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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.  

Armenia

EU and Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement enters into force

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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.

More information

EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement text

EU Delegation to Armenia website

EU-Armenia relations factsheet

EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement factsheet

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Armenia

Armenian PM warns of coup attempt after army demands he quit

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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.

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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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