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Time for the World to Recognize Artsakh Republic

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nagorno karabakh

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

Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers

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Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv.  In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.

The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.

It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.

They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!

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Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?

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Photo: Robert Anasch/Unsplash

The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.

A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.

One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.

The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.

Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.

First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.

Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.

Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.

Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.

The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.

The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.

Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.

But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.

The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.

Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.

Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.

This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank

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Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia

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Photo: Protesters hold a banner depicting U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan during a rally against Pride Week in Tbilisi, Georgia July 1, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.

On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.

But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”

For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.

In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.

That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.

A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.

It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.

Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.

One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.

It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.

Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.

The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.

To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.

Author’s note: first published at cepa

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