On 24 September 2020 Ilham Aliyev, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, while delivering a speech at general debates of 75thsession of the United Nations General Assembly in a video format and on 25 September 2020 while receiving EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar, informed international community that hostile declarations and provocations of Armenian leadership revealed that Armenia was planning a new aggression against Azerbaijan. The President called on the United Nations, European Commission and whole international community to urge Armenia to prevent its recent provocations and another military aggression. The President also emphasized that Azerbaijan was aware that intensive military training was underway and Azerbaijani side would defend itself as it had already been done in Tovuz and many other cases.
Contrary to Azerbaijan’s effective communication, under the mediation of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Armenia has deliberately been undermining the format and content of the negotiation process. The comment given by Armenian Defense Minister D. Tonoyan at a meeting with the Armenian community in New York on “new war for new territories” instead of “peace for territories” concept was one more admittance by the high-ranking Armenian representative of hostile policy of this country. The declaration by Prime Minister of Armenia, Pashinyan that “Karabakh is Armenia” completely destroyed the mechanism of negotiations. The so-called inauguration of Nagorno-Karabakh’s so called leader in the historical Azerbaijani city of Shusha and moving the so-called parliament of “Nagorno-Karabakh” from Khankandi to Shusha were other provocations by Armenia. Lately Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s wife, Anna Hakobyan, appeared with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle in her hands during a military exercise in occupied Nagorno-Karabakh with the Armenian Army at a time of rising clashes. This happened one year after her call “fight for peace”. This also negatively affected the ongoing negotiation process. What is more, as Azerbaijanis consider Shusha as a pearl of their history and it has a profoundly moral value for them, all these provocative actions insulted the feelings of Azerbaijanis. All these robust facts and Armenia’s latest aggression on the border are indicators that the official Yerevan is actually not interested in the mediated settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute.
So what happened? On September 27, at 6:00 a.m., Armenian armed forces again flagrantly breached the ceasefire agreement engaging in large-scale military actions, subjected to in-depth bombing from large-caliber weapons, mortars and artillery mounts of different calibers of the Azerbaijan Army positions along the total length of the front and residential areas in the frontline region. Besides continually shelling Azerbaijani settlements by using heavy artillery, the Armenian armed forces also caused significant damage to the population’s property, infrastructure and the economy. Through these acts Armenia blatantly breaches international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and its obligations in this respect. Contrary to this brutality, Azerbaijani armed forces never set fire to civil settlements.
Throughout the night of October 3, Azerbaijan’s Terter city and Sahlaabad, Gazyan, Gapanli, Qaynaq, Askipara, Husanli villages of the district, Ayag Garvand, Imamgulubeyli, Garadagli, Tazakend villages of Aghdam district and Muganli, Qiyameddinli, Ranjbarlar and Tapgaragoyunlu villages of Goranboy district were subjected to heavy artillery fire by the Armenian armed forces. Decisive response measures were being taken by the Azerbaijani army. Unfortunately, the Armenian army not only strikes at Azerbaijan’s villages, but also attacks local and international media representatives in the frontline conducting their professional duty.
Despite Armenia’s shelling due to the successful operations by Azerbaijani Armed forces 6 villages in the Fuzuli-Jarbayil direction and Madagiz were liberated from the occupation. President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev immediately restored its historical name and from October 3, 2020 it will be called Sugovushan. On the same day, the Azerbaijani Army liberated several more villages in Tartar, Jabrayil and Fuzuli district and city of Jabrayil and several villages of the district from the occupation.
On October 4, the Armenian Armed Forces again blatantly breached the norms and principles of international law, the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, the decisions and resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, intentionally stroke the civilians of Azerbaijan, shelled the heavily populated areas of Ganja. One person was killed and 32 were injured as a result of rocket and artillery shelling in Ganja, the second largest city in Azerbaijan. Intense battles continue along the entire front. Azerbaijani residential areas in different directions of the front have been subjected to heavy artillery and rocket attacks of Armenia.
According to the press service of the Prosecutor General’s Office, 22 people killed, 74 people injured, 248 houses destroyed and 49 civilian facilities were severely damaged as a result of heavy artillery shelling by the Armenian armed forces.
The other side of the issue is the information warfare. Thus, the battle is not only in the trenches, but also in the information space. Currently the Armenian news machine by producing various, baseless fake news is trying deceive the world community. For instance, all the allegations that Turkey is involved as a party to the dispute spread by the Armenian side are misleading. Actually, Turkey is taking a stabilizing role in the region and does not engage in this dispute in any other ability. Firstly, by doing so, Armenia aims artificially reduce the combat capability of the Azerbaijani Army, which is now fulfilling its task of restoring its territorial integrity with dignity. In addition, Armenia is trying to establish the perception that the crisis is rising and in order to justify its aggression this country is attempting to include as many countries as possible.
Another fake news of the Armenian side is the alleged involvement of mercenaries from Syria in the Azerbaijani Army, which was directly and biased by the Armenian propaganda and is constantly circulating on various websites and in the media. By placing terrorists from Syria and Lebanon in Nagorno-Karabakh, it is Armenia itself that is grossly violating the norms of international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. Azerbaijan has a well-trained army and a large mobilization reserve. To be more precise, with a population of 10 million versus 2 million in Armenia, Azerbaijan does not need human resources.
Another fake news is that the F-16 aircraft of the Turkish Air Force shot down an Armenian Air Force plane Su-25. Azerbaijani side officially declared that the F-16 aircraft of the Turkish Air Force does not participate in operations in any way. Ilham Aliyev told that taking into account modern technologies’ availability and satellite observation currently it is very difficult to conceal anything. Therefore, it is another provocation by Armenian side. What is more, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared that Azerbaijan did not ask for Turkey’s support. Turkey has only a moral support to Azerbaijan. Therefore, while delivering speech at the Turkish Parliament Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again expressed Turkey’s absolute support for Azerbaijan.
Furthermore, Pakistan demonstrated resolute position on the issue of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and because of Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijan’s lands Pakistan has not recognized Armenia. The General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation also made a statement that it strongly condemned the aggressions and persistent attacks by the Armenian armed forces, restated its support with Azerbaijan and urged for the enforcement of the related resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. Also, in his letter to Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Sefik Dzaferovic, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, firmly condemned the attacks by the Armenian artillery and demonstrated obvious respect to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
While waiting neutrality in the process by France as one of the co-chairs of OSCE Minsk Group unfortunately French President Macron seemed to assure Armenia wider support emphasizing that “I say to Armenia and to the Armenians that France will play its role.” Macron also notified Turkey about “warlike remarks … which effectively eliminate all barriers from Azerbaijan in what would be a Nagorno-Karabakh reconquest. France will not allow that.” Macron’s statement absolutely negatively accepted by Azerbaijani government and condemned by society. During his interview to Al Jazeera TV President Ilham Aliyev told that “Minsk Group co-chairs should proceed on working together if all of them keep neutrality. Co-chairs should not make counter-productive statements and which are demonstrating a kind of change in the position in neutrality. Co-chairs should act in a capacity of mediator.”
Azerbaijani civilians are under Armenian military attacks: Time to live up to ‘never again’
2020 marks with the global celebration of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and entering into force of its Charter on 24 October 1945, which was adopted on the ruins of the Second World War.
The major supranational universal platform of international cooperation was created in response to the mass atrocities committed by Nazis during the War. The victorious powers initiated the creation of this international institution in order to maintain international peace and security, achieve international cooperation in solving international problems, and respect the human rights.
The international crimes of Nazi regime urged international community vowed ‘never again’ to allow horrors of the Second World War to be repeated in the history of a mankind.
Three years later in 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly and inspired further legally binding international treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted in 1966 and altogether representing the International Bill of Rights. These landmark international treaties inaugurating the respect for human dignity embody generally accepted standard of accomplishment for all.
The Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights famously proclaimed that ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…’. Undoubtedly, this provision is the result of the tragic experience of the Second World War with its barbarous acts which shocked the whole mankind.
Thus, it is not a coincidence that a year later in 1949 the Geneva Conventions were adopted in order to limit the barbarity of war. These Conventions and their Additional Protocols are the milestone international documents protecting people who do not take part in military actions (civilians, health and aid workers, as well as people who can no longer continue to fight).
Evidently, the international community learned the bitter lesson from the sad experience of the War and decided to unite its efforts to respond collectively to new threats to international peace and security.
However, the noble mission of the world nations crashes to smithereens with the barbarian terror acts committed by Armenia against Azerbaijani civil population.
Since the beginning of the recent escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, which was occupied along with the seven adjacent districts by the Armenian military forces, Armenian side intentionally targets civil population of Azerbaijan in rude violation of the norms and principles of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
Thus, the second largest city of Azerbaijan, Ganja had come under heavy rocket fires by the military forces of Armenia for the three times in the last two weeks that were resulted in killing of more than 25 and injuring more than 100 civilians. It is worth to mention the fact that the city of Ganja with the population of 500.000 people is located fully outside the battlefield. Armenian military forces used a SCUD / Elbrus ballistic missile and chose the night hours to attack the civil population in order to commit bloody atrocities against as many people as possible.
Armenia targeted civil population not only of the city of Ganja, but also Mingachevir, Goranboy, Tartar, Barda and Shamkir that are also situated outside of the war zone. These provocative and bloody acts were committed despite the announcement of humanitarian ceasefire, which was reached during the meeting of Azerbaijani and Armenian Foreign Ministers in Moscow with the mediation of the Russia.
Intentional killing of Azerbaijani civilians committed by Armenian political-military leadership is a war crime, representing the rude violation of the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, which along with the Geneva Conventions of 1949 address the issues of conduct of warfare and war crimes.
Furthermore, taking into account the fact that targeting civil population is the traditional tactic of Armenian side, the recent bloody attacks are also legally assessed as crimes against humanity.
Noteworthy, the war crimes and crimes against humanity were the corpus delicti for the commission of which German Nazis and Japanese militarists were convicted by the Nurnberg and Tokyo international military tribunals after the Second World War.
Today, 75years later when the world community celebrates the victory over fascism Azerbaijani civilians are under attacks of the Armenian military forces which occupied Azerbaijani internationally recognized territories and committed ethnic cleansing for the last 30 years. These atrocities are committed in front of the world community which promisingly proclaimed a belief in human dignity after the nightmares of the War.
The world community which successfully achieved in a comparatively resent history a revolutionary shift from impunity to international accountability for international crimes should live up to its vow of ‘never again’ today, when innocent Azerbaijani people are suffering from the barbarian acts of the Armenian fascist political-military regime. In fact, the cost of impunity is the threat to international peace and security, which humanity seeks to achieve through the consideration of the tragic experience of the Second World War.
War in the Caucasus: One more effort to shape a new world order
Fighting in the Caucasus between Azerbaijan and Armenia is about much more than deep-seated ethnic divisions and territorial disputes. It’s the latest clash designed, at least in part, to shape a new world order.
The stakes for Azerbaijan, backed if not egged on by Turkey, are high as the Azeri capital’s Baku International Sea Trade Port seeks to solidify its head start in its competition with Russian, Iranian, Turkmen and Kazakh Caspian Sea harbours, to be a key node in competing Eurasian transport corridors. Baku is likely to emerge as the Caspian’s largest trading port.
An Azeri success in clawing back some Armenian-occupied areas of Azerbaijan, captured by Armenia in the early 1990s, would bolster Baku’s bid to be the Caspian’s premier port at the crossroads of Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
The Caspian is at the intersection of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR) from China to Europe via Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) that aims to connect India via Iran and Russia to Europe.
An Azeri military success would also cement Turkey’s claim to be a player in former Soviet lands that Russia views as its sphere of influence and bolster nationalist sentiment among Iranians of ethnic Azeri descent that account for up to 25 percent of the Islamic republic’s population, many of whom have risen to prominence in the Iranian power structure.
In an indication of passions that the conflict in the Caucasus evokes, Iranians in areas bordering Azerbaijan often stand on hilltops to watch the fighting in the distance.
Iranian security forces have recently clashed with ethnic Azeri demonstrators in various cities chanting “Karabakh is ours. It will remain ours.”
The demonstrators were referring to Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan that is at the core of the conflict in the Caucasus.
The demonstrations serve as a reminder of environmental protests in the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan at the time of the 2011 popular Arab revolts that often turned into manifestations of Azeri nationalism.
Baku port’s competitive position was bolstered on the eve of the eruption of fighting in the Caucasus with the launch of new railway routes from China to Europe that transit Azerbaijan and Turkey.
China last month inaugurated a new railway route from Jinhua in eastern China to Baku, which would reduce transport time by a third.
In June, China dispatched its second train from the central Chinese city of Xi’an to Istanbul via Baku from where it connects to a rail line to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, the eastern Turkish city of Kars and onwards to Istanbul.
Azeri analysts charge that Armenian occupation of Azeri territory and demands for independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, threaten Baku’s position as a key node in Eurasian transport corridors.
“By continuing its occupation Armenia poses (a) threat not only to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity but also to the regional stability and cooperation,” said Orkhan Baghirov, a senior researcher at the Baku-based Center of Analysis of International Relations, a think tank with close ties to the government.
Mr. Baghirov was referring to recent Russian, Iranian, Turkmen and Kazakh efforts to match Baku in upgrading their Caspian Sea ports in anticipation of the TITR and INSTC taking off.
Russia is redeveloping Lagan Port into the country’s first ice-free Caspian Sea harbour capable of handling transhipment of 12.5 million tonnes. The port is intended to boost trade with the Gulf as well as shipment from India via Iran.
Lagan would allow Russia to tap into the TITR that is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) via the Russian railway system as well as Kazakh, Turkmen, and Azeri ports.
It would also bolster Russian, Iranian and Indian efforts to get off the ground the INSTC that would hook up Caspian Sea ports to create a corridor from India to Russia via Iran, and in competition with the Suez Canal, to northern Europe.
The INSTC would initially link Jawaharlal Nehru Port, India’s largest container port east of Mumbai, through the Iranian deep-sea port of Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman, funded by India to bypass Pakistan, and its Caspian Sea port of Bandar-e-Anzali to Russia’s Volga River harbour of Astrakhan and onwards by rail to Europe.
Iranian and Indian officials suggest the route would significantly cut shipping time and costs from India to Europe. Senior Indian Commerce Ministry official B B Swain said the hook up would reduce travel distance by 40 and cost by 30 percent.
Iran is further investing in increased capacity and connectivity at its Amirabad port while at the same time emphasizing its naval capabilities in the Caspian.
The fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia with Turkey and Israel supporting the Azeris; Russia struggling to achieve a sustainable ceasefire; Iran seeking to walk a fine line in fighting just across its border; and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates attempting to stymie Iranian advances wherever they can, threatens to overlay port competition in the Caspian with aspects of the Middle East’s myriad conflicts.
Said Iran scholar Shireen T Hunter: “Largely because of the Iran factor, the Caucasus has become linked with Middle East issues. Israel and Saudi Arabia have tried to squeeze Iran through Azerbaijan… Thus, how the conflict evolves and ends could affect Middle East power calculations…. An expanded conflict would pose policy challenges for major international players.”
Nagorno-Karabakh: A Frozen Conflict Rethawed
On the morning of September 27, 2020, along the Nagorno-Karabakh Line of Contact, the armed forces of Azerbaijan launched an attack on the Republic of Artsakh. The clashes, and with them military and civilian victims on both sides, are ongoing at the time of writing. Yet another escalation of the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Republic of Artsakh and neighbouring Armenia have introduced martial law and total mobilization, while Azerbaijan introduced martial law and a curfew, with partial mobilization being declared on September 28. International entities such as the United Nations, the European Union, as well as countries including but not limited to the United States of America, Russia and Germany have strongly condemned the ongoing clash and called on both sides to deescalate tensions and immediately resume negotiations.
What are some of the root causes of the ongoing conflict? Is there any hope on an immediate ceasefire? What are the interests of outside parties?
Frozen 3: Conflict
“The end of history” did bring about an end to the Cold War between the world’s superpowers, but it didn’t ensure an end to history in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Some conflicts that arose in the 90s had already been there, suppressed by the Soviet behemoth, and went from “cold” to “superhot” and then to “frozen,” as in unresolved. From the Mediterranean to the Balkans to Central Asia, these frozen conflicts remain, with the habit of resurging violence every now and then.
The increasing tension between Turkey and Greece, both NATO members, served as a heads-up to what is now happening in the South Caucasus. The ongoing tension between Georgia and Russia also stems from the frozen conflict unsolved in the last decade of the last millennia. Heading to the neighbours in the region brings us to Nagorno-Karabakh, and the ongoing armed conflict with Azerbaijan. Since Azerbaijan’s independence in 1991, the political issue surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh has remained. The territory itself is mostly controlled by the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh. While de jure a part of Azerbaijan, de facto it is independent, as Azerbaijan hasn’t exerted control over the region since 1991. After the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994, there have been peace talks in place headed by the OSCE Minsk Group. To no avail, a compromise hasn’t been reached until today, and with the resurging attacks from both sides, a peaceful solution has moved far into the distance.
Divide et Impera: Soviet Edition
Moscow, as the third Rome, understood how to apply the old rules of ancient Empires. To practice control over a region, one should create smaller groups within, the interests (and treatment) of whom run diametral to one another. The Soviet Union continued this tradition of the Russian Empire, so that in the early stages of sovietization of the entire South Caucasus, the final status of the disputed areas between Armenians and Azerbaijanis was settled by Moscow. Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhichevan became parts of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (AzSSR). The Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party took it upon itself to resolve the dispute for (or against) the local populace. Nagorno-Karabakh was to be given extensive autonomy rights within the AzSSR.
The Nakhichevan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Nakhichevan ASSR), the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) and, for a limited time only, the Kurdistan Uyezd (aka “Red Kurdistan,” 1923-1929) were incorporated into the AzSSR. Splitting up the Armenian populace amongst different administrative units was thus in lieu with Stalin’s nationality policy, which advocated the concept of dovetailing the non-Russian nationalities into the same republics. This would force them to cooperate across their ethnic boundaries and overcome ethnic rivalries. From a historical viewpoint, the way Soviet leadership handled the Karabakh issue marks a prime example of “divide et impera.”
Propaganda, Propaganda Everywhere
Internet trolls are not a new invention. What is notable, however, is how strongly both sides appear to be using all rosters of information warfare, ranging from trolls spamming social media with false information (or just involving users in pointless rants), posting gore or even state authorities posting information that is, from their perspective, truthful and correct. Mainstream media from all countries are playing along, picking a side they support and willfully spreading fake news narratives. The utilization of the internet, to gain favour for either side can take place in the form of appeals to the public audience by affected (or affectionate) users, appealing to emotion to take action. It can also result in strife and uncivil behaviour, even amongst social media groups for academic scholars. Celebrities are also engaging in #activism by sharing and posting their opinions and viewpoints. Surely, it appears neither side has a strategic approach to control the story, yet by pushing certain narratives (“Another genocide” vs “it’s our rightful clay”), both sides are pushing for an acceleration neither side could desire.
He who controls the flow of information controls the conflict. Multiple reports have indicated that Azerbaijan has severely restricted access to social media following the deadly clashes with Armenia since the end of September 2020. The Ministry of Transport, Communications and Technology announced these restrictions as “security measures” against Armenian digital aggression. As both countries have mobilized their ground forces, so too have they mobilized their “digital” forces, if one will. Only Twitter seems to work in Azerbaijan. Government-loyal accounts and bots run large-scale propaganda campaigns, dehumanizing the other side.
The hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia on the digital battlefield will, just like in real life, only increase as a viable solution to the conflict is not found. Already in the past have partisan groups hacked each other governments websites. Ongoing cyber-attacks of this nature are a fundamental part of any modern-day battle plan. However, they are liable to be just as damaging as conventional weapons.
What Can EU Do For You?
It is clear that a solution in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is inconceivable without Russia. With Turkey deliberately instigating the Azerbaijan government, Russia sees itself as a mediator to both, Armenia and Azerbaijan. While there is a Russian military base located in Armenia, and is considered Armenia’s protector, Russian neutrality goes so far that Moscow supplies weapons to both sides of the conflict. While Russia’s military strength is enough to keep the conflict from escalating severely, without Russian intervention, there will be no de-escalation and no ceasefire. Turkey, on the other hand, is very eager to extend its sphere of influence deeper into the Caucasus.
What can the European Union do to ameliorate the situation and promote the pursuit of open-ended, peaceful negotiations? French President Macron, as a co-chair of the Minsk Group, is taking the lead, and pushing for a ceasefire together with President Trump and President Putin. German Chancellor Merkel has reached out to both the Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev and the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Paschinjan. So, while there are attempts at mediating and heartfelt appeals, the EU has little else but to communicate on a diplomatic level. The toothless tiger plays no decisive role in the region and therefore only as an extremely limited means of applying (diplomatic) pressure. Azerbaijan is fed up with unfruitful negotiations in the framework of the Minsk group. Armenia doesn’t feel its interests appreciated by the EU. The United States is more occupied with the impact of an excessive, elephantine and paternalistic government and a radically self-absorbed, nearly anarchic private market (based on Benjamin Barber), or the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic and the upcoming 2020 Presidential election on November 3.
From an international law standpoint, the EU stands on Baku’s side, as they recognize Nagorno-Karabach as an integral part of Azerbaijan and haven’t recognized the past elections in Nagorno-Karabach. On the other hand, the idea of Armenian-Karabachian self-determination finds widespread approval in European Capitals, albeit without any meaningful impact. Even the mainstream media is having a hard time rallying for either side, most media mention the ongoing conflict as a side note in their reporting.
The outcome of this clash, and therefore the entire conflict, will shape the regional power structure for the next century and affect global interactions as well. Maintaining the status quo, just like in Ukraine, benefits no one and leads only to resentment and further strife. The EU can’t fix this, and with the United States disinterested, the task of creating long-lasting peace in the region falls upon Russia.
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