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Russia Silent, US Absent, as France Fuels Clashes Between Azerbaijan and Armenia

October 6, 2020


Several buildings were destroyed, in Ganja, Azerbaijani by Armenian attacks, October 5, 2020 Armenian enclave capital city of Stepanakert is reported to be without electricity after the shelling, October 5, 2020
Nagorno Karabakh map, October 5, 2020  


Russia silent, US absent as France fuels clashes between Azerbaijan, Armenia



Daily Sabah, OCT 06, 2020 3:16 PM GMT

Fearing an all-out war between the two countries in the South Caucasus, the international community is closely following developments as well as calls from the Minsk Group, which so far has been absent, dysfunctional and biased in its role of solving the crisis

The resumption of deadly fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia has turned the international community's attention to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, which is tasked with solving the crisis and on which the international community relies to steer both countries toward a path to peace. Yet, while Russia's silence has been deafening and the U.S. has been widely absent, France has fanned the flames of conflict through statements of support for Yerevan and accusations toward third parties instead of providing a solution.

Thirty years of negotiations and attempts by the Minsk Group’s three co-chairs – France, Russia and the U.S. – to convince Armenia to withdraw from occupied Azerbaijani territories peacefully have led to no progress as experts describe the trio’s diplomacy as dysfunctional and biased.

“The behavior of French President (Emmanuel) Macron and Russia, in general, has surprised many observers of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict over the past week. As for the French president, he seems to be continuing his anger toward President (Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan and Turkey that first began to surface last year around October,” Matthew Bryza, a former U.S. co-chair of the Minsk Group and former U.S. envoy to Azerbaijan, told Daily Sabah.

Bryza noted that relations between the two NATO allies soured when Macron called the transatlantic alliance “brain dead” after U.S. President Donald Trump seemed to accept Erdoğan’s request to move Turkish troops into northern Syria in an operation to secure its border from terrorism.

“Since then, Macron has been highly critical of President Erdoğan and Turkey, whether it be in Syria, Libya or the Eastern Mediterranean and now Azerbaijan. His full tilt toward Armenia makes it very difficult if not impossible for France to remain an impartial mediator as a co-chair of the Minsk Group. So, the Minsk Group is in big trouble,” Bryza said.

Macron last week voiced support for Yerevan in Latvia's capital Riga during a visit to the Baltic European Union state, saying, “I say to Armenia and to the Armenians, France will play its role."

Speaking to Daily Sabah, journalist Sevil Nuriyeva Ismayılov said that there is a plan by France to pull Turkey into the events through Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.

“In such a plan, Armenia will occupy new territory, and this violation will be met with anger by Turkey and lead to Turkey’s response, which would be opposed by Russia and result in a clash between Moscow and Ankara despite consensus on Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean,” Ismayılov pointed out, describing this as France’s strategy.

She suggested that France believed Turkey and Russia would confront each other, yet has been met with Azerbaijan’s statements insisting on Ankara’s presence at the negotiating table as a principle condition. “As Ilham Aliyev underlined on Monday, there is no way that Azerbaijan will sit down with anyone without Turkey,” she said.

The trio late Monday stated that the escalating conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh represented an "unacceptable threat" to the region's stability.

The three countries' foreign ministers in a joint statement condemned "in the strongest terms the unprecedented and dangerous escalation of violence," adding that attacks allegedly targeting civilian centers "constitute an unacceptable threat to the stability of the region."

"The ministers call once again upon the conflicting parties to accept an immediate and unconditional ceasefire," the statement said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. on the same day condemned the escalation of tensions immediately and urged a halt to the fighting, reiterating its call to cease all hostilities.

However, statements, calls and appeals for peace have remained insufficient in the absence of a permanent solution to the decadeslong conflict.

The Nagorno-Karabakh region, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, has been controlled by Christian Armenian separatists since the conflict broke out during the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. The latest flare-up began on Sept. 27, when Armenian forces targeted civilian Azerbaijani settlements and military positions, leading to casualties and making peace seem to be a distant notion. Both countries declared states of war and mobilized their troops.

Besides having occupied territories including Nagorno-Karabakh and seven regions around it, Armenia has also ignored – for almost 30 years – the U.N. resolutions demanding the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from occupied territories.

Russia adopts balanced stance

Regarding Russia’s role in the conflict between the two former Soviet nations, Bryza stated that Moscow “actually is behaving like a co-chair; it is being impartial; it is calling for both sides to stop shooting and come to negotiations with no preconditions.”

“That is a surprise to many Armenians because they expect strong support by Russia, and they have always depended on Russia as a key ally for a couple centuries,” he said, adding that knowing Moscow is Armenia's ally as part of the Russian-led security bloc, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Yerevan expected greater backing.

Russia has a military base in Armenia, considers it to be a strategic partner in the South Caucasus region and supplies it with weapons.

Bryza explained that although this treaty obliged Russia to come to Armenia’s defense in times of need, it is only binding when Armenian territory is attacked, “which is not the case now as Azerbaijan’s territory is being fought over.”

Ismayılov said it is necessary to read Russia's point of view through the relationship between Pashinian and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Pashinian had been trying to hinder Russian influence from the day he arrived, which was met with serious objections by the Kremlin, causing comments beyond criticism on Pashinian in the Russian media,” Ismayılov elaborated.

Ismayılov underlined that Russia objects to increasing anti-Russian structures around it, and therefore, in the face of the violation of the borders of Azerbaijan, Moscow indirectly supports Baku.

“On one hand, Russia gives a lesson by not supporting Pashinian openly; on the other hand, it tries to prevent an uncontrolled instability in the region that could cost Russia,” she added.

Saying that Russia behaving even-handedly in the current conflict is putting pressure on Pashinian, Bryza highlighted that the Armenian prime minister is the embodiment of Putin’s fear as “a popular person who comes to power through a peaceful uprising and who overthrows the old regime and the old political and economic system, which was heavily dominated by Moscow.”

“Putin’s great fear is that the same thing could happen to him in Russia,” he underlined.

Putin has been facing mass protests at home over the summer against constitutional reforms that give the Russian leader the option to remain in power for another 16 years while he faced increasing criticism in the international arena for the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny with an internationally banned nerve agent last month.

U.S. absent

The U.S., on the other hand, appears absent in this latest crisis.

“The U.S. role has been quite limited so far, simply calling on both sides to stop fighting and get back to negotiations,” Bryza said, noting that the country has been largely absent diplomatically from the South Caucasus since the George W. Bush administration. “The (Donald) Trump administration is, unfortunately, continuing that. At the end of the day, the U.S. is needed at the highest political level to be active or at least look interested in what the Minsk Group is doing for the group to take the role it is supposed to play,” he stressed.

No solution to the latest ignition of fighting and the decadeslong problem lying behind it is in sight as Armenia continues its provocative war-rhetoric and Azerbaijan pledges to press on until all Azerbaijani territory is taken back.

In a broadcasted interview with Al Jazeera last Saturday, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev criticized the Minsk Group, saying that one reason behind the current fighting is that “the mediators do not insist or exert pressure to start implementing the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.”

“We have no time to wait another 30 years. The conflict must be resolved now,” Aliyev said.

Bryza said that Russia’s role could be essential in the upcoming days of the conflict. “I do not expect Russia to intervene in the fighting. I think there will come a time when Azerbaijan has recovered enough of its own territory in Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding regions that it will be sufficient politically to satisfy Baku, and it will be time to return to the negotiating table to figure out what the ultimate legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh itself will be," he said.

Bryza underlined that when the time is ripe for negotiations, Russia could play a significant role while Turkey could encourage Baku “to be satisfied with their gains up to that point and to return to negotiation again about the future of Nagorno-Karabakh and about the full withdrawal of all Armenian troops.”


Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Major cities hit as heavy fighting continues

BBC, October 5, 2020

Azerbaijan's second-largest city, Ganja, has been shelled by Armenian forces, as heavy clashes continue over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

The enclave is officially part of Azerbaijan but run by ethnic Armenians.

The self-proclaimed authorities there said they hit Ganja's military airport after Azerbaijani forces shelled the region's capital, Stepanakert.

Azerbaijan says no Ganja military sites were hit. More than 220 people have died since clashes began a week ago.

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

The current fighting is the worst seen since the ceasefire and the two former Soviet republics have been blaming each other.

There are fears that the actual death toll among the militaries from all sides as well as civilians could be much higher, as casualty claims have not been independently verified.

Azerbaijan's military says its forces have retaken control of seven villages since last Sunday, while Nagorno-Karabakh says its troops have "improved" their frontline positions.

Earlier this week, Armenia said it stood "ready to engage" with mediators from France, Russia and the US to try to agree a ceasefire.

Azerbaijan, which is openly backed by Turkey, has demanded the withdrawal of Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent areas seized by ethnic Armenian troops.

"Nagorno-Karabakh is our land," Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev said in a televised address to the nation on Sunday, as he demanded Armenia apologise to his country and provide a timetable for their withdrawal.

"This is the end. We showed them who we are. We are chasing them like dogs."

What's the latest from the battlefield?

In a brief statement on Sunday, Azerbaijan's defence ministry said Armenian forces were shelling Ganja, a western Azerbaijani city lying to the north of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Defence Minister Zakary Hasanov said this was a "clearly provocative" move that was expanding the conflict.

One civilian was killed, local media reported.

In a later statement, the defence ministry said: "The information spread by the Armenian side about the alleged shelling of military facilities in Ganja city is provocative and false.

"As a result of enemy fire, civilians, civilian infrastructure and ancient historical buildings were harmed."

Meanwhile, Nagorno-Karabakh's authorities said that they had destroyed Ganja's military airport.

They said they had acted after Stepanakert was hit by missiles and alleged the Ganja facility had been used by Azerbaijani forces to launch attacks on civilian areas.

Heavy casualties were reported in Stepanakert, which was left without electricity, according to Armenpress news agency. Buses of people were seen leaving the city on Saturday.

Armenpress quoted the separatist region's leader, Arayik Harutyunyan, as warning that "from now on the military facilities permanently deployed in Azerbaijan's major cities are legitimate targets of the defence army".

Mr Harutyunyan added that he had now ordered the shelling stopped, "to prevent the deaths of innocent peaceful civilians".

Turkey condemned the shelling of Ganja, accusing Armenia of "targeting civilians".

But Armenian defence ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said that "that no fire of any kind is being opened from the territory of Armenia in Azerbaijan's direction".

Armenia provides military and economic support to Nagorno-Karabakh without officially recognising the self-proclaimed region.

'Casualties all over Ganja'

By Konul Khalilova, Editor, BBC News Azerbaijani 

For the more than 330,000 residents of Ganja, this morning brought horror - the city was being shelled by forces fighting for Armenia. 

"We heard a big explosion. It was shocking and dreadful. Children were scared," one resident told us. "We left our apartment and went to a shelter."

A nurse in one of the main hospitals said several injured civilians had been brought in.

"My husband saw the body of a woman in a pool of blood. There are casualties all over the city," she said.

Separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh have urged residents of major Azerbaijani cities to leave, warning that military sites there are now legitimate targets.

But Ganja resident Elnur Bayramov said he and his family were not scared.

"We are not going to leave our house, our city, we are not going to become internally displaced people," he said.

Nagorno-Karabakh's authorities have confirmed that 201 of their service personnel and a number of civilians have died since the fighting erupted on 27 September.

Azerbaijan says 22 civilians have been killed, without providing information about its military casualties.

Nagorno-Karabakh - key facts

A mountainous region of about 4,400 sq km (1,700 sq miles) Traditionally inhabited by Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks In Soviet times, it became an autonomous region within the republic of Azerbaijan Internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but majority of population is ethnic Armenian Self-proclaimed authorities are not recognised by any UN member, including Armenia. An estimated one million people displaced by war in 1988-94, and about 30,000 killed. Separatist forces captured some extra territory around the enclave in Azerbaijan. Stalemate has largely prevailed since a 1994 ceasefire. Turkey openly supports Azerbaijan. Russia has a military base in Armenia.

Armenia-Azerbaijan: What's behind the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

BBC, 28 September, 2020

Fighting has erupted once more between Armenia and Azerbaijan, two former Soviet Union republics in the Caucasus region.

At the heart of the decades-old conflict is the Nagorno-Karabakh region. It is recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but it is controlled by ethnic Armenians.

The countries fought a bloody war over the region in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although they declared a ceasefire, they have never managed to agree a peace treaty.

The story in 100 words

Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan, but its population is majority Armenian. As the Soviet Union saw increasing tensions in its constituent republics in the 1980s, Nagorno-Karabakh voted to become part of Armenia - sparking a war which stopped with a ceasefire in 1994.

Since then, Nagorno-Karabakh has remained part of Azerbaijan, but is controlled by separatist ethnic Armenians backed by the Armenian government. Negotiations over decades, mediated by international powers, have never resulted in a peace treaty.

Armenia is majority Christian while oil-rich Azerbaijan is majority Muslim. Turkey has close ties to Azerbaijan, while Russia is allied with Armenia - although it also has good relations with Azerbaijan.

The story in 500 words

The Caucasus are a strategically important mountainous region in south-east Europe. For centuries, different powers in the region - both Christian and Muslim - have vied for control there.

Modern-day Armenia and Azerbaijan both became part of the Soviet Union when it was formed in the 1920s. Nagorno-Karabakh was an ethnic-majority Armenian region, but the Soviets gave control over the area to Azerbaijan authorities.

The Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh made several calls to be transferred to Armenian authority control in the following decades. But it was only as the Soviet Union began to collapse in the late 1980s that Nagorno-Karabakh's regional parliament officially voted to become part of Armenia.

Azerbaijan sought to suppress the separatist movement, while Armenia backed it. This led to ethnic clashes, and - after Armenia and Azerbaijan declared independence from Moscow - a full-scale war.

Tens of thousands died and up to a million were displaced amid reports of ethnic cleansing and massacres committed by both sides.

Armenian forces gained control of Nagorno-Karabakh before a Russian-brokered ceasefire was declared in 1994. After that deal, Nagorno-Karabakh remained part of Azerbaijan, but since then has mostly been governed by a separatist, self-declared republic, run by ethnic Armenians and backed by the Armenian government.

It also established the Nagorno-Karabakh Line of Contact, separating Armenian and Azerbaijan forces.

Peace talks have taken place since then mediated by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group - a body set up in 1992 and chaired by France, Russia and the United States.

But so far a peace treaty has not been signed. Clashes have continued throughout the past three decades, with the last serious flare up in 2016, when dozens of troops on both sides died.

The conflict is further complicated by geopolitics. Nato member-state Turkey was the first nation to recognise Azerbaijan's independence in 1991. Former Azeri President Heydar Aliyev once described the two as "one nation with two states". Both share a Turkic culture and populations, and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged his nation's support for Azerbaijan.

Moreover, Turkey has no official relations with Armenia. In 1993 Turkey shut its border with Armenia in support of Azerbaijan during the war over Nagorno-Karabakh.

IMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES image captionThough a ceasefire was signed in 1994, there has been no peace treaty

Armenia meanwhile has good relations with Russia. There is a Russian military base in Armenia, and both are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military alliance. However, President Vladimir Putin also has good relations with Azerbaijan, and Moscow has called for a ceasefire.

In 2018, Armenia underwent a peaceful revolution, sweeping long-time ruler Serzh Sargysan from power. Protest leader Nikol Pashinyan became the prime minister after free elections that year.

Mr Pashinyan agreed with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev to de-escalate tensions and set up the first military hotline between the two countries. In 2019, both nations issued a statement declaring the need for "taking concrete measures to prepare the populations for peace".

As yet however, nothing has come of those words. It is unclear which nations started the latest violence but tensions have been high for months, since clashes in July left casualties on both sides.





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