In an exclusive interview, the scholar of the “lost” Iravani Khanate, Amir Ali SardariIravani, reveals a rich history of a society marked by a peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims which has been all but erased from the understanding of the region by the subsequent and victorious governments.
According to the researcher, Iravan Khanat was an independent state in the South Caucasus, which emerged around 1748. The official end of this state was in 1828 after the defeat of Qajars against Russia. The period between its creation in 1748 and 1805 is called the real life of the independent Khanate of Iravan, whereas between 1805 and 1828 the Khanate was under the rule of the Qajar dynasty. It means that in this time the Khan of Iravan was appointed by the Qajar state.
The Qajar dynasty was a Persian royal dynasty of Turkic origin which ruled over Iran from 1789 through 1925 when it was displaced by the Pahlavis.
The development of the city Iravan as a center goes back to the Chukhur-Sa’adbeylerbeyli period in the beginning of the Safavid dynasty in 16th century, which followed by the independent Iravan Khanate in 18thcentury. As a result of the wars between the Ottoman and Safavid Empires, the city of Iravan passed 14 times from Safavids to Ottomans and vice versa. Each time the city exposed to certain destruction and was reconstructed again. After the collapse of the Safavids, the city wasoccupied by the Turks in 1723. In 1733 Nadir Shah conquered Iravan city from the Ottomans again. Nader Shah was an Iranian who belonged to the Turkmen Afshar tribe of Khorasan in northeastern Iran, which had supplied military power to the Safavid dynasty since the time of Shah Ismail Independent khanates were created after the deathof Nadir Shah Afshar in 1748. The city of Irevan became the capital of the Iravan khanate.
Iravan khanate covered the area between Mount Agri (Ararat) and MountAlagoz (Alayaz) and located on both banks of the Araz River. The Iravan khanate was bordered on the north by Pambak river and Ganja khanates, on the east by Karabakh and Nakhchivan khanates, on the south by Khoy and Maku and Bayazid khanates,; on the west by Kars and on the north west by Shorayel sultanates. The territory of Iravan khanate was about 24 thousand square kilometers.
The Irevan fortress locating in a strategic position between the Ottoman Empire, Georgia and Safavid and later Afsharid empire has great importance for all neighboring states. It was built in 1582 by the Ottomans. The causes of political and military interference of neighboring governments in the internal affairs of Khanate of Iravan had emerged due to the commercial and strategic characteristics of Iravan and its unique geopolitical situation in the commercial routes and crossways of south Caucasus region. Located at the cross section between Europe, Asia, Russia, and the Middle East, and is known for the gamut of climates, and landscapes, and in those days, an international trade hub, which brought about a great deal of intercultural exchange, and contributed to the cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity in the region, as described in Thomas de Waal’s ” A Brief Guide to Understanding the Countries of the South Caucasus.”.
After the death of Nadir shah Afshar Mir Mehdi khan was the first khan of independent khanate of Iravan in 1747 but short time after that Azad khan, Afghan who was a general of Nadir shah, conquered Iravan and appointed Khalil khan uzbak as his representative and Khan of Iravan. In his timeIravan was being often attacked by Lezgins of Daghistan and Khalil khanuzbak was unable to protect Iravan.
Lezgins are a Northeast Caucasian ethnic group native predominantly to southern Dagestan, Russia and what is now northeastern Azerbaijan. In the 4th century BC, the numerous tribes speaking Lezgic languages united in a union of 26 tribes, formed in the Eastern Caucasus state of Caucasian Albania (which has nothing to do with the Balkan state), which itself was incorporated in the Persian Achaemenid Empire in 513 BC. Descendants of these tribes are now part of the rich makeup of the region, and retain distinctive cultural traditions.
The Lak Kazi Kumukh Khanate controlled a part of the Lezgins for a time in the 18th century after the disintegration of the Safavid Empire. In the first half of the 18th century, Persia was able to restore its full authority throughout the entire Caucasus under Nader Shah. Some Lezgins were part of the Kuba Khanate in what is now Azerbaijan, while others fell under the jurisdiction of the Derbent Khanate.In 1755 Hasanali khan who was a native Iravani and gained support of people of Iravan, replaced Khalil khan Uzbak.From this time on Iravan was an independent state under the rule of native khans for approximately 50 years until 1805. Hasanali khan gave his position to his brother Husseinali khan 4 years later. Under the rule of Husseinali khan and his son Mahammad khan, Iravan khanate experienced its most prosperous time. Husseinali khan and his son Mahammad khan were real politicians. Thepolitical life of Iravan Khanate was always under the threat of neighboring powers.
This situation forced Husseinali Khan and later his son Mahammad khan towards the third power so that their political independence can be maintained. In fact, the formation of relations between Khanate of Iravan and neighboring powers was due to political considerations and mutual interests. However, relations of Khan of Iravan with neighboring governments were not always stable, since the only objective for the Khanate of Iravan was to preserve its domain and governance over a localized region through utilization of any measures or means.
In the reign of Husseinali khan he benefited from support of Ottomans and also sometimes of Karim khan Zand (from Iran) to encounter Irakli (Erekle II) of Georgia. He used the conflict between Russia and Ottoman Empire on black sea as a political opportunity.
Later his son Mohammad khan played the similar political role with Russia and Agha Mohammad khan Qajar to maintain Iravan khanate, essentially playing one off the other, and receiving a level of protection from each – without ever being fully (or really) subservient to either. Agha Mohammad khan Qajar defeated Zand dynasty in Iran and came to power
in 1796. The Zand dynasty was an Iranian dynasty, a branch of Lurs or Kurds, origin founded by Karim Khan Zand that initially ruled southern and central Iran in the 18th century. It later quickly came to expand to include much of the rest of contemporary Iran, as well as what is modern day Azerbaijan, Bahrain, and parts of Iraq and Armenia. Mohammed Khan Qajar expected from the Khanates of Caucasus to obey him. The Khanates were ruled by the khans of Turkic Oghuz descents. Especially the khanates of Iravan, Ganja and Karabakh were ruled by the khans of Qajartribe. The Khan of Iravan did not trust him as a newcomer. It was the reason for the invasion of Agha Mohammad khan Qajar of Caucasus. The khan of Iravan was arrested by Agha Mohammad khan Qajar and sent to Tehran. But shortly after that Agha Mohammad khan Qajar was killed in Karabakh and the Iravan khan was returned to his home. Mahammad khan of Iravan continued the policy of gaining the balance of power between Russia and the Qajar state to maintain the independent Iravan khanate. In 1805 Mahammad khan was finally arrested and sent to exile by Fathali shah Qajar, the successor of AghaMohammad khan Qajar. Mahammad khan Iravani was treated by Fathali shahwith respect in exile. There were many cross marriages between his children and Fathali shah’s children in order to strengthen the ties between their dynasties. This was a strategy of rulers in those times to stabilize their power and reduce the risks of invasion or intervention by their rivals. After the death of Fathali shah Mahammad khanIravani got the highest military rank under Mohammad shah Qajar, the successor of Fathali shah, and married the daughter of Fathali shah. Hisson, Mahammad hasan khan, also married the daughter of Abbas mirza, the crown prince. This daughter was the full sister of Mohammad shah Qajar. I myself am a descendant of this line, explained the scholar. The descendants of Mahammad khanIravani have had a very good career among Qajars. They were mostly very influential personalities who at times had ruled up to 75% of Iran as local governors. They were very closely related to the royal family.
Even under Pahlavis, the family members had reached very high official posts.In 1807 Husseinqulu khan from Qazvin was appointed by Fathali shah to khanof Iravan. He and his brother Hasan khan were not native from Iravan. Manyhistorians have mistaken written that their father with Mahammad khan unfortunately.The political reform of Husseinqulu khan, driven by Fathali shah Qajar,changed the situation in Iravan khanate and led finally to heavy losses and Gulistan and Turkamanchay treaties. Khanate of Iravan was annexed to Russia in 1827.
The Treaty of Gulistan was a peace treaty concluded between Imperial Russia and Persia (modern day Iran) on 24 October 1813 in the village of Gulistan (in modern-day Goranboy Rayon of Azerbaijan) as a result of the first full-scale Russo-Persian War, lasting from 1804 to 1813. The peace negotiations were precipitated by Lankaran’s fall to Gen. PyotrKotlyarevsky on 1 January 1813.The treaty confirmed the ceding and inclusion of what is today Daghestan, eastern Georgia, most of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and parts of northern Armenia from Iran into the Russian Empire. The text was prepared by the British diplomat Sir Gore Ouseley who served as the mediator and wielded great influence at the Persian court. It was signed by Nikolai Rtischev from the Russian side and Mirza Abolhassan Khan Ilchi from the Persian side.
The Treaty of Turkamanchay was an agreement between Persia(Iran) and the Russian Empire, which concluded the Russo-Persian War (1826–28). It was signed on 10 February 1828 in Torkamanchay, Iran. By the treaty, Persia ceded to Russia control of several areas in the South Caucasus: the Erivan Khanate, the Nakhchivan Khanate, and the remainder of the Talysh Khanate. The boundary between Russian and Persia was set at the Aras River. These territories comprise modern-day Armenia, the southern parts of the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan, Nakhchivan, as well as Iğdır Province (now part of Turkey).
The treaty was signed for Persia by Crown Prince Abbas Mirza and Allah-Yar Khan Asaf al-Daula, chancellor to Shah Fath Ali (of the Qajar Dynasty), and for Russia by General Ivan Paskievich. Like the 1813 Treaty of Gulistan, this treaty was imposed by Russia, following military victory over Persia. Paskievich threatened to occupy Tehran in five days unless the treaty was signed.
Discussing the culture of the Iravan Khanate and the region, the researcher explained that at the beginning of 16th century and during the rise of Safavid empire, Iravan was an important strategic location for Safavids against Ottomans. It wasthe reason why Safavid rulers appointed their most capable and intelligent allies and generals to protect the fortifications in Iravan. In additionto the military importance, Iravan was a very strategic trade center. As a crossroad between east and west Iravan gained from economic and cultural interactions between different nations. This unique opportunity madeIravan into a cultural hub and a place for open minded people from different religions and backgrounds. Neighboring states were always very eager totake control over this area to gain from taxes and security advantages. These interests caused Iravan to be subjected to conflicts and extensive damages in Iravan from time to time.
The rulers of Iravan were close to Safavid dynasty. The first officialrepresentatives of the Safavid state, who were sent to Europe, were from Iravan. Safavid rulers finally declared Isfahan to be their capital, because it wasa safe location and far from borders but they were still very well connected with their high ranking officials and people from “Chokhur Sa’ad” (the name of Iravan state at that time). Safavi kings offered special conditions like tax relief for Armenians and tried to discourage them from treason. From time to time Christian rival states like Georgiaand Russia were inciting Armenians to conspire against Safavids.
In Safavi and Afshar periods Iravan was a battle field between Iran and Ottomans. The major powers looked to it as a potential proxy against one another and sought its allegiance, both through outreach and through force. After death of Nader shah Afshar, the Iravan Khanate era was the most peaceful period which lasted about 50 years. In this time the rulers of Iravan tried to secure their independent state through unique political position, maneuvering among the larger powers, but also utilizing the unique location to develop a business friendly climate favorable to merchants and to friendly diplomacy with neighboring states.
They could concentrate on their internal affairs and promote the quality of life and development inside their own society without interference or disturbance. Among cities with a large Christian minority, Iravan was much more tolerant than the very religious Muslim Isfahan. Many Western travelers who visited Iravan witnessed the religious freedom and tolerance in this country. It is obvious that some European travelers had sympathy for people who shared their faith and intended to reflect their complaints. It was In the 18th. century and even today we are struggling with the same conflict between ideologies, which at times portrayed conflicts as clashes between religions themselves, rather than between their practitioners. The period of Iravan khanate was the most prosperous time of this country. Trade was improved and the custom taxes were not paid to neighboring supporters but invested internally. Based on the very rare sources remaining from that period it wasthe golden age of Iravan. Mosques and churches, facilities for travelers like Bazars, Hamams and Caravansara is with eastern architecture were built or renovated. In the 18th. century, mosques were still the most important centers for education. A lesser known fact is that the first modern school and the new education system in Caucasus and Iran was initiated in Iravan some decades later, and the most appropriate conditions for this revolutionary initiative was prepared in Iravan khanate period. The tolerance for different perspectives and the openness due to the inherent diversity laid the foundation for this innovative approach.
Still, the peaceful period eventually came to an end. In 1796 and with the rise of the Qajar dynasty in Tehran, Agha Mohammad khan Qajar targeted Caucasus and the time of peace and prosperity was breached. Mahammad Khan Iravani was captured and forced to leave Iravan to Tehran. Although the Iravani khan was treated respectfully in Tehran, the conqueror Qajar state did not allow him to intervene in internal affairs of Iravan anymore. Instead, another loyal Qajar general was appointed to khan of Iravan “Hossein qulukhan”. From this time on, the history of the Khanate was written by the victors, by Qajar historians. The last Khan of Iravan started the so-called political reforms under control of Qajar state. In my opinion, continued the researcher, hedid not manage to accomplish anything of value, and only provoked Russia and the Armenian minority of Iravan. In his reign and in 1813 the entire Caucasus except Iravan andNakhchivan was annexed to Russia through the Gulistan treaty. Politicalmismanagement of Qajars led to huge territorial and other losses, and Iravan and Nakhchivan were entirely lost to Russia in 1827.
The last khan of Iravan in his reign was living in the Iravan Sardar palace,whose patron was the former khan “Mohammad khan Iravani”. Beside thepalace, Husseinqulu khan built a new mosque and named it the “Sardar mosque”.The contemporary German professor Markus Ritter, a specialist in the history of Islamic art, published a paper “thelost mosque in citadel of Yerevan” in 2009. He contacted me for some clarifications, added the scholar. Another German historian “Friedrich Sarre” had traveled to Iravanin 1897 and took some remaining tiles of this mosque to Berlin. Hedescribed in his book the very bad condition of the historical heritage of Khanate and those taken tiles are today displayed in the Berlin museum. Other European travelers who had visited Irevan at different times, described the Sardar’s Palace, its Mirror Hall, mosques, pools and baths in the castle and the city in their writings, as well as the underground marble stairedway passing down to the Zangi River.
There are eyewitness accounts of the marble Fountain once located in the middle of the hall of mirrors.As the result of the earthquake in 1853 the Iravan castle walls were damaged. Since 1868 Iravan City Police Office had been located in Khan Palace, Sardar Hall. The Caucasian viceroyalty allocated resources for there construction of Sardar hall (Mirror Hall) on the basis of petition of Iravan governor in 1867, 1871, 1874, 1880 years. From other recollections, we learn that an Armenian merchant by name of Nerse Tahiryan purchased a part of Iravan castle in 1865 and he built a winery (present cognac/brandy plant). Eventually Serdar Palace was completely demolished and the walls of the Iravan citadel were pulled down. The old districts are by also in ruins. In 1906-1911 years, B.Mehrabov, the engineer of Iravan city, mapped out the city plan and the existence of 8 mosques (Tepebashi, Zal khan, Sartib khan, Blue Mosque (Huseynali khan), Haji Novruzali bey, Gala mosque (Abbas Mirze mosque ), Demirbulag, Haji Jafar) were marked there. The Blue Mosque at Iravan was commissioned in 1765–1766 by Husseinali Khan, the Sardar of the IravanKhanate as the city’s main Friday mosque. It is today the only remaining monument from the Iravan Khanate. The reason why it survived is, the mosque was used as the city museum. There were a number of caravanserais in Iravan city as well: Afshar, Sardar, Sheykholislam, Taghli, Haji Ali, Komurchu, Gurju, Julfa, Haji Ilyas, etc. All these caravanserais had been obliterated. By the decision dated on May 29, 1918, Azerbaijan National Council (Milli Shura), as a result of a political compromise, ceded the city of Iravan to the Armenians as a capital city after three independent countries –Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia had been established in the Caucasus. The re-construction of the city Iravan after the first world war was started in 1924 but in fact, it was serving the agenda of erasing the historical heritage there. The Iravan City History Museum was located in Blue Mosque, Zal khan (the City) mosque turned to the art gallery, but all the other mosques except Demirbulag Mosque in the city had been razed to the ground. Demirbulag Mosque was set on fire in 1988.The history of the Iravan Khanate was written by the victors, first by Qajar conquerors and later by Russians, Armenians and finally by Pahlavis who removed Qajars from power. The Iravan Khanate was forgotten and its history was systematically erased.
Why was the history of the Iravan Khanate suppressed?
At the beginning of the Qajar dynasty there were only few trusted historians in Qajar court, explained Amir Ali SardariIravani . They described all events from the perspective of their master Agha Mohammad khan Qajar or Fathali shah Qajar. As said before, Iravan Khans tried to stabilize their country by switching from one neighboring supporter (Iran, Ottomans, Russia) to the other one based on their common interests. Agha Mohammad khan Qajar was actually an intelligent commander. He believed that all territories in Near and Middle East and Central Asia, even India, belong to Turkic tribes and must be ruled by them. I read a statement from him, added the scholar, that Turkic rulers of those countries should respect each other and should be peaceful to each other. But in case of Khanates he wanted to restore the Safavid territories under his flag. The Khanates could not trust him as a young newcomer.
So, despite of being from the same roots “Qajar”, the Iravan Khan refused to follow Agha Mohammad khan and Fathali Shah. It was the reason why the Qajar historians mentioned him as an unfaithful and incapable khan. After he was sent to exile and was replaced by loyal Husseinqulu Khan from Qazvin, the new Khan as a non-native governor needed a lot of publicity. He carried out some tax reforms. In the first Russian war Qajars lost a great part of Caucasus. Unfortunately Husseinqulu khan overestimated his military power. He provoked Russia and started the 2nd war, which ended in loss of Iravan. Qajar historians documented only one side of the story.
Fathali Shah Qajar and his successors respected Mahammad khan Iravani and his children. It was a respect combined with fear. The Iravani Khan was rich and influential. After death of Fathali Shah, the old Iravani Khan who was a middle ranked general made career again and got to the highest level in the army under Mohammad Shah Qajar. He married the daughter of Fathali Shah and his son married the sister of Mohammad Shah Qajar. Even the new chancellor of Iran „Mirza Aghasi“ was his old servant in Iravan. So it is obvious why the Qajar kings felt like being threatened by this family. Professor Abbas Amanat and some other historians mentioned the huge influence of Mohammad Hasan Khan Sardar Iravani (son of Mahammad khan Iravani) in Nasser-eddin Shah Qajar‘s era. The Pahlavis then systematically erased this history for political reasons.
The Implications for Further Research
This page of our history has been disregarded by censorship, continued the researcher. Through objective research the true history will be revealed. The history which goes beyond our current understanding of political borders remains in the archives for now. It will open us a horizon to find out the integrity of Christians and Muslims in a traditional society in 18th century, he underscored. It will teach us lessons about tolerance in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society and also how such civilized community could be abused for imperialistic purposes, posited the scholar.
Researchers in this area must understand several languages. The documents obtained from this period are partly in Persian, partly in Turkish, partly in Russian and partly in Armenian.
Several archives in Iravan, Nakhichevan, Russia, Iran, Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan contain many correspondents and documents from that time. Due to conflicts and political issues, such objective, comprehensive research does not currently seem to be possible unfortunately. I am pretty sure that such steps could uncover the mistreatments regarding the history of Iravan khanate.
According to Amir Ali SardariIravani, the most interested audience and supporters live in the Republic of Azerbaijan and Turkey. Most of them are refugees from Iravan or neighboring regions who have been displaced from their homeland. They try to keep their traditions and culture. Both governments support historical research, but extensive work requires an international network of researchers who can access archives anywhere without restrictions. Such a network could be orchestrated by a cultural organization in Europe, for example. Anur Ali SardariIravani proposed to start such an initiative in Germany but it’s on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This fascinating interview leaves the reader with at least as many questions as answers, to which the lodestar of research access has not yet waxed. But it also offers a treasure map with clues that can bring the scholars following the footsteps of Amir Ali SardariIravani, closer to unraveling the enigmas presented in this story, and to reaching the buried wealth of previously unknown history.
The Destruction of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Cultural Heritage
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.
Armenia: Lies and realities
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!
Ceasefire Violated, Civilians of Ganja, Azerbaijan Hit –Again
Authors: Julia Jakus and Anar Imanzade
Intensifying rocket and artillery fire exchanges between Armenia and Azerbaijan have driven military overtures from both sides as well as mutual accusations that civilians are being unlawfully targeted. The disputed region Nagorno-Karabakh has long been the catalyst of periodic clashes, but the situation dramatically deteriorated over the last several weeks. Why is Nagorno-Karabakh so ardently contested, and what are the implications of recent escalations in this conflict?
The Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts were occupied by Armenian forces between 1988-1993 (Council on Foreign Relations, 2020). One year prior to the end of this occupation, Armenian forces massacred over 600 Azerbaijani civilians in Khojaly on February 26, 1992. Following the military occupation of the region as well as its seven surrounding districts, over 1.000.000 people were displaced – most of whom had immediate family members and relatives who were killed during the 5-year occupation.
Since 1992, the Armenian military has occupied upper Karabakh laying claim to the territory on the basis that the region harbors an ethnic majority of Armenians. However, no less than four UN Security Council resolutions (822,853, 874, and 884) recognize the Nagorno-Karabakh region as being a part of Azerbaijan and actively call for the immediate withdrawal of the Armed Forces of Armenia from occupied territories within Azerbaijan. Although a ceasefire was signed in 1994, the region has remained under Armenian occupation (Jeyhun Aliyev and Ruslan Rehimov, 2020).
From Border Clashes to Bombings
In July,the border clashes near Tavush of Armenia (Tovuz of Azerbaijan)resulted not only in 16 deaths (12 Azerbaijani, 4 Armenians) but also spiked these long-simmering tensions between the two countries. Azerbaijan responded by shelling military objects in Stepanakert (the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh). The most recent operations recommenced on the 27th of September when Azerbaijan took the city of Hadrut (which is geostrategically important because of its proximity to the heart of Karabakh). Since then, the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan have liberated some of its territories namely via targeting military components such as artillery batteries and other facilities. While Azerbaijan proclaims that they are liberating the region, Armenian officials decry that Azerbaijan and Turkey are conspiring to commit another genocide against the Armenian people.
Although memories of 1915 still burn painfully in the hearts and minds of Armenians, many might argue that mobilizing memories of the 1915 Genocide with reference to the Nagorno-Karabakh actively ignores the fact that geopolitical conditions have markedly changed over the last 100+ years. Because Armenia is a member of the CSTO, if Armenia is attacked, then Russia and other members of this organization bear an obligation for military interference on their behalf. Likewise, more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians live in Azerbaijan in relative peace while veryfew Azerbaijani live in Armenia which means that very little threat should emanate from within Armenia’s borders. From this angle, it certainly appears that the main aim of Azerbaijan remains exclusively the liberation of its occupied territories.
The last week of September and the first week of October were marked by particular ambiguity as both sides ardently claimed to have succeeded in gaining the upper hand. However, the dynamic changed significantly on the 9th of October when both the Azerbaijani and Armenian Foreign Minister were invited to Moscow. There, they each agreed to a humanitarian ceasefire and promised to exchange the bodies of fallen soldiers beginning on October 10th. However, on the 11th of October between 2:00 and 3:00 am, Armenian Forces launched another missile attack on Azerbaijan’s second-largest city Ganja (the first occurred on the 5th of October). In the second attack, a missile struck a civilian residential building and resulted in the deaths of 10 people, more than 35 injured. Children were among both the fatalities and casualties. By targeting residential areas in the city of Ganja immediately following a ceasefire agreement, this military overture not only violated the Geneva Conventions but also upended over 30 years of negotiations presided over by the Minsk Co-Chair Group of the OSCE.
The city of Ganja lies in the West of Azerbaijan, just North of the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. It is seen as an energy corridor from the Caspian Sea to global markets, and for this reason, bears a strong geostrategic value. On the heels of 3-decades of diplomatic stagnancy, the Armenian Prime Minister NikolPashinyan has made provocative remarks that steer away from rather than toward conflict resolution such as, “Karabakh is Armenia…full stop” (Eurasia.net, 2019). The deaths of Azerbaijani civilians in recent attacks appear to have had the greatest unifying effect on the Republic of Azerbaijan since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The Azerbaijani demand to end Armenian occupation has even garnered the support of opposition leaders for Ilham Aliyev, the president of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
As Armenian-Azerbaijani tensions escalate, both Russia and Iran have offered to broker peace talks. Macron and Trump have also publicly advocated for a ceasefire, in spite of powerful Armenian lobbies residing in both states. Azerbaijan has indicated that it is not willing to wait another 30 years without action. The ceasefire, to Azerbaijan, is tantamount to the permanent withdrawal of Armenian troops from the Nagorno-Karabakh region. To Armenia, stepping away is associated with abandoning ethnic Armenians living in the Azerbaijani territory—in spite of the international resolutions demanding them to.
External actors have also played a complicating role. For example, while Moscow publicly advocates for a ceasefire, Russia maintains a military pact with Armenia to the extent that they have continued to send military equipment to Armenia… while simultaneously bearing otherwise good politico-economic ties with Azerbaijan. This, in turn, raises Russia-Turkey tensions. Erdoğan recently pledged his allegiance with Baku on the basis both of historic alliances and existing economic ones. This is not surprising given the historic animosity between Yerevan and Ankara as well as the fact that vital oil and gas pipelines run from Baku to Turkey. Global responses have been mixed. All foreign powers watching the violence escalate have kept a keen eye on the pipelines, but some surmise that –until oil and gas are impacted – those same powers are likely to try to dismiss the issue as an internal clash. Still, other world leaders to UN Secretary-General António Guterres have been calling for a true ceasefire.
The dispute presents a situation riddled with competing narratives, but one thing is certain: as military overtures bleed beyond the traditionally contested region and into civilian cities of Azerbaijan, the prospects of fruitful diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh recede.
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