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The 1915−1916 Armenian Metz Yeghern

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On May 6th, 2016 appeared on Foreign Policy Journal’s website an article on the 1915−1916 Armenian Genocide (Metz Yeghern) in the Ottoman Empire written by Raffi K. Hovannisian, an independent Armenia’s first minister of foreign affairs, currently chairs the opposition Heritage Party and directs the Armenian Center for National and International Studies in Yerevan which once again launched the public debate on responsibility of those who did it and a compensation to the posteriority of those who perished in the genocide. It also rose the question of collective responsibility of the nation (the Turks and the Kurds) to which the perpetrators belonged as well as of the state that is a legal successor (Turkey) of that one in which the genocide (the Ottoman Empire) occured.

Nevertheless, we belive that many new facts and proves on this issue are going to reach the public audience soon as the Catholic church recently reveals unpublished Armenian Genocide documents from its secret Archives in Vatican. The 1915−1916 Armenian Metz Yeghern is a case of genocide that is requiring the implementation and futher development of the international norms on human and minority rights. Finally, we can not forget and the Great Catastrophy or the genocide of the Ottoman Greeks from 1914 to 1923 organized and committed by the same authority as the Armenian one.        

Introduction

A massive destruction of the Ottoman (Orthodox Christian) Armenian population in 1915−1916 is probably the greatest atrocity committed during the WWI and for sure a first 20th century case of the genocide as up to 1.500.000 ethnic Armenians were executed by the Ottoman authorities and their collaborators (the Kurds). As a consequence, the survivors are scattered across the globe. Today it is already a century old event, but the issue of the 1915−1916 Armenian Genocide is undoubtedly still alive and divisive political issue firstly between the Armenians and the Turks but also and among the western “liberal democracies” on the question of their responsibility in the genocide similarly to the question of the western indirect participation in the WWII Jewish holocaust.

The Ottoman Empire, as all other empires in the world history, was multiethnic, multiconfessional, multilingual and multicultural state. At the eve of the WWI it was being located at three continents (Asia, Africa and Europe) with approximately two million Christian Armenians who have been living in historical-ethnogeographic Armenia, Istanbul and other towns within the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman (Turkish-Kurdish) committed genocide on the ethnic Christian Armenians, organized and realized a century ago, was one of the most comprehensive examples of ethnic cleansing ever happened and recorded. It started on April 24th, 1915 in the Ottoman capital Istanbul (a Greek Constantinople) and soon was spread over the whole empire when thousands of well-known and well-to-do Armenians were firstly arrested and detained and later tortured and murdered. The organized genocide was over in August 1916 when its second phase happened (March−August 1916) with a massive killings of the Armenians who were at that time deportees in the Syrian Desert, in or around Del el-Zor. It is today estimated that the genocide cost up to 1.500.000 Armenian lives what practically means that after the WWI left only a minority of the pre-war Armenian population (one quarter). In our days, as a direct consequence of the genocide from 1915−1916, for instance, it is very hard to find the Armenians living in the interior of Asia Minor (Anatolia, a word of the Greek origin that means the East).

Ideological background of the Armenian genocide

As all genocides, the 1915−1916 Arminian Genocide had its own ideological background. In principle, if the mass killing is not based on certain ideology it is considered to be “just” the mass killing but not either the ethnic cleansing or the genocide. Of course, every genocide ideology has its own historical background.

The rapid process of declination of the Ottoman Empire (Sultanate) started with the Serb (1804−1815) national revolution and the Greek War of Independence (1821−1829) against the Ottoman yoke. Prior to the WWI the Ottoman authorities lost almost all their European possessions followed by the establishing of the French, British and Italian protectorates (colonies) in the Ottoman North Africa from 1830 to 1912. What concerns the Armenians within the Ottoman Empire; they had very important economic and financial influence before 1915. The Ottoman government throughout the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century was allowing to the Armenian financial and industrial elite to develop their businesses. The Armenians became even responsible for the Ottoman state’s mint, having in their hands cannon and shipbuilding industries and above all the Ottoman Armenians dominated trade in the country. Especially the Armenian businesses located in Istanbul were well known in Europe. Such economic prosperity of the Ottoman Armenian higher social strata gave a foundation for the Armenian national-cultural revival in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. The Armenian economic superiority can be seen the best perhaps from the very fact that there were 32 Armenian bankers out of total 37 throughout the Ottoman Empire. However, the Armenian elite did not possess any political power in the Ottoman Empire for the very common reason and rules as this area of activity was reserved exclusively for the Muslim believers regardless on their ethnolinguistic origin.

Nevertheless, a year of 1889 is one of the most important turning points in the history of the Late Ottoman Empire as it was established illegal the Committee of Union and Progress (the CUP) by a group of well-educated civil servants and military cadets with the ultimate political-national goal to stop further declination of the state which could bring the Ottoman Empire to the end of its existence. More immediate goal was to restore the 1878 Constitution which was proclaimed as a consequence of the 1877−1878 Russo-Ottoman War and the 1878 Berlin Congress. The establishers of the CUP were the Young Turks, the Turkish intellectuals imbued by the West European nationalistic theories, of whom majority have been living in Paris where they were spreading propaganda against the Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II (1876−1909). The CUP party’s leaders were Mehmed Talaat, Major Ismail Enver Pasha and Dr Bahaeddin Shakir – all three of them later became mostly responsible for the Armenian genocide in 1915−1916.

When the Young Turks took power in Istanbul in 1908 by the revolution their party’s ideology became more crystallized and threefold divided into the Ottomanism, Islamism and Turkism. The main ideological point developed by the CUP was that all Ottoman citizens have to accept the Turkish nationalism as the crucial ideological principle of the Ottoman state and society. Therefore, the policy of Turkification of the whole Ottoman Empire was unavoidable in the areas of language, confession, culture and ethics. However, as the Turks were the Muslims, a policy of Turkification in practice meant the Islamization of non-Muslim segments of the Ottoman society. Being already in power, the CUP government expressed open hostility towards non-Turkish and subsequently non-Muslim Ottoman population – a hostility that became the foundation of the Armenian genocide. A fact was that simultaneously with the declination of the state the party’s ideology, based on profoundly ethnic Turkish nationalism, was becoming more and more radicalized with, according to David Kushner, anti-Armenianism as one of the most radical issues.  

Three factors as the main causes of the Armenian genocide

There were three factors which mostly influenced the Turkish-Kurdish committed genocide of the Ottoman Armenians in 1915−1916:

1.The Ottoman loss of the First Balkan War and as a consequence the loss of almost all Ottoman land possessions in Europe in 1912−1913.

2.The putsch by the Young Turks of January 23rd, 1913 during the First Balkan War.

3.The beginning of the WWI.

1.The First Balkan War started in October 1912 with the war declaration to the Ottoman Empire by Montenegro, Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria (the Balkan Alliance) for the sake to expel the Ottoman state from the Balkans and to share its Balkan possessions between themselves. Regardless to the German help in the improvement of the Ottoman military under the Young Turks the Ottoman army was in general not enough prepared and ill-equipped to successfully fight especially after the exhausting Italo-Ottoman War, 1911−1912 over the province of Libya. The Treaty of London signed between the Balkan Orthodox Christian states and the Ottoman Empire on May 30th, 1913 left to the Ottoman state in Europe only a strip of land around Istanbul and as an aftermath it had a very deep traumatic impact on the Muslim segment of the Ottoman society. After the Balkan Wars of 1912−1913 the Armenians and Greeks became two largest Christian communities in the Ottoman Empire. As both the Orthodox Christians, it was only a question of time when both of them will experience the Muslim Ottoman revenge: the Armenians in 1915−1916 and the Anatolian Greeks in 1922−1923. After the Balkan Wars the Ottoman society, culture and even identity suffered a heavy blow that brought an idea of revenge including and an option of genocide as the most radical instrument of its realization. The CUP’s leadership well understood that after 1913 a project of the Ottoman identity was over as unrealistic and unacceptable by all non-Muslim subjects of the empire. However, the most important impact of the Balkan Wars to the Muslims of the Ottoman society, especially to its ethnic Turkish segment, was the creation of a mental schizophrenia of a “knife in the back” by the Christians of the Ottoman Empire. The CUP’s MPs openly were accusing in the parliament the Ottoman Bulgarians, Greeks and Armenians for the state’s treason during the Balkan Wars.

2.A new putsch by the Young Turks, who never have been elected to power, committed on January 23rd, 1913 was the second factor of the main causes of the 1915−1916 Armenian Genocide. After the 1913 Coup a CUP’s dictatorship (Talaat-Enver) was established (1913−1918) that was followed by the restriction of a free-speech in the Parliament and terrorizing the members of the opposition. The final result of the putsch was a complete concentration of power in the hands of the CUP which started a policy of transformation of the Ottoman multiethnic society into a homogenous national state of the ethnolinguistic Turks. Such policy required either assimilation or extermination of non-ethnic Turkish Ottoman population. In addition, the course of the Armenian genocide was strongly influenced by the internal rivalry within the CUP’s dictatorship between Enver Pasha as the Ottoman military commander and Mehmed Talaat who was the civil leader of the empire.

3.Nevertheless, the beginning of the WWI was the crucial factor of the causes of the Armenian genocide. From the very start of the WWI it was clear which side the Ottoman Empire is going to support as the Ottoman government signed an agreement with Germany on close bilateral cooperation on August 2nd, 1914 including and the issue of mobilization. The Ottoman army’s commander-in-chief Enver Pasha became directly responsible for the start of military operations against the Entente as he ordered to the Ottoman navy to bomb the Russian sea coast on October 29th, 1914 without official proclamation of war. That was reason for the Entente to declare war on the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, the Armenian position became very delicate as the Armenians were living on the very border with Russia and as such they were seen by the Young Turk’s regime as a potential collaborators with the Entente and even as a dangerous “fifth column” in the Ottoman Empire. Subsequently, from September 1914 the CUP’s government started with persecution of the Armenians by different means as, for instance, arbitrary war requisitions, arrests, closing the Armenian-language schools, banning Armenian political-national parties and societies, etc. The Ottoman Empire became officially at war with the Entente on November 11th, 1914. For the Young Turks’ government the Ottoman participation in the WWI was a good opportunity for both recovering the empire and implementation of radical solutions to the acute internal cluster of problems. One of the crucial motifs for the participation in the war was territorial expansion of the empire that was possible only in the East, i.e. at the expense of Russia. However, on the very border with Russia there were the Armenians who were in principle supporting the Russian Empire as a potential liberator of them from the Ottoman yoke. Nevertheless, the Ottoman army suffered heavy losses as a number of the Ottoman invasions finished with catastrophic results. But the crucial point was that Enver Pasha accused exactly the Armenians for these abortive military campaigns as a nation who betrayed the Ottoman national interest. The Turkish propaganda openly accused the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire of state’s treason, calling the Turks and other Muslims to boycott all Armenian businesses and even it was spreading stories about alleged crimes against the Turks committed by the Armenian nationals. As a consequence, Mehmed Talaat Pasha on December 26th, 1914 ordered the resignation of all government’s officers of the Armenian origin and arresting of all who defy these measures. From January 1915, more radical anti-Armenian policy was implemented as the Armenian-language newspapers are shut down and some of prominent Armenians, especially in Istanbul, have been arrested and later murdered.

A course of the Armenian genocide

The Armenian genocide was deliberate action of systematic destructions, executions, dispossessions, deportations, forced assimilation, induced famine, ethnic cleansing and annihilation of material signs of the Armenian culture and national existence on the territory of the Ottoman Empire. Originally, the genocide started with the massive killings of the economic, religious, political and intellectual elite of the Armenian society in Istanbul on April 24th, 1915, but it soon became a pattern for whole-range genocide on all segments of the Ottoman Armenian national elite throughout the empire who were arrested, imprisoned, terrorized and ultimately exterminated. The entire higher social and national strata of the Armenians became eliminated during only several weeks up to June 1915. The executions of the Armenian dignitaries have been organized even on the public squares of the towns according to preserved documentary material (photos) in Armenian National Institute and Armenian Genocide Museum Institute in Yerevan.

The next and real genocide’s phase started when Mehmed Talaat Pasha as a Minister of Internal Affairs issued on May 23rd, 1915 the official order for the ultimate deportation of all Armenian population. The CPU’s government of the Young Turks introduced new provisional Law of Deportation on May 29th, 1915 which gave a legal provision for the beginning of the mass deportation of the ethnic Armenians to very inhospitable Syrian Desert’s city of Der el-Zor and its vicinity. This law was followed on June 10th, 1915 by new law that was providing a legal ground for appropriation of the Armenian properties in business and trade. More precisely, it was a law on establishing of the Abandoned Property Commission with the only task to organize collection of the Armenian properties after their deportation or killings. That was a final blow to the Arminian economy as all Arminian property simply became legally transferred to the Ottoman government and put to its disposition. The administration for the deportation of the Armenians was given to the Directorate for the Settlement of Tribes and Immigrants that was under direct authority of the Ottoman army. It is known that a Minister of Internal Affairs was all the time well informed about the course of deportation by telegraph correspondence and other means. For the matter of illustration, for instance, there is a report by the German consul in Erzurum on deportation from Erzurum when around 40.000 Armenians living in the city were sent by force to Der el-Zor. According to the report, that was “an absolute extermination” of the Armenian city’s population. During the march the Armenians were tortured and killed and their bodies are thrown to the Euphrates River. Finally, only about 200 Armenians from Erzurum succeeded to reach a city of Der el-Zor. In the other words, a destruction rate was in this case almost 100 percent.    

Very quickly after the start of the “Final Solution” of the Armenian Question in the Ottoman Empire the Armenians were uprooted and bound for the Syrian Desert (by mid-July 1915). In many cases the Armenians had to travel around 1.000 km. throughout inhospitable territories during the hot summer time and constantly tortured by the Ottoman army who was escorting them to the final destination to which overwhelming majority never came. The essence of the whole issue is that the members of the Young Turks’ government in Istanbul knew very well that chances to survive on the road to the region of Der el-Zor are basically zero especially for the children, pregnant woman and elderly people. In fact, that was a “March of the Death”. Nevertheless, those survivors of the death march found simply nothing to be arranged for them. The bad living conditions in Der el-Zor caused a terrible famine at the beginning of 1916 to prolong a progress of genocide. Moreover, Talaat Pasha’s decision in the summer of 1916 was that too many Armenians survived the march to Der el-Zor, and consequently gave an order to the local city’s authorities to collect the Armenians into the surrounding caves and to exterminate them.  

The forced loss of authentic ethnolinguistic, cultural or confessional identity is a part of the genocide definition accepted by the contemporary post-1945 international law. That was exactly implied to the Armenians in 1915 and after by the Young Turks’ regime as a part of the “Final Solution”. More precisely, the Armenians, especially children and women, had to renounce their original Christian (Orthodox) religion and identity and to be converted into Islam. The Armenian orphan children were placed in the Muslim orphanages (like in Konya or Beirut) where they became converted into Islam, allowed to speak only Turkish language and changed their original names into the Turkish according to the Ottoman pattern of “devshirme” (“taxation in blood” of non-Muslim subjects) from the 14th to the mid-17th centuries. Therefore, many Armenian survivors of the march through the desert lost their collective national identity and original cultural-linguistic characteristics.

Material culture of the Armenians became destroyed or transformed into different purposes. The Armenian churches have been systematically destroyed and inscriptions in the Armenian language removed from the buildings. The purpose of such policy of genocide was clear and successful: to as much as eliminate cultural-national traces and roots of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Knowing that, it is “understandable” why the Turks destroyed a number of Armenian medieval churches and monasteries. As the Armenians have been understood as the first nation to accept Christianity, a destruction of their medieval Christian shrines by the Muslim Turks and Kurds had the feature of the “Clash of Civilizations”. The destruction of Armenian material culture and private property, as in all similar cases of the genocide and ethnic cleansing, had at least a dual aim:

1.To make an impression that the Armenians as a nation never existed on certain territories.

2.To ensure that the Armenian survivors will never return back to their original places of living.

The cardinal perpetrators directly involved in the Armenian genocide have been the Turks and the Kurds (both Muslims) composed by almost all social strata. The main force taking open actions in the murdering of the Armenians were the Muslim bands of violent convicts who were at the beginning of the WWI released from the prisons to fight against the Russian troops. When the Armenian genocide started their new task has been to eliminate the Armenian population. The main engineer of the genocide was Mehmed Tallaat Pasha as a Minister of Internal Affairs who created a propaganda framework of it by accusing all Armenians as a collective national body of high treason, disloyalty and practical sabotage actions against the Ottoman army and state. It is clear from his conversations with the German consul that his government has to use the war situation to get rid of all internal enemies of the empire but on the first place of all indigenous Christians. More precisely, the Turkification of the Asia Minor by ethnic cleansing of all Armenians was a prime goal of such policy. However, Dr Bahaeddin Shakir, as one of the most prominent CPU’s members, had a crucial role in the process of practical implementation of the genocide which had its second stage in 1916 from March to August when were the massive killings of the Armenian deportees in Syrian Desert and in vicinity of Der el-Zor.

Consequences

The Armenian genocide is one of the most important and influential instances of ethnic cleansing, people’s transfer and economic dispossession in the history of modern times. As the first 20th century’s genocide, the Armenian genocide has to be, and is, taken into consideration as an example and pattern for subsequent genocides in the coming decades. As such, it is of cardinal historical significance, and it is critically important that today’s generations can properly understand this case study of inhumanity.        

Before the act of genocide, the Ottoman Armenian community possessed around 2.600 churches, 450 monasteries and 2.000 schools. However, after the WWI around 3.000 Armenian settlements were depopulated. Today, the Armenian population in Turkey can be practically found only in Istanbul. Present day Armenian community in Turkey has only six churches and no single school or monastery.  

The evidences and records of genocide are numerous but probably the most valuable archival material are gone forever when on November 2nd, 1918 the ultra right wing members of the CUP burned documents before the government’s top politicians and main organizers of the genocide escaped the country in a German submarine to Odessa. A new liberal government of the Ottoman Empire on February 5th, 1919 established a special tribunal in Istanbul for the war crimes which officially accused the previous Young Turks’ government of “deportation and massacre” but only after the British pressure. As a final result of a court procedure, the CUP’s government in April 1919 was sentenced to death and the court proclaimed that:

“The disaster visiting the Armenians was not a local or isolated event. It was the result of a premeditated decision taken by a central body… and the immolations and excesses which took place were based on oral and written orders issued by that central body”.        

However, probably and unfortunately, the cardinal consequence of the 1915−1916 Armenian Genocide is a fact that this unpunished crime became a pattern for the other genocides in the 20th century. It is clear at least in two cases:

1)The Jewish holocaust during the WWII committed by the Nazi Germany’s NSDAP regime in occupied Europe.

2)The Serb holocaust on the territory of the Independent State of Croatia, 1941−1945 committed by the Ustashi Croat regime.

Namely, in both of these holocaust cases, a cardinal motif for the genocide was the fact that exactly the Armenian genocide became absolutely forgotten, no spoken and unpunished by the international community. In the other words, if very soon after the genocide the world was not remembering the Armenians and not punishing the perpetrators of the genocide it can be very likely to be the same with the Jews and Serbs or with any other nation in the coming future.                      

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Eastern Europe

Moldova: Time to Overwrite the Mind Traps

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Image By Andrez1 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39746488

Moldova is usually assigned the title of the poorest country in Europe mired in financial and corruption scandals. The ’frozen’ Transnistrian conflict is said to further divide the country between chimeric pro-Russian and pro-Western camps. Oligarchs are blamed for having captured the state and preventing democracy to flourish; and so goes on the litany of reputational prejudices about Moldova.

Although these clichés hold some water, they have generated mind traps and have prevented any alternative reading of Moldova. Caught in a thug of war between Brussels and Moscow, Europe has three options on how to approach Moldova: oppose Moscow on Moldovan territory; scale back its engagement; or honour its commitment to strengthen the rule of law and deepen economic cooperation with Chisinau. The last option requires the political maturity to accept that Chisinau can be a partner of both Brussels and Moscow.

The Bright Side of Scandals

Moldova made headlines in 2014 when the banking sector was defrauded of one billion dollars. Courtesy of the testimony of one oligarch, Ilan Shor, who himself has been convicted of involvement in the fraud, the former Prime Minister Vlad Filat was convicted and sentenced to nine years imprisonment. Despite his own conviction, Ilan Shoris now the mayor of the small town of Orhei, heads the Shor party and recently won a seat in the parliament. For many, this was a typical “à la moldave” scenario where most of the thieves got off scot-free whilst only one sits behind bars. Taken from another angle, even though Ilan Shor has been granted some form of witness protection and has escaped punishment himself, at least some part of the truth has been divulged and justice has been partly served. Following Shor’s revelations about the scandal, people took the streets and a citizen movement emerged under the name of Dignity and Truth, now a political party headed by politician Andrei Nastase.

The one-billion theft has understandably attracted a lot of public attention, as did the role of Moldova in the Russian Laundromat, a scheme that laundered tens of USD billions from Russia between 2010 and 2014, involving over one hundred countries. Following these two scandals, Moldova launched a large package of reforms of its banking and judiciary systems, and put in place a National Integrity and Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2017-2020. These improvements have not gone unnoticed: the World Bank extolled the efforts of the National Bank of Moldova and the country’s economic progress, which should boost investors’ trust. Furthermore, criminal activities, such as smuggling, have been curtailed thanks to international cooperation, but the grey zone of Transnistria remains a thorn in Moldovan development.

Transnistria – A Peaceful Frozen Conflict

The active phase of the short 1992conflict lasted four months and left a thousand people dead. Due to the prolonged absence of military engagement, the situation was branded as a frozen conflict – thisvague concept was coined to qualify the blurry simmering situations of violence that followedthe several wars in various post soviet republics. As time passed, the term conflict has become redundant in the context of Transnistria; not much is frozen: population travels freely, students from Transnistria study in Chisinau and Transnistrians voted for the first time in the most recent February elections. There is a need to rethink our reading of this so called frozen conflict in Transnistria – violence is unlikely to resume between Tiraspol and Chisinau as long as escalating tensions between Moscow and Brussels do not boil over.

Former Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Osmochescu, asserts that the settlement was on right track with the 1992 Settlement Agreement, although he questions the decision to include Transnistrian representatives in the joint commission as it eventually gave Russia – allied with Tiraspol – the upper hand. The former diplomat is convinced that settlement dialogue should only include Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Moldova, excluding Tiraspol authorities that continue to insist on international recognition as a state. It is highly unlikely that European countries will recognize Transnistria owing to the fact that the EU Council has adopted restriction measures against the leadership of Transnistria for stalling progress of the political settlement.

Thecurrent process is a 5+2 settlement format, named after its composition including 5 negotiators (Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, Moldova and Transnistria) + 2 observers (EU and US). Unfortunately it has not yielded any meaningful results with the tensions between Russia and the West increasingly running counter-productive to the intent of the mechanism. During the recent conference on Transnistria, Russian academic Natalia Kharitonova underlined the unprecedented situation whereby relations between the external participants to the settlement process are far worse than between the parties to the conflict.

Today, some observers claim that a new conflict is poised because of Russian troops’ presence in Transnistria and in 2018 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution introduced by Moldova on the withdrawal of foreign troops, specifically targeting Russian troop and armament presence. These elements demonstrate that Transnistria is being utilised by both the West and Russia in pursuit of their own strategic objectives and, arguably, Transnistria is more an international affair than an internal one.

An Unhelpful International Involvement

For decades the presence of Russian troops in Transnistria has been a major concern for NATO, which has been amplified by the situation in Ukraine; and in its efforts to counter Russia, NATO opened an Information Office in Chisinau in December 2017. In view of the militarisation of the region and the recent collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF),the NATO-Russia confrontation directly affects Moldovan sovereignty and security. The Foreign Policy Advisor to the President, Mr Ciocoi, acknowledged that his country is trapped between a rock and a hard place:‘as a constitutionally neutral country, we are not pleased with the presence of Russian troops or NATO on our soil. It is a legacy of the past and a consequence of today’s geopolitical realities. We have to deal with it.’

With most international efforts focusing on security issues and more recently on the fight against so-called Russian propaganda, little effort has been comparatively made to promote sustainable economic development and the rule of law in Moldova. Moldovans’ daily concern is about making ends meet and employment, whilst Brussels and Moscow use the carrot and stick approach to promote their policies. Using economic incentives and sanctions, Brussels and Moscow are forcing Chisinau to choose between the West and the East. This dilemma is leading nowhere as Moldova is both West and East with the country depending on Russia for its energy and the EU market to export its goods. No reasonable politician or businessman in Moldova today embraces a west or east approach, but all favour a mixed approach. It is thus misleading to label President Dodon as a pro-Russian or the tycoon Plahotniuc as a pro-Western.

Blame it on the Rich

An oligarch turned politician, Vlad Plahotniuc presides over the Democratic Party, which won 30 seats at the recent parliamentary elections. Often described as the puppet-master who captured the state, most people blame him for all wrongs in the country and believe that he pulls the strings of the country including the judiciary system.

In a recent discussion with Vitali Garmurari, the Spokesperson for the Democratic Party said that the accusations against Vlad Plahotniuc need to be substantiated. Only a court can rule over the guilt of a person and so far, Mr Plahotniuc has not been sentenced, he added. Recently, Interpol rejected the request of Russia to place Mr Plahotniuc on their wanted list for alleged involvement in the attempt on the life of German Goruntsov, a Russian banker. For Vlad Plahotniuc’s detractors, the absence of condemnation is not a proof of his innocence but evidence of his control over the judiciary.

In Moldova and abroad, rumours flourish about this man who has unquestionable power thanks to his key role in the energy sector. As a veteran in the oil and gas business, he has forged strong connections in the US, who are obsessed with replacing Russia as the leading gas exporter to Europe. The situation though is not as straightforward as it seems. Moldova relies completely on Transnistria for its energy and the region acts as a small hub for Russian gas to the Balkans. Moldovagaz – a joint venture between the Ministry of Industry of Transnistria, the Moldova Government and the Russian giant Gazprom – has the monopoly over gas transactions. One of the issues is that Moldova has committed to the European Third Energy Package that calls for the unbundling and opening of the energy market. As part of its commitment Moldova must strip Moldovagaz of its privileged position and, given the complexities at play, Chisinau was granted an exceptional delay until 1 January 2020. This European requirement corners Moldova as the country is totally dependent on Russian gas and Gazprom holds 50% of Moldovagaz shares and, de facto, the 13% nominally held by Transnistria. The situation gets even more complicated as the contract between Gazprom and Moldovgaz are valid until the end of 2019and Moldova does not have a meaningful gas alternative in place. Mr Plahotniuc understands perfectly the gains to be by playing Russian, the US and European against each other in the energy sector. In 2017,his close ally Vasile Botnari was appointed as the new head of Moldovagaz.

The ruthless energy competition between Russia and the United States for the European market is driving their political and security agendas. The year 2019 will be pivotal in the Moldovan energy market and, as this deadline approaches, the manoeuvrings of those invested parties both within Moldova and externally will be a riveting game to observe.

An Oligarchy on the Way to Democracy?

In the meantime, the Moldovan constitutional court has validated the result of the 24 February elections and Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party has emerged as the party with second largest number of seats. Alongside the Democratic Party with 30 out of 101 seats, the Socialists gained 35 seats, the ACUM group gained 26 and the remaining 10 seats were shared between the Shor party and independents.

One of the features of the Moldovan political landscape is the fact that oligarchs head several parties: Vlad Plahotniuc heads the Democrats, Ilan Shor has his eponymous party and Renato Usatii is the president of Our Party. According to popular narratives, oligarchs are involved in politics to further their own profit and wealth; however their involvement does not necessarily pose a barrier to democracy. Commenting on the recent elections and the political landscape, Professor Osmochescu sees the emergence of these parties as a genuine mirror of the diverse opinions held by the population. Looking back at the political developments over the past thirty years, Professor Osmochescu recalls the evolution from an early enthusiasm with plethora of parties, the uncertainties around the future and the disillusion with both Russia and Europe. Today, he is hopeful that the leading parties will observe democratic principles and contribute to a new political paradigm.

The OSCE statement on the recent elections echoes the same opinion: although violations were recorded, fundamental rights have been generally respected, says the preliminary report. Taken as a whole, Moldova is transitioning and some are definitely looking at the cup half full rather than focusing on shortcomings.

It’s All About the Money

Conflict specialist Iulia Cozenco has worked on various projects in Transnistria over the past decade and today she has one message: efforts should be directed towards social inclusion, and not only in Transnistria. Due to all the challenges Moldova has gone through over the past three decades, the population has become increasingly vulnerable and the country lacks a social protection system capable of responding to all the problems. She concludes that international assistance should be directed at broader social inclusion and protection initiatives rather than narrow Tiraspol-Chisinau confidence-building projects.

Commenting on the situation in Transnistria, Dumitru Budianschi, an economist at the Moldovan ExpertGrup,has observed that, the lack of a political settlement between Tiraspol and Chisinau does not prevent economics agreements from forging on. These agreements cover energy and mobile communications, however Mr Budianschi has raised the concern that these agreements lack transparency and have been extremely profitable to a select few people on both sides of the river. Unsurprisingly, the lack of settlement is perversely convenient for such shady deals. According to Mr Budianschi, the international policy of small steps in Transnistria will not pay off and a crackdown on the criminal activities in the region is needed in order to give any settlement a chance of succeeding. The growing trade with Europe, Moldova’s first export partner, is a positive development that can no longer accommodate the black holes around Transnistria.

International involvement in Moldova is both a part of the problem and the solution. Should involvement take the shape of interference advancing eastern or western interests, it will only serve to polarise and destabilise Moldova and will ultimately backlash on European security. Disengagement would be equally damaging as Moldova today relies on both Brussels and Moscow and wishes to maintain relations with both partners. At this point in time, Chisinau needs international cooperation with Moscow and Brussels to assert itself as a solid partner to both the West and the East.

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Eastern Europe

Georgia Stands With Azerbaijan: Strategic Partnership In The South Caucasus

Aliyar Azimov

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Authors: Aliyar Azimov and Aynur Azimzade*

South Caucasus has always been a focus of geopolitical competitions for centuries with its geo-strategic location and natural resources. The transportation and energy projects, which implemented in the region, have further increased strategic importance of South Caucasus due to being in the junction West and East in the globalized 21st century. After the dissolution of USSR two major processes occurred: 1) regional cooperation between independent states in terms of common threats and economic-political projects; 2) geopolitical interests and competition among the regional powers (Russia, Iran, Turkey) and the US and the EU.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the three South Caucasus countries found themselves in a new geopolitical vacuum, which resulted in serious events also (territorial conflicts and separatism). On the other hand, this vacuum enabled two of the newly independent South Caucasus countries – Azerbaijan and Georgia – to build and maintain good neighboring relationships, to jointly implement major and strategic regional oil and gas projects (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline) without any intervention of Russia. Until 2008, Russia was a major gas supplier to Georgia. However, the August War in 2008 ended with cut off relations between Russia and Georgia. Starting from 2007, Azerbaijan has steadily been supplying the majority of Georgia’s oil and gas demand, especially after the August War Azerbaijan provided more energy flow by completely meeting its strategic ally’s energy needs.

The development of east-west energy corridor in the South Caucasus allowed Azerbaijan and Georgia to involve in the projects as the main partners and to promote the development of the infrastructure by improving the macro-economic environment and international integration. Turkey also gives support to the international projects in the region and deepening the multilateral relations between Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey also promotes and intra-regional cooperation and diplomatic resolutions of regional problems. This cooperation is the most functional; it is built on interdependence by trade and transportation relations.

Since 1992, political relations between Azerbaijan and Georgia has reached a high level, cooperation in all fields has become more strategic year by year, and neighborship relations are based on the principles of the strong friendship and mutual respect. Because of this, all officials in Georgia have always firstly visited Azerbaijan in their terms.

Why Georgia needs Azerbaijan?

The East-West strategic energy cooperation helped to strengthen the state independence of Georgia and Azerbaijan. The projects, which implemented and proposed to be realized, are the basis of a strong foundation for economic stability and prosperity for both countries, even for South Caucasus. Considering this fact, in 2009 Georgia was not affected by the energy crisis thanks to Azerbaijan and energy contracts for the supply of gas and oil. Georgia is especially interested in energy transportation from Azerbaijan because since the gaining independence Georgia has had a permanent and stable supply of energy which allowed industries to operate smoothly and contributed the economy of Georgia significantly by making it as a transit country.

Azerbaijan also plays a vital role in the transformation of Georgia into the EU and the development of EU-Georgia relations. The lack of stability in the Middle East increases the role of Caspian Basin not only as a significant energy source but also more secure and shortest supply route for both countries as well as for the EU. Azerbaijan-Georgia good neighborhood relations are vital for the EU in the context of east-west energy cooperation. As the EU is more interested in ensuring a reliable flow of energy resources to the Member States and cooperates with Azerbaijan and Georgia, it makes both countries to be a significant player in the projects and economically and politically powerful in the South Caucasus region.

Salome Zourabichvili’s first official visit to Azerbaijan

On 27 February 2019, newly elected Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili made her first official visit to Azerbaijan. It was a signal of Georgian administration’s desire to continue its strategic partnership with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is one of the biggest investors to the Georgian economy and considering large regional projects between both countries, her first official visit to Azerbaijan in the region was not surprising.

In the recent past, there was a tension between Azerbaijan and Georgia due to:

  • The monument of an Armenian separatist, who fought against Azerbaijan during the occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory of Azerbaijan by Armenian military, in the Akhalkalaki region of Georgia, where ethnic Armenians live, and the participation of Georgian administration in the opening ceremony of this monument,
  • In the response of this event, protest of Baku against the unveiling of a monument to a separatist in Georgia.

For this reason, the Georgian President’s visit to Azerbaijan was of particular importance. The Georgian President knew well that Azerbaijan plays a crucial role in the energy supply and settlement of the problems in the region. At the same time, because its energy sector is dependent on Baku-Supsa, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipelines and Southern Gas Corridor, Georgia does not want to lose Azerbaijan as a strategic partner. Georgian President’s visit to Azerbaijan also showed that some provocations could not affect the relations between the two countries. Zourabichvili’s speech in Baku once again confirmed that Georgia always stands together with Azerbaijan on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh by stating, “Conflicts and violation of territorial integrity are tragedies for both countries. We still fight together to restore and recognize our territorial integrity in international organizations.” The Armenian media expressed assurance that Zourabichvili would change her statement during her visit to Armenia on March 13-14.However, Georgian President protested visit to Abkhazia and South Ossetia paid by Nagorno-Karabakh separatists by stating “It is very unfortunate when delegations from Nagorno-Karabakh visit Abkhazia and South Ossetia and discuss these two conflicts as of the same type. This is very sad and painful for us. These conflicts impede the development of our region. Georgia has two occupied territories, and if we talk about the country’s interests, then one single concern for us is recognition of our sovereignty in deeds than in words.” After the meeting, the Russian newspaper “Kommersant” mentioned about the Georgian president’s visit in its article by stating, “These statements by President Zurabishvili were not seen in the Georgian post-Soviet history, because Georgia has pursued an impartial policy in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict till now.”

Armenia has tried to position itself as a bridge between Iran and Georgia to transport Iranian energy resources to Europe. However, in 2008, its position in the Russian-Georgian war strained relations between Georgia and Armenia. Armenia was interested in North-South cooperation in order to escape from regional isolation and to revive its economic condition. Nevertheless, newly elected Georgian President’s visit to both countries and her statements declared that relations with Azerbaijan are a high priority for Georgia and for being leading countries in East-West cooperation, Georgia has extensive interests in establishing strong friendship relations.

Azerbaijan and Georgia have been cooperating in several political and economic projects since the early years of independence. Several factors influence the dynamics of the Georgian-Azerbaijani relations in a positive way. Firstly, cooperation in transportation, energy, and economics is interdependent. Georgia’s location makes it more essential for Azerbaijan in terms of to reach European and World markets. On the other hand, Georgia has increased its economic prosperity by participating in regional projects. In 2018, Azerbaijan was a third-largest direct foreign investor (33 million dollars) to the Georgian economy, second in Georgian imports (14.4%) and third in Georgian exports (10.7%).

Another key factor in the Azerbaijani-Georgian relations is that Azerbaijan and Georgia support eachother’s positions on important issues in the international arena. Georgian officials always stress all the official statements that the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which occurred as a result of the occupation of Azerbaijani lands by Armenia, within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. 

When it comes to energy cooperation, Azerbaijani oil-gas company SOCAR is the main supplier of gas to Georgia as a reliable energy partner. Despite the gas agreement signed between Georgia and Russia in 2017, SOCAR has a large share in the Georgian energy sector. In 2018, gas transportation volume was 2.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Georgia. High dependence on Azerbaijani gas arose the concerns about national security, but in fact, Azerbaijan never used energy shipments as a political pressure tool. Even Azerbaijan have supplied more energy to Georgia in order to resolve energy shortages during difficult times.

S. Zourabichvili’s recent visit to Baku declared that Georgia does not want to lose its strategic ally. Because political and economic support by Azerbaijan is essential for Georgia in terms of its integration to the West. Also, because of Georgia plays a transit role between Azerbaijan and the West in the field of transportation and energy, losing this position is unacceptable for the Georgian administration.

*Aynur Azimzade is research fellow at the Institute of Caucasus studies of Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences

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Eastern Europe

To be or not to be the Baltics’ and Poland’s defender

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Usually, when we speak about the US we keep in mind its might and influence. This country plays one of the main roles in the world politics. It does its best to be the leader. Everybody used to it. Even Americans used to it.

We, Europeans, take its role for granted. Very often Europeans call for the US assistance and help in politics, trade, finance and even on war issues. But at what cost does the US manage to keep its omnipotent image? Do its people deserve the destiny to resolve foreign conflicts, defend foreign countries, finance foreign political projects and so on.

It is interesting that America First become the official foreign policy doctrine of the Trump administration. But Donald Trump’s motto is completely contrary to reality.

According to the Wiki, “America First refers to a foreign policy in the United States that emphasizes American nationalism and unilateralism. It first gained prominence in the inter-war period and was advocated by the America First Committee, a non-interventionist pressure group against the American entry into World War II. Since 2016, an identically-named foreign policy that emphasizes similar objectives has been pursued by the administration of US President Donald Trump.”

The today’s US policy does fit the slogan. In order to bolster the NATO deterrent against possible Russian aggression the US has again been increasing military activity in Europe. That includes stationing four multinational battalion-size battlegroups in four eastern nations of the alliance, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, led respectively by Britain, Canada, Germany and the US. Poland would like also permanent US base (what Polish president Andrzej Duda dubbed “Fort Trump”) as a deterrent to Russia.

The Center of Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), located in Washington, DC, issued in March a report – “Strengthening the Defense of NATO’s Eastern Frontier” which supports the idea of US further military involvement.

In the document the experts “offer a new strategy for deterring and, if necessary, defeating Russian aggression against NATO in the Baltic region and make recommendations for enhancing the US forward posture in Europe and improving Poland’s military capabilities and force structure to support this strategy.”

On the one hand, the US increasing its presence in Europe, shows its power and military capabilities. One the other – this is an exceptional case when Europe has reached its goal to feel safe at the expense of others – mainly, the US.

And what about Americans? Do they really feel the need to protect somebody far away from their homeland? Do they need long deployments? Are they proud of being defenders or are they victims of Trump’s ambitions? Who are they in Europe?

European states have become absolutely helpless before their problems and found nothing better than using the US, its money and soldiers. Europe has outwitted the US! Of course, it is much better to deploy in Europe American soldiers in time of war or conflict, than burn natives.

Is the US really aware of the European countries authorities’ plans? Do American soldiers want to be cannon fodder?

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