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Time for the World to Recognize Artsakh Republic

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On October 10 a temporary ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, brokered by Russia, was announced, nearly two weeks after Azerbaijan started shelling Armenians in the Artsakh Republic, more commonly known as Nagorno-Karabakh, located in the South Caucasus.

However, since the ceasefire came into force, blasts still hit Stepanakert, the capital of Artsakh, say eyewitnesses and the international media.

During the military campaign, Azerbaijan has targeted not only whole towns, including Stepanakert, but also Armenian cultural and religious heritage. On October 8, Azerbaijan devastated the cultural house and the Holy Savior Cathedral, known locally as Ghazanchetsots, in the town of Shushi. Ghazanchetsots is one of the largest Armenian churches in the world.

The church was bombed twice, heavily injuring three journalists who were documenting the damage from the first bombing.

Raffi Bedrosyan, author of the book “Trauma and Resilience: Armenians in Turkey ‒ Hidden, Not Hidden and No Longer Hidden,” said:

“In the 1990’s war, when Azeris were still in control of Shushi, they used this church as an arms depot, storing the Grad missiles that they rained upon Stepanakert, which is directly below Shushi.”

After Armenians liberated Shushi from Azeri occupation in 1992, Bedrosyan visited the region, participating in water supply and road reconstruction projects.

“When I entered this church,” he added, “it was still full of human waste and damage left behind by the Azeris. It was reconstructed beautifully in a few years and witnessed hundreds of weddings of Armenian young girls and boys.”

Azerbaijan has been targeting Artsakh with the direct support received from Turkey. “We support Azerbaijan until victory,” Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on October 6. “I tell my Azerbaijani brothers: May your ghazwa be blessed.”

“Ghazwa” in Islam means a battle or raid against non-Muslims for the expansion of Muslim territory and/or conversion of non-Muslims to Islam. Erdoğan thus openly claimed that attacks against the Armenian territory constitute jihad. Moreover, it is not only Turkey and Azerbaijan attacking Armenians. Turkey has also deployed at least 1,000 Syrian jihadists to Azerbaijan to fight against Artsakh.

Azerbaijan’s ongoing attack against Artsakh appears part of Turkey’s neo-Ottoman expansionist aspirations. In recent years, the Turkish government has escalated its rhetoric of neo-Ottomanism and conquest. In an August 26 speech, for example, Erdoğan, said:

“In our civilization, conquest is not occupation or looting. It is establishing the dominance of the justice that Allah commanded in the [conquered] region…We invite our interlocutors to put themselves in order and stay away from mistakes that will open the way for them to be destroyed.”

Meanwhile, Armenian president Armen Sarkissian asked Russia, the US and NATO to restrain Ankara, describing Turkey as “the bully of the region.”

“If we don’t act now internationally, stopping Turkey . . . with the perspective of making this region a new Syria . . . then everyone will be hit,” he told the Financial Times in an interview.

Azeri-Turkish aggression against Armenians has cost many lives. According to Armenian sources, the total death toll in the Artsakh military has reached over 500 as of October 12. Azerbaijani authorities have not released details on their military casualties. The war has also taken its toll on civilians; the two sides have reported more than fifty civilians killed. On October 9, Armenian medical doctor VaheMeliksetyan, a lecturer at the Department of Clinical Pharmacology, lost his life on the battlefield while providing professional assistance to a wounded soldier.

“According to our preliminary estimates, some 50% of Karabakh’s population and 90% of women and children — some 70,000 to 75,000 people — have been displaced,” the region’s rights ombudsman Artak Beglaryan told the AFP news agency.

The organization Save the Children International also reported on October 9 that “Hostels, schools and kindergartens in some Armenian cities and villages are overcrowded after opening their doors to shelter people fleeing the violence, mainly women and children… Many children arriving are separated from their parents, as they were sent to stay with extended family or friends on the Armenian side of the border,” Save the Children said.

Turkish and Azeri attacks against Armenians for the purpose of conquering the region are unjustified. Artsakh, whose population is 95 percent Armenian, is peaceful and has been an integral part of historic Armenia for millennia. It has never been part of an independent Azerbaijan. Artsakh fell under the rule of various conquerors throughout the centuries, but mostly preserved its semi-independent status as an Armenian entity.

Today the region is often referred to as “disputed” because Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin granted it to Soviet Azerbaijan as an autonomous region in the early 1920s. During Soviet rule, the majority of the population of Artsakh peacefully and repeatedly requested reunification with Armenia. The Azerbaijani government, however, responded by violence not only in Artsakh, but throughout the whole Azerbaijan. It committed pogroms and mass killings against Armenians in the Azerbaijani cities of Sumgait, Baku, Kirovabad, Shamkhor, and Mingechaur, among others.

On September 2, 1991, Artsakh finally announced its independence through the same legal basis as did Azerbaijan, Armenia and all other former Soviet republics. This announcement was based on the principles of international law and the Constitution of the Soviet Union. Azerbaijan, however, once again resorted to violence. The Artsakh-Azerbaijan war (1991-1994) brought complete or partial destruction on Armenian villages and towns in Artsakh.

Another violent attack against the region occurred in April 2016 and is known as the Four-Day War. During this conflict, Azerbaijan launched a full-blown military attack on Artsakh and reportedly committed war crimes. In the village of Talysh, for instance, an elderly Armenian couple was found shot in their home on April 3, 2016 and their corpses were mutilated.

The European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy (EAFJD) noted:

“During April, 2016 the Azerbaijani armed forces committed a number of war crimes against the population of Artsakh including torture, execution and mutilation of bodies and beheadings. The ISIS style war crimes were committed by the regiments of the Azerbaijani armed forces that established control over the soldiers and civilians including children, elderly people. Their murders were executions merely for being Armenian which is the result of the Armenophobic policy implemented and promoted by president Aliyev’s administration over the decade in Azerbaijan.”

Four years later, the people and cultural heritage of Artsakh are again under fire.

Yet those attacks are nothing new. Turks and Azeris have systematically engaged in destructive violence against Armenian cultural heritage. A lengthy report entitled “A Regime Conceals Its Erasure of Indigenous Armenian Culture” was published in the art journal Hyperallergic in 2019 and documented “Azerbaijan’s recent destruction of 89 medieval churches, 5,840 intricate cross-stones, and 22,000 tombstones.”

“Oil-rich Azerbaijan’s annihilation of Nakhichevan’s Armenian past makes it worse than ISIS, yet UNESCO and most Westerners have looked away,” the scholar Argam Ayvazyan said. ISIS-demolished sites like Palmyra can be renovated, Ayvazyan argued, but “all that remain of Nakhichevan’s Armenian churches and cross-stones that survived earthquakes, caliphs, Tamerlane, and Stalin are my photographs.”

Destruction of Armenian cultural heritage is a long-held Turkish tradition that culminated during the 1913-23 Christian genocide targeting Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. Professor Peter Balakian notes:

“The Armenian case discloses a range of cultural destruction. Statistics convey not only the mass killing and forced deportations, but also the government and its local collaborators’ destruction or silencing specifically of 1) cultural property; 2) cultural producers (e.g., intellectuals and artists); 3) belief and value systems; and 4) historical lands and corresponding identifications with them.

“Statistics compiled by the Armenian Patriarch Ormanian in Constantinople in 1912–1913 (at the request of the Ottoman government) indicated that there were 2,538 Armenian churches on Ottoman territory. During the genocide all but a handful were plundered, appropriated, burnt, demolished, or entirely razed. The same census also documented at least 1,996 Armenian schools and 451 monasteries, almost all of which were later destroyed. The CUP’s [the Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress] destruction of churches and schools furthered the eradication of the living presence of Armenian history throughout Turkey.”

The Artsakh-Azerbaijan dispute should thus be seen in the historical context of wider policies of Azerbaijan and Turkey regarding Armenians. Throughout history, these two nations have failed to recognize the Armenian right to self-determination and often resorted to murderous violence.

The ongoing problem in the South Caucasus is much larger than land. It is mostly caused by obsessive Turkish-Azeri hatred against Armenians, and a delusional belief that historically Armenian lands are not Armenian, and that these lands should instead belong to Muslim Azeris or Turks.

An effective way to stop the violence and destruction is for the world to officially recognize the Artsakh Republic, for whose protection the indigenous Armenians have made so much sacrifice throughout history.

Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. Her writings have appeared in The Washington Times, The American Conservative, The Christian Post, The Jerusalem Post, and Al-Ahram Weekly. Her work focuses mainly on human rights, Turkish politics and history, religious minorities in the Middle East, and antisemitism.

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Eastern Europe

Unhappy Iran Battles for Lost Influence in South Caucasus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s note: first published in cepa

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Eastern Europe

Right-wing extremist soldiers pose threat to Lithuania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Europe

Lithuanian foreign policy: Image is everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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