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Ukraine crisis through the prism of Armenian political discourse

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Armenia’s perplexing decision to side with  Russia on the Crimean and broader Ukrainian crisis – related issues has subjected the country to public and political backlash in Ukraine and beyond. Notably, pro-Russian narratives have been a salient feature of Armenian political discourse during the Ukrainian crisis.  This reached a point, where the Armenian leadership hailed the annexation of Crimea as a model exercise of the right to self-determination. Yet, the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” engendered a glimmer of hope that along with other changes, the new Armenian government may revise its unequivocal support for Russia’s controversial foreign policy choices and actions.  This provokes an inquiry into dominant narratives about the Ukrainian crisis in Armenian political discourse.

 Essentially, the escalation of Ukrainian crisis has reinforced Armenian political  leadership’s fears about the possible resumption of “Cold War” with ensuing consequences for small and war-torn Armenia. Former president Sargsyan even invoked the Ukrainian crisis  as a justification for Armenia’s decision to join the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). By confirming its allegiance to Russia, Armenia would avoid angering the Kremlin and prompting into taking punitive measures against its possible “disobedience.” A closer look at Armenian discourse, shows a tendency to treat Ukraine’s “outright defiance” for Russia’s strategic interests as  the core rationale behind the devastating crisis. No wonder, the Armenian leadership would condemn  the EU’s “recklessness”  and  ‘interference’ in the sphere of Russia’s privileged interests, which  inevitably  fuelled instability in the EU-Russia volatile neighbourhood. Sargsyan even attributed the setbacks of the EU-backed Eastern Partnership to its anti-Russian nature. It follows that by joining the EAEU, Armenia did not support the EU’s destabilizing policy and thus refrained from adding fuel to the fire. 

Another major fear is that the escalating Russia-USA confrontation over the Ukrainian crisis would adversely affect the Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement.  Both USA and Russia are the permanent Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict. While their relations get steadily deteriorated, there is not much to ensure their all-out involvement in moving the needle on long-standing Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Rather, by putting all their weight behind the Ukrainian issue, both Washington and Moscow would not do much to challenge the status quo in Karabakh. Overall, there are concerns that all the negativity accumulated throughout the Ukrainian crisis between Russia and the USA would inevitably get projected onto their  relations over Karabakh, thus making matters more complex.

Furthermore, a huge source of fears and concerns about the Ukrainian crisis, is the crippling effect of Western sanctions against Russia on the Armenian economy. As a result of heavy economic dependence on Russia, the latter’s economic downturns significantly compound Armenia’s economic crisis. Notably, as a single country, Russia is the main external trade partner of Armenia, being the destination for around 20 per cent of Armenian exports and source of 70 per cent of remittances. Russia also maintains lead in the realm of foreign investments in Armenia. There are more than 1,400 enterprises with Russian capital, which is over one fourth of all economic entities with involvement of foreign capital .Moreover, Russia is home to more than 2.5 million Armenian migrants, whose  remittances account for around 10 percent of Armenia’s GDP. Meanwhile, the depreciation of Russian ruble means that the remittances sent from Russia have decreased in value .  Moreover,  the ruble’s devaluation,  has led to the price increases in Armenian exported products to Russia  thus affecting trade volumes.

According to various estimates, the sanctions against the Russian banking sector, which has profound involvement in the Armenian economy, have adversely affected the Armenian economy and even contributed to electricity price hikes in 2015.

Besides, the sanctions against Russia have resonated with Armenia, due to its heavy dependence on Russian military equipment. The Washington’s intention of pressuring the foreign governments into relinquishing Russian defense acquisitions would put conflict-stricken Armenia between a rock and a hard place: while the country seeks to keep good ties to the USA, it is too crippled to cope without  the Russian weaponry.

Beyond that, the Armenian political discourse has long revolved around the narrative of “Crimea precedent” –  given that the “self determination” of Crimea would positively affect the resolution of Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Strikingly,  former president Sargsyan went so far as to frame the referendum in Crimea  as an exercise of peoples’ right to self-determination via free expression of will. Clearly, Sargsyan’s treatment of the Crimean “referendum” as a “model of self-determination” was bound to upset Armenian-Ukrainian ties. The situation came to a head in March  2014, when Armenia voted against the UN General Assembly   resolution on the “territorial integrity of Ukraine” declaring Crimea’s recent secession vote invalid. Thus, Armenia endorsed the legitimacy of an illegal and thoroughly rigged referendum.

Ukraine was quick to recall  its ambassador to Armenia for consultation, and summoned the Armenian ambassador to Ukraine over Yerevan’s shocking position on the annexation of Crimea.

Given former opposition leader Pashinyan’s critical stances on Russian coercive policies, it would be easy to resort to speculations about possible foreign policy changes, including Armenia’s on stance on the Ukrainian crisis.  Yet from the outset of his prime minstership Pashinyan confirmed Armenia’s unequivocal and unwavering support for Russian policies. Notably, at  his very first meeting with Pashinyan,  Putin stressed the necessity of keeping up the cooperation in the international arena, focusing particularly on UN, where the two nations “have always supported each other.” No wonder, post-revolution Armenia voted against another UN resolution on the de-occupation of Crimea in December, 2018. The resolution expressed grave concerns  over the Russian military buildup in Crimea and called on Russia to end its “temporary occupation” of the Ukrainian region.

Overall, consistent with his predecessor, Pashinyan keeps supporting even the most controversial Russian foreign policy actions, ranging from  the Ukrainian crisis to that in Syria, etc.

There has been an ingrained belief  among the Armenian leadership that Armenia only benefits from Russia’s restoring greatness and its greater involvement in its “Near abroad.”  All these goes into Armenia’s inferiority complex of a weak and small state, bound by neighboring Turkish-Azerbaijani hostilities.  It is in this context that Russia is broadly perceived as a pivotal security ally in Armenian political thinking  and in public consciousness.  Overall, there is a broad consensus among the representatives of Armenian political elite that the acute threats posed to Armenia by Azerbaijan and Turkey prompt to put heavy reliance on Russia. Thus, despite some resentment that Russian policy may generate, Armenia has to abstain from ‘provoking’ Russia’. Otherwise, the latter would ‘hit where it hurts’, by arming Azerbaijan, increasing gas prices or even mistreating the Armenian community in Russia. That said, Armenia’s solidarity with Russia on Ukrainian crisis comes as an unsurprising consequence of the enormously asymmetric nature of Russian-Armenian relations.

Aram Terzyan, PhD, is a visiting senior lecturer at UNESCO Chair of Human Rights, Democracy and European Studies of Brusov State University of Languages and Social Sciences and research fellow at Eurasian Research and Analysis Institute, USA. E-mail: aramterzyan[at]gmail.com .

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Eastern Europe

International organizations in the Armenian-Azerbaijani war must demonstrate a constructive position

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Recent events in the Caucasus are in the spotlight of the whole world. For 30 years, the policy of aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan has further exacerbated the situation in the region. In the ongoing negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, official Yerevan has always taken a non-constructive position and repeatedly tried to disrupt the peace talks.

In this regard, the conditions of the President of Azerbaijan based on international law have always been  very simple and concrete: Armenia must withdraw from the occupied territories, Azerbaijan must restore its territorial integrity, Azerbaijanis must return to their native lands. The Armenian side, which refused to negotiate, violated the basic principles of the process, the Helsinki Final Act and UN Security Council resolutions, and the Armenian Prime Minister quelled the peace talks, saying “Karabakh belongs to Armenia.”

On September 27, the Armenian armed forces launched another military aggression against Azerbaijan, intensively firing on Azerbaijani settlements, civilians and military positions from various directions using large-calibre artillery and missiles. The Azerbaijani armed forces had to carry out counter-offensive and retaliatory measures in full compliance with the right to self-defense and international humanitarian law in order to prevent a new military aggression by Armenia and to ensure the security of the civilian population. The attitude of the international community to this war was ambiguous. Many international organizations and states have called on the parties to suspend military operations and start peace talks. At Armenia’s insistence, Russia took the initiative to ensure a humanitarian ceasefire, and a meeting with the foreign ministers of the three countries was held in Moscow on October 11.However, on the very first day of the ceasefire agreement, the Armenian armed forces fired a ballistic missile at night at Ganja, the second largest city in Azerbaijan, 80 kilometres from the war zone and without any military facilities. As a result of this terrorist act, civilians were killed, dozens of people were injured and hundreds of civilian objects were destroyed. The targeting of densely populated areas hundreds of kilometres away from the conflict zone shows that the enemy is still pursuing its nefarious plans by taking steps contrary to international law. In so doing, the enemy grossly violates the norms and principles of international law, in particular international humanitarian law and the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols.

The war crimes of the Armenian armed forces do not end there. Armed groups have repeatedly targeted power plants in Azerbaijan’s industrial city of Mingechaur, trying to sabotage energy and environmental security in the region. In July, an armed attack was carried out on a region far from the conflict zone to strike the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which transports Azerbaijani oil to Europe.

Today, Azerbaijan is fighting for justice for its territories, both on the military field and on the information front. Nevertheless, some states and international organizations are silent on the crimes committed, as well as the mass media, based on false, unsubstantiated information spread by Armenia, demonstrate a wrong position and thus support terrorism.

As a member of the Club of Rectors of European Universities, as an intellectual and scientist, I appeal to all international organizations, especially the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, which is responsible for the peaceful settlement of the conflict. I am confident that Italy is a member of the Minsk Group, as well as a responsible member of the European Union and can play a very important role in this direction as a strategic partner of Azerbaijan. Senator Stefano Lucidi and chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Association with Azerbaijan in the Italian Parliament, a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, strongly condemned the ceasefire violation by the Armenian armed forces, rocket attacks on Ganja and civilians.  He emphasized  that ensuring stability in the region is very important both for the security of the population and for the interests of Italy. All of these were met with great sympathy by our people.

I believe that international organizations will demonstrate a constructive position in the Armenian-Azerbaijani war. Speaking about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, first of all, it should be noted that the current fighting is taking place in the internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan. According to four UN Security Council resolutions adopted in 1993, the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan must be demanded. Armenia’s policy of aggression against Azerbaijan must be stopped, terrorist acts against the civilian population must be halted.

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Eastern Europe

The Destruction of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Cultural Heritage

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Nagorno-Karabakh has been in the news for the renewed hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This enclave in the Caucasus has a distinctive culture, with a rich heritage in music, poetry and architecture. It is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but the territory has been occupied by Armenia for the past 30 years, along with seven adjoining provinces of Azerbaijan.

Concerns have been raised that Nagorno-Karabakh’s heritage has been systematically destroyed under Armenia’s occupation, as part of its attempt to strengthen its control by wiping out traces of the existing culture.

In Zangilan, for instance, when the district was retaken by Azerbaijan on October 20th, they could not recognise it after 30 years of Armenian occupation. The historical mosque of Zangilan had been turned into a swine shelter and the 13th century Gtich church, belonging to the ancient Christian state of Caucasian Albania, was found vandalised and smeared with graffiti.

The destruction of cultural and religious monuments in the occupied territory is regarded as a war crime under international law. The Hague Convention of 1954 obliges occupying forces not only to respect and preserve cultural property, but to prevent the theft of property in the event of armed conflict.

With Armenia occupying 20% of Azerbaijan, the onus is on Armenia to protect the cultural heritage of this region, particularly Nagorno-Karabakh. But after nearly one million Azerbaijanis were forced to flee their homes during the conflict in the 1990s, Armenia has systematically removed traces of Azerbaijani culture from the land they left behind.

George Mitchell, a British travel writer who visited the occupied territories in November 2014, found Aghdam “a ghost town” and the “Hiroshima of the Caucasus”, and reported on the devastation he witnessed.

Azerbaijan has called for a comprehensive international fact-finding mission for the preservation of cultural heritage in the occupied territories. But Armenia has declined to allow this mission to carry out its work.

In 2001, the Council of Europe listed “500 historical architectural and more than 100 archaeological monuments, 22 museums, 4 art galleries, 927 libraries, 85 musical schools, 4 state theatres” in the Azerbaijani territory occupied by Armenia, and raised serious concerns about their destruction by Armenian forces.

The report called for the protection of several castles, cloisters, temples, tombs, caravanserais, mosques and bridges, which are all part of the world’s cultural heritage, including Sardar and Naji Novurazili Bey Mosques, as well as the Amir Saad Tomb in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital.

A more recent report of 2019 used satellite imagery to highlight Armenia’s “purposeful destruction and looting of the cultural heritage in the occupied territories” with the aim of “removing any signs of their Azerbaijani cultural and historical roots”. The images revealed the ruins of the Juma Mosque in Aghdam and Saatly, and the Mardinly and Ashaghy Govhar Agha mosques in Shusha.

The cultural city of Shusha was an important centre of Azerbaijani poetry and traditional mugham music, which was added to the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2008. Thanks to its centuries-old mugham school, also known as one of the first conservatories of the Caucasus, Shusha was home to famous Azerbaijani mugham masters, suchas Haji Husi, Abdulbagi Zulalov and Jabbar Garyagdi. Uzeyir Hajibeyov, who wrote the national anthem of Azerbaijan as well as countless opera plays, including the first Azerbaijani mugham opera ‘Layla and Majnun’, also came from Shusha.

In contrast to Armenia’s attempt to “Armenianise” the Azerbaijani territory that it occupies, Azerbaijan is seen as a secular and multicultural state. It has restored dozens of churches, including Caucasian Albanian churches and the Armenian church in Baku, and numerous synagogues within Azerbaijan, while also providing support for the restoration of churches in France, the Vatican, and elsewhere.

This template is the need of the hour to preserve the cultural heritage of the Caucasus. The International Council of Museums has strongly condemned the targeting of cultural heritage as a weapon of war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia should therefore stop the cultural destruction in Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding districts, in line with international law. Otherwise, the damage already inflicted on the different religions and cultures in the occupied territories would soon be irreversible.

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Eastern Europe

Armenia: Lies and realities

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The OSCE Minsk Group was established to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which arose as a result of Armenia’s brutal interference in Azerbaijan’s internal affairs and military aggression. However, the activities of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs have been fruitless for almost 30 years. Armenia did not comply with the UN Security Council Resolutions No. 822, 853, 874 and 884 on the unconditional, prompt and complete withdrawal of the Armenian occupying forces from the territories of Azerbaijan. Armenian was trying to impose occupation fact and to bring it to a “fait accompli.” At the same time, Armenia was preparing to occupy new territories of Azerbaijan and commit provocations. Armenian Defense Minister David Tonoyan confessed: “We will not return an inch of land to Azerbaijan and will occupy new territories.”

In July 2020, the Armenian leadership committed another provocation in the direction of the Tovuz region of the Azerbaijani state border. There were several purposes in this provocation. First, to occupy the territories, where the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan main export oil pipeline, which plays a vital role in Europe’s energy supply, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, TAP and TANAP lines pass, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway connects Europe and Asia. Furthermore, as a result, to obstruct the access of the Republic of Azerbaijan to Europe. Second, to divert attention from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and involve the CSTO, especially Russia, in the war. However, the Armenian occupying forces were repulsed and failed to achieve any of the above purposes. Armenia’s intentions against European countries and peoples have failed.

Later, Armenia committed provocations again, in response, when Azerbaijan took action, the Armenian leadership began to spread slander and false news in order to deceive European public opinion. Let us look at just two of them. First, the Armenian side tried to cover up their aggression policy and abuse the religious feelings of Christians around the world by spreading false information about the alleged attack of the Azerbaijani army on the church in Shusha. Even those unfamiliar with military science know that if the church had been hit by a rocket, it would have collapsed. However, the church was in place. On the other hand, mosques, churches and synagogues have coexisted in Azerbaijan for many centuries. Even the Armenian church, which is located in the centre of Baku, including its library, is protected by the Azerbaijani state and its guard also is Armenian. It can be questioned that what did Armenia do in return for Azerbaijan’s care for the church, the house of God? Armenians intentionally kept pigs in mosques in the occupied Aghdam and Zangilan regions of Azerbaijan. Their photos and videos are available on the Internet. The church, the mosque and the synagogue are the houses of God. By treating mosques as an object for insults, Armenia is tarnishing Christians, and Christianity, which is a religion of peace and coexistence. Russians, Jews, Georgians, Ukrainians and others, who are Azerbaijani citizens in the ranks of the Azerbaijani army, are fighting for the liberation of Azerbaijani lands from occupiers. Prayers for the Azerbaijani soldier are being held in all churches and synagogues in Azerbaijan. His Holiness Pope Francis, who visited Baku a few years ago, praised the policy of Azerbaijan in terms of inter-religious and inter-civilizational dialogue as an example.

Secondly, Armenia is lying about Azerbaijan’s alleged “genocide” of Armenians, which is nonsense. Because currently, more than 30000 Armenians live in Azerbaijan peacefully. If there was any discrimination policy against Armenians, how could so many Armenians live in Azerbaijan? However, the situation is different in Armenia. Since 1988, over 250000 Azerbaijanis have been savagely expelled from Armenia. Today there is no single Azerbaijani in Armenia and Armenia is a mono-ethnic state. At the same time, more than 750000 Azerbaijanis were expelled from the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories of Azerbaijan and became internally displaced persons.

Thus, on the one hand, the Armenian leaders pose a direct threat to Europe’s energy supply, and on the other hand, they try to use the religious feelings of the European people for their own interests by spreading false news and figments. However, they forget that the world is very small now, and everyone sees everything well. So, the question is: what is the name of Armenia’s policy? The answer is clear!

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