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 Region’s leader Nechirvan Barzani.
Reportedly, Armenia’s 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 Hezbollah’s 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 PKK’s 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 people’s 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.
EU and Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement enters into force
On 1 March, the European Union-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) entered into force. It has now been ratified by the Republic of Armenia, all EU member states and the European Parliament. This represents an important milestone for EU-Armenia relations.
This Agreement provides a framework for the EU and Armenia to work together in a wide range of areas: strengthening democracy, the rule of law and human rights; creating more jobs and business opportunities, improving legislation, public safety, a cleaner environment, as well as better education and opportunities for research. This bilateral agenda also contributes to overall aim of the EU to deepen and strengthen its relations with the countries of its Eastern neighbourhood through the Eastern Partnership framework.
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/European Commission Vice President Josep Borrell said: “The entry into force of our Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement comes at a moment when Armenia faces significant challenges. It sends a strong signal that the EU and Armenia are committed to democratic principles and the rule of law, as well as to a wider reform agenda. Across political, economic, trade, and other sectoral areas, our Agreement aims to bring positive change to people's lives, to overcome challenges to Armenia's reforms agenda.”
Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi underlined that: “While these are trying times for Armenia, the European Union continues to stand by the Armenian people. The entry into force of the bilateral EU-Armenia agreement on 1 March will allow us to strengthen our work on the economy, connectivity, digitalisation and the green transformation as priority areas. These will have concrete benefits for the people and are key for socio-economic recovery and the longer-term resilience of the country. In the current turbulent days, maintaining calm and respect for democracy and constitutional order are key.”
The Agreement was signed in November 2017 and substantial parts of have been provisionally applied since 1 June 2018. Since then, the breadth and depth of the bilateral cooperation between Armenia and the European Union have advanced steadily. At the 3rd EU-Armenia Partnership Council held on 17 December 2020, the European Union and Armenia reiterated their full commitment to implementing the CEPA.
The Agreement plays an important role for the modernization of Armenia, in particular through legislative approximation to EU norms in many sectors. This includes reforms in the rule of law and respect of human rights, particularly an independent, efficient and accountable justice system, as well as reforms aimed at enhancing the responsiveness and effectiveness of public institutions and at favouring the conditions for sustainable and inclusive development.
From the entry into force of the Agreement on 1 March, cooperation will be strengthened in those areas which to date were not subject to the provisional application of the Agreement. The European Union stands ready and looks forward to working even more closely with Armenia on the full and effective implementation of the Agreement, in our mutual interest and to the benefit of our societies and citizens.
Armenian PM warns of coup attempt after army demands he quit
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (pictured) warned of an attempted military coup against him on Thursday (25 February) and called on his supporters to rally in the capital after the army demanded he and his government resign, writes Nvard Hovhannisyan.
The Kremlin, an ally of Armenia, said it was alarmed by events in the former Soviet republic, where Russia has a military base, and urged the sides to resolve the situation peacefully and within the framework of the constitution.
Pashinyan has faced calls to quit since November after what critics said was his disastrous handling of a six-week conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and surrounding areas.
Ethnic Armenian forces ceded swathes of territory to Azerbaijan in the fighting, and Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to the enclave, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated by ethnic Armenians.
Pashinyan, 45, has repeatedly rejected calls to step down despite opposition protests. He says he takes responsibility for what happened but now needs to ensure his country’s security.
On Thursday, the army added its voice to those calling for him to resign.
“The ineffective management of the current government and the serious mistakes in foreign policy have put the country on the brink of collapse,” the army said in a statement.
It was unclear whether the army was willing to use force to back the statement, in which it called for Pashinyan to resign, or whether its call for him to step down was just verbal.
Pashinyan responded by calling on his followers to rally in the centre of the capital, Yerevan, to support him and took to Facebook to address the nation in a livestream.
“The most important problem now is to keep the power in the hands of the people, because I consider what is happening to be a military coup,” he said.
In the livestream, he said he had dismissed the head of the general staff of the armed forces, a move that still needs to be signed off by the president.
Pashinyan said a replacement would be announced later and that the crisis would be overcome constitutionally. Some of his opponents said they also planned to rally in the centre of Yerevan later on Thursday.
Arayik Harutyunyan, president of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, offered to act as a mediator between Pashinyan and the general staff.
“We have already shed enough blood. It’s time to overcome the crises and move on. I’m in Yerevan and I’m ready to become a mediator to overcome this political crisis,” he said.
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict flares despite ceasefire
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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