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PKK’s involvement in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict would jeopardize European security

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The alarming reports that Armenia has been relocating Kurdistan Working Party (PKK) terrorists from Syria and Iraq to the occupied territories of Nagorno-Karabakh to prepare for future hostilities and train Armenian militias is news of the sort that should keep you awake at night, not only in Azerbaijan but also in Europe, writes James Wilson.

Changing the demographics of the occupied territories by bringing in refugees of Armenian origin from Lebanon, Syria and Iraq is one thing, even though unlawful, but populating Nagorno-Karabakh with PKK militants, classified by all Western countries, including the US and the EU, as a terrorist organisation, is another.

The artificial resettlement policies of Armenia following the explosion in Beirut on 4 August this year and the Syrian War in 2009, aim to change the demographics of Nagorno-Karabakh and to consolidate the 30-year-long Armenian occupation. They represent a violation of international law, the Geneva Convention and various international agreements. Professionally hired militants and terrorists being resettled to Nagorno-Karabakh would be designated as an war crime under international law, putting peace and stability in the region at risk.

According to Cairo24 News Agency and other reliable local sources, Armenia went so far as to let its top-level career diplomats negotiate a transfer plan for the terrorists with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the most militant wing of the Kurdish establishment led by Lahur Sheikh Jangi Talabany and Bafel Talabani. This followed a first failed attempt to negotiate a plan to create a corridor to send Kurdish fighters to Nagorno-Karabakh with the Kurdistan Autonomous Regions leader Nechirvan Barzani.

Reportedly, Armenias efforts led to the transfer of hundreds of armed terrorists from Suleymaniyah, considered to be a stronghold of the PKK in Iraq, to Nagorno-Karabakh via Iran. A separate group of YPG militants, seen by many as the Syrian wing of PKK, were sent to Nagorno-Karabakh from Qamishli region on the Syrian-Iraqi border while a third group of PKK/YPG militants, which was formed at the Makhmur base in the South of the Iraqi city of Erbil, was first deployed to the headquarters of Hezbollahs Iraqi wing to Baghdad before being transferred to Nagorno-Karabakh via Iran. 

According to intelligence, special camps were established by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to train the militants on Iranian soil before sending them to Nagorno-Karabakh, where they have also access to training camps at a safe distance from the PKKs Kandil base, which has been increasingly raided in recent years.

This is not the first time Armenia has been recruiting terrorists and paid mercenaries for its own interests.  Such was also the case during the Nagorno-Karabakh war in the 1990s. Even back in the Soviet times, Kurds were instrumentalised by Russia and Armenia, the former having established the autonomous region of Red Kurdistan in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1923-1929 to facilitate the resettlement of Kurds living in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Iran to the region. 

However, the current Armenian administration shows itself more and more belligerent towards Azerbaijan, thwarting the negotiation process between the two nations because of internal political considerations, including an unprecedented health and economic crisis. Not only did the current Armenian administration refuse to adhere to the OSCE framework agreement, which was agreed upon in principle, but asked for a start-over of peace negotiations from scratch. As Armenians increasingly refuse to send their children to the frontline, the Armenian administration seems to be determined to minimise personal losses through the use of militants from terrorist groups. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan even announced the peoples militia initiative in the country, dangerous examples of which were seen in other conflict-torn parts of the world, such as Burkina Fasso.

Under his leadership, the Caucasus has seen the worst hostilities in the last few years when the Armenian armed forces used distillery fire to attack the Tovuz district of Azerbaijan on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border on July 12th.  The attack resulted in 12 Azerbaijani deaths, including a 75-year-old civilian, leaving 4 injured and causing serious damage to Azerbaijani border villages and farms. On 21 September, one Azerbaijani soldier fell victim to new skirmishes in Tovuz region, as Armenia once again failed to respect the ceasefire.

Recognized by the UN as an Azerbaijani territory, Nagorno-Karabakh and its seven surrounding regions, have been under Armenian occupation for 30 years despite 4 UN resolutions calling for the immediate withdrawal of Armenian armed forces. The growing militarization of Nagorno-Karabakh as well as the involvement of mercenaries from paramilitary groups in the Middle East would lead to the internationalization of the conflict, putting regional powerhouses at odds.

 The dangerous actions of Armenia risks to further destabilize the region, which has a strategic importance for Azerbaijan and Europe, as it provides energy and transport links to Georgia, Turkey and Europe for the Azerbaijani oil and gas as well as other export commodities. By jeopardizing major infrastructure projects, such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, Armenia could put European energy and transport security at huge risk.

Armenia

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict flares despite ceasefire

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Four soldiers from Azerbaijan have been killed in clashes in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Azerbaijan's defence ministry says.

The reports come only weeks after a six-week war over the territory which ended when Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire.

Armenia meanwhile said six of its own troops were wounded in what it called an Azerbaijani military offensive.

Nagorno-Karabakh has long been a trigger for violence between the two.

The region is recognised as part of Azerbaijan but has been run by ethnic Armenians since 1994 after the two countries fought a war over the territory which left thousands dead.

A Russian-brokered truce failed to bring about lasting peace and the area, claimed by both sides, has been prone to intermittent clashes.

What does the peace deal say?

  • Signed on 9 November, it locked in the territorial gains Azerbaijan made during the war, including the region's second-largest city Shusha
  • Armenia promised to withdraw troops from three areas
  • 2,000 Russian peacekeepers deployed to the region
  • Azerbaijan also gained a overland route to Turkey, its ally, by gaining access to a road link to an Azeri conflict on the Iran-Turkey border called Nakhchivan
  • The BBC's Orla Guerin said that, overall, the deal was regarded as a victory for Azerbaijan and a defeat for Armenia.

The latest conflict began at the end of September, killing around 5,000 soldiers on both sides.

At least 143 civilians died and thousands were displaced when their homes were damaged or soldiers entered their communities.

Both countries have accused the other of violating the terms of the November peace deal and the latest hostilities flout the ceasefire.

The agreement was described by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan as "incredibly painful both for me and both for our people".

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Armenia

Is Armenia about to become part of Russia so it doesn’t get betrayed again?

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There is now peace in Nagorno-Karabakh. Can either of the warring sides be considered a victor – most certainly not. But if we look at controlled territories before and after the conflict, there is clear a loser – Armenia. This is also confirmed by the dissatisfaction expressed by the Armenian people. However, objectively speaking the peace deal can be considered Armenia’s “success” story, writes Zintis Znotiņš.

No one, especially Armenia and Azerbaijan, believes that the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has been resolved completely and forever. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has invited Russia to expand military co-operation. “We hope to expand not only security cooperation, but military-technical cooperation as well. Times were difficult before the war, and now the situation is even more severe,” Pashinyan told the press after meeting with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu in Yerevan.1

Pashinyan’ words made me think. Russia and Armenia are already cooperating on multiple platforms. We should remember that after the collapse of the USSR Armenia became the only post-Soviet country – Russia’s only ally in Transcaucasia. And for Armenia Russia is not merely a partner, because Armenia sees Russia as its strategic ally that has significantly helped Armenia on numerous economic and security matters.2

This co-operation has also been established officially on the highest level, i.e. in the form of the CSTO and CIS. More than 250 bilateral agreements have been signed between both countries, including the Treaty on Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance.3 This poses a logical question – how do you strengthen something that has already been established on the highest level?

Reading between the lines of Pashinyan’s statements, it’s clear that Armenia wants to prepare its revenge and requires additional support from Russia. One of the ways of strengthening military co-operation is to purchase armaments from one another. Russia has always been the largest provider of weapons for Armenia. Moreover, in 2020 Pashinyan criticized former president Serzh Sargsyan for spending $42 million on metal scraps, instead of weapons and equipment.4 This means that the Armenian people have already witnessed their “strategic ally” betray them regarding armaments deliveries and participation in different organizations.

If Armenia was already doing worse than Azerbaijan before the conflict, it would be unreasonable to assume that Armenia will now become richer are able to afford better armaments.

If we compare their armed forces, Azerbaijan has always had more weapons. What concerns the quality of these weapons, Azerbaijan is again a few steps ahead of Armenia. Additionally, Azerbaijan also has equipment produced by countries other than Russia.

Therefore, it’s unlikely that Armenia will be able to afford enough modern weapons in the next decade to stand against Azerbaijan, which will also likely continue modernizing its armed forces.

Equipment and weapons are important, but human resources are what really matters. Armenia has a population of roughly three million, while Azerbaijan is home to ten million people. If we look at how many of them are fit for military service, the numbers are 1.4 million for Armenia and 3.8 million for Azerbaijan. There are 45,000 soldiers in the Armenian Armed Forces and 131,000 in the Azerbaijani Armed Forces. What concerns the number of reservists, Armenia has 200,000 of them and Azerbaijan has 850,000.5

This means that even if something miraculous happens and Armenia acquires a sufficient amount of modern equipment, it still has fewer people. If only…

Let’s talk about the “if only”.

What does Pashinyan mean by saying: “We hope to expand not only security cooperation, but military-technical cooperation as well?” As we know, Armenia doesn’t have the money to purchase any armaments. Moreover, all the previous forms of cooperation and integration have been insufficient for Russia to really wish to solve Armenia’s problems.

The recent events prove that Armenia gains nothing from being a part of the CSTO or the CIS. From this point of view, Armenia’s only solution is tighter integration with Russia so that the armed forces of Armenia and Russia are a single entity. This would be possible only if Armenia were to become Russia’s subject, or if they decide to establish a union state.

In order to establish a union state, the position of Belarus must be taken into account. After the recent events, Lukashenko has most likely agreed with all of Putin’s demands. Armenia’s geographic location would benefit Moscow, and we know that if there’s another country between two parts of Russia, it’s only a matter of time until this country loses its independence. This, of course, doesn’t concern countries that join NATO.

It’s difficult to predict how Armenians would welcome such a turn of events. They would surely be happy to defeat Azerbaijan and regain Nagorno-Karabakh, but would they be happy if Armenia returned to the Kremlin’s gentle embrace? One thing is certain – if this happens, Georgia and Azerbaijan must strengthen their armed forces and consider joining NATO.

1 https://www.delfi.lv/news/arzemes/pasinjans-pec-sagraves-kara-grib-vairak-militari-tuvinaties-krievijai.d?id=52687527

2 https://ru.armeniasputnik.am/trend/russia-armenia-sotrudnichestvo/

3 https://www.mfa.am/ru/bilateral-relations/ru

4 https://minval.az/news/123969164?__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=3c1fa3a58496fb586b369317ac2a8b8d08b904c8-1606307230-0-AeV9H0lgZJoxaNLLL-LsWbQCmj2fwaDsHfNxI1A_aVcfay0gJ6ddLg9-JZcdY2hZux09Z42iH_62VgGlAJlpV7sZjmrbfNfTzU8fjrQHv1xKwIWRzYpKhzJbmbuQbHqP3wtY2aeEfLRj6C9xMnDJKJfK40Mfi4iIsGdi9Euxe4ZbRZJmeQtK1cn0PAfY_HcspvrobE_xnWpHV15RMKhxtDwfXa7txsdiaCEdEyvO1ly6xzUfyKjX23lHbZyipnDFZg519aOsOID-NRKJr6oG4QPsxKToi1aNmiReSQL6c-c2bO_xwcDDNpoQjFLMlLBiV-KyUU6j8OrMFtSzGJat0LsXWWy1gfUVeazH8jO57V07njRXfNLz661GQ2hkGacjHA

5 https://www.gazeta.ru/army/2020/09/28/13271497.shtml?updated

The views expressed in the above article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect any opinions on the part of EU Reporter.

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Armenia

Nagorno-Karabakh: What next?

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On November 9th Armenia laid down its arms and agreed to a Russia-brokered ceasefire with Azerbaijan to end the thirty-year Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It remains to be seen if the two communities will ever learn to live side-by-side in peace. As we prepare for the next chapter in this painful story, we must address a principal cause of the conflict - Armenian nationalism, writes Tale Heydarov.

Throughout recent history, many conflicts have arisen as a result of ‘nationalism.’ This 18th-century ideology has enabled the creation of many modern nation-states, but has also been the root cause of many past tragedies, including the nightmare of the ‘Third Reich’. Unfortunately, this mantra still appears to hold sway over a number the political elites in Yerevan, as borne out by the violent scenes in the Armenian capital upon the announcement of the peace deal.

It could be argued that Armenian nationalism has even morphed into a form of ‘ultra-nationalism’ that seeks to exclude other minorities, nationalities and religions. This is clear in the demographic realities of Armenia today, with ethnic Armenians making up 98 per cent of the country’s citizenry after expelling hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis throughout the last 100 years.

Former Armenian President, Robert Kocharyan, once said that the reason Armenians could not live with Azerbaijanis was that they were “genetically incompatible”. Compare Armenia’s record to that of Azerbaijan, where, to this day, thirty thousand Armenians continue to live alongside their Caucasian neighbours alongside a plethora of other ethnic minority groups and faiths within the Republic of Azerbaijan. Outside of Azerbaijan, neighbouring Georgia is host to both a large Armenian and Azerbaijani diaspora who have lived happily side by side for many years, proving that peaceful co-existence is possible.

Despite universal recognition that Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan, Armenians have consistently ‘overlooked’ the premise of territorial integrity as recognised under international law. Armenia’s now much under-fire Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, branded a traitor by many of his countrymen for surrendering in the war, had consistently called for a ‘unification’ between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, previously stating that ‘Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh] is Armenia - the end’.

In a Facebook video address to Armenians, Pashinyan said that though the terms of the peace deal were “unbelievably painful for me and my people” they were necessary due to “a deep analysis of the military situation”. It, therefore, remains to be seen whether Armenian territorial claims to Karabakh are now once and for all at an end (facilitated by some 1900 Russian deployed peacekeepers).

Armenian territorial claims however are not limited to Nagorno-Karabakh. In August 2020, Pashinyan characterised the Treaty of Sèvres, (never ratified), as a matter of ‘historical fact,’ laying claim to lands that have been a part of Turkey for over 100 years. Armenia’s regional aspirations do not end there.

The Georgian province of Javakheti is also described as an integral part of a ‘United Armenia.’ These claims against neighbours demonstrate a pattern of behaviour. Such disregard for international law coupled with antagonistic policy positions is not conducive to maintaining peaceful relations within the wider region. Armenia needs to respect the sovereignty of the territories of its neighbours to ensure that peace is maintained.

Public discourse and information exchange in the media and online is also of particular importance for the peace. Throughout history, nations have utilised propaganda to rally citizens behind a government, or to boost national morale. Armenia’s leadership has consistently used disinformation and inflammatory remarks to whip up public sentiment for the war effort, including accusing Turkey of having an objective of “reinstating the Turkish empire” and an intent to “return to the South Caucasus to continue the Armenian genocide”. Responsible journalism should seek to challenge and call out baseless claims such as these. Politicians and the media have a responsibility to cool the simmering tensions between the two communities and should refrain from making inflammatory remarks for us to have any hope of peace.

We must learn the lessons of the past with Europe providing the perfect example of how countries, and a continent, can succeed in reducing conflict and disputes following its post-war response to fascism.

My home country of Azerbaijan has never sought war. The entire nation is relieved that at last, we have a chance to experience peace once again in the region. Our refugees and Internationally Displaced People (IDPs) will in due course be able to return to their homes and lands. Our relationship with the rest of our near-neighbourhood is a model of peaceful co-existence. Any embittered sentiment in Azerbaijan is in direct response to the aggressive and people displacing policies of Armenia over the last thirty years in their pursuit of a ‘Greater Armenia’. This must end.

Only through combatting destructive and xenophobic nationalism can Armenia find peace with both its neighbours and its own national identity. Armenia will not be able to do this alone. The international community has a pivotal role in ensuring that the worst facets of nationalism are called out and condemned under the internationally accepted norms of a rules-based system. We must learn and extol the lessons of post-war Germany and the role of education in ridding countries of fascist ideology. If we achieve this, there may just be a chance for lasting peace in the region.

Tale Heydarov is a former President of the Azerbaijan Premier League Football Club Gabala and Founder of the Azerbaijan Teacher Development Centre, current Chairman of Gilan Holding, Founder of the European Azerbaijan School, European Azerbaijan Society, as well as several publishing organisations, magazines and bookstores.  

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