Authors: Dr. Farid Shafiyev and Dr. Esmira Jafarova
The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which underwent tectonic changes after the Second Karabakh War (27.09-10.11.2020) had always had underlying bias perception in Western media, partly caused by religious perception and partly by ideological divide. Strong Armenian diaspora and lobby organizations, present in Western society helped to proliferate certain narrative about the history and the current trend in the conflict. Despite the fact that for almost thirty years internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan was under Armenian occupation, Western media frequently portrayed the conflict as freedom movement of a Christian nation against Muslim Azerbaijan. Such misrepresentation was predetermined by a strong Orientalist bias, which in recent years reinforced by rising Islamophobia and Turkophobia in American and European media.
In this context, Armenians and Armenian sponsored scholars and experts launched a campaign, blaming Azerbaijan for the destruction of Christian heritage during the Second Karabakh War. More worrisome became trend that unlike previous years, Western media outlet refused to grant the Azerbaijani side a right of reply. Below are few examples of one-sidedness of approach to this problem in English language media.
The Conversation run an article titled “Armenians displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh fear their medieval churches will be destroyed” written by Christina Maranci, professor and chair of the Armenian Art and Architecture Department at Tufts University. She has written on this subject on several outlets, including “Cultural Heritage in the Crosshairs Once More” article in Wall Street Journal. However, the WSJ published an Azerbaijani response, while the Conversation ignored all communications from the Azerbaijani side.
The article misrepresents the true essence of the three decades-long territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the causes and consequences of the Second Karabakh War and its impact on religious shrines.
Christina Maranci repeats historically false cliché about the 1921 decision of the Soviet Union on Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. This often spoken about decision of the Caucasian Bureau in fact ruled out to “keep” Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan, thus once again confirming that the region was a part of Azerbaijan in the first place. The manifold references to this decision by the protagonists of Armenian narrative purposefully portray it in a different light.
After the Second Karabakh War ended, dreadful picture opened before the eyes of the international community. Many international journalists, upon the visits to the liberated cities of Agdam, Fizuli and other de-occupied territories of Azerbaijan, eye-witnessed the complete destruction of Azerbaijani cities and infrastructure, including Azerbaijan’s religious heritage, mosques and places of worship.
The city of Agdam was described by many as the “Hiroshima of Caucasus” due to the magnitude of destruction that the city has incurred. Agdam Mosque was desecrated and almost destroyed by Armenia. But Agdam mosque is not the only one to have suffered this sort of ruination. Many mosques in the Azerbaijani territories that were under occupation for three decades were destroyed, turned into pigsty and animal stables.
On the contrary, Azerbaijan has vowed to restore and protect all religious shrines in the de-occupied territories, including Christian churches. For centuries, Christian heritage existed in the territory of Azerbaijan, which was mostly reigned by Azerbaijani/Turkic rulers. As the conflict erupted in 1988, many Western experts raised concern about the Armenian heritage, especially khachkars tomb-stones. Yet, Armenian Church right in the heart of Baku, damaged during the events of the early 1990s, has been fully restored and nearly 5,000 Armenian manuscripts are kept in the library of the church.
Around 67 mosques in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan were fully destroyed and, despite repeated calls from the government of Azerbaijan, UNESCO refused to send a fact-finding mission. However, once Armenians voiced their concern about Armenian churches in Karabakh, UNESCO demanded immediate access despite the problem with landmines in the newly liberated territories.
Besides mosques, many other monuments and cultural installations were razed to the ground or obliterated. This remains out of the radar of Christina Maranci in the attempt to brush off Azerbaijan’s rich multicultural and multi-confessional heritage.
As a matter of fact, two Armenian shrines – Gazanchesots church in Shusha and Dadivank monastery in Vank, which were at the spotlight of the Western media remain overall intact. Gazanchesots suffered from accidental rocket strike, and the government of Azerbaijan pledges to restore it as they did the Armenian Church in Baku.
Another propaganda piece slipped into the New York Review of Books, which also refused to publish a response from the authors of this writing. The article “Armenia’s Tragedy in Shushi” by Viken Berberian contains such blatant misrepresentation of the history of Shusha that raises a question how it could have survived the review process, if any.
History is indeed a tricky subject. Warring sides have opposite views of things and their interpretation are mutually contradictory, especially when it comes to ethnic conflicts. But in case of Viken Berberian’s treatment of facts that are otherwise well known to regional experts, the author intentionally misled readers.
Mainstream historians believe that Shusha was founded by the Azerbaijani-Turkic ruler Panakh ali Khan in 1752 as the capital of the Karabakh khanate. During the city’s whole history until its capture on May 8, 1992, its population was mainly overwhelmingly Turkic/Azerbaijani (Thomas de Waal, Black Garden, NYU Press, 2013, p. 13). In 1823, after the Russian conquest, the Turkic population (called “Tatars” by the Russians) was 72 percent (“Opisanie Karabakhskoi provintsii sostavlennoe v 1823 g. po rasporiazheniiu glavnoupravliaiushego v Gruzii Ermolova deistvitel’nim statskim sovetnikom Mogilevskim i polkovnikom Ermolovim 2-m” Tbilisi, 1866). By 1897 the Russian settlement policy had shrunk this proportion to 41 percent. The author should have treated demographic changes more fairly and not focus only on the period between 1897 to 1920.
The Russian conquest of the South Caucasus, which included the Karabakh khanate, changed the fate of the people who had been living there more or less peacefully for centuries. Specifically, worse days arrived for Muslim Azerbaijanis and better ones for Christian Armenians. The American scholar Tadeusz Swietochowski noted that Armenians enjoyed a Russian protective shield that enabled them to advance socially and politically at a fast pace and to capture important economic positions in the region (Russian Azerbaijan, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p.37). However, at the end of the day, all the Russian imperial policies revolved around the divide and rule principle, and both ethnic groups were but pawns in larger geopolitical game.
Shusha’s history tells the story of the tragedy of the conflict a century ago. Once violence between Armenians and Azerbaijanis began in 1905, both communities suffered from attacks and lootings. In 1920, it was mostly Armenians who suffered from violence instigated by territorial dispute between young republics, Azerbaijan and Armenia, both of which eventually fell under the Bolshevik yoke. The fall of Shusha in May 1992 was a turning point in the modern history of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It led to the ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijani population of the entire region of historical Karabakh, which was and is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. De Waal wrote that “After Armenian forces captured the town, hundreds of people swarmed into it, looting and burning.” Most historical buildings were destroyed, along with museums and the residences of many famous Azerbaijani musicians like Uzeyir Hajibeyov (composer of first opera from out of the east, Leyli and Mejnun) and the singer Bulbul.
Armenian warlords tried to erase the Azerbaijani heritage of the city. For example, the Yukhari Govhar Agha mosque was “renovated” by Iranians and rebranded as Iranian heritage. But for most of its occupation by Armenians, Shusha was a “sad city” as the current Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan described it recently. While Armenian nationalists deplored their recent loss of Shusha, Pashinyan bitterly exclaimed that Shusha was lost 30 years ago since little was invested there to develop or even maintain the city.
Shusha has enormous symbolic importance for both Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The same is true for Armenia’s capital Yerevan, which contained almost half Azerbaijani population therein in the beginning of the twentieth century, but eventually fully expelled in 1988-89. The only survived Blue Mosque in Yerevan was also rebranded by Armenian authorities as “Persian” heritage. Viken Berberian focused exclusively on Armenian tragedies without mentioning the well-known evidence of the massacres and expulsions of Azerbaijanis from Armenia. In the whole article, he limits this subject to a single sentence about Khojaly – a town that was entirely exterminated, including women and children among 613 victims.
The author misrepresents further the causes of the recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which was driven by warlord-presidents Robert Kocharyan (1998-2008) and Serge Sargsyan (2008-2018) as well as by the incumbent Nikol Pashinyan’s populist demagogy. According to Gerard Libaridian, ex-adviser to president Levon Ter-Petrosian (1991-1998), the Armenian side abandoned the sober reasoning, while the entire international community spoke against the occupation of Azerbaijani territories, especially the seven districts around Nagorno-Karabakh.
The whole tragedy of the conflict was ignited by irredentist claims from Armenian nationalists that they launched in February 1988. Murky and highly disputable historical “evidence” brought misery to both Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The few reasonable voices among the Armenian diaspora were drowned out and suppressed by jingoist rhetoric. As the Armenian scholar Arman Grigorian (Lehigh University) notes, the Armenian media is responsible for encouraging the nationalist mythology that led to the present situation.
Since the war is over, there is only one future, and that future is reconciliation between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. The propaganda pieces have no place in such efforts. It is too regrettable that the Conversation and New York Review of Books did not verify the spurious claims contained in these highly biased and controversial pieces, about the cultural heritage, history and the conflict in general, before publishing it.
Armenia After the Parliamentary Elections
On June 20, snap parliamentary elections will be held in Armenia. The move will ease tensions in the country but will fail to end political divisions and solve structural troubles such as poor economic situation, weak judiciary, and the fragile army.
The decision to hold elections followed months of protests when all the former presidents of Armenia, the current president Armen Sarkissian, leadership of the Armenian Church and large parts of the top leadership of the armed forces acted in concert to oppose the Pashinyan government. They all blame him for the country’s unexpected defeat in the war with Azerbaijan in 2020, as a result of which Yerevan had to cede most of the Azerbaijani territory it has occupied since the 1990s, including parts of the mostly Armenian populated Nagorno-Karabakh.
Pashinyan, a protagonist of the 2018 Velvet Revolution, enjoyed widespread popularity in the first two years of his rule. However, expectations for fundamental changes proved to be too high given Armenia’s weak state institutions, polarized political culture, and corruption. Additionally, those who appeared in the government with Pashinyan mostly came from Armenia’s civil society, which meant they had only limited policy development experience.
The year 2020 was associated with some tectonic upheavals in Armenia. The human toll and economic troubles from the pandemic coupled with the war with Azerbaijan, questioned Pashinyan’s competence. His position was undermined both at home and abroad. Still, no clear alternative to Pashinyan exists, which makes observers believe that a long-term solution to the country’s woes is not forthcoming.
According to the poll by the International Republican Institute, Pashinyan’s “My Step” faction remains the country’s most popular political party with 33% support. Second is “Prosperous Armenia,” the faction led by former President Kocharian. Both have 3%, while the former ruling Republican Party has only 1%. The figures show Pashinyan is still wanted, but political apathy is also on the surge when nearly 44% of Armenians do not support any party and 45% of the population disagrees with the general direction the country heading into. This suggests that in the longer run there is political vacuum, space for a new political force to emerge.
Elections will be competitive, but Pashinyan is likely to win. After all, despite all of his mistakes, Armenia’s military losses are a result of a slow degradation of Armenia’s military potential before his coming to power and the general change in the balance of power, namely, Azerbaijan’s rapid growth as a military power; the latter’s exponential military ties with Turkey, and Russia’s opportunistic behavior during the 2020 war.
New elections may well ease tensions, but the structural problems facing Armenian politics will remain. Deeper flaws, such as a lack of accountability, a lack of an independent judiciary, and a weak parliament, will negatively affect any new government. Additionally, Armenian politics remains highly polarized and personalized, which limits the room for real political changes in the fabric of the country’s management. Long-standing problems with corruption, unemployment, emigration and an ineffective economy will remain.
The parties participating in the Armenian elections are not debating foreign policy. If since 1991 the country’s foreign policy course was always discussed, these elections mark a break with this tradition. Following the war, without the presence of Russia in the country, Yerevan would be unable to defend itself, which gives the elections an external dimension.
And here Russia’s position matters as it is in a fortunate position to favor both sides of the aisle. Russia does not need to fully support the overtly pro-Kremlin candidate, because in reality every plausible ruling entity in Armenia will become increasingly dependent on Moscow. Take, for example, “Bright Armenia” headed by Edmond Marukyan. The party is known for its moderately pro-European attitude. However, after the 44-day war – Marukyan called for the creation of a second Russian military base in the country.
Thus, Russia is in a perfect position. With one masterful blow in November 2020, Moscow physically placed itself in the only territorial conflict in the South Caucasus, where it previously had no direct influence. With its peacekeepers in Karabakh, and Armenian army and the general public demoralized and confused after the 2020 fiasco, Russia is Armenia’s only hope. As argued above, this becomes increasingly clear for the entire political spectrum of Armenia’s political elite.
Thus, the election results will not entail major changes in foreign policy. Nevertheless, the results will be of great importance for the Armenian-Russian relations and Armenia’s geopolitical maneuvering. The political parties are now itching in favor of closer ties with Russia, which could change the very fabric of bilateral relations. Russia can insist on deeper integration of Armenia into its favorite economic organization – Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Better trading conditions for Russian companies could be sought and more modern Russian weapons could be supplied in return.
The plausible deeper amalgamation could set a scene for a new integration pattern between Russia and the neighbors in the former Soviet space. Deeper ties with Armenia would also mean that Russia could be able to play Armenia and Azerbaijan against each other. This Russian approach is not new, but this time its intensity will be much greater. In four years, Russia will have to officially extend its peacekeeping mission in Azerbaijan. However, the Russian military presence worries the political minds of Baku. The desire to annul the Russian peacekeeping agreement will grow, and the Kremlin will have to play a smart game.
Some concessions from Baku may be effective, but other political and military messages may work. At times, Russia will indicate to Baku that in case of its peacekeepers’ withdrawal, a much better trained and equipped Armenian army, bristling with high-tech Russian weapons, would prepare for a military campaign. Other ways to persuade Azerbaijan to a prolonged Russian presence might not work.
Regardless of who wins the upcoming election, the structural troubles besetting Armenia will remain in place. A weak judiciary, military and the parliament will hinder the prospects for a quick solution to the traumas the country has been through since early 2020. The political landscape will remain viciously personalized, which would preclude potential cooperation between the parties to limit internal political pressure. Though Armenians nowadays think little about the country’s foreign policy, critical changes will take place – dependence on Russia will only grow because of the lack of options. Multi-vector policy attempts will cease to be made or will not bring any practical results.
Author’s note: first published in caucasuswatch
Relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union
The crises, revolutions, and wars of the first half of the 20th century led to serious geopolitical upheavals, economic crises, and serious violations of social justice. Formally formed after the end of World War II in 1945, liberal economic organizations such as the United Nations, GATT and the European Union focused on the formation of liberal internationalism in international relations and the transition to a global system of government (Dower & Williams, 2002). The failure of the liberal steps taken by the League of Nations in 1920 led to major economic crises in the second half of the 20th century. As a result of these economic crises, the end of socialism in international relations with the USSR in the 1990s, the emergence of independent states and liberal internationalism’s efforts to reach a global level reshaped both geopolitical positions in international relations and global economic forces and the system of international relations (Christopher S. Browning, 2013). After the degradation of the left ideology with the USSR, the emergence of independent states moving towards liberal values made the role of international organizations formed in the post-World War II period even more important. This article also provides information on the liberal relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan, which gained independence in the 1990s and the European Union.
General introduction to relations between Azerbaijan and European Union
The wave of democratization that began in 1974 began to radically change international relations. This democratization mainly covered the former USSR states; namely, the former communist states, geographically. After leaving the USSR, these states entered a very difficult process of democratization. Because for many years they lived in a totalitarian political system, as well as in a communist-planned economy. This directly prevented their transition to liberal multi-party democracy as well as to the “laissez faire” capitalist economy. Because, initially, the reforms were carried out with instructions from abroad. (namely, with instructions from global organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, etc.). Second, these countries did not have a strong economic base that would suddenly transition to market capitalism. Third, a culture of respect for individual freedoms was not ingrained in the policies of these states (Heywood, 2013). Therefore, after the collapse of the USSR, the newly independent states began to work closely with the European Union to accelerate the transition to globalization and democratization. Azerbaijan, one of these states, also became an active participant in international relations and international politics in 1991, building its relations with the West and the European Union on the principles of mutually beneficial cooperation, good neighborliness and peaceful coexistence.
The prospects of Azerbaijan’s relations with the European Union were mainly based on internal and external factors. Unlike other countries in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan’s relations with the European Union are mainly in support of economic and political reforms, the establishment of the East-West transport and communication corridor, infrastructure development, etc. (SAM, Main directions of Foreign Policy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 2017). Azerbaijan’s strategic transit position in the South Caucasus region, its location at the crossroads of land and air routes between Europe and Asia, and its role as a major distribution hub in Eurasia are of great importance to the European Union (Azerbaijan’s gas policy: challenges and dilemmas, 2009). One of the main tools for the European Union to interact with the countries of the South Caucasus was the European Neighborhood Policy. The inclusion of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the ENP program in 2004 enabled Azerbaijan to implement many of its economic, political, legal and administrative reforms within the ENP, and for this purpose Azerbaijan received financial and technical support from the European Union (SAM, Main directions of Foreign Policy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 2017). It should be noted that in addition to the European Neighborhood Policy program in its relations with the European Union, the Azerbaijani state joined the Eastern Partnership project at the 2009 summit in Prague. As the Eastern Partnership is an initiative of Poland and Sweden to improve relations with the CIS countries within the framework of the European Union’s neighborhood policy, it initially played a very important role in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy (EEAS – European External Action Service, 2018).
However, neither the European Neighborhood Policy nor the Eastern Partnership promised security guarantees for Azerbaijan’s foreign policy in the next stages of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy, so Azerbaijan did not sign the Association Agreement and began negotiations with the EU for a new comprehensive agreement such as the Strategic Partnership Agreement (Shahin Abbasov, Jan18, 2011). Because in the foreign policy of Azerbaijan, there were economic and political reasons for not signing the Association Agreement of the European Union. Initially, the Association Agreement was not successful on the example of Azerbaijan. Because both sides had different requirements and needs. Secondly, this agreement was of no economic or political benefit to official Baku. However, Azerbaijan has been pursuing numerous projects with the European Union since the 1990s in many areas (energy, transport, education, culture, agriculture, regional development, economic, political and institutional reforms). As oil and gas from the Caspian Basin play an important role in ensuring the EU’s energy security, the European Union itself understands the geopolitical realities of Azerbaijan and acts accordingly (Elkhan Suleymanov. EU-Azerbaijan relations, 2011). Azerbaijan has existed with the European Union not only in the energy and economic spheres, but also in the social and political spheres. However, the relations within this framework have gradually weakened and lost their value. Although the European Union has taken an open position on Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, IDPs, Armenia’s occupation policy and existing UN resolutions, and has even adopted declarations, these principles have subsequently weakened. The first reason is that since both Azerbaijan and Armenia are parties to the Eastern Partnership, the European Union’s inaction in the conflict has affected the activities of the Eastern Partnership. In addition, although Azerbaijan itself is a modern and secular country, it often faced double standards of the European Union.
Historical and legal basis of Azerbaijan-EU relations
After gaining independence in 1991, Azerbaijan began to take an active part in building relations with Western countries and in international politics on the basis of the protection of statehood and national interests, as well as the principles of mutually beneficial cooperation, good neighborliness and peaceful coexistence. The fundamental requirements of state-building after the collapse of the USSR created a good basis for building relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union member states at both bilateral and multilateral levels. Due to its geographical proximity, important geostrategic location, availability of significant energy resources, Azerbaijanis a country of traditional interest to European countries (Sadigov R. The South Caucasus factor in the Eastern policy of the European Union. Politicale.ü.fddissertation, Baku, 2011, p.52). In general, in the first years of independence, the prospects of Azerbaijan’s relations with the European Union were based on internal and external factors. Internal factors included the continuation of reforms in the political, economic and social life of Azerbaijan to achieve the standards of the European Union, the full liberalization of the domestic market, production and services, and the completion of the country’s democratic transformation. External factors included the settlement of the conflicts in the South Caucasus, including the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, joint cooperation between the countries of the region, security cooperation, the formation of a unified legislative, executive and judicial authorities in all three countries (Mammadov N, p.285). In general, the Republic of Azerbaijan declared in 1993 that Azerbaijan was interested in establishing relations with the EU. By signing the “Partnership and Cooperation Agreement” with the European Union, Azerbaijan began official relations with the EU. The European Union sent its first representative to Azerbaijan in 1998, and in 2000 the Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the EU was opened in Brussels. The Representation of the EU Commission in the Republic of Azerbaijan has been operating in Baku since February 4, 2008. This body was later renamed the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Azerbaijan. The appointment of the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus on 7 July 2003 was a step towards increasing the organization’s activity in the region (Ahmadov E, p. 227).
The European Union has developed a “Technical Assistance to the CIS” program to provide financial assistance to countries belonging to the new group of democracies, such as Azerbaijan, to implement democratic reforms, create a market economy, develop interstate trade and transport relations and improve the customs system. In 1992-2006, more than 414 million euros in humanitarian, technical and food assistance was provided to Azerbaijan within the framework of the EU’s TACIS and other assistance programs (E. Ahmadov, 241). In addition, serious steps have been taken between Azerbaijan and the European Union in the field of human rights and politics. The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Azerbaijan was signed in Luxembourg on 22 April 1993, providing for cooperation in trade, investment, economy, legislation, culture, immigration and the prevention of illicit trade and laying the legal basis for bilateral relations. This agreement can be considered as one of the most successful pages in foreign policy, as it is the legal basis for expanding relations between Azerbaijan and EU institutions. The EU-Azerbaijan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement entered into force in 1999 after ratification by the Azerbaijani Parliament.
European Neighborhood Policy
One of the main tools for the European Union to interact with the countries of the South Caucasus was the European Neighborhood Policy. In 2004, the Republic of Azerbaijan was included in the ENP program. The central element of the ENP is the Action Plan agreed between the EU and each partner country, which sets out a number of short- and medium-term priorities for the country. The “Azerbaijan-EU Action Plan” was adopted at the meeting of the Azerbaijan-EU Cooperation Council held on November 14, 2006 in Brussels (E. Ahmadov, p. 240). The action plan identifies a number of priority areas of cooperation between the European Union and Azerbaijan. These are: mainly the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; strengthening democracy; strengthening the protection of the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms; improving the business and investment climate; improving the work of the customs service; support for balanced and sustainable economic development; improvement of economic legislation and administrative practice; Deepening energy and transport cooperation between the European Union and Azerbaijan; strengthening cooperation in the fields of justice, freedom and security, including border issues; strengthening regional cooperation (Mammadov N. Foreign policy: realities and vision for the future. Baku: QANUN, 2013, p.212).The cooperation carried out within the ENP allows Azerbaijan to establish economic relations with EU countries, establish preferential trade and credit regimes, labor, market relations and migration, fight against drug trafficking and organized crime, promote investment, attract new financial sources, etc. opened up opportunities such as (N. Mammadov, p. 287).
The Eastern Partnership initiative was launched by Poland and Sweden at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on 26 May 2008. The initiative covers Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. A joint declaration was adopted at the EaP Summit in Prague on May 7, 2009, and the EaP officially began operations. The EaP intends to raise relations between the European Union and the member countries of the program to a higher level, to continue and expand existing cooperation in bilateral and multilateral formats. Azerbaijan also joined the Eastern Partnership program at the 2009 summit in Prague. The EaP program was a different framework from the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Thus, in order to establish closer ties with each partner country within the EU, the signing of new association agreements instead of existing partnership and cooperation agreements within the bilateral format, the establishment of a Deep and Detailed Free Trade Zone with a partner country in the WTO, as well as gradual visa requirements. liberalization, deeper cooperation to strengthen the energy security of partner countries and the EU, etc. planned. In other words, the EaP program did not promise the prospect of EU membership, but only a free trade agreement and associative political cooperation with this body, which provided for deep economic integration. However, neither the ENP nor the EaP did not sign the Association Agreement and began negotiations with the EU for a new comprehensive agreement, such as the Strategic Partnership Agreement, as Azerbaijan did not promise EU membership or any security guarantees. Because both the ENP and the EaP were programs that reflected the interests of the EU and the political and economic interests of the partner countries. On the other hand, the signing of the Association Agreement was not economically attractive for Azerbaijan. Because Azerbaijanis not a member of the World Trade Organization, which is one of the main requirements for signing the “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement”. On the other hand, the Association Agreement would not give a significant vote to Azerbaijan within the EU Customs Union. In addition, membership in the association would not reduce the share of oil and gas exports, which account for more than 90% of Azerbaijan’s exports, in the short and medium term. In general, Azerbaijan views the entry into any customs zone from three perspectives: political independence, economic efficiency and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
In addition, the European Union must accept that both sides have different requirements and needs. Therefore, before the EA Summit in Riga in 2015, Azerbaijan submitted a proposed document on the Strategic Partnership Agreement to the EU. Azerbaijan, like Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, did not sign the Association Agreement, so it preferred to sign an agreement that has a separate legal force and reflects the national interests of the country. On 14 November 2016, the EU Council of Ministers mandated the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to begin negotiations on behalf of the EU member states on the signing of an agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan. It should be noted that the new agreement will replace the 1999 TES and will be a new large-scale agreement with a legal obligation. Unlike other framework documents, the STS will address the common problems and goals facing Azerbaijan and the EU and will create a new basis for mutually beneficial cooperation and political dialogue between the two sides. The STS is a practical example of the “difference” approach outlined in the context of pursuing Azerbaijan’s interests in relations with the EU and in the updated version of the ENP (SAM, Main Directions of Foreign Policy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, pp. 324-326, 2017).
Fundamental Reform Can Secure Armenia’s Long-Term Future
In the past year, the world has changed an unfathomable amount; every country has faced new challenges in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic recession. The new global situation presents not only challenges but also the opportunity to think about new ideas, to work out how our energy and focus can be used to create a better future for individuals across the world.
Armenia is one country that has faced existential crisis in the past year; the pandemic, the economic crisis and of course the war in Artsakh. The war has exacerbated socio-economic issues, aggravated social division and resulted in ongoing political instability –all factors that have raised questions about Armenia’s future as a nation and on the global stage. Despite the pain of the last year, it has also given us the opportunity to reflect and rethink our model for fundamental reform in Armenia.
I have long argued that for Armenia to be truly successful, we need to unite and focus on the country’s future. We have a historic responsibility to our ancestors, those who faced persecution, to heal from the past and build a successful country for our children. By building on our unique identity and historic experiences, we can use them to guide our future. However, first we must face up to serious questions on how we would like Armenia to look in twenty to thirty years’ time.
Currently, lack of opportunity is causing Armenians to vote with their feet and leave the country, with an estimated 200,000 intending to leave Armenia this year. To stop this, we must together provide a future of opportunity and belief in success stemming from a change in mindset.
I do not believe that all of the problems we face can be solved by the Armenian state. Instead, both the Armenian authorities and the diaspora should leave political disputes aside in order to consolidate and, alongside international specialists and humanitarian organisations, assist in the building of new institutions, good governance and the development of the country. Engaging with international partners is critical to raising standards and finding effective solutions.
So far, attempts at developing Armenia have been blighted by a failure to unite and mobilise both the nation and diaspora. It is not an easy task, currently there are roughly 10 million Armenians living in over 100 nations. However, we must transform the relationship to one of interdependence and trust.
Until now, members of the diaspora have largely been viewed as a source of charitable aid – this causes disconnect and indifference. Instead of charity, which I believe is detrimental to Armenia’s future as it prevents organic, conducive reforms, the diaspora should invest in long-term projects with meaningful impacts. I believe a shared vision and hope for Armenia can be created through collaboration and the implementation of impact investment. However, a strong Armenian diaspora must become more aware of their responsibility in helping the Armenian nation develop, and by updating and strengthening their institutions, enhance and ensure the preservation of Armenian worldwide heritage.
Commitment and shared responsibility will encourage desire for success and provide a crux for wider development. A blend of commercial, social and philanthropic projects will help build a better more sustainable future for Armenia. Multi-purpose anchor projects – breakthrough projects used to serve the interests of the nation and its people – will help societal evolution. Anchor projects in the education, technological, scientific and tourism sectors will serve as a way to unite a fragmented nation, by drawing people together through communication and exchange of ideas. Long-term investment and visionare necessary, as social impact investments slowly manifest themselves over 20-25 years. Therefore, close working relationships are essential, investors need to want to be part of the conversation and want to see the projects evolve to impact the wider community.
Re-establishing Armenia as a hub of excellence in education would not only aid development and attract investment, it would attract others to the country. Investment into educational projects is investing in Armenia’s future, and promotes talent, trust, collaboration and multiculturalism –in doing so educational projects have wide-ranging personal, local and global impact. Armenia has already shown it has the potential for success in the educational sphere; with the Tumo Centre, American University in Armenia, Russian-Armenian University, French University and United World Colleges movement all having centres in Armenia. We must utilise the opportunities we have for the implementation of further educational projects.
Additionally, investment into the science and technological space would have wide reaching effect. The development of science and technology is both tangible and lucrative.It will also drive explosive growth in the health, environment and knowledge economies. The FAST Foundation is leading the way in innovation in Armenia, numerous projects support budding scientists, technologists and innovators in Armenia and the global stage. It will amplify and empower scientific advancement in the country, aiming to position Armenia as the technical and scientific hub of the region.
By fostering a competitive economy in Armenia, we can attract further foreign direct investment and also immigration. Additionally, we need to encourage good governance by developing effective and accountable governmental and societal institutions, which commit to excellence and professionalism. Impact investment and the championing of good governance will create an attractive Armenia, where not only Armenians want to live, but also the diaspora, international students and businessmen and women. This would bolster demographic security by dampening the desire for emigration and creating the social and economic atmosphere needed to raise the birth rate in the country. A growing population would mean a larger workforce, which would allow Armenia to become a self-sufficient global player, one that can build regional and global alliances.
Whilst our geographical location at the crossroads of civilisations brings many benefits, we also face regional security threats, which was painfully evident during last year’s 44-day war. In order to bolster Armenia’s position regionally, we must first acknowledge our security situation and construct a more effective and forward-looking defence system. This will take a shift in thinking and a significant increase in spending, but more modern military thinking is needed to protect our borders and people. A reinforced and innovative security system will allow us to look forward and act to guarantee Artsakh’s physical freedom and security.
Armenia faces many challenges, but it also has a number of strengths and competitive advantages – which we must use; not only do the diaspora provide resources and experience of other systems, we are bilingual nation and a nation located at the cross-roads of four civilisations. Armenia’s geography between the Middle East, Europe and the Caucasus means we can take advantage ofa working relationship with the European Union through the Eastern Partnership whilst being a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and Commonwealth of Independent States. Russia in particular is interested in Armenia being competitive, and at the same time is the right ally to ensure regional security.
If we build on these advantages and focus on inter-dependency and responsibility, Armenians and the Armenian diaspora, in collaboration with international partners and humanitarian institutions, can build a successful country. By developing on a local level, we can look to eradicate inequality and push for a fairer more open society, one that is beneficial for all Armenians.
A strong Armenia with modern institutions and a well-educated society will improve the country’s position regionally and on a global scale; allowing Armenia to become a bridge between cultures and organisations.
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