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Eastern Europe

Is Azerbaijan a “middle power”?

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“Middle powers” have been on the forefront of many international initiatives that demand coordination of resources and promotion of values. Traditionally, middle powers are named so because they are neither great, nor small. Scholars in the field, however, see “middle powers” beyond their mere geographic meaning and rightly so portray their importance not only in terms of their physical criteria. In an attempt to classify, some scholars like Marijke Breuning divide states into great/superpowers, middle powers, regional powers and small powers, with “middle powers” defined as the “states that can wield a measure of influence, albeit not through the projection of military might”.

It is stated that “middle powers” are usually affluent states that employ their resources to foster peace and lessen global economic inequality” and are norm entrepreneurs that “advocate for the adoption of certain international standards and work diplomatically to persuade the representatives of other states to also adopt these norms”.Carsten Holbrad in his identical work defined “middle powers” as “… moderating and pacifying influences in the society of states, reducing tension and limiting conflict among the great powers; or as principal supporters of international organizations, evincing a particularly high sense of responsibility.

Such countries play a role in the area of international development cooperation and the decision-makers of such countries advocate for more developmental aid and sustainable development. As examples to such states are said to be Canada, the member of the G8 and who has self-proclaimed itself as a middle power, to portray its role in international environment; Norway, who for instance facilitated negotiations between the representatives of Israel and Palestine in the run up to Oslo Accords in 1993. Netherlands and Sweden also claim to as norm entrepreneurs, for the work they do that fall into this category, especially in the field of mediation and good offices, and environmental issues. There is no consensus on the eligibility criteria, however, and often advanced countries of the world with purposeful activism on international affairs make their names to the list.

Another interesting element in this categorization is the distinction that some authors drive between the concepts of “middle power” and small states. It is underscored that the latter is not so easily defined, covers diverse group of states and is not solely confined to geographic size,as it is a “relative concept”. In this context, small states are described “as those that have a rather limited capacity to exert influence on other states” and rarely resort to force in international relations.

In this work I would like to argue that despite its relatively small geographic size, Azerbaijan, a country in the South Caucasus, is also assertively making its name as a “middle power”.  The country has come a long way to become a regional leader with all the energy and infrastructure projects that it is implementing together with its international partners, such as Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum oil and gas pipelines and Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) megaproject, expected to be completed in 2020.

However, those projects are not merely profit-oriented, they also aim to contribute to energy security and stability of wider neighborhood and regions, including in Europe. Security means stability. Stability and profits facilitate sustainable development. However, merely energy and infrastructure projects aside, Azerbaijan’s rising international profile in the recent years and its role as norm entrepreneur should be closely examined as the country, I would like to argue, has earned the title of “middle power” by virtue of its initiatives and emphasis on certain values that unite societies, alongside serving as a bridge between often competing geopolitical spaces.

The country has long made the promotion of tolerance and multiculturalism as one of its central slogans in international affairs and there is a specifically established International Center on Multiculturalism in Azerbaijan that implements initiatives and state’s vision in this area. Azerbaijan declared 2016 as the year of multiculturalism. It is multiethnic and multi-confessional state where national minorities and freedom of religious belief is respected. Tolerance is therefore idiosyncratic to Azerbaijani society.

On another note, Azerbaijan’s emphasis on multilateralism is no less important. Its belief in the power of international institutions and increasing weight in international affairs has elevated it to the non-permanent member status of the UN Security Council in 2012-2013. One of the hallmark initiatives promoted by Azerbaijan was the conduct of the high-level open debate on “Strengthening partnership synergy between the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)”, during its second-term presidency over the Council in October 2013, which was the first ever high-level debate in the Council on this very topic. 

Besides, Azerbaijan’s faith in multilateralism is also manifested in the very recent initiatives it took to bring together countries of diverse as well as similar faith, identities and interests. In fact, it was also Azerbaijan, who initiated the creation of what now became the driving force behind the international efforts to stabilize the global oil market, – the OPEC+.  As a matter of fact, the establishment of the united format of OPEC and non-OPEC countries amid the fluctuating oil prices in order to tackle the challenges in the global oil market stems from the idea by President Ilham Aliyev, which he proposed during World Economic Forum held in Davos, in January, 2016. He said that “it would be nice if the main OPEC and non-OPEC countries could come together and agree with each other”. Azerbaijan’s appeal to the concerned oil producing countries found a widespread support among the relevant oil producing states, and so it happened. The OPEC+ format has since been acting on the forefront of all the developments associated with the global oil market. Azerbaijan’s emphasis on international cooperation, and importance it attaches to the role of international organizations paid well in this case for the common objectives of the oil-producing states as well as attaining a balance in the global oil market.

Its above initiatives testify to the fact that Azerbaijan has acted as a “middle power”, norm entrepreneur that both “advocated for the adoption of certain international standards and work diplomatically to persuade the representatives of other states to also adopt these norms”, as well as worked towards “… moderating and pacifying influences in the society of states,…; or as principal supporters of international organizations, showcasing a particularly high sense of responsibility.

Moreover, the country has acquired a valuable chance to assert itself as a “middle power” and norm entrepreneur also through the chairmanship in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) – the second largest entity after the UN with 120 members – for the period of 2019-2022, as well as of the Turkic Council, GUAM and TRACECA in 2020. The 7th Summit of the Turkic-Speaking States and the 18th Summit of the NAM under Azerbaijani chairmanship were held in October, 2019, while the 2nd Summit of World Religious Leaders was held in Baku in November, 2019. Possession of the central role in these organizations and once again focusing on the issues of religious tolerance and inter-faith dialogue gave Azerbaijan another opportunity to act as a norm entrepreneur and as a “middle power” that once again stand for multiculturalism, tolerance, inter-faith dialogue, multilateralism and global partnership by making its voice heard through such versatile institutions.  

Azerbaijan’s initiatives with Turkic Council and NAM also continued in the COVID-19 induced realities. The online special meetings of the two organizations were convened in April and May, 2020, respectively, that focused specifically on the global efforts to deal with the consequences of pandemics and sought to unite with more specific actions in order to alleviate the negative effects of the COVID-19 on the member states of the two organizations. Focus on unity, multilateralism, international cooperation and commitment to common objectives was the crux of those meetings. It was repeatedly underscored that it is only through the effective multilateralism and consistent adherence to the common values that unite all affected states, will they be able to overcome these challenges. Azerbaijan also acted as a norm entrepreneur and “middle power” because it repeatedly stood for sustainable development, having allocated about 10 million US dollars to the World Health Organization (WHO) to support its efforts in the midst of the COVID-19, especially with the idea to help needy population in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Moreover, as noted above, the large-scale energy projects that Azerbaijan implements together with its international partners contribute to the energy security and sustainable development of its immediate neighborhood, as well as larger European continent.

Another distinctive feature of the “middle power” as defined in Holbrad’s above work is “…reducing tension and limiting conflict among the great powers…”. Azerbaijan has hosted meetings between Russia and its western partners several times in a row. The first such a meeting took place in April, 2018 between Valery Gerasimov, the head of Russia’s General Staff, and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Curtis Scaparrotti, who met in Azerbaijan to discuss the situation in Syria, while the second one happened in December of the same year.

This practice continued in 2019 as well with a meeting between the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Army General Valery Gerasimov and NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe General Tod Wolters that took place in July in Baku, where the parties discussed issues on “European and global security, ways to prevent incidents between Russia and NATO and the prospects for resuming dialogue between military experts”. They also discussed topics related to the fight against terrorism and maritime piracy, alongside also focusing on situations in Afghanistan and Syria. In November, 2019, a meeting was held in Baku between Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov with Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach. In February, 2020, another meeting of Valery Gerasimov and NATO’s Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe Tod Wolters took place in Baku.

The choice of Baku for such meetings between Russia and NATO officials is not coincidental as Baku is increasingly proving itself as a geographic venue capable of accommodating diverse and often competing interests between different geopolitical spaces, thus once again hewing to the very definitions attested above to the concept of the “middle power”.

In conclusion, there might be different outlooks in the scholarly literature as to what actually constitutes “middle power”. The ones that are chosen for this work have given some description of the concept, sufficient to be utilized as analytical frameworks. In an attempt to argue whether Azerbaijan fits into the very concept of the “middle power”, the work highlighted many initiatives and policies implemented by the country during the recent years, that have encapsulated on the values of cooperation, multilateralism, multiculturalism, inter-faith dialogue, sustainable development and a bridge for dialogue.

Objectively, our world would have been a better place had all the above values and initiatives been instilled into the very fabric of our societies and foreign policy choices. Widespread acceptance of these values and norms could in fact bring in more dialogue, understanding and peace to the anarchic nature of international system. Norm entrepreneurs – “middle powers” are therefore valuable for the premium they place on those or other types of value systems that build, unite, improve and consolidate our collective home. Seems like Azerbaijan is on the right track, and its ambition to qualify for norm entrepreneur and “middle power” should be taken at face value.

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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