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Response to fabricated claims of Armenians about Khojaly genocide

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Khojaly, one of the worst human tragedies of the 20th century still waits to be recognized by international community. Unfortunately, still some persistently deny the facts and tirelessly repeat fabricated conspiracies to avoid responsibility for the crime which, first of all, is disrespect for the souls of children, women, elderly and other victims of the crime. This piece is written as a response to such claims which is penned by Mr. David Davidian, however any expert who is familiar enough with details of the conflict would not be able to find any substantial argument in the mentioned writing. All fabricated arguments in the piece were debunked in the past and they do not stand against even mild criticism that are based on well-known history and facts.

Mr. D. Davidian starts his first argument with the claim that “the borders granted them (Azerbaijan) jurisdiction by Joseph Stalin”. This is beloved and tirelessly repeated claim of Armenian leadership and mere attempt of distort of historical facts and manipulate observers who might not familiar with details. They claim that as if Nagorno-Karabakh had never been part of Azerbaijan and it was Stalin’s decision “to grant”, “to allocate”, “to transfer”, “to hand over”, “to pass” or “to award” from Armenia to Azerbaijan or in Russian verb “передать”. In fact, the decision of the Bolshevik rulers of the region at that time regarding Nagorno-Karabakh was not передать, this verb was not used in any documents of that period. The decision explicitly used the Russian verb оставить, which means “to keep” or “to preserve” within Azerbaijan. As you might already understand how some commentators intentionally jumble translation from Russian to English. Furthermore, all historical records of that period demonstrate how in 1920 G. K. (Sergo) Ordzhonikidze, a member of the politburo of the Communist Party, first suggested in his telegram to Stalin and Georgy Chicherin to create autonomous Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan.

The second argument that Mr. David Davidian in his piece put is that Khojaly was place from where Azerbaijan was launching indiscriminate shelling on Armenian positions. This claim is completely groundless since there is not any single record of international observers or journalists on the ground stating that Khodjali was exactly that place where Azerbaijan positioned heavy armament, long range artillery or any other military equipment to launch shelling on Armenian positions. Neither Azerbaijan at that time being drowned in complete domestic political instability and struggle among different political factions did have any capability and central military command to plan any military operations on ground. In fact, according to the international observers and journalists Khojali being surrounded for several months did not have military backup from outside neither people of the city could reach other parts of Azerbaijan. The local civilians were protected only by militias with light weapons which in the end easily destroyed by well-trained and equipped military units. Therefore, calling civilian population of Khojaly as “a target needing neutralizing” is inhumane, amoral and cynic approach and another attempt of justification of crime. Also, the author did not provide any evidence or reliable source that prove that any serviceman of the Russian 366 Mountain Rifle group was killed by the attack from Khojaly. Unfortunately, here by pointing the Russian military unit the author also tries to put blame on Russians rather than Armenian military.

Mr. Davidian in his piece argues that before the assault on Khojaly Armenians warned the civilians about coming operation, while he does not give any evidence for it neither there is not any reliable source for defending this claim. Also there is no reliable evidence proving that the human casualties among civilians happened as result of crossfire on the corridor allegedly Armenian troops created for the civilians to leave. Contrary, the former President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan in his interview to Thomas de Wall confessed that “before Khojalu, the Azerbaijanis thought that they were joking with us, they thought that the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against the civilian population. We needed to put a stop to all that. And that’s what happened.” In his memoirs Markar Melkonian, brother of famous Armenian volunteer commander Monte Melkonian who was considered a terrorist by Americans also confirmed the deliberate assault on the civilian population. In fact, the confession of the former Armenian leader is enough to qualify the events in Khojaly not just crime against humanity but simple genocide according to international law.

Mr. D. Davidian in his piece refers so-called interview of the former Azerbaijani president A. Mutalibov to the Nezavisimaya Gazeta arguing that he said that Khojaly was result of “the Azerbaijani political engineering of events”, organized by the opposition Popular Front. The former president several times stated that he never made such statements and his comments were distorted by Armenian nationalists to built conspiracies for international audience. Ayaz Mutalibov in an interview to Regnum News Agency said that: “Any reference to me stating that the Popular Front facilitated to the fall of Khojaly is blatant lie. I said only that the Popular Front took advantage of the situation to come to power” after the event.

Interestingly, the author tries to build another conspiracy around the death of Azerbaijani journalist Chingiz Mustafayev who was killed by an Armenian sniper on the frontline when he was recording another fight saying “lost his life under mysterious circumstances”. It was Chingiz Mustafayev who recorded on video all vandalism against civilians that cannot be denied. The author also somehow relates the closure of ANS TV of Vahid Mustafayev who is a brother of Chingiz with the release of the video on Khojaly in 2017. In fact, the ANS TV owned by Vahid was closed down not in 2017 but year before in 2016 and that decision has nothing to do with the video. The fact about that Mustafayev videoed the same bodies of the civilians postmortem mutilated, surrounded by Azerbaijani soldiers has very simple explanation. It is not what the author tries to imply. The simple explanation is that when Azerbaijanis left the area for a while with the helicopter with full of human bodies and came back to get the rest, Armenian soldiers came after the corps to cut different human parts to prove for their superiors that they killed more people in order to get more rewards.

On the other hand, the author questions the authenticity of facts and photos about the genocide in Khojaly. In fact, it is not just Azerbaijani journalist who recorded the tragic events on the ground. Then many leading international outlets reported about it. Among them was Frederique Lengaigne who is now a documentary film-maker, but in 1992 she was working for the Reuters agency in Moscow who also photographed those terrible scenes.

In the end, the author mentions the claims of Armenians around the village of Maragha without any reliable reference where Azerbaijanis allegedly committed act of vandalism against civilians in an attempt somehow justify events in Khojaly that happened after Khojaly.

All these allegations were rebuffed by the reputable international organization Human Rights Watch. The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Holly Cartner, in her letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia dated 24 March 1997 placed direct responsibility for the civilian deaths with Armenian forces and dismissed the argument that Azerbaijani forces obstructed the flight of, or fired on Azerbaijani civilians.

Overall, the piece of Mr. David Davidian as I wrote in the beginning doesn’t stand any criticism. A set of claims and statements in the piece are logically inconsistent, they contradict each other, therefore any serious observer cannot believe that all are true at the same time. Which is very obvious from this piece is that it is another desperate attempt of denial, justification, building different conspiracies and escape from the responsibility at the same time.

Leading Research Fellow, Foreign Policy Analysis Department. Center for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan

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Eastern Europe

Unhappy Iran Battles for Lost Influence in South Caucasus

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Events that might not matter elsewhere in the world matter quite a lot in the South Caucasus. Given a recent history of conflict, with all the bad feelings that generates, plus outside powers playing geostrategic games, and its growing importance as an energy corridor between Europe and Central Asia, the region is vulnerable. 

This has been worsened by the two-year-long Western absence of engagement. In 2020, Europe and the U.S. were barely involved as the second Nagorno-Karabakh war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, leaving about 7,000 dead. With tensions now on the rise between Azerbaijan and Iran, Western uninterest is again evident, even though this might have wider ramifications for future re-alignment in the South Caucasus. 

The drumbeat of Iranian activity against Azerbaijan has been consistent in recent months. Iran is getting increasingly edgy about Israel’s presence in the South Caucasus — hardly surprising given Israel’s painfully well-targeted assassination and computer hacking campaigns against nuclear staff and facilities — and especially its growing security and military ties with Azerbaijan, with whom Iran shares a 765km (430 mile) border. Iran has also voiced concern about the presence in the region of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries, who were used as Azeri assault troops last year.  

Much of the anger has been played out in military exercises. The Azeri military has been busy since its victory, exercising near the strategic Lachin corridor which connects the separatist region to Armenia, and in the Caspian Sea, where it has jointly exercised with Turkish personnel. Iran, in turn, sent units to the border region this month for drills of an unstated scale. 

This week, the Azeri and Iranian foreign ministers agreed to dial down the rhetoric amid much talk of mutual understanding. Whether that involved promises regarding the Israeli presence or a pledge by Iran to abandon a newly promised road to Armenia was not stated. 

Iran’s behavior is a recognition of the long-term strategic changes caused by the Armenian defeat last year. Iran has been sidelined. Its diplomatic initiatives have failed, and it has been unwelcome in post-conflict discussions. 

It is true that Iran was never a dominant power in the South Caucasus. Unlike Russia or Turkey, the traditional power brokers, it has not had a true ally. Iran was certainly part of the calculus for states in the region, but it was not feared, like Russia or Turkey. And yet, the South Caucasus represents an area of key influence, based on millennia of close political and cultural contacts. 

Seen in this light, it is unsurprising that Iran ratcheted up tensions with Azerbaijan. Firstly, this reasserted the involvement of the Islamic Republic in the geopolitics of the South Caucasus. It was also a thinly-veiled warning to Turkey that its growing ambitions and presence in the region are seen as a threat. In Iran’s view, Turkey’s key role as an enabler of Azeri irridentism is unmistakable. 

Turkish involvement has disrupted the foundations of the South Caucasian status quo established in the 1990s. To expect Turkey to become a major power there is an overstretch, but it nevertheless worries Iran. For example, the recent Caspian Sea exercises between Azerbaijan and Turkey appear to run counter to a 2018 agreement among the sea’s littoral states stipulating no external military involvement. 

The Caspian Sea has always been regarded by Iranians as an exclusive zone shared first with the Russian Empire, later the Soviets, and presently the Russian Federation. Other littoral states play a minor role. This makes Turkish moves in the basin and the recent improvement of ties between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan an unpleasant development for Iran — fewer barriers to the Trans-Caspian Pipeline threatens the Islamic Republic’s ability to block the project.  

This is where Iranian views align almost squarely with the Kremlin’s. Both fear Turkish progress and new energy routes. The new Iranian leadership might now lean strongly toward Russia. With Russia’s backing, opposition to Turkey would become more serious; Iran’s foreign minister said this month that his country was seeking a “big jump” in relations with Russia. 

The fact is that the region is increasingly fractured and is being pulled in different directions by the greater powers around it. This state of affairs essentially dooms the prospects of pan-regional peace and cooperation initiatives. Take the latest effort by Russia and Turkey to introduce a 3+3 platform with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, as well as Iran. Beyond excluding the West, disagreements will eventually preclude any meaningful progress. There is no unity of purpose between the six states and there are profound disagreements. 

Thus, trouble will at some point recur between Iran and Azerbaijan, and by extension Turkey. Given the current situation, and Iran’s visible discontent, it is likely it will take some kind of initiative lest it loses completely its position to Turkey and Russia. 

Author’s note: first published in cepa

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Eastern Europe

Right-wing extremist soldiers pose threat to Lithuania

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It is no secret that Lithuania has become a victim of German army’s radicalization. Could this country count on its partners further or foreign military criminals threaten locals?

It is well known that Germany is one of the largest provider of troops in NATO. There are about 600 German troops in Lithuania, leading a Nato battlegroup. According to Lithuanian authorities, Lithuania needs their support to train national military and to protect NATO’s Central and Northern European member states on NATO’s eastern flank.

Two sides of the same coin should be mentioned when we look at foreign troops in Lithuania.

Though Russian threat fortunately remains hypothetical, foreign soldiers deployed in the country cause serious trouble. Thus, the German defence minister admitted that reported this year cases of racist and sexual abuse in a German platoon based in Lithuania was unacceptable.

Members of the platoon allegedly filmed an incident of sexual assault against another soldier and sang anti-Semitic songs. Later more allegations emerged of sexual and racial abuse in the platoon, including soldiers singing a song to mark Adolf Hitler’s birthday on 20 April this year.

It turned out that German media report that far-right abuses among the Lithuania-based troops had already surfaced last year. In one case, a soldier allegedly racially abused a non-white fellow soldier. In another case, four German soldiers smoking outside a Lithuanian barracks made animal noises when a black soldier walked past.

Lithuania’s Defence Minister Arvydas Anušauskas said later that the investigation was carried out by Germany and that Lithuania was not privy to its details. The more so, Lithuania is not privy to its details even now. “We are not being informed about the details of the investigation. […] The Lithuanian military is not involved in the investigation, nor can it be,” Anušauskas told reporters, stressing that Germany was in charge of the matter.

Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, German defence minister, said that these misdeeds would be severely prosecuted and punished. Time has passed, and the details are not still known.

It should be said Germany has for years struggled to modernize its military as it becomes more involved in Nato operations. Nevertheless problems existed and have not been solved yet. According to the annual report on the state of the Bundeswehr made in 2020 by Hans-Peter Bartel, then armed forces commissioner for the German Bundestag, Germany’s army “has too little materiel, too few personnel and too much bureaucracy despite a big budget increase.” Mr Bartels’ report made clear that the Bundeswehr continues to be plagued by deep-seated problems. Recruitment remains a key problem. Mr Bartels said 20,000 army posts remained unfilled, and last year the number of newly recruited soldiers stood at just over 20,000, 3,000 fewer than in 2017. The other problem is radicalization of the armed forces.

Apparently, moral requirements for those wishing to serve in the German army have been reduced. Federal Volunteer Military Service Candidate must be subjected to a thorough medical examination. Desirable to play sports, have a driver’s license and be able to eliminate minor malfunctions in the motor, to speak at least one foreign language, have experience of communicating with representatives of other nationalities, be initiative and independent. After the general the interview follows the establishment of the candidate’s suitability for service in certain types of armed forces, taking into account his wishes. Further candidate passes a test on a computer. He will be asked if he wants study a foreign language and attend courses, then serve in German French, German-Dutch formations or institutions NATO.

So, any strong and healthy person could be admitted, even though he or she could adhere to far-right views or even belong to neo-Nazi groups. Such persons served in Lithuania and, probably, serve now and pose a real threat to Lithuanian military, local population. Neo-Nazism leads to cultivating racial inequalities. The main goal of the neo-Nazis is to cause disorder and chaos in the country, as well as to take over the army and security organs. Lithuanian authorities should fully realize this threat and do not turn a blind eye to the criminal behaviour of foreign military in Lithuania. There is no room to excessive loyalty in this case.

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Eastern Europe

Lithuanian foreign policy: Image is everything

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It seems as if Lithuanian government takes care of its image in the eyes of EU and NATO partners much more than of its population. Over the past year Lithuania managed to quarrel with such important for its economy states like China and Belarus, condemned Hungary for the ban on the distribution of images of LGBT relationships among minors, Latvia and Estonia for refusing to completely cut energy from Belarus. Judging by the actions of the authorities, Lithuania has few tools to achieve its political goals. So, it failed to find a compromise and to maintain mutually beneficial relations with economic partners and neighbours. The authorities decided to achieve the desired results by demanding from EU and NATO member states various sanctions for those countries that, in their opinion, are misbehaving.

Calling for sanctions and demonstrating its “enduring political will”, Lithuania exposed the welfare of its own population. Thus, district heating prices will surge by around 30 percent on average across Lithuania.

The more so, prices for biofuels, which make up 70 percent of heat production on average, are now about 40 higher than last year, Taparauskas, a member of the National Energy Regulatory Council (VERT) said.

“Such a huge jump in prices at such a tense time could threaten a social crisis and an even greater increase in tensions in society. We believe that the state must take responsibility for managing rising prices, especially given the situation of the most vulnerable members of society and the potential consequences for them. All the more so as companies such as Ignitis or Vilnius heating networks “has not only financial resources, but also a certain duty again,” sums up Lukas Tamulynas, the chairman of the LSDP Momentum Vilnius movement.

It should be said, that according to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, prices for consumer goods and services have been rising for the eighth month in a row. According to the latest figures, the annual inflation rate is five percent.

Earlier it became known that in 2020 every fifth inhabitant of Lithuania was below the poverty risk line.

Pensioners are considered one of the most vulnerable groups in Lithuania. In 2019, Lithuania was included in the top five EU anti-leaders in terms of poverty risk for pensioners. The share of people over 65 at risk of poverty was 18.7 percent.

In such situation sanctions imposed on neighbouring countries which tightly connected to Lithuanian economy and directly influence the welfare of people in Lithuania are at least damaging. The more so, according Vladimir Andreichenko, the speaker of the House of Representatives of the Belarus parliament, “the unification of the economic potentials of Minsk and Moscow would be a good response to sanctions.” It turned out that Lithuania itself makes its opponents stronger. Such counter-productiveness is obvious to everyone in Lithuania except for its authorities.

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