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Kosovo Boomerang: Transcaucasian Separatism

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Аt the very beginning of April 2016 the armed conflict between the Armenian and the Azerbaijani militaries was shortly renewed over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh – an autonomous province within Azerbaijan but in fact under direct military control by Armenia.

This event once again opened the question of the legitimacy of similar self-proclaimed independence cases around the world and international (non)recognition of such de facto quasi- and client-states (Transnistria, North Cyprus, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, West Sahara, South Sudan, East Timor…).[1] However, from the European perspective, three cases from the Caucasus (Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia) have to be firstly analysed in comparison with the Balkan case of Kosovo.

A Domino effect

After February 2008 when Kosovo Albanian-dominated parliament proclaimed Kosovo independence (without organizing a referenda) with obvious U.S. diplomatic support (unilateral recognition) with explanation that Kosovo case is unique in the World (i.e., it will be not repeated again) one can ask the question: is the problem of southern Serbian province of Kosovo really unique and surely unrepeatable in some other parts of the world as U.S. administration was trying to convince the rest of the international community?

Consequences of recognition of Kosovo independence by one (smaller) part of the international community are already (and going to be in the future) visible primarily in the Caucasus because of the very similar problems and situation in these two regions. At the Caucasus (where around 50 different ethnolinguistic groups are living together) self-proclaimed independence already was done by Abkhazia and South Ossetia during their wars of 1991−1993 against the central authorities of Georgia but up to the mid-2008 both of these two separatist regions from Georgia were not internationally recognized by any state in the world. The region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which proclaimed its own independence in 1991 from Azerbaijan with a full military and political support by Armenia, was also not recognized before Kosovo independence. We have to remember that separatist movements in the Caucasus in the 1990s occurred at the time when Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina proclaimed their own independence from Yugoslavia and have been soon recognized as the independent states and even became accepted members of the Council of Europe and the United Nations.[2]

However, only several months after self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo on February 17th, 2008 a wave of recognition of three Caucasus separatist states started as a classic example of a domino effect policy in the international relations. It has to be noticed that the experts from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed even in 2007 their real fear that in the case of U.S. and E.U. unilateral recognition of Kosovo independence the same unilateral diplomatic act could be implied by Russia (and other countries) by recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a matter of diplomatic compensation and as result of domino effect in the international relations. It is also known and from official O.S.C.E. sources that the Russian delegates in this pan-European security organization have been constantly warning before 2008 the West that such scenario is quite possible, but with one peculiarity: from 2007 they stopped to mention a possibility of Russian recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s self-proclaimed independence in 1991. It was most probably for the reason that Moscow did not want to spoil good relations with Azerbaijan – a country with huge reserves of natural gas and oil.[3]    

Kosovo

img kformapKosovo is the Balkan region which became during the last 150 years contested land between the Serb and Albanian nationalisms. The region (for the Serbs Kosovo and Metochia, for the Albanians Kosova or Kosovë), however, has different historical and national-cultural importance for these two nations.[4] For the Serbs, Kosovo is the “cradle of Serbia”[5] – a central and pivotal land in regard to their statehood and national identity as before the Ottoman occupation of Serbia in the mid-15th century it was exactly Kosovo to be administrative, political, cultural, religious and economic centre of the medieval Serbia. However, differently to the Serb case, for the Albanians this region was all the time of the marginal importance concerning their national identity and particularly statehood. That became the crucial reason why the Great European Powers did not include Kosovo into the newly (and for the first time in history) self-proclaimed the independent state of Albania (on November 28th, 1912) but recognized Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia after the Balkan Wars 1912−1913.  

Kosovo was the birthplace of Serbia as the powerful state but also and the place were Serbia lost its real independence to the Ottoman Turks after the Battle of Kosovo on June 28th, 1389. Contrary, the region means simply nothing for the Albanian statehood, but it became a birthplace of the Albanian territorial nationalism as it was the town of Prizren in Kosovo where in June 1878 the (First Albanian) Prizren League declared a Greater (Islamic) Albania as an autonomous province within the Ottoman Empire composed by Albania itself, Kosovo, the West Macedonia, the East Montenegro and the North-West Greece. This megalomania project, nevertheless, left up today to be for all kinds of the Albanian chauvinistic nationalists as the cornerstone of their political ideology of a Greater and ethnically pure (Islamic) Albania. This process of purification of Kosovo on both ethnic and confessional bases started by the Muslim Albanians immediately after the Prizren League session in 1878 and was continued during the WWII within the borders of Mussolini’s created Greater Albania when up to 20.000 Cristian Serbs were killed in the region followed by at least 100.000 expelled Serbs.

The Albanian terror against the Serbs was legalized by the Yugoslav authorities at the time of Kosovo’s very broad autonomy (in fact independence) from 1974 to 1989 but it received a form of genocide on Serbs and all other non-Albanians from the time of the N.A.T.O.’s occupation of Kosovo in June 1999 up today (the British, U.S., German, Italian and French military forces occupied a different sectors of Kosovo).[6] As a consequence, the ethnic Albanians today compose 97% of Kosovo’s population compared with only 2% in 1455 (according to the first Ottoman census).[7] On the other hand, Kosovo’s Albanians were politically oppressed by the Serb-led regimes during the interwar time (1919−1941), first two decades after the WWII and during the government of Slobodan Milosevic in the years of 1989−1998. However, for the matter of comparison, the Serb oppression had as a single aim just to prevent territorial separation of Kosovo from the rest of Serbia while the Albanian terror was inspired by much serious national goal: to ethnically clean Kosovo as a part of a Greater Albania.        

South Ossetia

On the first glance it can be said that the Orthodox South Ossetians are equally separatist as the Muslim Kosovo Albanians. However, the South Ossetians are having sympathies towards the Serbs (not because both of them are the Orthodox) but not towards, as we could expect, separatist Kosovo Albanians. The real reason of such sympathies are similar legal state rights applied by both the Serbs in Kosovo and the South Ossetians – the only European nation in the Caucasus.

Historically, South Ossetia (like Abkhazia) was never integral part of sovereign Georgian state, differently with Kosovo in its historical relations with Serbia as Kosovo was not only integral, but culturally and politically the most important and even administratively central region of the medieval Serbian state till 1455 when Kosovo became occupied by the Ottomans and a such away separated from the rest of Serbia. Shortly, Kosovo before the Ottoman occupation was historical, political, administrative, cultural and church centre of Serbia populated before 1700 exclusively by the Serbs (the Albanians came to Kosovo from Albania after 1700).

However, in comparison with Kosovo-Serbia relation case, Abkhazia and South Ossetia were never of any kind of centres of any kind of Georgian state as all the time they have been provincial (occupied) regions of Georgia even populated by different ethnolinguistic groups. Moreover, Georgia itself was never before entered Russia at the very beginning of the 19th century strongly and definitely united state territory, also differently to Serbia which up to its lost independence in 1459 was profoundly united with Kosovo as its national and state centre. Also, differently with Georgia, Serbia by herself and Russian military and diplomatic support regained her state de facto independence during the Serbian Revolution of 1804−1815 against the Ottoman Empire while Georgia was waiting to regain its own state independence for the time of self-destruction of the U.S.S.R. in 1991. It has to be noticed that the present day territory of Georgia entered Russia in parts – segment by segment. Ossetia as united territory (not divided into Northern and Southern as today situation is) became voluntarily part of the Russian Empire in 1774. The Russian Empress Catherin the Great (1762−1796), in order to be surely convinced that the Ossetians are really independent, before incorporation of this province into the Russian Empire sent a special commission which informed St. Petersburg that “the Ossetians are free people subordinated to no one” (what means not under any kind of the Georgian rule or subordination!).

Georgia itself became part of Russian Empire in 1804 (27 years later then Ossetia) being before that from 1783 a protectorate of the Russian Empire. This fact is the most important argument used by the South Ossetians in their dispute with the Georgian authorities. Differently to the Ossetians, Kosovo Albanians such argument do not have in relation to the Serbs. In is known that the Albanians started to settle themselves at the region of Kosovo from the present-day Northern Albania only after the First Serbian Great Migration from the region in 1689. It should be said as well that, according to several Byzantine and Arab sources, the Balkan Albanians are originating from the Caucasus Albania. In the other words, the Caucasus Albanians left in the 9th century their homeland (Dagestan and Azerbaijan) and have been settled by the Arabs in the West Sicily and the South Italy which they left in 1043 and came to the Balkans (to the present-day Central Albania). It means that the Albanians are not authentic Balkan people differently to the Serbs who are most probably one of the oldest Balkan nations (the aboriginal Balkan Illyrians).

Georgia declared its independence during the Russian Civil War in 1918, but became occupied by the Bolshevik Red Army in 1921. Georgia joined the U.S.S.R. next year as a part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Republic together with Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, Georgia became a separate Soviet Republic in 1936 like Armenia and Azerbaijan. The southern part of Ossetia (together with Abkhazia) was given to be administered by Georgia by decision of three Georgian Communists – Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (Jughashvili), Sergei Ordzonikidze and Avelj Enukindze. Nevertheless, between two parts of Ossetia (North and South) never was a state border before 1994.

img Caucasus

The people of South Ossetia on the referendum upon destiny of the U.S.S.R. on March 17th, 1991 voted for existence of Soviet Union (like the Serbs upon Yugoslavia, but and Kosovo Albanians on illegal referendum to become independent from Serbia like Georgians from the U.S.S.R.) that was a month before Georgia became independent from the USSR. The referendum on March 17th, 1991 was organized two months after the Georgian army started the war against South Ossetia in which till September of the same year 86 Ossetian villages have been burned. It is calculated that more than 1.000 Ossetians lost their lives and around 12.000 Ossetians emigrated from the South to the North Ossetia. This is the point of similarity with expelled around 250.000 Serbs from Kosovo by the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army after the NATO peace-keeping troops entered this province in June 1999 and legalized Muslim Albanian terror over the Christian Serbs and other non-Albanians.

An Independence of the Republic of South Ossetia was proclaimed on May 29th, 1992. However, this legal act has not been understood as a “separatist” because at that time Georgia was not recognized by no one state in the world as an independent one and Georgia was not a member of the United Nations. Oppositely to the South Ossetian case, Kosovo Albanian unilateral independence proclamation on February 18th, 2008 cannot be treated by the international community as a legal one (at least without a direct permission by Belgrade) as Kosovo by the international law and agreements is still an integral part of Serbia. Moreover, Serbia (differently from Georgia in May 1992) is internationally recognized independent state and a member of the United Nations. This is and common point of similarity between the Ossetians and the Serbs: both of them are fighting against separation of one part of national body and land from the motherland (Ossetia and Serbia).

Abkhazia

Abkhazia is a Caucasian province that was a part of the ex-USSR in the form of an Autonomous Soviet Republic within the Soviet Republic of Georgia. However, in comparison with Kosovo status as an Autonomous Province within Serbia from 1974 to 1989, Abkhazia did not reach even half of the rights and power as Kosovo had: President, Assembly, police forces, Academy of Science and Arts, Constitution (in direct opposition to the Constitution of Serbia) and even Territorial Defence forces (in fact the provincial army). Nevertheless, in April 1991 Abkhazia became a part of the self-proclaimed independent state of the Republic of Georgia, against the will of both the Abkhazian population of the Islamic denomination (at that time 18% out of all Abkhazian inhabitants) and Abkhazian Russian-speakers (14%). Subsequently, at least one third of Abkhazian population opposed its integration into the independent Georgia in 1991.

The conflict with Georgian central authorities started when the troops of the Muslim volunteers from neighbouring territories, but mainly from Chechnya, helped the local Abkhazian Muslims in their struggle against Tbilisi security forces. Georgia at that time was already involved into the civil war against the Ossetian separatists and for that reason seriously weakened. As a result of the conflict with the Abkhazian separatists, Tbilisi, which lost all control over Abkhazia, was finally forced to accept to be militarily defeated and therefore compelled to start political negotiations on extensive autonomy status of Abkhazia within sovereign Georgia. Ultimately, the negotiations between the Abkhazian government and Georgia became futile, and a very fragile peace was achieved under the civil supervision of the UN observers and the Russian military troops as a guarantor of the peace-treaty implementation.  

Georgia was obviously week to recover political control over the separatist republic of Abkhazia in the 1990s. The President Eduard Shevardnadze was ultimately only able to restore some order within Georgia which was at that time under de facto Russian protection and therefore with implicit political-military assistance by Russia. As a consequence, Shevardnadze signed an agreement with Russia on allowance of 20.000 Russian military troops to be present in two Georgian separatist republics alongside with the Russian right to use Georgia’s Black Sea port of Poti.

The economic background of such pro-Russian policy by Shevardnadze is understood from the fact that at that time Georgia was in desperate need of direct Russian economic assistance that is quite visible from the very fact that in 1994 Georgia’s GDP declined to only 25% of its pre-independence level. As a direct Russian economic and financial help, Georgia’s economy became soon stabilized with controlled inflation and state spending reigned in.  

Nevertheless, it was clear that Georgia can maintain at least a formal authority over both South Ossetia and Abkhazia only being within the Russian sphere of influence in the region of Transcaucasia. Any change of the side would bring and de facto separation of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Tbilisi what in fact happened in reality in 2008 due to (irrational) pro-American policy by Mikhail Saakashvili – a leader of 2003 Georgian coloured revolution (the Rose Revolution) which finally removed Shevardnadze from power but six years later and Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia.            

International system of governing and separatist movements

The main argument for the western politicians upon Kosovo independence in 2008, as an “unique case” of Kosovo situation, is the fact that according to “Kumanovo Agreement” between Serbia and the N.A.T.O. signed on June 10th, 1999, and the U.N. Resolution 1244 (following this agreement), Kosovo was put under the U.N. protectorate with imposed international system of governing and security. However, such “argument” does not work in the case of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as the Ossetians and Abkhazians are governing their lands by themselves and much more successfully in comparison with “internationally” (i.e. the N.A.T.O.) protected Kosovo. It was quite visible in March 2004 when international organizations and military troops could not (i.e. did not want to) protect ethnic Serbs in Kosovo from violent attacks organized by the local Albanians when during three days (March 17−19th) 4,000 Serbs exiled, more than 800 Serbian houses are set on fire followed by 35 destroyed or severely damaged Serbian Orthodox churches and cultural monuments.

The “2004 March Pogrom” revealed the real situation in the region of Kosovo – a region which had to be under the effective protection by the international community. The position of the South Ossetians in the independent Georgia from 1991 to August 2008 could be compared with position of the Serbs in Kosovo after June 1999. Differently with Kosovo case after June 1999, or even after February 2008, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria showed much more political-legal bases to be recognized as the independent states as they showed real ability to govern themselves by only themselves but not by the international organizations as it is in the case of Kosovo. They also proved much more democracy and respect for human and minority rights in comparison with the Albanian-ruled Kosovo Republic which is in fact transformed into the Islamic State of Kosovo (Kosovo I.S.I.L.).

Nagorno-Karabakh

img map1The region of Nagorno-Karabakh is the most contested conflict-area in Trancaucasia during the last three decades. It became a part of Azerbaijan with an autonomous status in 1936 within the Soviet Union but not a part of Armenian Socialist Republic established as such also in 1936 as one of 15 socialist republics of the U.S.S.R. During the whole time of the existence of the Soviet Union there were tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia over enclave (province) of Nagorno-Karabakh which was at the Soviet time populated by Islamic Azeri majority and the Christian Orthodox Armenian minority. However, the enclave was historically with majority of the Armenian population but due to the Islamic terror the Christian Armenians became a minority on their own land what happen as the same with the Christian Orthodox Serbs in Kosovo in relations to the Muslim Albanians. For the Armenians, Nagorno-Karabakh enclave was unjustifiably separated from Armenia by the Soviet authorities and included into Azerbaijan in order to keep good political relations with neighbouring Turkey. The Serbs, similarly to the Armenians in regard to Nagorno-Karabakh, were complaining about the same practice with regard to Kosovo status from 1974 to 1989 when the “cradle of Serbia” was practically teared off from the rest of the motherland and granted actual independence from Serbia having much stronger relations with the neighbouring Albania than with Serbia.

The frictions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh ultimately led to the open bloody war mostly within the enclave which started in 1989 when the central Soviet authorities already have been in the process of collapsing. The war led in 1993 to the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and some strategic territory of Azerbaijan.[8] Consequently, Armenia became cut off from Azerbaijani oil supplies and as naturally being devoid of mineral resources or fertile soil Armenian economy collapsed in the mid-1990s. For instance, Armenian GDP had fallen to 33% of its 1990 level followed by the inflation of 4000%. Naturally, as politically supported by Moscow, the Armenian economy became mostly oriented toward Russia: for instance, 60% of Armenia’s export went to the Russian market. Up today, Armenia was not directly attacked by Turkey exactly for the reason that it is politically but also and militarily protected by Russia whose armed forces are located on the territory of Armenia nearby Turkey’s border.            

There are several similarities but also and great dissimilarities between conflicts upon Nagorno-Karabakh in Transcaucasia and Kosovo at the Balkans.

In both cases the international community is dealing with autonomy of compact national minority who is making a majority on the land in question and already having its own national independent state which is bordering this contested territory. Both Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians and Kosovo Albanians do not want to accept any other solution except separation and internationally recognized independence. Both conflicts are in fact continuations of old historic struggles between two different civilizations: the Muslim Turkish and the Christian Byzantine. In both conflicts the international organizations are included as the mediators. Some of them are the same – France, U.S.A. and Russia as members of both Contact Groups for ex-Yugoslavia and Minsk Group under the O.S.C.E. umbrella for Azerbaijan. Both Serbia and Azerbaijan have been against that their problem-cases (Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh) would be proclaimed by some kind of the “international community” (the U.N., the E.U., the O.S.C.E., etc.) as the “unique” cases as it would be (as the Kosovo Albanians already proved on February 18th, 2008) a green light to the Albanian and the Armenian separatists to secede their territories from Serbia and Azerbaijan without permission given by Belgrade and Baku.

However, there are and significant differences between Kosovo and Nagorno-Karabakh cases. Kosovo is internal conflict within Serbia (which is after June 1999 internationalized) but in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh we have to speak about external military aggression (by Armenia). In difference to Armenia in relation to Nagorno-Karabakh, Albania formally never accepted any legal act in which Kosovo was called as integral part of state territory of Albania (with historical exception during the Second World War when Kosovo, the East Montenegro and the West Macedonia have been included into Mussolini’s sponsored and protected “Greater Albania”). Delegation from Albania did not take any participation in the talks and negotiations upon the “final” status of Kosovo between Pristina and Belgrade in 2007, while Armenia has official status of “interested side” in the conflict concerning Nagorno-Karabakh. However, the Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh such status still did not obtain. Official regular army of Albania never was involved in Kosovo conflict (differently from great number of volunteers from Albania), while Armenia’s army (i.e. from the state of Armenia) was directly involved in the military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh from the very beginning of the conflict, but officially part of the independent state of Azerbaijan. As a result, Armenia occupied 1/5 of Azerbaijani territory and the victims of ethnic cleansing are primarily the Azeri as more than one million of them are being displaced as a result of the hostilities.

Differently to the case of Nagorno-Karabakh’s conflict, in which the main victims became a former majority population (the Muslim Azeri), in Kosovo case the principal victims of the war are the Christian Serbs as a minority population of the province. Nevertheless, differently from Kosovo case, weaker Azerbaijani side did not apply to the N.A.T.O. for the military help, but a weaker Albanian side did it during the Kosovo conflict in 1998−1999 and only due to the N.A.T.O.’s military intervention on the Albanian side and direct military occupation of Kosovo after the war it was possible for the Albanians to commit almost a full scale of the ethnic cleansing of the province during the first five years after the war (up to the end of March 2004).[9]  

Conclusions

It can be concluded that the Albanian unilaterally proclaimed Kosovo independence in February 2008 is not at all “unique” case in the world without direct consequences to similar separatist cases following the “domino effect” (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, South Sudan…). That is the real reason why, for instance, the government of Cyprus is not supporting “Kosovo Albanian rights to self-determination” as the next “unique” case can be easily northern (Turkish) part of Cyprus which is by the way already recognized by the Republic of Turkey and under de facto Ankara’s protection. Or even the better example: the Spanish government does not want to recognize Kosovo independence for the very “Catalan” reason as a domino effect of separatism can be easily spilled over to the Iberian Peninsula.

There are around 200 territorial-national separatist movements around the world for whom the case of Kosovo “precedent” is going to serve as the best moral and legal foundation for their own independence. Subsequently, the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized by now by three non-U.N.’s member states according to Kosovo’s pattern: Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Furthermore, in 2012 (four years after Kosovo’s independence proclamation), a member of Uruguay’s foreign relations committee stated that his country could recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence and the Parliament of New South Wales (Australia) called upon the Australian government to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh. Two other Transcaucasian separatist republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia became like Nagorno-Karabakh recognized after Kosovo’s independence proclamation in 2008 by several states and quasi-states: Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Abkhazia and South Ossetia (each other).

In sum, Kosovo’s independence proclamation in February 2008 became in fact not “precedent” as the U.S.’s and the E.U.’s administration declared: it became rather a boomerang example of “domino effect” in the international relations. The case of Crimea in 2014 was in this respect quite clear: the Crimean popular self-determination rights to separate peninsula from Ukraine and to become part of Russia were at least formally founded on the same rights used by Kosovo’s Albanians (as majority in the province) to proclaim the state independence from Serbia.   


ENDNOTES

[1] On quasi-states, see [Pål Kolstø, “The Sustainability and Future of Unrecognized Quasi-States”, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 43, no. 6, 2006, 723−740].

[2] On the Caucasian geopolitics, see [Chorbajian Levon, Patrick Donabedian, Claude Mutafian, The Caucasian Knot, Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Zed., 1994; Jorge Heine, “The Conflict in the Caucasus: Causing a New Cold War?”, India Quarterly: A Journal of International Affairs, vol. 65, no. 1, 2009, 55−66].

[3] On the issue of connection between geopolitics and energy, see [Klare Michael, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008].

[4] However, in the western academic literature on Kosovo as disputed land between the Serbs and the Albanians, usually the region is wrongly presented as central for both nationalities concerning their cultural identity [Jan Palmowski, Dictionary of Contemporary World History from 1900 to the Present Day, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 354].

[5] Радован Самарџић и други, Косово и Метохија у српској историји, Београд: СКЗ, 1989, 5−46.

[6] On this issue, see [Dragan Kojadinović (ed.), The March Pogrom in Kosovo and Metohija (March 17-19, 2004) with a survey of destroyed and endangered Christian cultural heritage, Belgrade: Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia, 2004; Мирко Чупић, Отета земља. Косово и Метохија (злочини, прогони, отпори), Београд: Нолит, 2006; Hannes Hofbauer, Experiment Kosovo. Die Rückker des Kolonialismus, Wien, 2008].

[7] On the issue of Kosovo War in 1998−1999 and the Albanian terror after the war, see [Judah Tim, Kosovo: War and Revenge, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000].

[8] On the Armenian approach to the conflict, see [Armenian Center for National and International Studies, Nagorno Karabagh: A White Paper, Yerevan: ACNIS, 2008].

[9] On the conflict on Nagorno-Karabakh, see [Moorad Mooradian, Daniel Druckman, “Hurting Stalemate or Mediation? The Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, 1990−95”, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 36, no. 6, 1999, 709−727].

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Eastern Europe

In The Bends And Labyrinths Of Civilizations

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What describes a nation, or more importantly who describes a nation? Nations like to tell about heroic, victorious events of their history, it is pleasant; they are proud of their famous compatriots. Moreover, they are flattered to be highly estimated by foreign prominent people for two and a half thousand years and sometimes that words have been even overestimated. But the first-hand sources confirm, consequently, they are real. Accordingly, it is needed to understand why they expressed glorious opinions about Armenians as the authors include famous thinkers of different nations and world greats.

There are many scientific hypotheses known in the history of science, which have been rationally explained for many, even hundreds of years. Great thinkers often come to intuitive conclusions that are incomprehensible to most of their contemporaries, they are even being criticized for their ideas. For decades, I kept viewing an approach by Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656–1708), a great French thinker and member of Paris Academy who noted; “Armenian nation is the best nation in the world; they are moral, polite, full of chastity and decency.”

At first sight, one may take this kind of statement as unreasonable and exaggerated. Armenians are patriotic, proud, but they are very critical to themselves; even a nationalist Armenian will not express such ideas. At the same time, another French thinker, historian, famous geographer Jacques Élisée Reclus (1830–1905) claims: The Armenian villager can be attributed to what Turnefor said; “Armenians are the best people in the world without much exaggeration”, which, in its turn, means that there are still serious grounds for such opinions.

More than a hundred years after Tournefort, the great English poet Lord George Gordon Byron wrote. “The virtues of Armenians are their own, and the shortcomings are taken from others”. In short, Armenians are decent and perfect and the like.

At first glance, it seems that such opinions require a lot of different knowledge on many nations, which will let us come to a certain conclusion through comparison. In other words, it was necessary to study a certain set of knowledge, which was still quite narrow at the times of the mentioned authors. Accordingly, the conclusions had to have a different starting point.

From our point of view, that starting point could have been based on several notorious historical facts, in particular:

1) Testimonies of ancient Greek and Roman historians about the Armenian people and Armenia,

2) Although several dozen peoples lived in the Armenian Highlands and Mesopotamia in ancient times, but few survived, including the Armenian people,

3) Starting from the ancient Roman and Persian periods and throughout the Middle Ages, Armenia was the scene of savage invasions (Arabs, Mongols, Seljuks, Ottomans, etc.), but Armenians continued to keep their existence in the Armenian Highlands,

4)  the last mentioned outstanding peace-loving characteristic of the Armenian people, which was manifested both during the powerful Armenian kingdoms and after the loss of statehood

5) Existence of Armenian colonies in many countries, including European ones, where Armenians, have both preserved their national identity, and, at the same time, having been integrated  in the new national environment, have contributed to the prosperity of those countries,

6) The process of preserving and continuously developing the Armenian language, the theological, philosophical, scientific, literary heritage created in Armenian, and the publishing heritage, too,

7) Existence of unique Armenian culture, civilization, and also contribution of Armenians to world civilization.

These basic ideas, of course, are not exhaustive; there are and there will possible be other ideas, too. It is necessary to understand the main thing: who is the Armenian, what are his peculiarities and what it was that ensured his existence for millennia?

I will emphasize the following description of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a great German thinker about Armenians: “Hardworking and intelligent people”, “they have a special origin”, “all the nations accept Armenians with open arms”, they have “excellent mettle”, “it is impossible for us to talk about their preliminary formation”.

Till today, modern historiography, linguistics, and ethnography are not “able” to fully present the “preliminary formation” of the Armenian nation, but there are certain assumptions. But first, let us consider the “special origins” of the Armenian people.  One thing is certain; the origin, development and formation of the Armenian people are hidden in the thick fog of thousands of years. At all events, according to the modern genetic research, scientists confirm that Armenians have lived in their highlands for more than 7-8 thousand years. The Armenian language and culture also testify to the mentioned facts. It is clear that the perfection of the language, the elaboration, the rich vocabulary, the ability to express thoughts, ideas, knowledge, human emotions could not be created even for centuries, it has, surely, taken millennia. Differently, the development of the language also has required a rich culture, the development of which also took millennia. Language and culture, complementing and enriching each other, as well as creatively assimilating and synthesizing the best values ​​and traditions of neighboring languages ​​and cultures, have become, one may say, a dominant language and culture of regional significance. Thanks to that, the Armenian people have survived in the Armenian Highlands for millennia.

When talking about the special origin of the Armenian people, one can’t help drawing attention to the Armenian Highlands. Generally, living in the mountains is viewed to be one of the best ways of protections from outside attacks, but limiting yourself to it does not yet give answers to many questions. The inhabitants of the mountainous regions have to constantly struggle and adapt to the harsh climatic conditions, and in order to achieve the result they need the joint efforts of the people, which, in its turn, forces them to develop special and stricter forms of coexistence as compared with the conditions in the valleys. On the contrary, mountains devote people certain advantages, such as working tools, raw materials for housing (obsidian, copper, tin, iron, various non-metallic building materials, and the like), easier means of self-protection, and all the rest. And finally, the mountains give people spiritual charge, spirituality, and also form a uniqueway of thinkingand a way of life which corresponds to it. The “One for all, all for one” thinking is typical, first of all, to the mountaineers. The evidence of the last mentioned is not only the way of life, behavior and manners of Armenians, but also of all mountain peoples.

There is not any coincidence that the civilizations formed in Mesopotamia, more specifically in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, have constantly been changed, and the Armenian civilization having been formed in the Armenian Highlands has kept maintaining its existence and developing steadily.

The mountaineer, whether he wants it or not, must be honest, decedent, hospitable, hardworking and inquisitive, physically and mentally healthy, conservative, apologist of public and individual order, initiative and courageous, and so on and so forth. Just as he receives guests with open arms, so he will be received with open arms, too. The mountaineer is in need of accepting guests just because he is isolated from the world and needs to be informed about what is going on in the world around him. This is how the “excellent mettle”, mentioned by Kant, has been formed. It is obvious that the bearer of all this is first of all the villager, to whom Reclu rightly attributes Turnefor’s words about Armenians.

The “open-arms” feature is also hardened in the cold. Armenians have also been involved in trade for centuries, which comes to say that they have not cheated in doing business, no matter how much they pursued personal interests, on the contrary, they have been able to attract customers, including members of royal families, great princes and feudal lords, nobles, local big merchants, and also to prove their honesty, kindness, without which they would have never been “welcomed with open arms”. Armenian merchants often also acted as royal translators, diplomats, achieved high positions in some countries, and became foreign ministers.

It is obvious that during the long contacts the Armenian merchants have not been engaged only in trade, but, simultaneously, have introduced Armenian culture, art, crafts to foreigners, participated in various events of the given country and the like. With their involvement, the Armenians have built churches, schools, established printing houses in the colonies, and came up with charitable initiatives. They have even had a special costume-suit worthy of the time and it is not accidental that Rousseau wore the clothes of an Armenian merchant to avoid political persecution. And, of course, the establishment of that country was well aware of all that.

Another characteristic Armenians have, is their peace-loving nature. Turnefor writes that Armenians “consider themselves to be happy when not dealing with weapons, “in contrast with other nations, they take up arms only to defend themselves against any attacks.” Another thing that is worth mentioning is the assurance of the Russian historian Sergei Glinka (1775 / 6-1847). “I am not writing praise, and how far are all stories(about Armenians) from praise? Armenians were not carried away by violent outbursts of conquest by the moral features of their national spirit as all that have been transitory.

Defending the homeland, preserving their own independence, withstanding external violence attempts-these are the main goals for them to get armed. Here is why Mihr, one of their pagan Gods, was a spiritual fire that preserved and would not harm the nature and man”. Let’s apply to J. Byron again. “It is difficult to find a chronology of a nation that is free from vicious crimes than that of the Armenians, whose virtues are the product of peace and whose vices are the result of repression”. An English politician, statesman William Ewart Gladstone (1805-1898) is also needed to be mentioned as a known person having written about Armenians; According to him, “Armenians are one of the oldest peoples of the Christian civilization and one of the most peaceful, entrepreneurial and sensible one in the world”, he also mentions that diligence, striving for peace, common sense are the main reasons why slavery was not formed in Armenia as a society.

We may continue the series of glorifying Armenians may be continued remembering the German orientalist V. Belkin member of the French Academy, Russian military historian Viktor Abaza (1831-1898) and others. Just let me mention that the biggest proof of the Armenians’ love of/ towards peace is their history, full of episodes of their struggle for independence and liberation, also known in the East for its arrogance, pages about great generals, war heroes and, finally, the best evidence is the epic poem “Sasna Tsrer”. An example of peace-loving feature of the Armenian people is the King Artashes I of the mighty empire of Greater Armenia, who marked the borders of the Armenian kingdom not through force of arms, but through the presence of an Armenian-speaking population. Generally, peace-loving is conditioned with diligence and the ability to acquire wealth on one’s own. For thousands years having lived in the strict conditions of the highlands, Armenians have learned to earn their own living, to work hard, to know the laws of nature, and also to realize that by robbing someone else’s property, you impoverish yourself. Having always been constant victim of the surrounding robbers, Armenians have forever realized that robbery is not the right way to live well. Robbery, theft, taking someone else’s property always causes resistance and as a result of robbery one should be ready not only to gain, but also to lose; one loses his children, his peace of mind, and often becomes a victim of robbery. There have existed many powerful empires, which have disappeared with their peoples before the eyes of Armenians. Every war, even a victorious one, gives birth to a new war and, predominantly, the winner becomes the loser. This is how the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, Roman and Parthian empires disappeared from the face of the earth.

Since the ancient times, plunder has been an important part of the way of life of the peoples having in the European continent, but having adopted the ancient Greek philosophical rationalism, the Europeans did manage to greatly promote education, science, technology, develop the arts, and inherit the cruel, malevolent and arrogant path concentrating on urgent political and economic interests and due to that, they succeeded in ensuring a prosperous life for the “golden billion” of their citizens and subjects.

The thinkers of the European Enlightenment, who advocated the ideas of human rights, freedom, equality, “fraternity” proclaimed by the French Revolution, in fact did not have worthy followers and did not guarantee the embodiment of the idea of ​​”fraternity”. It was all this that led archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann Johann Ludwig Heinrich Julius Schliemann (1822-90) to come to the conclusion according to which “the tragedy of Europe is that its civilization is stood on the Greek rather than the Armenian culture”.

Today, the West is reaping the fruits of its sins; international terrorism and international migration. They are just germs and still Europe has a lot to pay for the atrocities, looting, wars, and damage to hundreds of peoples.

Above we mentioned about the Armenian colonies, which have a history of thousands of years, and not only multilingual literature, references-studies exist but also significant traces of material culture have been preserved. Some Armenian colonies have been created by the migration of Armenians, when for various reasons the Armenians were forced to leave their homeland, others by the forced resettlement or deportation of savage states. The forcible deportation had several goals: first, to evict the Armenian territories in order to appropriate them once and for all, on the other hand, to make those territories unattractive or unsuitable for the enemy neighboring countries. Our immediate neighbors, Byzantium, Persia, Rech Pospolita, Transylvania, Russia, India, have forcibly or peacefully populated villages, towns, and regions with Armenians. By deporting, sometimes taking advantage of, providing land, economic privileges, national educational, cultural, religious freedoms, granting internal autonomy, Armenians settled their uninhabited or occupied territories, using their commercial and craft potential for their own security and development. What was the reason for this kind of friendly attitude towards Armenians? The answer is obvious. Armenians are hardworking, progressive and, also, peace-loving/peaceful.

On this subject, I would love to remind a part from the history of the Crimea. When Russian Empress Catherine II (1762-96) instructed Prince Potemkin to seize the Crimea, he took the following step: invited the Greeks and Christian Armenians, granted tax and property privileges to his country. The caravans of Christian Armenians and Greeks moved to Christian Russia, as a result of which the short-lived worker collapsed economically and lost his resistance on the eve of the Russian invasion.

Byzantium once weakened the Armenian kingdoms, evicted Armenians, paved the way for the Turkish troops to the depths of the country, to Constantinople and perished, so the Turks did not shy/keep away from any means, even resorting to genocide and statelessness, depriving themselves of a viable Christian element.

The West will also greatly contribute to this, as soon as it gets rid of Britain’s “We have no fixed allies, we have no eternal enemies. Only our interests are immutable and eternal”(Henry Temple, Lord Palmerson, 1848) destructive philosophy. It is necessary to have “permanent friends”, which can be achieved only through mutually beneficial cooperation.

Although, at first sight, the words of praise from many famous foreigners about the Armenian people may seem to have been exaggerated, they are really justified. However, this does not still mean that Armenians are the “best” people of the world, at least because there are many “good” nations, who have greatly contributed to the development of human civilization. For centuries, Armenians, having been under the brutal rule of foreigners, have taken many of their flaws and now they have left the national-moral image of their ancestors out having lost many values. Accordingly, I am sending a message to Armenians not only to be proud of the glory and praise of the past, but also to make efforts to restore the special majesty and virtue of the Armenian nation, and to get rid of foreign flaws. Only with that self-purification and exaltation you will be able to consider yourself a virtuous people, which is more important than the praise of others.

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Eastern Europe

What stands behind escalation of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan?

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Thousand Azerbaijanis are launching peaceful protests and marches around the world to support Azerbaijan’s position demanding a justice for this country which is suffering for over 25 years from the illegal occupation of its internationally recognised territory by Armenia, which was clearly acknowledged by four UN Security Council resolutions (822, 853, 874 and 884). Azerbaijan still has the largest number (1 mln.) of refugees and IDPs in Europe as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

During the peaceful protests of Azerbaijanis around the world we are witnessing a high level of violence and aggression by the Armenians against Azerbaijanis and even Azerbaijani diplomatic missions in certain cities such as Brussels, Amsterdam and Los Angeles. In some cases, the inaction of the law enforcement agencies in Belgium, the Netherlands and US, which admitted such attacks on the Azerbaijani diplomatic missions in these countries is deeply disappointing.  Obviously, the individual cases of such violence against Azerbaijanis abroad fall under the jurisdiction of the states where those crimes took place. Any inactivity or failure to do so by the local law enforcement agencies to investigate and bring to the responsibility of those criminals, would potentially give the Azerbaijani State a right to bring Belgium, the Netherlands or US to the responsibility under the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Under international law the territory of diplomatic and consular missions is considered as a territory of that state and they enjoy full diplomatic immunity.  Article 22 (2) of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations clearly provides that “The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity”. It should be noted that all of these countries, along with Azerbaijan joined the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. This gives Azerbaijan the right to bring these states to international responsibility for non-compliance with the requirements of the Vienna Convention. In the 1980 United States Diplomatic and Consular Staff in Tehran (United States of America v. Iran) case, the International Court of Justice clearly defined that that the immunity and protection of the diplomatic mission is the responsibility of the host and it is responsible for ensuring such full security.

Earlier this month and at the time of global war with COVID-19 pandemic, starting from 12 July 2020 we were witnessing a tragic escalation of the conflict between the two former Soviet republics.  Both countries have faced serious challenges and the negative coronavirus statistics is pretty stable for some months now.  Recently, the Armenian regular armed forces attacked Azerbaijani border territory in Tovuz region. Although the two countries have an unresolved conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan for decades, and Armenia still illegally occupies 20% of the Azerbaijani territory, at this time the clash provoked by Armenia takes place at Azerbaijani-Armenian border. Quite unusual, since for all these years any escalations between the rivals took place only in and around of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The latest events in the Tovuz region of the Republic of Azerbaijan can and should be qualified as military aggression against Azerbaijan. This is nothing more than a violation of the fundamental principles of international law enshrined in the UN Charter such as the principle of the non-use of force and the threat of force, the principle of inviolability of state frontiers, the principle of the territorial integrity of states and the principle of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is also necessary to recall the numerous conventions and regional agreements to which Armenia has joined within the framework of the Council of Europe, OSCE and other international organisations.

An attack on Azerbaijani border force positions in Tovuz is nothing more than an act of aggression against Azerbaijan. In this case, reference should be made to the position of the International Court of Justice in the Nicaragua v. United States of America (1986) (Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua case, where the Court expressly determined that military action of regular armed forces of one state in relation to the international borders of another state is an armed attack and aggression. Under international law the attack by the regular Armenian military forces on the border force positions of Azerbaijan in the Tovuz region shall be precisely qualified as an act of aggression against Azerbaijan.

To certain degree it could be argued that the Government of the Armenian Prime-Minister Nikol Pashinyan decided to distract attention from the disastrous outcome of COVID-19 pandemic and deepening economic crisis, and justify his personal failure by playing with patriotic feelings of the Armenian people.  However, a bigger picture of certain attempts of economic sabotage of major economic projects affecting the European energy security are seen in the background.

Tovuz is a critical geographical hub for Azerbaijan and transportation arteria for its hydrocarbons export to Europe through Georgia and Turkey. The three Azerbaijani strategic energy pipelines Baku-Supsa, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum were launched under the patronage of the West. All three pipelines pass through Tovuz region.  The importance of such oil and gas supply for Europe as a part of the latter’s supply diversification strategy contributing in reducing the energy dependence from Russia is undeniable.  Tovuz also lies within the new Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway link connecting pro-western Georgia and Azerbaijan with Europe through Turkey. 

Why now? Perhaps it is a part of the general strategy that there is no more reliable supply for Europe other than the Russian Nord Stream 2. Discrediting Azerbaijan as a reliable energy supplier due to the military clashes with Armenia is a strong argument to assert.

Armenia’s third-party orchestrated attempts to attack Azerbaijan is not just a threat to the regional peace and stability, but also to the Europe’s energy security.  We are currently witnessing a passive reaction from the West who has substantial economic interests in Azerbaijan and in the said energy projects.  Such position could contribute into further escalation and development of a scenario favourable to third parties having their own agenda for this region.

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Eastern Europe

The political inertia of the EU in the South Caucasus becoming a serious problem for the West

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The geopolitical panorama  in the South Caucasus, which has strategic importance for Europe, has changed dramatically in recent years. Different development indicators of the countries in the region, as well as innovations in the Caucasus policy of foreign states and organizations now create a new situation here.

Processes show that Azerbaijan and Georgia are again the main countries interested in integration into the Euro-Atlantic space. On the other hand, in the current situation, Azerbaijan’s importance and role in Europe’s energy supply and security is growing. Official Baku is interested in establishing closer relations with the European Union in the economic, political and juridical spheres.

At present, Azerbaijan is a decisive country in the South Caucasus, and 75% of the region’s GDP is formed in Azerbaijan. Transnational projects implemented by the country in partnership with Western countries show that Azerbaijan’s economic position will continue to grow. This point is becoming increasingly important for geopolitical players in the region to cooperate with Azerbaijan.

The European Union is an interested party in the development of relations with Azerbaijan also.  But this is more about economic relations.  However, the geopolitical role of the South Caucasus, including Azerbaijan, is unique in terms of its potential and geostrategic position. This region plays an important role both as an energy source and in the transportation of Caspian energy resources to Europe in general. The location between  of the Caspian and Black Seas, Russia, Iran and Turkey turns the South Caucasus region into an East-West and North-South corridor.  This factor shows that the Caspian region, especially the South Caucasus, has an important position on the geopolitical map of the world. However, the European Union is not as active in the South Caucasus as a geopolitical actor. This is one of the main factors making Russia as major geopolitical player in the region. This situation ultimately causes the Kremlin to treat Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia at different levels and in different statuses.  The countries of the region, with the exception of Armenia, have to take into account Russia’s position. The tradition of the Armenian authorities to act on instructions from Russia has not changed.

Currently, Azerbaijan and Georgia are trying to prevent Russia from acting as an outpost against them. On this purpose they hope to cooperation with the West, including the European Union. But to achieve this, they need the economic and political support of Europe and the United States.  That is, economic cooperation alone is not enough. It should be noted that the demand for oil and gas is growing not only in the West, but also in the rapidly developing countries of Asia. The Caspian Sea basin, comparable to the hydrocarbon reserves of Kuwait, Mexico and the North Sea, makes the Central Asian energy resource region a vital interest zone for the superpowers. The safe flow of this energy to the West depends on stability in the South Caucasus. Stability here lies in resolving existing conflicts in the region, especially the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Because Russia, which wants to keep Europe in an energy monopoly, maintains its influence in the region through these conflicts. By taking an active part in resolving them, Europe can become a key player in a strategically important region and successfully secure its geoeconomic interests.

While Azerbaijan is the gateway to the region, Armenia, which remains under Russian influence, plays a divisive role in the policy pursued by the Western world to ensure its strategic interests in the South Caucasus. By maintaining Russian military bases in Armenia and relying on Russia’s political support, official Yerevan does not give up its policy of aggression and baseless territorial claims. These factors play a role in reviving the modern political landscape of the South Caucasus region.

The current geopolitical reality is that there is no unique security system in the Caucasus. First of all, the presence of conflicts in the South Caucasus, especially the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, in which Azerbaijan unjustly involved is a major obstacle to Caucasus regional security system. The security of Azerbaijan is very important for the security of the whole region. It is a stable and secure system for delivering the region’s energy resources to world markets. Participation in global economic projects can be attributed to Azerbaijan as one of the leading countries in the region. But Azerbaijan still does not receive any important support from the Western world.

Another point here is the European Union, the United States, which initiated the creation of a security system in the region, but despite concrete proposals and models, did not take serious steps in this direction. However, Azerbaijan is a favorable place for them both from a geostrategic and geopolitical point of view. Transnational projects in the South Caucasus are being implemented with the main participation of Azerbaijan. Along with the regional projects implemented so far, Azerbaijan is considered to be a country with sufficient potential and transit opportunities in the implementation of new transnational projects in the coming period. The irreplaceability of Azerbaijan is not only due to the fact its energy producer, but also as an energy transit corridor that transports the oil, gas products of the Central Asian republics to Europe as a transit country. So, by helping to ensure the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, the West would also guarantee its security.But they are still not politically active in the region.

During the new military clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia in July of this year, Western countries did not take an active part in the subsequent course of events in the region. Instead, Russia is again active in the South Caucasus in terms of both the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and other political processes. Such situation is a serious obstacle to accelerating the integration of countries such as Azerbaijan and Georgia into the Euro-Atlantic space. This is also unacceptable in the interests of Europe and the United States. Now it is important for the European Union, which is close to the region, to be more active in the South Caucasus, to contribute in settlement of conflicts, and for this there is a need for active political steps. Otherwise, the European Union will continue to lag behind Russia.

It should be noted that the European Union peacekeeping mission is very important, first of all, to accelerate the process of European integration. The European Union has great experience as both a conflict mediator and a participant in diplomatic negotiations. Over the past 20 years, the European Union has participated in about 30 peacekeeping operations. Its activities are regulated by the European Security Strategy, the Amsterdam Agreement, the Petersberg and Helsinki Declarations. Thus, the European Union has shown that it is one of the main centers of power in the settlement of regional conflicts and ensuring European and international security. In this case, the organization can have a stronger geopolitical position in the South Caucasus by playing an active role in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and helping to restore the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The formation of a security system at the regional level and the expansion of multilateral relations with the European Union are of particular importance for Azerbaijan. It just needs to be European active role not only economically but also politically field  in the region. Otherwise, European Union will continue to lose geopolitically to Russia and, in the long run, to China in the region.

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