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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

Crisis in Armenia Provides Fertile Ground for Russian Meddling

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The immediate cause came on February 25, when Onik Gasparyan, Chief of General Staff of the Armenian Army, and other senior commanders released a statement calling for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to step down. Pashinyan responded by firing Gasparyan.

Yet the real cause of the uproar is Armenia’s defeat in the Second Karabakh War last year, which has triggered a deeply troubled and long-drawn-out period of soul-searching and consequent instability.

Delving into the details over what are the real reasons and who is to blame may anyway be futile in the cloudy political world of all three South Caucasus states (including Georgia and its current woes). While many Armenians believe that the protests are more about internal democratic processes, there is an undeniable geopolitical context too. Perhaps what matters most is the international ramifications of the conflict, especially as the early phases of the Russian-brokered November 2020 ceasefire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan are now being implemented.

The political crisis in Armenia does not affect the implementation of the agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on February 26. Other statements by the Russian leadership indicated that the Kremlin, which closely follows the internal development of its Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) ally and the fellow member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), is nevertheless remaining aloof for now.

Over the past year, Russia has confronted multiple crises along its border with some finesse, successfully managing near-simultaneous crises in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia-Azerbaijan.

In each case, the Kremlin has sought to extract geo-economic benefits. Take the current Armenian crisis. The opposition has some support, but not as much as the current leadership. Leaders from both sides have connections with senior Russian leaders, albeit the Kremlin was far more comfortable with the pre-Pashinyan Armenian political elite. They understood what Russia likes in the near-abroad – cautious leaders mindful of Russian sensitivities and unwilling to play the reformist and Western cards that Pahinyan has used since coming to power in 2018.

And yet however much illiberal Russia feels uncomfortable with the reformist Pashinyan government, it needs for now because his signature is on the November ceasefire agreement. With the early stages of the deal being implemented, Russia is keeping its eyes on the prize — most importantly, the agreement to reopen Soviet-era railways which potentially will reconnect Russia to Armenia via Azerbaijani territory. Chaos in Armenia can only jeopardize this key aim.

Russia also understands that Pashinyan is becoming increasingly dependent as time goes by and that it can exploit this vulnerability. Equally obviously, the opposition could prevail, and that would ultimately benefit Russia too.

In the long run, Russia has caught Armenia in a cycle. To stay in power, the government would need extensive Russian economic, diplomatic, and perhaps even military support. But any new government formed by the current opposition would likely demand even more weaponry from Russia to prepare for the next confrontation, however hypothetic, with Azerbaijan. In both cases, the price for more arms would likely be deeper integration of Armenia within the EEU. And whatever remained of Armenia’s policy efforts towards the West, already under grave pressure since the Karabakh defeat, would die.

Potentially, there is a yet-greater reward for Russia – persuading Azerbaijan to allow the Russian peacekeeping mission to remain on its soil beyond the end of 2025. In which case, an openly revanchist Armenian government formed by an opposition determined to build a battle-ready military capable of offensive operations would be a useful tool for the Kremlin to justify the continued presence of its units in Karabakh.

Author’s note: first published in cepa.org

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Eastern Europe

Caspian: Status, Challenges, Prospects

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An Analysis into the Legal Classification, Security and Environmental Concerns, Geopolitics and Energy Flow Impact of the Caspian Plateau

How has the world’s largest inland body of (salty) water escaped the economic and political notice for so long? And it is for a resource-rich area of a unique locality that connects Europe and Asia in more than just geography. Simply, the Caspian Basin is an underrated and underexplored topic with scarce literature on its geomorphology, mineral deposits and marine biota, its legal disputes, pipeline diplomacy,environmental concerns and overall geopolitical and geo-economic interplays.

As the former Minister of the Canadian government and Secretary General of the OECD – Honorable Donald J Johnston – states in the foreword, Caspian – Status, Challenges, Prospects“is a fitting title for a book that masterfully gives an objective, comprehensive overview of the region. The authors have compiled an analysis of Caspian’s legal classification, security and environmental concerns, geopolitical scenarios, and energy flow impacts as they affect the world’s largest continental landmass – Eurasia.”

From comprehensive but content intensive insights on Caspian littoral states Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Russiaand Turkmenistan, to external actors like Turkey, EU, China and the United States, readers are presented how separate actors and factors interact in this unique theater. The book elaborates on the legal classification of the Caspian plateau including the recent ‘Convention on Legal Status of the Caspian,’ to the numerous territorial and environmental security concerns.

Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic and his co-authors present Caspian as the most recent, fresh and novel way, in one stop-shop offering broad analysis on the Caspian region. It is a single volume book for which extensive information is exceptionally rare to find elsewhere. Following the read, authors are confident that a new expanse of scholarly conversation and actions of practitioners will unfold, not only focused on Caspian’s unique geography, but its overall socio-economic, politico-security and environmental scene.

Welcoming the book, following words of endorsements have been said:

The Caspian basin and adjacent Central Asian region (all being OSCE member states, apart from Iran) have, since the early Middle ages, acted as a crossroads between different civilizations and geopolitical spaces. In an increasingly interconnected world, growing geopolitical competition, economic interdependence and the emergence of new global challenges, particularly those related to water, energy and the climate emergency, have highlighted the relevance of this region, making it of increasing interest to researchers and academics. This book presents a thorough analytical compendium of historical factors, political dynamics, economic trends, legal frameworks and geopolitical interests which underpin, but also affect, the stability and development of this complex, diverse and strategically significant region.

Amb. Lamberto Zanier,Secretary-General, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (2011-2017)  OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (2017-2020)

A thoughtful, comprehensive and balanced analysis of the complex interplay between geopolitics and geo-economics in Central Eurasia, and pivotal energy plateau – that of Caspian. We finally have an all-in reader that was otherwise chronically missing in international literature, which will hopefully reverse the trend of underreporting on such a prime world’s spot.   

Hence, this is a must-read book for those wondering about the future of one of the most dynamic and most promising regions of the world and what it could entail for both reginal and external players. 
Andrey Kortunov Director General, Russian International Affairs Council

Although of pivotal geopolitical and geo-economic importance, Caspian energy plateau represents one of the most underreported subjects in the western literature. Interdisciplinary research on the topic is simply missing.  

Therefore, this book of professor Bajrektarevic and his team – unbiased, multidisciplinary, accurate and timely – is a much-needed and long-awaited reader: A must read for scholars and practitioners, be it from Eurasia or beyond.

It is truly a remarkable piece of work!  

Authors were able to tackle a challenging subject with a passion, knowledge and precision, and turn it into a compelling, comprehensive yet concise read which I highly recommend.   

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Kazakhstan Erzhan Kazykhanov, Ambassador Embassy of Kazakhstan, Washington dc, USA 

ARTNeT secretariat is pleased to see how our initial invitation to Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic to present at the ARTNeT Seminar Series in 2015 evolved. The talk was initially published as a working paper for ARTNeT (AWP 149). Now Prof. Bajrektarevic, in collaboration with another two co-authors, offers a comprehensive study on a nexus of legal, security, and environmental issues all emanating from and linked to energy cooperation (or lack thereof) in the subregion. This volume’s value extends beyond the education of readers on the Caspian Basin’s legal status (e.g., is it a sea or a lake?). It is just as relevant for those who want a more in-depth understanding of an interplay of economic, security, and political interest of players in the region and outside. With the global institutions increasingly less capable of dealing with rising geopolitics and geo-economic tensions, more clarity – even if only about some aspects of those problematic issues – should be appreciated. This volume offers such clarity.   

Mia Mikic, Director UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) ARTNeT coordinator

It is my honor to reflect on this work on Caspian. Comprehensive and content rich, this book of professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic and his co-authors brings up comprehensively all the useful information on Caspian, with the geographical and historical background and cultural, economic as well as security aspects related to it.

Authors’ novel and unbiased approach shall certainly help decision makers in their bettered understanding of the region that has centuries-long history of peace and cordial neighbourly relations. Long needed and timely coming, I warmly recommend this reader to those who want to know, but more importantly to all those who want to understand, this pivotal region of the world.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh Former Ambassador of Islamic Republic of Iran to United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva & Vienna

The book by Professor Bajrektarevic and his co-authors embodies a wide-ranging overview of the intertwined interests pursued by the young democracies of the Caspian basin, battling with inherited land and water disputes, and their interplay with regional and global powers. Apparently, supporting political independence of the formers and promoting their integration into the latter’s markets requires adequate analyses, timely outreach policies and consistent engagement. In this sense the publication serves as one of the scarce handbooks to understand diverse interests of stakeholders, dynamically changing security architecture of the region and emerging opportunities of cooperation around the Caspian Sea.

Ambassador GalibIsrafilov Permanent Representative to the UN Vienna and to the OSCE Embassy of Azerbaijan to Austria

Caspian: Status, Challenges, Prospects

An Analysis into the Legal Classification, Security and Environmental Concerns, Geopolitics and Energy Flow Impact of the Caspian Plateau

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Eastern Europe

As Georgians Fight Each Other, Russia Gleefully Looks On

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Earlier today, the leader of Georgia’s major opposition party – United National Movement (UNM) – was detained at his party headquarters by government security forces, the most recent escalation in a drawn-out political crisis. This could well be the beginning of a new troubled period in the country’s internal dynamics, with repercussions for the country’s foreign policy.

The optics favor the opposition. Images of armed and armored police storming UNM’s headquarters was damaging to the ruling party, Georgian Dream (GD). Western diplomats expressed grave concern over the events and their repercussions. Protests have been called, and will likely be covered closely in Western media.

What comes next, however, is not clear.

Much will depend on what long-term vision for the country the opposition can articulate in the aftermath of the most recent events. It was not that long ago that UNM was declining as a political force in Georgian politics. There is a real opportunity here. But the burden is on the opposition to make a play for the loyalty of voters beyond its circle of already-convinced supporters.

Appealing to ordinary Georgian voters is ultimately the key to resolving the crisis. Beyond the intra-party clashes about the legitimacy of the most recent elections, there is a growing chasm between political elites and the challenges faced by people in their daily lives. And tackling these challenges successfully will not be easy.

Both the ruling party and the opposition have been facing declining support from the public at large. Long-term economic problems, which have been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic, have not been credibly addressed by either side. Instead of solutions, both sides have engaged in political theatrics. For many voters, the current crisis is more about a struggle for political power, rather than about democracy and the economic development of the country. No wonder that most people consider their social and economic human rights to have been violated for decades no matter which party is in power. These attitudes help explain high abstention rates during the most recent election. Despite remarkable successes in the early years after the Rose Revolution, Georgia has lacked a long-term policy for reimagining its fragile economy since its independence and the disastrous conflicts of the 1990s.

None of this, however, should minimize the threats to Georgian struggling democracy. Today’s arrests reinforce a longstanding trend in Georgian politics: the belief that the ruling party always stands above the law. This was the case with Eduard Shevardnadze, Mikheil Saakashvili, and is now the case with the current government. For less politically engaged citizens, plus ça change: Georgian political elites for the last 30 years have all ended up behaving the same way, they say. That kind of cynicism is especially toxic to the establishment of healthy democratic norms.

The crisis also has a broader, regional dimension. The South Caucasus features two small and extremely fragile democracies – Armenia and Georgia. The former took a major hit last year, with its dependence on Moscow growing following Yerevan’s defeat in the Second Karabakh War. Today, Russia is much better positioned to roll back any reformist agenda Armenians may want to enact. Armenia’s current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has been weakened, and easily staged protests are an easy way to keep him in line.

Georgia faces similar challenges. At a time when Washington and Brussels are patching things up after four years of Trump, and the Biden administration vigorously reiterates its support for NATO, Georgia’s woes are a boon for Moscow. Chaos at the top weakens Georgia’s international standing and undermines its hopes for NATO and EU membership. And internal deadlock not only makes Georgia seem like a basket-case but also makes a breakthrough on economic matters ever more unlikely. Without a serious course correction, international attention will inevitably drift away.

At the end of the day, democracy is about a lot more than finding an intra-party consensus or even securing a modus vivendi in a deeply polarized society. It is about moving beyond the push-and-pull of everyday politics and addressing the everyday needs of the people. No party has risen to the occasion yet. Georgia’s NATO and EU aspirations remain a touchstone for Georgian voters, and both parties lay claim to fully representing those aspirations. But only through credibly addressing Georgia’s internal economic problems can these aspirations ever be fully realized. The party that manages to articulate this fact would triumph.

Author’s note: first published in cepa.org

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