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Eastern Europe

Azerbaijan and Turkey’s genocidal assault against Armenians

Image source: Azerbaijan Ministry of Defence

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From September 27 to November 10, the Armenian Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) in the South Caucasus was exposed to a genocidal assault at the hands of Azerbaijan and Turkey. The entire world watched while the aggressors committed many crimes and indiscriminately shelled the indigenous lands of Armenians.

Turkey also sent Azerbaijan mercenaries from Syria with known affiliations to Islamic radical groups. This was confirmed by a recent United Nations report, as well as by the testimonies of many Syrian mercenaries and reports by international media outlets.

Together with Azerbaijani military forces, they perpetrated war crimes against Armenians. They murdered civilians, injured journalists and targeted homes, forests, hospitals, churches and cultural centers, among other non-military targets. They used white phosphorus and cluster munitions in violation of international law. At least 90,000 Armenians were forced to abandon their ancestral lands in Artsakh as a result.

The war finally halted after 45 days as a result of the Russia-brokered agreement imposed on Armenia.

According to the agreement, there would be “an exchange of prisoners of war and other detained persons and bodies of the dead.” However, even after the signing of the agreement, multiple videos emerged showing Azeri military members and their partners beheading, mutilating and dismembering captured Armenian civilians and prisoners of war. These gruesome crimes were filmed and proudly posted on social media by Azerbaijani soldiers themselves.

On December 7, for example, Azerbaijanis uploaded yet another video of a beheading on one of their many Telegram channels. In the video, a soldier of the Azerbaijani special forces is seen beheading an elderly Armenian civilian while his fellow soldiers videotaped the war crime. The elderly Armenian man was begging for his life.

As these ISIS-like crimes were being committed against Armenians, Turkish and Azerbaijani soldiers participated in a military victory parade in Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku on December 10. The parade, organized to celebrate the countries’ joint “military victory” over Artsakh, was attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.

During the “victory parade,” Erdogan delivered a speech in which he praised Enver Pasha, one of the planners of Ottoman Turkey’s 1914-1923 Christian genocide, which cost the lives of around 1.5 million Armenians and at least one million Greeks and Assyrians. The Ottoman military march was also played during the event.

Erdogan referred to the 1918 Islamic Army of the Caucasus created by Enver Pasha and led by the Ottoman commander, Nuri Pasha. The Islamic Army of the Caucasus was responsible for the massacres to eliminate the non-Muslim population of Baku, mainly Armenians. Erdogan said:

“Today is the day when the souls of Nuri Pasha, Enver Pasha and the brave soldiers of the Islamic Army of the Caucasus are blessed.”

Erdogan also confirmed Turkey’s support for the recent Azeri assault against Armenians. According to the official website of Turkey’s Presidency, “Turkey, with all its institutions and organizations, supported Azerbaijan’s fight from the very beginning, underlined President Erdoğan, further stressing that it will continue to stand by the brotherly Azerbaijan with all its capabilities.”

During his speech Aliyev claimed that the Armenian capital of Yerevan, Armenia’s Lake Sevan and the Syunik (Zangezur) region in southern Armenia are “historic lands of Azerbaijan.”

This was not the first time Aliyev referred not only to Artsakh but also to the Republic of Armenia as “Azerbaijani lands.” In 2018, for instance, Aliyev referred to the same Armenian regions as “historic lands of Azerbaijan.” “Azerbaijanis’ return to those territories,” he added, “is our political and strategic goal, and we need to work step-by-step to get closer to it.”

Meanwhile, the Russia-brokered agreement appears not to provide security for Artsakh. On December 11, Azerbaijan violated the agreement by launching an attack against Artsakh’s Hadrut district. Aliyev, however, blamed Armenia for the attacks, threatening to “break its head with an iron fist” and added, “This time, we will destroy them completely.”

Dr. Anahit Khosroeva, a genocide scholar and historian based in Yerevan, said:

“The recent Azeri attack against the villages in Hadrut breaks my trust in the agreement. Russian troops did not immediately stop the attack. People in Artsakh’s capital, Stepanakert, think that the safety of their city is at risk, as well. There is massive diplomatic uncertainty concerning the agreement. How effective it will be and how committed Russian troops will be to protecting the security of Artsakh remains to be seen.”

Khosroeva also criticized the dominant media narrative concerning the war against Artsakh:

“The international media adopted this incredibly misleading narrative which tries to put equal blame on ‘both sides’. Can they not see the difference between the perpetrator and the victim? Who started the war and who committed an ethnic cleansing campaign is obvious: Azerbaijan and Turkey. Yet, much of the international media stuck to this unethical and false narrative and whitewashed Azerbaijani crimes, which misinformed the world community and has cost so many innocent lives.

“For 45 days during the war, our cities were bombed incessantly. But the international community did not care. They just watched as Azerbaijan, Turkey and jihadists massacred our people. At the very least they should now try the perpetrators in international courts for their crimes.”

Khosroeva noted that the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect is clear about the definition and punishment of war crimes:

“The UN says that lists of war crimes can be found in both international humanitarian law and international criminal law treaties, as well as in international customary law.

“According to the 8th article of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, several acts constitute war crimes such as ‘willful killing; torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments; willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health; extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly; compelling a prisoner of war or other protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power; willfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial; unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement; and taking of hostages.’ Azerbaijan and Turkey committed all these and more against Armenians during and after the war.

“Given Erdogan’s statements about Enver Pasha, it seems that Erdogan pursues an annihilationist policy that aims at completing the Armenian Genocide which his Ottoman ancestors started.”

Journalist Lika Zakaryan was in Stepanakert during the war and reported on it daily. “During the 45-day war,” she said, “people in Artsakh expected the world to do something to stop Azerbaijan and Turkey – to take concrete actions but not to stay silent, and stop calling on ‘both sides to de-escalate.’ They waited for the world to make the perpetrator and aggressor, Azerbaijan, stop its attacks. But it never happened.”

Zakaryan is also concerned about the agreement:

“I do not think it can provide full security for Artsakh,” she said. “No peacekeepers can provide it when in some places there are only 30 meters between Artsakh and Azerbaijan. I think the biggest risk concerning the agreement is the giving of Karvachar and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan, which turns Artsakh into an enclave.

“Azerbaijan remains a major threat to us. People here are scared of a second Armenian genocide, an even more suffocating blockade, and a new war. And until Azerbaijan is brought to account for its war crimes, these possibilities will remain.”

Turkey and Azerbaijan’s genocidal assault against Armenians are mainly propelled by two reasons:

1) The traditional Turkish/Azeri genocidal hatred against Armenians and Christianity, and

2) Turkey’s goal of pan-Turkist expansionism, which Turkey also calls the “Red Apple” doctrine.

One month before Azerbaijan and Turkey attacked Artsakh, the Director of Communications of the Turkish presidency, FahrettinAltun, shared a video of what he called the “Red Apple” anthem on his Twitter account on August 24. He wrote:

“For us, the Red Apple means great and strong Turkey. It is the sacred march of our nation that made history from Manzikert to July 15. The Red Apple is a great plane tree that provides shade for the downtrodden to refresh. The Red Apple is what the entire humanity has longed for from Gibraltar to Hedjaz and from the Balkans to Asia.”

The video presents the Turkish military and Erdogan as heirs to the medieval Turkic Seljuk dynasty, as well as to the Ottoman Empire.

According to the pro-government newspaper Hürriyet:

“The Red Apple image, one of the most important symbols of Turkish nationalism, symbolizes a goal and purpose for Turkish states. It refers to a place to be reached, or a town to be conquered. It sometimes expresses the ideal of establishing a state, sometimes the ideal of world domination, and sometimes the ideal of Turkish unity…. Red apple is a symbol of jihad carried out especially towards Western countries during the Ottoman period.”

The “Red Apple” image is believed to have first emerged among the Central Asian Turks. According to the anti-government newspaper Sözcü

“As a trait of the Turkish state tradition, Red Apple represents the idea that the Turkish state should rule over other states and nations across the world. After oral literature, it [i.e., the Red Apple doctrine] was first passed to written sources through the Oğuzname [the name of several documents about the myths of the Turks]. According to a Turkish tradition, which is also mentioned in the Oghuz and Göktürk [Turkic tribes in the Central Asia] inscriptions, it is believed that the Turkish khan [ruler] is the khan of not only the Turks but of the whole world and that conquests were made in accordance with this principle.

“They [Turks] believed that God entrusted the world sovereignty to the Turks. It is seen as a very effective motif in the state tradition of the Huns, Göktürks and Seljuks [Turkic tribes from Central Asia]. According to Oğuzhan [the king of the Turkic people in Central Asia], the sky is the tent of the state and the sun is the flag. This idea included not only Turks’ thoughts of state administration, but also the very old principles of the Turkish religion.”

Turkic peoples are not natives of Asia Minor or the South Caucasus. They are originally from Central Asia and invaded the region starting in the eleventh century. Armenians, however, are an indigenous people of the land and have resided there for millennia. Throughout the centuries, however, Armenians have been assaulted by Turkic peoples several times. Among the greatest of these assaults were the 1071 Seljuk Turkic invasion of the Armenian town of Manzikert in the Greek Byzantine Empire and the 1914-23 Christian genocide by Ottoman Turkey.

According to “Red Apple” ideology, the presence of Armenians in Artsakh and Armenia is viewed as a barrier preventing a Turkic Islamic corridor among Azerbaijan, Turkey and other Turkic Muslim countries.  Hence, Turkey and Azerbaijan appear to aim at erasing Armenia from the map. To this end, they commemorate the perpetrators of the Christian Genocide by Ottoman Turkey and claim the historically Armenian lands, including Yerevan. The Turkish government remains proud of its history, filled with many crimes against Armenians and other Christians, and thus continues committing further crimes against the descendants of the genocide survivors.  

However, Erdogan’s regime will not stop at Artsakh, as Turkey’s imperialist agenda does not only target Armenians. Erdogan has publicly announced his regime’s neo-Ottomanist goals for years. If Turkey and Azerbaijan achieve their expansionist goals in the South Caucasus, they will continue targeting and trying to expand their influence and even territories through parts of Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, which the Ottoman Empire occupied for centuries. Turkey already occupies northern Cyprus and northeast Syria, which the international community ignores. And reports have recently surfaced that Turkey is allegedly preparing to send jihadist fighters from eastern Syria to Jammu and Kashmir to help Pakistan.

The unprovoked aggression by the Turkish-Azeri armies against Armenians once again demonstrates that the Turkish state sees the Armenian Genocide as “unfinished business.” Enver Pasha, whom Erdogan praised in Baku, was one of the leaders of the Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress, also known as the “Unionists,” who planned and perpetrated the Armenian Genocide.

Prominent sociologist OhannesKılıçdağı noted in an article he recently penned that for both the pan-Turkist ideology represented by the Unionists and the Kemalist ideology that established Turkey, wiping out Armenia remains a goal. Kılıçdağıwrote:

“For both the Unionists before Kemalism and the Unionists continuing their existence under the name of Kemalism, Armenia is a ‘road accident’ or a ‘historical accident’ that should have never happened. It was the result of an unexpected ‘last minute’ resistance of the exhausted Armenians after the genocide. I think that eliminating this road accident is still alive as a target for Turkey’s military and civilian government mechanisms.”

Given Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s hostile statements and murderous aggression against Armenians, it is not an overstatement to say that the security of the rest of Artsakh and Armenia is at risk. A full century after the Armenian Genocide, Armenians are still exposed to a genocidal assault by Turkey and its ally, Azerbaijan. And sadly, the world is still standing idly by.

About the author: 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.

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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