouring cities of Strasbourg in France and Kehl in Germany were completely dismantled and two new bridges were built.
This was my first message – Europe is all about reconciliation, tolerance and enjoyment of diversity. I am deeply convinced – with political will and courage, within only one generation the South Caucasus can be a completely different place.
My second message is about caring of the interest of the people. Fighting poverty, improving education and health services should be given priority to military expenditure.
My third message is about cultural and regional co-operation.
Here again, I wish to speak the exact words I spoke in Baku, in Tbilisi and in Yerevan: Regional and transborder co-operation have given a remarkable contribution to the reunification and prosperity of Europe, we believe they can do much more so in the Caucasus region. This works not only between France and Germany. We can see that in another troubled region of Europe, the Western Balkans. Former enemies in SEE formed a Regional Council as well as CEFTA. By far not all problems have been solved including very serious ones such as the dispute over Kosovo. Nevertheless Serbia and Kosovo can both participate in these activities.
However, the political courage, the difficult compromises, the reconciliation efforts – this is all for the region to accomplish. But Europe can help. The events in Ukraine have demonstrated that we would need a genuine Pan-European security system – including Russia. Such a system should have a conflict management instrument which can be applied without further discussions. And such a system should cover of course the Southern Caucasus too.
I am convinced that peace and reconciliation in the Southern Caucasus is feasible. In Baku as well as in Yerewan I expressed my wish to go one day by train from one capital to the other. And perhaps, like Strasbourg, one day the town of Shusha will become the symbol of reconciliation.
Azerbaijan is to open an embassy in Israel: timely or little late?
“Time to open that bottle!” tweeted with joy George Deek, Israel`s Ambassador in Azerbaijan on November 18, by posting a photo of wine flanked by the flags of the two countries. What lit him up was the decision of the Azerbaijani parliament to (finally) open an embassy in Israel.
The joy was shared by Israeli officials and media outlets: for instance, Prime Minister Yair Lapid praised the decision, calling Azerbaijan “an important partner of Israel and home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the Muslim world”. The Jerusalem Post, in its turn, referred to Azerbaijan as the first Shiite country to open an embassy in Israel.
The two countries have established and been successfully leading one of the unique, if not strange, case of partnership since the early 1990s: a Shiite Azerbaijan plays an incredible role in the energy security of the Jewish state surrounded usually by antagonistic states: according to some estimates, Israel receives 40-50% of its oil imports from Azerbaijan.
Another, no less important, director of the bilater relations is security-oriented. Israel has managed to become the largest supplier of weapons to Azerbaijan. SIPRI estimates that some 60% of Azerbaijan’s defense imports in 2015-2019 originated in Israel, while in 2020, that number jumped to almost 70%. This partnership benefited Azerbaijan, who successfully used the Israeli-manufactured state-of-the-art military technology during the 2020 Karabakh war to defeat its arch-nemesis Armenia and liberate the formerly occupied territories. The contribution of Israel to the historic triumph was acknowledged both by political elite and general society in Azerbaijan: seeing Israel flags, along with Azerbaijani and Turkish ones, across the entire country is therefore not uncommon nowadays.
Last May, amid regional tensions with Iran, reports emerged on Azerbaijan buying Iron Dome missile defense batteries. Then in October 2021, Azerbaijan reportedly considered buying Israel’s Arrow-3 missile defense system. Neither Israeli authorities nor Israeli defense firms commented on the news.
Another sign of deepening ties and mutual trust came to light lately when the Israeli government approved an emergency plan to receive Jews fleeing from Russia. The plan involves possible transition camps for Russian Jews in Finland and in Azerbaijan ahead of their arrival to Israel.
Add to this, Azerbaijani-Jewish diaspora who naturally forges the warm relations between the two countries. While the Jews were persecuted, oppressed and driven out both in Christian and Muslim worlds in the Middle Ages, Azerbaijan always served as a safe haven for them: an all-Jewish town just outside of Baku, Azerbaijan`s capitol city, Red Town is home to at least 4,000 people and is sometimes referred to as Jerusalem of the Caucasus. This fact also boosts the image of Azerbaijan as a reliable and amicable land in the Jewish perception. According to historians, the indigenous Mountain Jews have been living in geography for at least 2,000 years. A unique sub-group of the Jews, they now protect the interests of both Azerbaijan and Israel.
Despite the nearly perfect ties between the two countries, Azerbaijan had for decades avoided opening an embassy in Israel, although the latter has been diplomatically represented in Azerbaijan since 1993. The reason could be related to the assumption that such a move could alienate the huge Muslim world, most of whose members had been quite hostile towards Israel. However, things started changing with the signing of the Abraham Accords. The thaw between some Gulf countries and Israel heralded a new era in the Middle Eastern geopolitics and Azerbaijan had to rethink its relevant policies.
The signs of Azerbaijan`s intention to finally set up a mission in Israel had been observed for some years until when Baku opened Trade and Tourism Representative Offices in Tel Aviv in the summer of 2021.
While elevating its diplomatic presence in the Jewish state, Azerbaijan, known for its skillful balancing, did not forget Palestine and passed a parliamentary resolution on opening a representative office in Ramallah as well.
Yet, Azerbaijan`s historic decision amid its tensions with Iran and the comeback of Netanyahu, who is expected to resume Israel`s assertive policy especially in the Iran direction could not be only a coincidence. Intriguingly, in early October Israel`s Defense Minister Benny Gantz paid a visit to Azerbaijan, where he met not only his counterpart but also Azerbaijan`s president Ilham Aliyev. This visit overlapped with the attempts of Israel and Turkey to finally overcome their past disagreements and open a new chapter in the relations, something the Azerbaijani side had for years desired for and worked on.
It can be predicted that Azerbaijan`s foreign policy priority for the next period will be focusing not only on cementing bilateral ties with the Jewish state, but helping to establish what some Azerbaijani experts see as Azerbaijani-Israeli-Turkish triangle, a geopolitical constellation, which would also determine the regional picture in the coming years.
Kiev is not interested in preventing war crimes
The video of the execution of Russian prisoners of war by Ukrainian troops, which circulated in the media and social networks, is far from the only video recording of war crimes by Ukrainian army. Since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, videos of beaten and stripped prisoners of war and civilians suspected of collaborating with the Russians have appeared on the network. Records of torture also circulated widely.
At the same time, experts admit that there is a lot of cruelty on both sides, during the clashes almost no prisoners are taken, only Moscow does not promote violence, and Kyiv does not care about the promotion of war crimes. What are the reasons for such “public violence”, which can greatly compromise both the Ukrainian military and President Zelensky himself?
We could assume that the Russians commit many more war crimes, but due to the large number of military police and counterintelligence officers, they simply do not film them. It would seem that the answer lies on the surface – Russia is an authoritarian state, where phones are taken away from soldiers, and Ukraine is democratic. However, the reality is different, there is no democracy in the war, smartphones of military personnel in the conflict zone are trying to remove both sides. Moreover, as we have already pointed out, it is precisely in “totalitarian” Russia in the war zone that there are dozens of war correspondents who freely visit military units and could shoot such videos. It is true that a significant part of those journalists is under the control of the Russian army, however, they cannot control all of them. This is evidenced by the fact that more than once, due to journalists filming and revealing the positions of the Russian army, there have been losses of men and equipment in the Russian army.
But Russians are not characterized by cruelty. The main difference between Ukrainian nationalists and Russian fighters is different cultural traditions. In the 80th brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, formed in Lviv from the natives of Western Ukraine, the personnel were brought up in the spirit of the traditions of the Ukrainian underground during the Second World War. Recall that then the supporters of Stepan Bandera shot back pro-Soviet and pro-Polish activists, including doctors and teachers sent to western Ukraine, and also massacred entire Jewish and Polish villages.
In the Russian mentality, mockery and mistreatment of prisoners is unacceptable. You can kill the enemy, but not torture. Russians in their ideology have always opposed themselves to the German Nazis with their concentration camps and gas chambers. So, if someone posted a video of the torture and murder of captured soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Russian audience would explode with indignation, recognizing the perpetrators of such acts as war criminals.
However, the true reason for the appearance of such videos lies not even in the different mentality of Ukrainian nationalists and Russians. In fact, Kyiv propagandists deliberately give the green light to such videos. This is primarily done to scare Russian soldiers and reservists. And official Kiev does not pay much attention to these crimes.
Take for example the recent Ukrainian war crime in Makiivka. The Ukrainian army immediately began to claim that the video was staged and fake. However, it was the Western experts who confirmed the authenticity of the video and the Western media exerted pressure to launch an investigation.
However, such video propaganda of cruelty actually has a much more serious purpose. Its main task is to form a stable feeling of hatred between Russians and residents of Ukraine. EU residents have little idea of the mentality of the average Russian. The fact is that many in Russia sincerely consider the current war to be a civil one. Almost all Russians treat Ukrainians either as a very close people or as southwestern Russians. Half of the inhabitants of Ukraine have Russian surnames, relatives in Russia and use Russian as their main language. However, each such video should, according to the plan of Kiev radical propagandists, change the mentality of Russians more and more. They must hate all the inhabitants of Ukraine, stop treating them as “their own” and recognize that reconciliation with Ukraine and a new reunification with it is impossible. Peace will come sooner or later, but a steel wave of hatred will fall between the future Ukraine and Russia. At the same time, Russia’s desire to punish the killers of defenseless prisoners of war and civilians will also prevent the settlement of relations between Moscow and Kyiv for many decades.
The line of military contact between Russia and Ukraine is lengthening, fresh troops and new weapons are coming to the front from both sides. Obviously, the execution in Makiivka will not be the last video demonstrating the complete disregard of Kyiv, for “democratic values”, the Geneva Convention and human rights. The question involuntarily begs itself, does a united Europe need such a Ukraine, proud of the massacres?
The Lying Propaganda-Phrase “Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine”
Here is why Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 was actually legal under international law:
No one maintains that U.S. President John F. Kennedy lacked international legal authorization to invade the Soviet Union if the Soviet Union were to place American nuclear-warheaded missiles in Cuba 1,131 miles from Washington DC. Everyone recognized that if the Soviet Union and Cuba were to do that, it would constitute an act of aggression against the United States, because those missiles would be so close to America’s command-center in DC as to enable a blitz nuclear attack by the Soviet Union so fast as to possibly prohibit America’s strategic command to recognize the attack in time to launch its own, retaliatory, missiles.
This is the principle, that any major world power possesses the national self-defense right to prohibit any bordering nation from allowing weaponry and forces of a major world power that is hostile to this major world power to be placed in that bordering nation.
Whereas Cuba is 1,131 miles away from DC, Ukraine is only 300 miles away from The Kremlin.
JFK demanded from both Cuba and the Soviet Union that there will NEVER be Soviet missiles placed in Cuba, and the Soviet Union then promised that they would comply with that national-security demand by the U.S.; thus, WW III was averted.
This time around, the aggressors were America and Ukraine; and Russia imposed the same demand as JFK did, but its enemies were/are determined and clear aggressor nations — refused to comply.
Why does ANYONE allege that allowing the United States to place its missiles only 300 miles (a 5-minute missile-flight away) from The Kremlin would not constitute aggression by the U.S. and Ukraine against Russia? Allowing Ukraine into NATO would grant the Governments of U.S. and Ukraine a right to place U.S. missiles 300 miles from The Kremlin — something that no rational Government of Russia would ever allow to happen.
The Cuban-Missile-Crisis precedent acknowledged that Russia now has a national-defense right to demand that Ukraine NEVER be allowed into NATO.
On 17 December 2021, Russia demanded from both the U.S. and its anti-Russian military alliance NATO, promises in writing that Ukraine WILL NOT BE ALLOWED INTO NATO. On 7 January 2022, America and its NATO aggression-alliance both said no.
That left Russia either to capitulate to America and its NATO, or else to invade Ukraine in order to prevent that aggressor — America — from doing essentially what JFK had gotten the Soviet Union to do: to agree to the defending major world power’s extremely reasonable (actually necessary) demand and so promise NEVER to allow Ukraine into NATO.
America (and its NATO) forced Russia to invade Ukraine, in order to prevent nuclear “Checkmate!” by the U.S. regime.
All of the U.S.-and-allied propaganda organs (including academic ones) that use the lying phrase “Russia’s illegal invasion of ukraine” must therefore be recognized as being the liars that they actually are. (Otherwise: they must declare JFK to have been violating international law by threatening Khrushchev with an American invasion if Soviet missiles would be placed in Cuba.)
What the Cuban-Missile-Crisis example displays is a more detailed statement of the Westphalian Principle or “Westphalian State System” as Oxford Reference defines that:
Westphalian state system
Term used in international relations, supposedly arising from the Treaties of Westphalia in 1648 which ended the Thirty Years War. It is generally held to mean a system of states or international society comprising sovereign state entities possessing the monopoly of force within their mutually recognized territories. Relations between states are conducted by means of formal diplomatic ties between heads of state and governments, and international law consists of treaties made (and broken) by those sovereign entities. The term implies a separation of the domestic and international spheres, such that states may not legitimately intervene in the domestic affairs of another, whether in the pursuit of self‐interest or by appeal to a higher notion of sovereignty, be it religion, ideology, or other supranational ideal. In this sense the term differentiates the ‘modern’ state system from earlier models, such as the Holy Roman Empire or the Ottoman Empire.
From: Westphalian state system in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics
That cites two “Empires” — Holy Roman, and Ottoman — but actually ALL empires violate Westphalianism. That includes today’s American empire.
During WW II, the advocates of Westphalianism were FDR and Stalin, and the opponents of Westphalianism were Churchill, Hirohito, Mussolini, and Hitler. Truman and his personal hero Eisenhower became FDR’s successors, and both of them were opponents iof Westphalianism. This was the reason why the Cold War started: both of the first two American Presidents after FDR were imperialists. They created today’s military-industrial-complex-controlled America, the international American dictatorship that now exists and which has replaced FDR’s democracy.
An interesting sidelight to this is that whereas Sunni Islam, and the passion that some of them have for establishing an international “Caliphate,” accept imperialism or even advocate it (as Caliphate-proponents do), Shiite Islam opposes imperialism, and this has been one of the major reasons why Shiite Iran is rejected by all imperialistic Governments. Here is how Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei phrased this in his 21 October 2006 “Leader’s Speech in Meeting with Soldiers and Commanders of the Sacred Defense Era”:
There are two major differences between a defensive and an offensive war in terms of meaning and content. One difference is that an offensive war is based on transgression and aggression, but this is not the case with a defensive war. The second difference is that a defensive war is a place where zeal, courage and deep loyalty to ideals emerge. These ideals may be related to one’s country or … one’s religion. …. This does not exist in an offensive war. For example, when America attacks Iraq, an American soldier cannot claim that he is doing it for the love of his country. What does Iraq have to do with his country? This war is at the service of other goals, but if an Iraqi person resists this military invasion and presence inside his country, this means showing resistance and defending one’s country, national identity and those values that one believes in. …
Since the day the regime of Saddam attacked Tehran and struck the airport until the day Imam (r.a.) accepted the resolution – was a glorious era. And it continued to be a glorious era until Saddam attacked again and our revolutionary and mujahid people took over the entire desert. Basiji youth from throughout the country participated in the war and they put in an astonishing performance. This time – the second time that Iraq had attacked – they managed to make it retreat.
Between 1953 and 1979, Iran had been part of (i.e., a vassal of) the then-growing American empire, and Khamenei in that speech made a principled repudiation of THAT America. But that America is now bipartisan in both of America’s political Parties, and is at war against the anti-imperialist nations of today, mainly Russia, China, and Iran — but also against any nation that is friendly toward any of those three. The anti-imperialist nations are pro-Westphalian; the imperialist nations are (and always have been) anti-Westphalian.
Today’s international law doesn’t mention the Westphalian Principle, because FDR had died and the U.N. (which he invented and named) became created in Truman’s image, not in FDR’s; and so it accepts imperialism (which FDR passionately despised and loathed). That’s part of the gutting of FDR’s envisioned U.N., which has resulted.
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