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EU faces foreign policy headache with Armenian aggression in Nagorno-Karabakh

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The EU is facing challenges on several fronts. Not only is the COVID-19 pandemic’s second wave crashing down on Europe, and the continent’s economy still struggling to recover from its first impact in spring, but the EU faces several foreign policy challenges at the same time. Brexit, the situation in Belarus, the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, and the continuing immigration crisis – these are all keeping EU leaders busy. Now they have to deal with a new foreign policy headache on Europe’s eastern borders that is entirely avoidable and unnecessary: the flare-up of hostilities over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Earlier this week, the EU's High Representative Josep Borrell joined with MEPs in a debate in the European Parliament in urging a ceasefire and an immediate end to the bloodshed.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an enclave in the Caucasus that is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan. Yet Armenia has occupied this region and seven adjoining districts of Azerbaijan, since the two countries fought a war in the early 1990s during the break-up of the Soviet Union. Armenia has refused to hand back control of Azerbaijan’s territory, despite four United Nations’ resolutions calling for it to withdraw its forces.

This uneasy situation has remained in place for the past three decades, with brief border flare-ups, such as in 2014 and 2016. However, nothing like what we are seeing today: the fighting in the past week has involved heavy artillery, drones and warplanes. Already 27 civilians have been killed in Azerbaijan and 141 injured. Armenia has reported 220 soldiers and at least 21 civilians have died.

Armenia is accused of using the opportunity of a West distracted by COVID-19 to alter the situation on the ground and capture more Azerbaijani territory. As a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance of ex-Soviet states, Armenia is assured of Russian help if it faces external aggression within its borders. However, under international law no such intervention would be justified in Nagorno-Karabakh and its seven surrounding districts, which are internationally recognised Azerbaijani territories under Armenian occupation for 30 years. Nevertheless, this conflict has been advantageous for Armenia so far, which faced little downside despite its smaller size, economy, population, and military power in comparison to Azerbaijan.

However, this is a big loss for Europe. Not only is there a violent conflict at the southern edges of Europe, but it jeapardises the key pipeline that passes through Azerbaijan and supplies gas to Europe.Azerbaijan has also been a strong partner of the West, with a strong secular polity.

Azerbaijan has responded with restraint to Armenian aggression, attacking only targets inside Nagorno-Karabakh. This is after all Azerbaijani territory. Azerbaijan has been careful this past week to not attack Armenian targets within Armenia itself, which Armenia would almost certainly have used as a pretext to demand Russian military assistance as per the collective defence terms of the CSTO.

Armenia has been trying to force this escalation, by attacking Azerbaijan’s second city Ganja, which is of little military value to Armenia as it lies over 100 km from Nagorno-Karabakh. It has also attacked the towns of Beylagan, Barda and Terter and there are reports that militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party and the group’s Syrian branch, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), who received training in Iraq and Turkey have been transferred to Nagorno-Karabakh to train Armenia forces.

 But Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev has been careful to avoid escalating the conflict.

“Now the target of Armenia, which is bombing Azerbaijan, is involving Russia and the CSTO in this conflict. They want us to hit Armenia too and then they would apply to the CSTO for protection,” Aliyev said in an interview with Turkish TV channel TRT.

Russia, the United States and France have called for a ceasefire, though Russian president Vladimir Putin is the only leader who has the regional clout to end the present conflict. He can tell Armenia to back down if he wishes – Russia is, after all, Armenia’s most important ally. Russia also has good relations with Azerbaijan, which would make it a mediator acceptable to both sides.

President Aliyev gave a positive assessment of Russia's position on the current hostilities. “In this matter, Russia behaves like a very responsible and large country. Positive signals are coming from Russia and the issue of support for any side is not a subject for discussion,” he pointed out.

The EU needs to work with Russia to bring an immediate end to hostilities. Armenia should stop attacking Azerbaijan’s cities, and start negotiating its withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh. This simmering ‘frozen conflict’ will now have to be resolved, or else a wider regional war with Turkey, Iran and Russia cannot be ruled out.

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Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Armenia continues bombing civilians

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Azerbaijani authorities have reported an attack on a residential area in Ganja, the country's second largest city, with at least nine dead and 34 injured, on Sunday, October 11. President Ilham Aliev has denounced this violation of the ceasefire only just agreed by both sides.

Azerbaijan accused Armenia of not respecting the truce agreement that entered into force the day before, and of continuing the bombing of civilian areas. In the afternoon, no exchange of prisoners or bodies had been announced, a stated objective of the humanitarian ceasefire negotiated in Moscow, which was due to come into force on Saturday at 12 p.m. local time.

In Ganja, journalists saw Azerbaijani rescuers at work in the rubble of a building, from which two bodies were removed. A total of nine apartments were destroyed, according to witnesses, by a strike at 2 a.m. (local time).

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev denounced the attack on Twitter as a "flagrant violation of the ceasefire" and a "war crime".

"The Armenian armed forces do not respect the humanitarian truce and continue to fire rockets and artillery on the towns and villages of Azerbaijan".

Armenia denies bombing Ganja.

Araïk Haroutiounian, the self-proclaimed “president” in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, said Sunday morning that his troops respected "the ceasefire agreement" and considered the situation "calmer" than the day before.

"As long as the shooting continues, there will be no exchange" of prisoners or bodies, warned the separatist leader in the morning.

The humanitarian truce was negotiated by the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers, under the aegis of Russia.

The Russian and Turkish foreign ministers called, in a Russian statement given after their telephone conversation, for "the need to strictly respect all the provisions" of the agreement.

The European Union (EU) has expressed “extreme concern” over violations of the truce in Nagorno-Karabakh.

"We take note with extreme concern of reports of continued military activities, especially against civilian targets, and civilian casualties," EU foreign minister Joseph Borrell said in a statement on Sunday.

An Azerbaijani spokesman said, “Indifference to the tragedy in Azerbaijan today could lead Europe to greater instability and tragedies in the future”.

He named the current stance of the EU ineffective, stating that the silence over human tragedy in Ganja and making veiled general statements will only encourage Armenia to continue its war crimes.

President of the EU Council Charles Michel responded to the situation in a tweet, saying:

“The humanitarian ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan is an essential step towards de-escalation. I call on parties to observe ceasefire and to avoid further violence and putting civilians at risk. Negotiations without preconditions must resume without delay #NagornoKarabakh”.

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Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia and Azerbaijan agree ceasefire

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Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed a temporary ceasefire in the conflict in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Russia's foreign minister announced the agreement just before 03:00 Moscow time (midnight GMT), following 10 hours of talks in the Russian capital.

Sergey Lavrov said the two countries would now begin "substantive" talks.

More than 300 people have died and thousands displaced since the latest violence in the long-running conflict broke out on 27 September.

The hostilities will be halted from midday local time (08:00 GMT) on Saturday, to allow an exchange of prisoners and the recovery of dead bodies.

Nagorno-Karabakh is run by ethnic Armenians although it is officially part of Azerbaijan.

The two former Soviet republics have blamed each other for the latest outbreak of violence - the worst in decades.

Russia has a military base in Armenia and both are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) alliance.

However, Moscow also has good relations with Azerbaijan.

On Friday (9 October) the Armenian defence ministry said fighting continued through the day, despite the talks being held in Moscow.

On Thursday, Armenia accused Azerbaijan of deliberately shelling a historic cathedral in Nagorno-Karabakh. Pictures showed serious damage at the Holy Saviour Cathedral in Shusha city (known as Shushi in Armenian).

At the same time, Azerbaijan said that its second-largest city, Ganja, and the region of Goranboy had been shelled by Armenian forces, with at least one civilian killed.

Speaking to the BBC earlier this week, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan warned of a "genocide" in the region, and said it was "Armenia, land of Armenians".

The clashes have displaced half of Nagorno-Karabakh's population - about 70,000 people - officials said.

The region's main city, Stepanakert, has suffered several days of shelling with residents sheltering in basements and much of the city left without power.

Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1988-94, eventually declaring a ceasefire. However, they never reached a settlement in the dispute.

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Terror threat in South Caucasus can spread to Europe

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During the whole period of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia the escalation has never reached to such critical point. Even in April 2016 when the Armenian side started massive operations against Azerbaijan, the two sides have never openly talked about a war so confidently. The army mobilization of both sides is an alarming fact that should be taken seriously by the international community.

International organization such as OSCE are failing to solve the problem by peaceful means which causes a decline in public trust in them. The Azerbaijani side openly claims that OCSE’s efforts are useless and highly non-effective -  writes Galib Mammadov, an independent expert and MA in International Relations from Washington University in St. Louis.

Even Azerbaijani government officials refer to photos of OCSE Minsk Group co-chairs having a party in Nagorno Karabakh instead of conducting conflict resolution and peacekeeping activities.1 This serves to public anger in Azerbaijani side and makes a war inevitable. On the other hand, any probability of war creates security issues for Armenia and as a last resort their government is aiming to use their relations with regional terror organizations such as ASALA (Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia) and PKK as a guarantee for their security. When going back to 70s, 80s and 90s, it becomes evident that Armenia has a tendency of collaborating with terror organizations and using them as a hard power for achieving their goals. Involvement of such organizations in the region is a huge threat for the whole World. Thus if they get reinforced in the region, they may get aligned with other terroristic agencies in the Middle East which would boost a global terror.

Brief Background of Nagorno Karabakh Conflict

Relations between two countries worsened after ethnic Armenia forces occupied Azerbaijani territories between the years of 1988 and 1994. Since the 1994 ceasefire, the Karabakh conflict has remained frozen despite international mediation. Armenia occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijani territories as a result of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, displacing approximately 800,000 Azerbaijanis from their territories. Additionally, the United Nations recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan Republic and has four resolutions that call on withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied districts of Azerbaijan.2

Background of ASALA’s Terror

Terrorist organizations like the ASALA and the armed wing of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) were one of the most dangerous terrorist movements in Europe during the early 1970s. ASALA launched in Lebanon Beirut in 1975 for the purpose of Approximately 90 individuals were killed and hundreds were wounded through a terrorist attack by these organizations. Such attacks covered North America, Europe, the Middle East and the south Pacific regions targeting ethnic Turks (mostly diplomats).3 But they also took lives of American, French, Italian and Yugoslav people. Taking into account the fact that, 1981 Armenian terrorists accounted for the highest number of documented international terrorist attacks, the U.S. government defined Armenian terrorists as the most dangerous group in the World at that time. 4

Major terror operations of ASALA were explosion at the Consulates General of the Republic of Turkey in the cities of Frankfurt, Cologne and Essen, Germany, explosion at Yeşilköy Airport in Istanbul, killing 5 and injuring 42, hostage crisis at Esenboga Airport in Ankara, killing 10 and injuring 82, explosion at an international trade fair in Marseilles, France, killing one and injuring 26, Explosion at the Turkish Airlines office at Orly airport in Paris, killing 8, and injuring 55. 5

Armenian political violence peaked between the fall of 1979 and the summer of 1983. By the end of July 1983, assassinations, armed assaults and bomb attacks took the lives of many Turkish Foreign Ministry officials, dependents and employees, as well as French, American, Italian, Yugoslav, Swiss and German nationals. The period was marked by the particularly brutal automatic weapon assaults at the Esenboğa Airport, the Istanbul Covered Bazaar, and Turkish Embassy and Ambassadorial Residence in Lisbon in the summers of 1982 and 1983, and the premature detonation of a bomb designed to explode in mid-air at the Orly Airport in Paris in July 1983. Eight people were killed, including four French citizens, two Turks, an American, and a Swedish, and close to sixty others were wounded.6 Former CIA director of counterterrorism commented the situation as following: “They [Armenians]’re brutal… They don’t take hostages to negotiate. It’s just out-and-out murder.” 7 Armenian terror was a nightmare for both Europeans and Americans and ASALA was a unique case that shall not be forgotten as a lesson by International community.

Armenia – ASALA relations

Armenia’s prior president Ter-Petrosyan attended ASALA member’s Monte Melkonian's funeral in 1993. It clearly means ASALA regarded as a legitimate entity in Armenia. Armenia showed their support to terrorist organization which took lives of many people all around the World. In addition, Members of ASALA are officially regarded as national heroes. Thus, after death Monte Melkonian was awarded with the highest military honors of Nagorno Karabagh and the Republic of Armenia, including the Military Cross, First Degree and the Golden Eagle medal.8 Armenia openly promotes terror activities and gives legitimacy to such actions. That shall be an alarm not just for the region, also for the whole World. Thus, terror operations of ASALA affected not just Turks and Azerbaijani people in the region, also affected Europe and the United States of America taking lives of many people.

In addition, according to legitimate Armenian media sources Armenian government started a program on settlement of Lebanese Armenians to occupied territories of Azerbaijan. In august 2020 Armenian media declared two Lebanese-Armenian families move to Nagorno-Karabakh.9 In September 2020 the number reached to one hundred people.10 Armenian sources describe such settlement as humanitarian help to Lebanese Armenians regarding the catastrophe happened in Beirut. On the contrary Azerbaijani sources recall it as an intentional provocation aiming settle terrorist to Karabakh and revive so-called ASALA terror organization which was a nightmare for Europe. According to Azerbaijani sources director of Russia’s Political Researches Institute, philologist Sergey Markov in his interview with APA’s Moscow correspondent called Armenia’s actions as an attempt to a terror by saying “Through Pashinyan’s deeds, terror experience in Middle East may spread to the South Caucasus”. 11 Another Russian expert Andrey Petrov in his statement to APA’s Moscow correspondent alarmed Russian government about danger of terror: “By deploying terrorists to Azerbaijan’s occupied territories, Armenia creates great problem for Russia”. 12Armenia’s policies for achieving of its goals by means of terror and war would jeopardize peace not just in the region also in Europe.

Conclusion

Both Armenia’s respect to country’s terrorist leaders in government level and its settlement plan regarding Armenians of Lebanon gives a basis to build a hypothesis that Armenia is aiming to revive its historical terror organizations like ASALA. International community shall use its all means (sanctions, notes and etc.) to prevent Armenia using a terrorism as a tool for their political goals, like they did in 70s, 80s, and 90s. Deployment of terrorist groups like PKK and ASALA to Nagorno Karabakh and other occupied territories of Azerbaijan, will take lives not just Azerbaijani or Turkish people, also, European, American, Russian and even Armenian people may be victims of their operations like it happened in the near history. The message shall be clear that any goal shall not be achieved by assault, terror, assassinations and massacres. If Such organizations succeed, it will motivate many other terror organizations to act which will jeopardize global peace and security. Sanctions and relevant measures by international community shall be imposed to any government that supports act of terror.

The opinions contained in this article are personal to the author.

2 http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2008/ga10693.doc.htm

3 Gunter M.M. (2011) Armenian Terrorism in the Twentieth Century. In: Armenian History and the Question of Genocide. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230118874_3

4 “Armenian Terrorists,” January 10, 1983, CIA, CIA-RDP88-01070R000100520004-4; “Patterns of International Terrorism: 1981,” in Department of State Bulletin Vol. 82, No. 2065 (August 1982): 16; and Gunter, “Pursuing the Just Cause of their People”

5 Christopher Gunn (2014) Secret Armies and Revolutionary Federations: The Rise and Fall of Armenian Political Violence, 1973-1993

6 ABC News, July 15, 1983; Greg MacArthur, AP, Paris, July 15, 1983; “5 Killed, 60 Hurt by Paris Bomb; Armenian Extremists Take Blame,” Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1983; Peggy Turbett, UPI, Paris, July 15, 1983; Brigid Phillips, UPI, Paris, July 15, 1983; “5 Killed in Orly Airport Bombing; Armenians Claim Responsibility,” New York Times, July 16, 1983; “A Long History of Vengeance,” NYT, July 16, 1983; “Armenian Blast Kills 5m Hurts 56 at Paris Airport,” LAT, July 16, 1983; Claire Rosemberg, “American student killed in bomb explosion,” UPI, Paris, July 16, 1983; UPI, Paris, July 16, 1983; Greg MacArthur, AP, Paris, July 16, 1983; “Armenians Claim More Victims,” NYT, July 17, 1983; “Death Toll Climbs to 6 in Orly Bombing,” NYT, July 17, 1983; “American Among Dead in Orly Blast,” Washington Post, July 17, 1983; “Turkish Press Review: July 16-18, 1983,” ANKARA 06192, July 18, 1983, DOS; “Orly Blast Claims Seventh Victim, New Threats,” Associated Press, July 21, 1983; Death Toll Rises to 7 After Terror at Orly,” NYT, July 22, 1983; “ASALA Bombing of Orly Airport Takes Heavy Toll; Paris Police, in Major Sweep, Detain Over 50 Suspects,” Armenian Reporter, July 21, 1983; and “ASALA-planned blast at France’s Orly Airport,” Armenian Weekly, July 23, 1983

7 “Terrorist Group Baffles Experts in Armenian Tactics,” Washington Post, July 26, 1983

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