On November 8th 2020, as Azerbaijani troops entered the strategically important town of Susha, after a fierce three-day battle, Nikol Vovayi Pashinyan, prime minister of Armenia and instigator of the aggression in Nagorno-Karabakh, would have realised that he had met his Waterloo. The issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani territory populated and governed mostly by ethnic Armenians, has been probably the one issue that has united the global Armenian diaspora. Instead of delivering his people a region, Pashinyan handed them a crippling military defeat. - writes Phillipe Jeune.
Whether he, or the man widely considered to be little more than Pashinyan’s puppet, President Armen Sarkissian, can survive politically has yet to be seen, although the prime minister himself is expected to do whatever he can to cling to power. However, thanks to his belligerence, and the asymmetrical relationship that his country enjoys with Russia, he may no longer be the master of his own fate.
Pashinyan’s actions, ill-advised, reckless, and costly, have led to a geo-political shift in the region.
The prompt arrival of Russian troops under the guise of “peacekeepers”, within hours of the Armenian capitulation, will present a challenge to the European Union which, whilst not being existential as such, certainly sees the bloc losing influence in the region. Possibly an obsession with “dealing with” Turkey, and an inherent inertia that sees it outmanoeuvred and outpaced by the Kremlin time and time again, has led to a certain dysfunctionalism in EU regional policy in this case.
President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, whose handling of the conflict has seen his political capital rise considerably at home and abroad, oversaw the agreement whereby Turkey, Azerbaijan’s strongest ally, would deploy a small force to the contested region to add balance, and to reassure his own people.
This move was immediately attacked by French president Emmanuel Macron, whose country is home to one of the largest Armenian communities in Europe - as many as 600,000 ethnic Armenians are believed to live in France - and he has faced criticism from that community that he did not do enough to help Yerevan.
France, along with Russia and the United States, jointly chairs the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, formed to mediate the conflict, but without any tangible signs of success having been achieved over the last three decades.
Macron’s domestic political concerns should not blind the EU to the importance of its role maintaining peace and stability in the troubled region, and its otherwise healthy relationship with Baku.
Instead of turning a blind eye towards Russia’s influence over Armenia the EU might consider addressing the belligerence of the Pashinyan regime, which in fact may be the result of Russian string-pulling, by imposing sanctions as it has done with Russia, Syria, Belarus, and certain Ukrainian officials and oligarchs.
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh saw Armenian forces burning homes and forests, as well as houses built by Azerbaijani people in Kalbajar who in 1993 were expelled: people who lived in the hope of one day returning to those homes. The EU, and the political groups in particular should not remain silent about these crimes.
Concerns are being expressed in Baku and elsewhere that having served his purpose Pashinyan’s departure, which could take place as early as December, will herald the installation of a pro-Kremlin puppet government.
The EU should have no doubts that Vladimir Putin is choreographing events in the Balkans, just as he has done in Syria, in the Caucus, in eastern Ukraine, and, in the opinion of many observers, in Belarus.
Azerbaijan has shown resolve in the face of aggression, and magnanimity in victory: ensuring the security and integrity of the country remains is also the best and possibly the only chance that Brussels has to maintain its influence in the region.
All opinions expressed in the above article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect any opinions on the part of EU Reporter.
For Azerbaijan, what comes after the military victory?
2020 will be remembered as a year of glorious victory in Azerbaijan. After nearly thirty years, the country liberated the territories that it lost to Armenia during the 1990s, known as Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan made seemingly light work of this impressive military victory. It took just 44 days for the country, with support from military ally Turkey, to bring an end to a conflict that some of the world’s most influential diplomatic powers had failed to effectively mediate for almost three decades.
This is clearly a source of great pride. After the victory, Azerbaijan put its military might on display through the streets of Baku. 3,000 military personnel and more than 100 pieces of military equipment paraded the streets of the capital city, witnessed by scores of Azerbaijanis, and overseen by Presidents Aliyev and Erdogan.
But the new year brings new challenges, and one big question – what comes after military victory?
The next stage for the Nagorno-Karabakh region has been neatly coined as the ‘three Rs’: re-construction, re-integration, and re-population. The slogan might sound simple, but the reality will be far from it. Victory in this arena will take much longer than 44 days, but Azerbaijan has started outlining a promising vision.
Following the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh, senior Azerbaijani figures accused the Armenian government of ‘urbicide’, shocked to see the level of destruction that had befallen their homes, cultural monuments, and even the natural environment. This is most visible in Aghdam, a majority Azerbaijani city nicknamed the Hiroshima of the Caucasus because Armenian forces methodically destroyed every single one of its buildings in the 1990s, except the mosque.
Although reconstruction from this position will not be easy, if Azerbaijan can harness the potential of the land, it will most certainly be worth it.
Nagorno-Karabakh has already been touted as the next hotspot for the Azerbaijani agricultural and manufacturing industries – but what is perhaps more interesting are the government’s proposals to drive tourists to the region.
Plans have begun for the construction of an airport in the re-captured Fizuli disctrict, work to develop a motorway between Fizuli and Shusha is underway, and the government intends to build several tourist centres throughout Nagorno-Karabakh.
The goal is to attract tourists from across Azerbaijan, and abroad, by shining a light on the many cultural sites of significance in the region, including Shusha, the Azykh cave and parts of the city of Hadrut.
Alongside existing sites, there are further plans to develop cultural life with literary festivals, museums, and concert venues.
Of course, in the long term, this has the potential to bring significant income to the region, but first, reconstruction requires funding. Already, the 2021 Azerbaijani state budget has allocated $1.3 billion for restoration and reconstruction work in the Karabakh region, but the government aims to draw international investment to bolster their funds.
It is hoped that regional partners, such as Turkey and Russia, will be enticed by the prospects of regional development.
A well-connected Nagorno-Karabakh can be used to form trade routes that could bring significant investments into the Caucasus region. Ironically, one of the countries that could benefit from this most is Armenia.
In the immediate aftermath of the conflict, the potential for economic co-operation between the two countries seems unlikely, but in time it could go some way to assist with the realisation of the second ‘R’, re-integration.
Ethnic re-conciliation is one of the greatest challenges in any post conflict situation. The Azerbaijani authorities have committed to ensuring that Armenian citizens are protected in line with their constitutional rights and have promised to offer any Armenian’s who wish to remain in Nagorno-Karabakh Azerbaijani passports, and the rights that come along with them.
But this alone will not be enough to build the confidence that is needed for Azerbaijanis and Armenians to live in peace, side by side. Wounds are still fresh. Azerbaijanis know that building the trust that will enable re-integration will take time. But there is reason to be optimistic.
Officials and analysts often point to Azerbaijan’s proven track record of multicultural co-existence as promise for the prospects of re-integration. Recently, the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Azerbaijan wrote in the Times of London about his experience taking up post in a Muslim majority country where the Jewish community is “thriving”.
What is likely to be a much easier task for the Azerbaijani authorities is the final ‘R’, repopulation.
Azerbaijan has amongst the highest number of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in the world. More than 600,000 Azerbaijanis were forced to leave their homes, either in Nagorno-Karabakh or in Armenia, after the first Karabakh War.
For almost all of them, the region remains home, and they are desperate to return home, but they rely on reconstruction before they can do so. That is precisely why the 3 Rs constitute a virtuous cycle that Azerbaijani leaders are setting in motion.
Azerbaijan stunned many with their military victory, and they intend to surprise the world again with their ability to deliver the conditions of lasting peace in the region.
Peace in South Caucasus critical to developing EU-China trade links
The signing of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment last week opens up new trade possibilities between the two global economic leaders. Yet until only a month ago, the only viable overland trade route from China to Europe was through central Asia. Now, with the ending of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh in November, the opening of a new land transit route across the South Caucasus can dramatically cut freight times from weeks to days, writes Ilham Nagiyev.
But if the EU is to benefit, it must ensure the peace holds. Though diplomatically absent in November’s mediated ceasefire, it can help establish stability in a region critical not only for deepening its trade ties with East Asia, but also its energy security. New Year’s Eve saw the first commercial sale of gas from Azerbaijan through Southern Gas Corridor, seven years in the making, to Europe.
This is key for EU energy diversification, but also for supplying cleaner energy to Balkan pipeline-transit states still reliant on coal for much of its energy. The route to lasting peace is through the hand of economic co-operation. The task of rebuilding the region occupied by Armenian separatists for nearly 30 years is enormous. Infrastructure has crumbled, farmland lies fallow and some areas are now completely deserted. While Azerbaijan is a wealthy country, it needs partners in development to fully realize what these lands can offer economically to the world.
But with Azerbaijan’s control returning to lands international recognised as its own, a path has now been opened for the renormalization of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as shared prosperity in Karabakh. It also opens the door to institutional investors such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Whilst under control of Armenian separatists, institutional charters barred organizations from operating in the region, given the administration’s unrecognized status in international law. This, in turn, froze out private investment. With no other options available, the enclave instead became dependent on aid or investment from Armenia, itself reckoning with its own economic challenges. Indeed, if anything was to be exported from the then occupied region, it first had to go to Armenia to be illegally labelled “made in Armenia” before being moved on.
This in itself is obviously inefficient and unlawful. But to compound matters, Yerevan’s integration into the global economy was thin: the majority of its trade is with Russia and Iran; the borders to Azerbaijan and Turkey shut due to its support for the separatists and occupied lands. Freed from illegitimacy, this can now change. And an area ripe for investment and development – and where EU is well-placed to assist – is agriculture. When Azerbaijan and Armenia were part of the USSR, Karabakh was the breadbasket of the region. As a global leader for precision farming, the EU could provide technical expertise and investment to bring the area back to production and enhance food security once more for both nations, but particularly for Armenia, where food insecurity stands at 15%.
Produce can also be earmarked for export to a wider market, particularly Europe. Transportation routes in the region run in contorted lines due not to geography, but because of the conflict and its diplomatic ramifications. The return of territory and renormalization of relations holds the promise of correcting this. Not only Karabakh but Armenia can then be reintegrated into the Southern Caucasus regional economy and beyond. This chance at economic consolidation is critical for the region’s future.
Ultimately, lasting peace requires future reconciliation between the Armenia and Azerbaijan. But if there is opportunity to be shared around – not only in agriculture, but telecoms, renewables and mineral extraction – it removes a potential cause for friction. The sooner citizens start to feel the warmth of economic prosperity, the more inclined they will be to support the political settlement that can bring about a durable resolution.
Though the EU may feel side-lined when the ceasefire was negotiated largely in its absence, this should not deter it from now extending the hand of economic co-operation. Long term peace requires development. But in due course, the stability this will foster shall send prosperity back in Europe’s direction.
Ilham Nagiyev is the chairman of Odlar Yurdu Organization in the UK and chairman of leading agricultural company in Azerbaijan, Bine Agro.
Azerbaijan starts shipping Shah Deniz Gas to Europe
At the very end of 2020, Azerbaijan started shipping commercial natural gas from the Shah Deniz field to European countries through the Trans-Adriatic Gas Pipeline (TAP), media outlets reported, quoting SOCAR.
Azerbaijani gas reached Europe through pipelines for the first time ever. Having been integrated into the Italian network back in November, TAP, the last segment of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), delivered the first gas from Melendugno to Italy via SNAM Rete Gas (SRG) and from Nea Mesimvria to Greece and Bulgaria via DESFA on December 31.
The direct pipeline connection to Europe, the world’s largest importer of natural gas, created the opportunity for Azerbaijan to diversify its energy exports. This will benefit the country, helping it move towards greater economic autonomy.
SOCAR President, Rovnag Abdullayev, praised December 31 as a historic day, expressing his appreciation and thanks to the partner countries, companies, experts and colleagues who had been involved in the TAP, Shah Deniz-2, and Southern Gas Corridor projects and contributed to the unprecedented delivery of Azerbaijani gas to the European market. “I would like to thank financial institutions for propping up the project and the residents of the communities where the pipelines pass”, he said.
In addition, Abdullayev congratulated both the people of the European Union and the people of Azerbaijan “on behalf of SOCAR, a shareholder in all Southern Gas Corridor segments, and Azerbaijani oil workers who have accomplished this historic mission”. “I warmly congratulate Azerbaijan on behalf of President Ilham Aliyev, the architect and driving force of the great project,” he said.
As the SOCAR president stated: “The final investment decision was taken seven years ago. It was followed by the signing of 25-year gas agreements with Europe’s gas transport companies Although some felt doubtful of success, we have finalized the construction of three 3,500-kilometer interconnected gas pipelines, enabling Europe to receive Azerbaijani gas for the first time in history.”
“Natural gas extracted from the new source and transported via the alternative route will bolster Europe’s energy security,” he added by highlighting the fact that “the EU gas production has declined, which creates a need for more gas in the market. In this context, Azerbaijani gas will satisfy this demand, thus making the country more strategically important to the Old Continent.”
Speaking about the newly commissioned pipeline, Luca Schieppati, TAP’s Managing Director, touted the day as historic for “our project, the host countries and Europe’s energy landscape”. He stressed the fundamental role of TAP in the continent’s gas network, adding that “it contributes to the energy transition road map and offers a reliable, direct, and cost-effective transportation route to south-east Europe and beyond”.
In the summer of 2021, Azerbaijan will enter the second stage in market research to further expand TAP and increase its capacity to 20 billion cubic metres.
TAP is a 878-km cross-border pipeline which allows natural gas from the giant Shah Deniz gas field in Azerbaijan’s sector of the Caspian Sea to flow into Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece and finally Italy. The route runs from the Greek-Turkish border (near Kipoi) to the southern coast of Italy after crossing Greece, Albania and the Adriatic Sea.
Installing extra interconnectors may translate into more gas shipments to Southeast Europe via the newly commissioned pipeline. Take, for example, Bulgaria which is supposed to bolster energy security by importing 33% of its natural gas needs from Azerbaijan. Thanks to TAP, the country will see higher natural gas penetration on the ground. In addition, the fact that the SCG segment stretches through Greece, Albania and Italy can help Azerbaijan to transport gas to other European countries.
TAP, the strategically vital leg of the SCG mega-project, seeks to provide Europe with reliable access to the new natural gas source, diversify its supplies and achieve greater decarbonization.
TAP’s shareholding is divided among SOCAR, BP and SNAM, with a 20% stake each, Fluxys with a 19% holding, Enagas with 16% and Axpo with 5%.
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