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Returns on Diplomatic Investment: Zionist Policies and the Armenians

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There were repercussions to Zionist pursuits associated with the Armenian Question over a century ago. The Armenian Question refers to the protection and the freedom of Armenians from their neighboring communities and the Ottoman Turkish government. The Armenian Question spans forty years of history in the context of international power politics generally from the 1878 Congress of Berlin to the start of World War One.

These Zionist pursuits appear continuing to the present day.  The advancement of a surrogate Turkish identity onto Muslim-centric Turkish leaders was initiated in large part by Jews and crypto-Jews in influential and leadership positions. The resulting ultra-nationalist ideology along with the manipulation of external conditions or direct involvement in internal events of the Ottoman Turkish state by international players had a devastating effect on the Armenians. It provided the ideological basis for, and encouraged, the genocide of the Armenians under the guise of World War One. The subsequent policy of genocide denial by Turkey was supported by the state of Israel for decades. These actions should provide a lesson for today’s semi-official Israeli public relations policy regarding present-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The Theodor Herzl faction of early Zionism attempted to secure influence with the Turkish Sultan in the very late 19th century by offering to help calm anti-Turkish opinion in European press in the aftermath of empire-wide repressive measures against Armenians. Near the end of the nineteenth century, at a time when scores of Jews were subject to pogroms in central and eastern Europe, the Armenians in Turkey were being eliminated in state-sponsored massacres on the order of tens of thousands, later into hundreds of thousands with their possessions and lands expropriated, Armenians were eventually subjected to a genocide which exterminated nearly two thirds of the Armenians in Turkey and neighboring countries. It was during this time when Herzl offered to secure financing to pay off the massive Ottoman debt in exchange for medium-scale Jewish immigration into Palestine and the outright purchase of large swaths of land for that purpose. These actions will be examined and contrasted with other policies:

  • Aiding in the ideological formation of an ethnic Turkish uniqueness to replace the traditional religious identity
  • During the 1980s and into the early 2000s kowtowing to Turkish denials of their genocide of the Armenians during World War One
  • Today’s anti-Armenian/pro-Azerbaijani articles and political commentary, the majority being authored by Jewish writers and posted in leading Israeli or otherwise Jewish-centric on-line sites.

Theodor Herzl, Early Zionism, and the Ottoman Sultan

Early Zionism as defined by Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, had a goal of alleviating the deteriorating conditions under which Jews lived, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, in an attempt to catch up with the nationalist and societal consolidation that was sweeping across Europe. As part of that goal, it was concluded that Jews ultimately needed a sovereign homeland. It was not immediately apparent where such homeland might be, but Palestine was at the top of the list. Palestine had been ruled by the Turks since the early 1500s. There was a brief period, from 1832 to 1840, when Palestine was conquered by Egypt, but the British eventually re-secured Turkish rule over the region. Such realpolitik certainly caught the attention of Zionists, that is, a power such as Great Britain could determine the fate of a piece of land Zionists eyed as the Jewish homeland. However, the issue for Herzl and his Zionist contemporaries was that Palestine was an integral part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire with its sultan as the Sunni Islamic Caliph. A confluence of opportunities presented themselves to the Herzl camp in the late 1890s. Herzl was a journalist and businessman well aware of the dire financial situation of Ottoman Turkey. Being well-versed in contemporary European politics, with contacts in centers of power in Europe, acquaintances in the publishing industry and centers of finance, Herzl was introduced to the Turkish Sultan, Abdul Hamid II. This initial meeting took place on May 17, 1901, in the aftermath of the sultan ordering the empire-wide massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians. Ottoman Turkey was receiving negative press across Europe, which made its financial condition critical due to a near complete erosion of trust and sympathy towards Turkey in general and the sultan in particular.

Herzl offered the sultan financing for the payment of the sizeable Ottoman state debt and use his influence in countering anti-Turkish/pro-Armenian sentiment that existed throughout European press. In return, Herzl wanted to acquire large regions of Ottoman Palestine accompanied by Jewish immigration. Herzl also met with Armenian leaders in an attempt to end to their demands for equal rights as Ottoman citizens. Herzl’s association with the sultan was not universally accepted by others across the Zionist political spectrum. Max Nordau wanted nothing to do with Herzl’s dealings. Bernard Lazare, a French Jew quit the 1899 Zionist Congress with the statement, “How can those who purport to represent the ancient people whose history is written in blood extend a welcoming hand to murderers, and no delegate to the Zionist Congress rises up in protest?” He protested the Herzl Zionist faction’s public honoring of Sultan Hamid II. After back and forth meetings between Herzl and the Ottoman Turkish Sultan, Herzl’s offers were rejected.
Some present-day Jewish hypotheses surrounding Herzl’s motives suggest that Herzl sold out the Armenians or had contempt for the Armenians and their plight. In most likelihood, there wasn’t an anti-Armenian sentiment working here, but rather the Armenian condition was exploited.

The global power of Great Britain was apparent to Zionists, whose goal was at least securing Jewish immigration into Palestine, but whispers of dismembering the “Sick Man of Europe” was heard again across the capitals of Europe during these early years of the early 20th century. A catalyst for such dismemberment was the introduction, organizing, and manipulation of latent ethnic identities and national aspirations among the constituent population of Ottoman Turkey. Amplifying such a group ethnicity was challenging since Sunni Islam permeated the Ottoman Muslim constituency. The national emergence of the Empire’s Christian populations resulted in the independence of Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and eventually most all the Balkans between the late nineteenth and just before out outbreak of World War One. Greece had become independent much earlier in the nineteenth century. European powers, especially Great Britain, in an attempt to counter Russian expansion in both Central Asia and towards the Adriatic shores based on a pan-Slavic ideology, looked favorably upon the introduction of a pan-Turanist (pan-Turkic) ideology which glorified a mythical ethnic origin of the Turks. The mechanics of this pan-Turanist doctrine were rather crude as compared with the republican implementations seen in Europe, such as with Garibaldi’s unification of Italian city-states and Bismark’s Prussian homogenization. In Ottoman Turkey, Sunni Islam was the element of identity, ethnic and linguistic association was secondary. Something needed to be instilled into the Turkish element of the empire, just as Arab nationalism was championed by Lawrence of Arabia as its public face, to generate enough centripetal force to replace Islam as the leading or only group identity with a national, and subsequently a geo-ethnic character. Directed nationalism ushered in the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire by the British and French, the most capable colonial powers.

The Young Turk Movement and Dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire

The Young Turk movement, also known as Committee for Union and Progress (CUP) with its origins many years earlier, overthrew the Ottoman Sultan in 1908 and initially promised equality among the constituent ethnicities of the Empire. However, soon after that putsch, the hard-line faction within the CUP prevailed with its Social Darwinist ultra-nationalist ideology. Its many tenets were based on concocted racial theories put forth by contemporary writers, including Arminius Vambery a Hungarian Jew and “The man most responsible for popularizing the concepts of Turan and pan-Turkism…”.  Vambery published many works on the necessity for the revival of Turkish nationality, language, literature and generated theories about ethnic ties between Turks and Hungarians. His 1864 work, Travels in Central Asia, was written for [British] Major-General Sir Henry Rawlinson, implying it was of military interest. For decades Rawlinson advocated that Russia was hostile and expansionist, threatening British interests in Afghanistan and India. Tekin Alp, born Moiz Cohen was a writer, philosopher, and one of the founding fathers of Turkish nationalism as well as the Pan-Turanist movement. The 1912 work Turan was his seminal work. The efforts of these and other writers resulted in the mythic Turkish ethos espoused by individuals such as Ziya Gokalp considered the CUP central ideologue along with a noteworthy individual, Dr. Nazim.

There were high-ranking CUP officials and other lesser known figures that were secret Jewish converts to Islam, known as dönme in the Turkish language. Many had an association with Masonic clubs and other societies in Salonika (now in Greece) cooperating with Turkish military leaders across Ottoman lands in the now ex-Yugoslav areas and Albania.  An Italian Jew, Emanual Carrasso founded the Macedonian Masonic Lodge and spearheaded the Young Turk movement. Many leaders of the Young Turks movement were from the Salonika region, especially local dönme. In his book, The Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks, Marc Baer states on page 96 “Dönme played a significant role in the turn-of-the-century Ottoman politics and an important founding and supporting role.” Talaat Pasha, considered the architect of the Armenian genocide, was a member of the Salonika organization, as was the dönme, Dr. Nazim. Nazim, a chief ideologue in the CUP, was vehemently anti-Armenian, and also championed the expulsion of Greeks from Anatolia. Dönme Mehmed Cavid was the Ottoman Turkish Minister of Finance until 1914 but remained as a financial adviser until 1917.

It was in the interest of Zionists to instill a sense of Turkishness in a constituent population that was otherwise Islamic-centric. This mechanism was in the plans of imperial Europe bent on the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. Imperial European and Zionist interests were parallel. Zionist intelligence organizations, such as the Nili group, were in the service of Great Britain during WWI. Memoirs of the Nili spies describe the Turkish extermination of Armenians. Zionists feared the Turks would seek the elimination of Jews, for the Turks not only went after Armenians, but Greeks and Assyrians were to be eliminated as well. Indeed, the Jews in Palestine were to be deported. Initially, thousands of Jews were deported from Jaffa in 1917, but this was quickly halted.

With Turks expending enormous resources exterminating the Armenians and plundering their wealth,  less energy would be spent in fighting the Allied Powers during the war. Simultaneously, the effort creating a new geo-ethnic identity, the Turk, was crudely successful, mechanically manifesting itself by eliminating the Armenian presence in Anatolia, the heartland of an envisioned Turk-only republic. The elimination of the Armenians, as the significant ethnicity controlling commerce and trade in Anatolia, was also encouraged by the Germans as they would co-opt Armenians to increase their influence along and far beyond the Berlin-Baghdad railroad. In fact, the elimination of the Armenians was suggested by influential Germans years before World War One. One such example is Dr. Paul Rohrbach, Settlements Commissioner in German Southwest Africa, the location of the German genocide of the Herero in 1905. He was an advocate of eradicating native Africans to make room for the “white race.” Rohrbach also proposed a deportation of the Armenians as early as 1913 to solve the “Armenian Question.”

Early after the outbreak of World War One, the Sykes-Picot agreement had been agreed to with British and French mandates over large regions of former Ottoman territories. This agreement included a British mandate over Ottoman Palestine, and in association Jewish immigration, as spelled out in the Balfour Declaration. The Armenians were in the way of these European powers economically controlling areas stretching from the Mediterranean to the oil fields of Baku, where the Rothschilds found Armenians competitors and irritants to unfettered transport and control of oil.

Jewish and Israeli Support for Turkish Genocide Denial

Israel’s semi-official policy of supporting the official Turkish state policy of genocide denial, unfortunately, meant that denial of genocide could be rationalized for the benefit of more significant interests. It should not be concluded that Israel is anti-Armenian or even pro-Turkish, but rather the interests of Israel is a simple calculation. The prospects (economic or regional) appeared brighter for Israel in detente with Turkey than to deal with a frail ex-soviet Armenia and politically weak Armenian diaspora. To encourage better relations with Turkey, Israel was in a position to offer their influence to minimize or otherwise obfuscate the genocide of the Armenians. Israel has never politically recognized the Turkish genocide of the Armenians and is still not part of the official Israeli school curriculum, even though a large percentage of books, articles, and analysis about the Armenian genocide are authored by Jewish and Israeli authors. Israel could get away with claiming Armenians were not subject to genocide, or claim Armenian suffering cannot possibly be compared with the Holocaust. However, as Turkey’s relations began to improve with Israel throughout the 1970s and 1980s, official Israeli statements regarding the non-genocide of the Armenians intensified. It hit a peak on April 10, 2001, when Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was quoted on the front page of April 10, 2001, Turkish Daily News, “Armenian Allegations Are Meaningless.”

What followed were Jewish organizations in places such as the United States quietly supporting Turkish efforts in defeating US congressional resolutions recognizing the Armenian genocide, year after year. As relations between Turkey and Israel soured in the latter half of this decade, many US Jewish groups began distancing themselves from supporting Turkish genocide denial.

Azerbaijan Gets Free Anti-Armenian Public Relations

Ever since members of the Israeli Knesset visited Baku in September of 2015, with some of them (Israeli Knesset Member Oren Hazan and advisor Mendi Safadi) pledging to counter Armenian claims over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, there has been a spike in the number of articles written that are thoroughly anti-Armenian and pro-Azerbaijani. At that rather high-level meeting, Safadi, in particular, said, “I’ve always been on the side of Azerbaijan, and we are ready to provide assistance and patronage of the Azerbaijani side to neutralize the influence of the Armenian lobby in the US Congress, the EU institutions, and international organizations.” The themes are so conspicuous that propaganda is the only purpose of such yellow journalism. It has been observed that an overwhelming number of these politically targeted articles are written by Israeli or diaspora Jews with publicly verifiable affiliation with Israeli or Jewish groups. See the table below.

Nurit Greenger
Jacob Kamaras
Alexander Murinson
Israel Barouk
Arye Gut
Diana Cohen Altman
Samuel Rahmani
Justin Amler
Lloyd Green
Jason Katz
Marcia Bronstein
Raoul Lowery Contreras
Eugen Iladi
Neil Richards
Peter Tase

Note: While not exhaustive, the table above includes those affiliated with organizations in Israel or the Jewish diaspora, and only English language articles. Other authors are listed whose affiliations are indeterminate. Every listed author has nearly the same themes through their published articles. The table is based on publicly available information. Samples of their writing can easily be found by searching for their names on the internet.

Many articles usually combine themes extolling zero anti-Semitism in Azerbaijan, Jews living idyllically in Azerbaijan, or how Azerbaijan surpasses all expectation of a state exhibiting multi-cultural tolerance. Armenia is portrayed as the devil incarnate, being racist, fascist, anti-Semitic, pro-Russian and Iranian, buying and selling illicit nuclear material, having powerful lobbies in the United States, etc. This propagandist effort is detrimental to readers because it generates a completely inaccurate view of reality. For example, Israeli flags are burned on Azerbaijani streets, and the Azerbaijan President Aliev in 2012 was given the title of the Corrupt Man of the Year. Only a couple months back the term Azerbaijan Laundromat was used to describe widespread money laundering and influence peddling discovered based in the UK. Armenia isn’t perfect, no state is, but the universal representative theme of these articles is zero-sum, 100% positive for Azerbaijan, 100% negative for Armenia.

It appears some of what Theodor Herzl suggested to the Ottoman Turkish Sultan in Constantinople is being played out a century later in Baku. Hypotheses can be proposed to account for this targeted public relations campaign, and they include:

1) Israeli Knesset members were sweetening deals made with Azerbaijan by offering positive Azerbaijani public relations at the expense of Armenia.
2) Providing a convenient rationale to Israeli’s Jewish constituency and diaspora Jews questioning Israel purchasing half its crude oil imports from a Muslim country.

3) Providing a convenient rationale to Israeli’s Jewish constituency and diaspora Jews questioning Israel’s selling billions of dollars of high-technology weaponry as well as covert security arrangements with a Muslim state.
4) Since Armenia has cordial relations with both Iran and Russia, Armenia is an indirect secondary target for both anti-Russian and anti-Iranian propaganda regardless of Azerbaijan also having close relations with both Iran and Russia.

Israeli concerns about Azerbaijan receiving negative public relations are not new and can be traced back to the early 1990s when the use of the internet began. Starting in the late 1980s, the first facility that today is known as social media was called Usenet newsgroups. The mechanism of information transfer, clearly preceding the World Wide Web, looked like emails sent to all those registered for the particular topic of interest. This author was a prolific contributor to the issue of the denial of the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, exposing real-time human rights violations taking place against Armenians across Azerbaijan, and fighting taking place in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The reports coming out of Azerbaijan were horrific. I was the top contributor to these Usenet newsgroup reports. In early 1992, I was contacted by the purported president of the Shawsheen Valley Zionist Council, a chapter located in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. I lived in the Boston, Massachusetts area at the time. Interestingly, I worked with this woman at a previous job and knew her well. She was extremely interested in what I was posting about Azerbaijan, why I was posting, where I was getting my information, and asked for an account on my server for somebody in their organization. I was told that my efforts were interfering in the interests of the state of Israel.  After a few questions and answers, a several year friendship came to an end.

What Lessons Might be Learned

Not recognizing a genocide that was the prototype for the Nazi Holocaust apparently had almost no downside for Israel. Israel and the Jewish diaspora absorbed a lot of political backlash from allegations made about crypto-Jewish involvement with the Young Turk and the CUP movement, as well as Israel supporting Turkish genocide denial. Israeli non-recognition of the Armenian genocide caused angst in the Jewish diaspora.  Many were torn by the dissonance between supporting Israeli actions, while such policies denied a crime of genocide. The latter is something antithetical to modern Judaism. Recognizing claims of genocide where none occurred is equally disgraceful especially in the most sacred of Jewish venues, synagogues.

Today’s blatant anti-Armenian/pro-Azerbaijani propaganda will have lingering repercussions. It will linger because these actions are inevitably woven into issues associated with continued non-recognition of the crime of genocide committed on the Armenians and existential threats to the survival of Armenia.  It is not necessary for the state of Israel to create a soft [Armenian] enemy where no enmity exists, even if half of the gasoline tanks in Israel are filled with an Azerbaijani crude distillate. Israel could purchase just as much crude from Azerbaijan, sell Azerbaijan billions of dollars of high technology weaponry yet not engage in anti-Armenian propaganda. Policy makers in Israel weighed the numbers and compared the possible reaction of land-locked Armenia with a population of three million against an oil-rich Azerbaijan with eight million people and its long border with Iran. Experts in the Israeli Foreign Ministry might want to review such policy, given its lack of return over the past century.

The Diplomatic Returns

Armenians today view the Jewish or crypto-Jewish influence in both the Young Turk movement and its ideology as at least a contributing factor in the genocide of the Armenians. This view might be a logical hypothesis. However, there is no evidence of any organized Zionist or crypto-Jewish universal interest in seeking the destruction of the Armenians. However, it would be rather unlikely for dönme in leadership positions in the CUP not to have known of the planned elimination of the Armenians. In the end, the process of forced ethnic homogenization of Anatolia continues as Turkish state policy, unabated to this day, taking on a path of its own.

Theodor Herzl’s foray with the Ottoman Sultan at the expense of the Armenians ended in a dead end. Zionists certainly aided European forces associated with the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Turkish nationalism. Their participation at the highest levels of the CUP attests to this. The results of this were indeed the dismemberment of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, the Balfour Declaration, but also the genocide of the Armenians. Were the Armenians mere collateral damage, as a result of an operational ultra-nationalist Turkish policy?

The genocide of the Armenians became the prototype for the Nazi Holocaust. Over eight hundred German officers were in the Turkish Army before and during World War One, many witnessed the extermination of the Armenians, but others planned and participated. The German General Fritz Bronsart von Schellendorf, the Chief of the General Staff of the Ottoman Army, justified actions against the Armenians – even after World War One. In 1919 he stated, “The Armenian is like the Jew, a parasite when outside his homeland, who sucks up the health of other country in which he settles. Thence comes the hate which was discharged in a medieval fashion against them as an undesirable people and which led to their murder.”  (See another translation) Von Schellendorf became a fervent supporter of Hitler in the 1930s. If the Armenian Genocide didn’t occur or if the Turks were not allowed to evade justice, the political discourse in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany could have been different enough that it is possible the Nazi Holocaust may not have taken place. Every significant political or diplomatic effort has its effect and overtones. The human condition is a continuum.

Israeli support for Turkish genocide denial only brought attention to Israel’s, seemingly hypocritical, policy regarding its non-recognition of the Armenian genocide, although minority parties in the Israeli Knesset periodically open debate on the topic. In the end, Israel appears to be holding the Armenian genocide like the Sword of Damocles over the head of Turkey.

Armenia’s geopolitical situation is not of its making. After a devastating genocide, what remained of Armenia was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union. This incorporation included Joseph Stalin placing heavily Armenian populated regions, such as Nagorno-Karabakh under Azerbaijani jurisdiction. During the breakup of the Soviet Union, fighting escalated between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh. In 1994, Armenians were able to defend and establish sovereignty over this region, to the dismay of Azerbaijan. Subsequently, both Azerbaijan and Turkey blockaded their borders with Armenia. Seventy percent of Armenian’s borders are currently blockaded. During this same period, the West being euphoric having won the Cold War and with NATO busily dismembering Yugoslavia, Armenia had no choice in turning to Russia for its defense, having been strategically threatened by Turkey and ignored by the West. In contrast, Azerbaijan was signing lucrative oil extraction and transportation deals with western suitors funding both Baku’s oligarchic system and its substantial arms purchases. Unless another party comes along and offers a better deal to Armenia, a Russian retreat from its treaty obligations to defend Armenia’s borders will spell the end of what exists of Armenia. As it was a century ago, the international community perceives Armenia as an irritant to broader corporate, regional and international interests. What will Israel do when Azerbaijan is critically out of oil? It will buy it from somebody else or pump it out of the Golan Heights, but the fallout of its unofficial anti-Armenian/pro-Azerbaijani policy will linger.

These series of Zionist policies and activities over a century are essentially realpolitik, with results both chaotic and riddled with Machiavellian indifference.

The Armenians over a century ago were in political situations beyond their ability to influence. Powerful forces were in motion then, and the Armenians were used, manipulated, and eventually deemed an inconvenience, relegated to extermination. The existence of Armenia, today, appears to be an inconvenience and remains a tool to be used by others.

David Davidian is a Lecturer at the American University of Armenia. He has spent over a decade in technical intelligence analysis at major high technology firms.

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Peace, Problems and Perspectives in the Post-war South Caucasus

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The Second Karabakh War ended with the signing of the trilateral declaration between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia on November 10, 2020. The declaration, which stopped the war and laid the foundation for solving other thorny issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the liberation of the remaining territories under occupation (Aghdam, Kalbajar, Lachin) as well as the unblocking of all economic and transport communications in the region, may have heralded the dawning of a different period in the history of a long war-ravaged region of the South Caucasus. This is evidenced by the announcement of new cooperation initiatives such as the “six-party cooperation platform” and the establishment of the “Zangezur corridor,” which aims not only to link Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also to play a wider role in enhancing the region’s standing by providing interconnectivity across diverse geographic and geopolitical zones. This process has already involved Russia and Turkey and will potentially facilitate links between Central Asia and Europe. There is much going on in the region in this regard and talks about the probability of building a Pax Caucasia in the South Caucasus are more than mere hype.

There have already been reports and testimonies about Azerbaijan’s intention to move on, post-Second Karabakh War, and adopt a maximally cooperative and magnanimous approach towards Armenia following the latter’s defeat in the war. This was apparent in the many concessions made by Azerbaijan in the post-war period, such as providing a ten-day extension (from November 15 to November 25, 2020) of the deadline for the Armenian Armed Forces and the Armenian population that had settled in Kalbajar during the occupation to leave the region, and the return to Armenia of 69 Armenian nationalsdetained in Azerbaijan and 1400 bodies. Moreover, as a gesture of good will, Azerbaijan helped with the transfer of humanitarian aid to Armenian residents in Karabakh; facilitated the transfer of goods through Azerbaijan’s main territory; allowed Armenian citizens to continue using the parts of the Gorus–Kafan highway that pass through the newly liberated Azerbaijani territories; and last, but definitely not least, for the first time in three decades the transportation of Russian natural gas to Armenia through Azerbaijan became a reality.

However, this cautious optimism about the nascent prospects of peace and cooperation in the region is facing a number of challenges. These include Armenia’s flouting of Article 4 of the November 10, 2020 declaration that demanded the withdrawal of all remaining armed groups from Azerbaijani territories; purposeful misrepresentation by Armenia of militia members captured by Azerbaijan as a result of counter-terrorist operations since November 10 as prisoners of war (PoW) and resultant attempts to exert pressure on Azerbaijan; and the newly intensified debate on who might have launched Iskandar M missiles against the Azerbaijani city of Shusha during the 44-day war. The latter issue in particular seems to boggle the mind after the Azerbaijani National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) recently discovered the remnants of an Iskandar M ballistic missile in Shusha. According to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the export version of this missile is the Iskandar E, which the Russian Federation exported only to Armenia. The Iskandar M, the remnants of one of which were discovered in Shusha,is in the sole possession of the Russian Federation. The story behind this discovery definitely has a dark side that needs to be clarified, as the absence of plausible answers may generate dangerous speculation. Either way, this issue, along with the others discussed above, is also inhibiting a seamless transition to the post-conflict rehabilitation period.

In addition to the above, the danger posed by the landmines planted in the previously occupied Azerbaijani territories is very acute. According to some estimates, Armenia spent$350 million on planting landmines in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region. ANAMA is currently undertaking operations towards clearing the areas contaminated with landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) and initial estimates suggest that the neutralization of UXO, missiles, and the remaining ammunition in the combat areas could require 5–6 years, while it might take some10–13 years before the mined areas are completely cleared. Although Azerbaijan is also receiving help from its friends, partners, and international organizations, including Turkey, Russia, and the United Nations, in the form of staff training, delivery of mine-clearing equipment, and financial assistance, this is obviously not yet sufficient for tackling this very difficult and precarious work.

The issue is further exacerbated by the fact that, in response to all the gestures of goodwill by Azerbaijan aimed at turning the page on hostility and embarking on building a cooperative relationship with Armenia, the latter still refuses to give Azerbaijan maps of the landmines planted in its formerly occupied territories. Worse still, as noted by the Assistant to the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan – Head of the Department of Foreign Policy Affairs of the Presidential Administration at the briefing held for the diplomatic corps on the occasion of the “International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action” (April 5, 2021),on the one occasion when Azerbaijan was able to obtain maps of purported mined areas from Armenia, these maps turned out to contain false information, as ANAMA was unable to find anything based on the coordinates therein. “This could mean that Armenia purposefully misled Azerbaijan,” Mr. Hajiyev noted. Apparently, there is still no progress whatsoever in terms of persuading Armenia to cooperate on the issue of landmines. However, this is hugely important, as refusal to collaborate on such a crucial issue may diminish the already meagre prospects for achieving lasting peace and cooperation between the erstwhile enemies in the wake of Azerbaijan’s one-sided concessions to Armenia.

International conventions prohibit anti-personnel landmines (APL), the most dangerous form used against civilians. Every year, reputable organizations in the field, such as the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL),report thousands of people dying or being injured owing to landmines. Post-Second Karabakh war, Azerbaijan has already reported the deaths of dozens of its citizens as well as military servicemen, including Russian peacekeepers, who have died or been maimed as result of anti-personnel landmine explosions. If the correct maps of the mined areas are not given to the Azerbaijani side in due time, the numbers of casualties will increase, adding to the already daunting global statistics of human deaths due to landmines. It is hoped that Armenia will not realize too late that civilians should not be at the receiving end of the regime’s frustration and resentfulness over the war that was lost.

Thus, there are clearly visible challenges of the post-conflict period that need to be overcome. The complexity of the outstanding issues demands transparency, cooperation, and mutual compromise if there is a genuine wish to move away from the horrors of the past. This should be undertaken by all the stakeholders that signed the November 10, 2020, agreements that ended the Second Karabakh War, because unilateral efforts may likely be insufficient to ultimately break the vicious cycle of hostility and war.

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South Caucasus: Prospects and challenges

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During an online conference on the current situation in the South Caucasus, hosted by Rossiya Segodnya news agency, the executive director of the “Eurasian Development” center Stanislav Pritchin and Alexander Karavayev, a researcher with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Economics, presented their joint report on the “Settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and the development of the South Caucasus: prospects and challenges.”

Earlier, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Azeri and Armenian colleagues on the sidelines of the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the CIS to discuss humanitarian and economic issues related to Nagorno-Karabakh. They noted that the Russian-mediated ceasefire agreement in Nagorno-Karabakh, signed on November 9, 2020, was the first document in many years to tackle systemic issues of settlement and offer a primary plan for normalizing relations between the conflicting sides.

During the online conference, Stanislav Prichin and Alexander Karavayev outlined potential areas of cooperation in various fields and identified the role of external actors, primarily of Russia and Turkey, in realizing the existing potential. They also analyzed the prospects of economic development in the South Caucasus.

Stanislav Pritchin said that the idea of writing the report came right after the signing of the peace accord in Nagorno-Karabakh. In addition to the usual collection of information, several roundtables were held, attended by Russian experts, and Armenian and Azerbaijani specialists were polled and asked the same questions. Naturally enough, Baku and Yerevan had diametrically opposite views of the results of the ceasefire agreement, with  Azerbaijan seeing them as a reflection of the changes brought about by its military victories, while Armenia views them as a major defeat that forced it to make major concessions. There was even talk about the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his government. Pashinyan has so far managed to stabilize the situation, with early parliamentary elections slated for this coming summer, which will most likely keep him in power. Polls also showed that even if Pashinyan’s party loses out, Armenia will still be forced to comply with the terms of the agreement simply by virtue of its position. Indeed, Yerevan has been quick to give the Akdam, Geybaldar and Lachin regions back to Baku.

Speaking of risks and challenges, the expert noted that we are primarily talking about domestic political risks both in Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as external ones – exacerbation of contradictions between outside players and, finally, the danger of a new conflict flaring up directly between Yerevan and Baku. … First of all, Armenia finds itself in the former group of risks. A  survey of experts done in February showed that 67 percent of respondents  believed that Nikol Pashinyan would not stay in power, while only 33 believed he would. The situation in Azerbaijan is calmer: they expect Armenia to fulfill all the terms of the trilateral agreement. By the way, Azerbaijan has a lot of work to do to restore the region’s infrastructure and resettle the refugees, which will prove a heavy burden on the country’s budget.

As far as external risks go, the gravest concern is the regional rivalry between Russia and Turkey. Seventy-two percent of the Armenian experts surveyed believe that this is fraught with destructive consequences, and only 28 said that Russian-Turkish interaction will help stabilize the region. The overwhelming majority of Azeri experts have no problem with the Russian and Turkish influence on the peaceful settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh. The role of the OSCE Minsk Group in the settlement of the Karabakh problem is assessed differently in Armenia and Azerbaijan. While the Armenians pin hopes on the Group, the Azerbaijanis do not see any benefit from it.

The status of the Russian peacekeepers, who will stay on in the conflict zone for the next five years, is an important issue. Their mandate will automatically be renewed if it is not objected to by either side. As of now, 42 percent of Azeri experts believe that five years from now the mission of the Russian peacekeepers will be over. Just as many believe that they will still be needed, and 16 percent said that it will depend on the situation. In Armenia, 85 percent of respondents answered that five years from now the presence of Russian peacekeepers will still be needed.

The dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh remains the biggest sticking point, with Azerbaijan considering this territory as its own, which is confirmed by the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council issued in the wake of the Soviet breakup. The Armenians, conversely, believe that even after the conclusion of the November trilateral agreement, Nikol Pashinyan does not recognize Azerbaijan’s right to Nagorno-Karabakh. A survey of the two countries’ experts showed that in each of them the absolute majority – more than 80 percent – thinks that within the next five years the status of Nagorno-Karabakh will not acquire a mutually acceptable legal form. Pritchin also considers the problem of border delimitation in disputed territories as being intractable.

Wrapping up the political section of the report, Stanislav Pritchin outlined three possible scenarios of political development in the South Caucasus: negative, neutral and optimal. In a negative scenario, one or more parties opt out of the trilateral accord. According to the neutral scenario, some of the provisions of this agreement will be implemented, while some will not. The positive scenario sees the implementation of all provisions by all the signatories to the deal. The majority of experts in Armenia (about 80 percent) and a significant number (over 40 percent) of those in Azerbaijan, gravitate towards the second, neutral variant.

The economic part of the report was presented by Alexander Karavayev, who emphasized that it is for the first time in 30 years that a post-Soviet state is restoring its territorial integrity, including in economic terms. Not only did the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh suffer from the ethnic conflict of 1991-92, but it was not developing economically and did not have any investment status. The development took place only at the microeconomic level; there were no large-scale recovery programs sponsored by the state, including those aimed at luring major foreign investors. Karavayev warns that given the enormity of the tasks at hand one should not expect any quick results – we are talking about a decade, no less.

The Azeri leadership has outlined the first stage of restoration to run until 2025. In 2021, US 1.3 billion will be allocated for the reconstruction of energy facilities, the construction of roads, trunk infrastructure, including the creation of transit transport communications across the territory of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. To fill them with goods, Armenia, as the party that has suffered the most from the conflict, must see the prospects for making up for the losses. This could be achieved through exports, primarily of raw materials, such as copper ore and rare earth and precious metals (molybdenum, gold, etc.). In practical terms, the export of raw materials from Armenia to Mediterranean ports would be facilitated by modernizing the old Soviet railway via the Nakhichevan autonomous region to the Turkish port of Iskenderun, where there is a terminal of the Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works. Alexander Karavayev warned, however, that the implementation of large-scale economic projects would attract big investors and competition between them could stir up contradictions between large regional players. He still believes that “the game is worth the candle.”

The main conclusion that can be drawn from the report is that the signing of the trilateral agreement has opened a “window of opportunity” for the gradual normalization of political and economic relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the settlement of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

From our partner International Affairs

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Eastern Europe

A Grey Swan: Is There a New Conflict in Donbass?

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The prospect of a new exacerbation in Ukraine’s Donbass region has worried market players. It is difficult to talk about the strong influence of bellicose statements on the currency and stock markets. However, investors have again started talking about “geopolitical risk”. The key concern stems from the fact that the resumption of a large-scale armed conflict will inevitably lead to new sanctions against Russia. Moreover, the scale of such restrictions is difficult to predict, which gives rise to the uncertainty of expectations. Should strict sanctions be viewed as a baseline scenario? What is to be expected from the development of the situation?

Ceasefire violations in Donbass were already evident in winter. The ceasefire has been in effect since July 27 last year. However, on March 31, in the Contact Group on Conflict Resolution, the Ukrainian side raised the issue of a new ceasefire statement. In fact, this meant that Kiev considered the existing agreement invalid, citing cases of shootings and military losses. Moscow criticised this initiative. All this is happening against the background of the concentration of Ukrainian troops in the conflict zone. Russian troops are also moving to the state border. Statements by Ukrainian officials, who cited a conversation between ministers, about US support in the event of a war with Russia, added fuel to the fire.

A military exacerbation may well be viewed as one possible scenario. At least it is not devoid of precedent. During the August 2008 war in in Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili launched a military campaign, citing the support of the United States, among other things, as one of his motivations. Later it turned out that such support was only conditional, but confidence in it could become a trigger for radical decisions. There is also the experience of the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh. For a long time it was believed that it would be difficult for both sides to win in the conflict. As a result, Azerbaijan won a victory using new tactics: with the help of unmanned aerial vehicles. Ukraine also plans to use Turkish drones, although they have not yet appeared in large quantities in service in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Kiev may also believe that a new conflict will have a high cost for Russia. Even in the event of the defeat of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Moscow is unlikely to go beyond the existing boundaries of the DPR and LPR. New sanctions will be imposed against Russia. Perhaps the Ukrainian leadership also hopes for good luck. Even tactical successes in Donbass will strengthen the Ukrainian position.

However, this scenario is still extremely risky for Kiev. In recent years, Russia has shown that it is ready to take decisive action. Force can be used without undue hesitation. Moscow understands that the West will side with Ukraine in any scenario. But political support is one thing, and military intervention is quite another. The United States and its allies are unlikely to agree to such an intervention. Even the supply of lethal weapons will have its limits. Without a doubt, they increase the combat readiness of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. However, they are unlikely to allow it to achieve qualitative and quantitative superiority, even on the scale of the alleged theatre of military operations. The Russian army has undergone a high degree of modernisation. It is capable of rapidly concentrating well-trained and well-armed small units, units and large units. The threat of sanctions will also fail as a deterrent. There’s no doubt they will damage the economy. However, Moscow is unlikely to be stopped if it comes to a military conflict. In addition, Russia has a certain amount of space to vary the degree of its involvement. It can range from active support of the forces of the LPR and DPR to direct involvement in the conflict and the defeat of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the conflict zone.

Apparently, the Ukrainian leadership does not intend to bring the matter to a direct clash. It is escalating the situation, trying to attract the attention of Western partners and gain points for the future. Most likely, the Kiev authorities initiated the current manoeuvres of their own accord, and they are not the result of the “insidious game” of the West. However, the American and EU diplomats may well use such manoeuvres to put pressure on Russia. The main threat is the loss of control over the situation, should the symbolic whipping turn into a real conflict.

In the end, full-scale military operations in Donbass in the near future are not the baseline scenario. Russia is a strong adversary; the risk of big losses for Ukraine are great. Accordingly, it is hardly worth considering a scenario of a sharp tightening of sanctions against Russia. No radical aggravation—no radical sanctions.

At the same time, politics likes surprises. Erroneous assessments, the personal ambitions of leaders, the peculiarities of group decision-making with their “shift to risk”, random incidents and much more can give rise to an extreme scenario. War in this case is a “grey”, rather than a “black swan”. It is unlikely, but its parameters are quite clear. Low chances of winning a war can be offset by high expectations of its consequences. Is it not an attractive scenario to give Russia a military slap in the face during an election year? However, in Moscow, such a scenario is also, apparently, expected. With appropriate organisational conclusions.

From our partner RIAC

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