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#Azerbaijan president back in power with landslide

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Azerbaijan’s incumbent president Ilham Aliyev has been swept back into power with the overwhelming backing of 86% of the electorate, writes Tony Mallett in Baku.

Exit polls after the vote closed on 11 April estimated totals of between 83-86% in the incumbent’s favour and these were effectively confirmed this morning (12 April) by the country’s Central Election Commission.

While these are officially preliminary results, they represent some 92% of votes cast.

Countrywide turnout was around 75% of the more than five million citizens eligible to vote, with Aliyev’s nearest rivals polling around 3% each.

The winner will now begin his fourth consecutive term as the nation’s head of state.

Some 800 observers were invited by the Central Election Commission of Azerbaijan, including a delegation from the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), the third-largest grouping in the European Parliament.

Speaking to journalists today, ECR delegation leader and Polish MEP Kosma Zlotowski said: “It is our evaluation that the elections themselves were conducted in accordance with the national legislation.

“Eight candidates ran for the office of president, ensuring a politically diverse and competitive environment.”

ECR member David Campbell Bannerman said: “We didn’t see anything that concerned us.”

The British MEP also praised the measures used to identify voters and guard against inaccuracies, saying: “I was impressed with the security measures – ID cards, left-thumb prints and the fact that they had to sign after voting. There were no postal or proxy votes like in some European elections, which can pose security problems.”

Asked whether the UK had anything to learn from the system in Azerbaijan, Campbell Bannerman said that this was a two-way learning process but that security methods were “better than in the UK in terms of identifying actual voters”.

He also said that the enthusiasm to vote among Azerbaijanis was noticeable.

The ECR group pointed out that some political parties boycotted the elections which the delegation felt had “affected the inclusive nature of the process, as voters were encouraged to refrain from participating”.

The election took place several months ahead of schedule due to a presidential decree made public on 5 February. The declaration drew criticism from opponents who claimed it gave them little time to prepare for a ballot.

The original election date was set for 17 October, 2018.

Another group of observers, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Turkic Speaking Countries (TURKPA) and the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States (Turkic Council) said in a joint statement: “The mission did not find any evidence of intervention of administrative or law enforcement authorities in the work at the polling stations.”

It added: “All necessary administrative measures were taken to ensure the free will of the people during the voting day.”

The statement continued: "We affirm that the election of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan was open, transparent and competitive, and complied with the national legislation of the Republic of Azerbaijan and generally accepted international election standards."

Azerbaijan is predominantly Muslim but secular under its constitution. A survey  conducted before the election, undertaken by pollsters Arthur J. Finkelstein and Associates, indicated that the primary concern of voters is national security and that Aliyev is seen as particularly strong in a country surrounded by the powerhouses of Russia, Iran, and Turkey and partially occupied by Armenia.

The Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories – which has resulted in more than a million displaced Azerbaijanis – was a key topic for voters with the majority believing that Aliyev is “keeping the country safe” and “representing the nation well internationally”.

The occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh has been roundly condemned by the international community and the UN, which passed four resolutions calling for the unconditional withdrawal of Armenian troops from the Azerbaijani territories. The conflict between the two countries began when Armenia made territorial claims in 1988.

George Birnbaum, who is executive director of the Arthur J Finkelstein & Associates polling company, said last week that the “positive recognition for the job the president is doing is the reason he has the electoral support of the nation”.

Independent of the USSR since 1991, the Republic of Azerbaijan has been ruled by Aliyev since 2003. He was preceded in the role by his father, Heydar, who was president for a decade.

In recent years the Republic has worked hard to sell its ‘European’ credentials. Despite some human-rights concerns, this effort has been largely supported by Europe and has seen the country host various events such as the Eurovision song contest and major European sports tournaments.

Azerbaijan will also see its capital, Baku, act as a key football venue for the Euro 2020 football tournament and will host the Formula One Grand Prix on the city’s streets at the end of April.

Armenia

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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Armenia

War flares up Between Armenia and Azerbaijan: Does Europe need new dividing lines next to its borders?

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Hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan have erupted again in Nagorno Karabakh after simmering for years, proving again that rolling back to the status quo of occupation and pretending to negotiate whilst maintaining the status quo is not only dangerous, it just does not work. The fighting is the heaviest seen in the region since 2016.  National passions are riding high and both Armenia and Azerbaijan have blamed each other for starting the fighting.

The number of casualties is not known, but is estimated to be over 100, including civilians. According to the Office of Azerbaijan’s Attorney General a total of 35 civilians have been hospitalised with various injuries, and 12 people have been killed as of yesterday. At the time of writing the fighting appears to be spreading beyond Nagorno Karabakh, a mountainous area that is recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but which has been under Armenian occupation since the war of the early 1990s which erupted soon after the break-up of the former Soviet Union.

There is international concern that other countries may get sucked into the conflict. Russia is a major supplier of weapons to Armenia, and has a military base there. Turkey has already openly backed Azerbaijan, followed by some other countries. The EU has an important role to play. However, the voices rising from the European Union so far are not enough to contribute to a lasting solution to the conflict. In fact, the solution seems simple - as in the case of other conflicts in its neighbourhood, to support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the occupied side, urge for withdrawal of armed forces from the occupied territories and restore peace negotiations. Otherwise, diplomatic statements which fall short of addressing the root causes of the conflict will not bring a sustainable solution to the region.

However, a number of voices from Europe over the past two days have raised more questions on the conflict than answers. The members of the European People’s Party (EPP) Political Assembly met via video-conference on 28 September and ended with a weird statement calling to “withdraw troops to the positions they had before 27 September 2020.” Such a bizarre call by the largest political party in the European Parliament has once again demonstrated how alien most European politicians are to the real political and security landscape in their neighbourhoods.

However, the main danger here is not ignorance itself, but deliberate attempts to give an ethnic and religious tone to this territorial conflict. The immature reaction of some European spokespersons, however, is reminiscent of the call for new crusades, necessitating strong opposition to these sorts of politicians who use Europe's freedom of speech and expression for hatred purposes. Even some mainstream news agencies highlighted the religious affiliation of these two confronting countries in their reports. These calls make it clear that the Armenian new “peace” concept of “new war for new territories” is purely propaganda.

This kind of destructive rhetoric from some EU politicians only provoked an immediate response from the Organization of Islamic Countries, Turkic Council, Pakistan, even Afghanistan. There are of course significant Armenian minorities in many EU member states – but the EU should resist allowing ethnic and religious colours to become implicated in this conflict. Does Europe need new dividing lines next to its borders?

If the EU wants to secure stability and peace on its frontiers, it should not stand idly by. It should be motivated to take a more proactive role in line with its international commitments and act as an honest broker to find a sustainable solution without emotion, but through an insistence to adhere to the principles of international law.

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Armenia

Armenia-Azerbaijan clashes kill at least 23, undermine regional stability

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On Sunday (27 September), fighting erupted along the Line of Contact in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict zone, regrettably causing military and civilian casualties. At least 23 military members and several civilians were killed in the heaviest clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan since 2016, reigniting concern about stability in the South Caucasus, a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to world markets, write Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova.

The clashes between the two former Soviet republics, which fought a war in the 1990s, were the latest flare-up of a long-running conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region that is inside Azerbaijan but is run by ethnic Armenians. Nagorno-Karabakh said 16 of its servicemen had been killed and more than 100 wounded after Azerbaijan launched an air and artillery attack early on Sunday.

Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh declared martial law and mobilised the male population. Azerbaijan, which also declared martial law, said its forces responded to Armenian shelling and that five members of one family had been killed by Armenian shelling.

It also said its forces had seized control of up to seven villages. Nagorno-Karabakh initially denied that but later acknowledged losing “some positions” and said it had suffered a number of civilian casualties, without giving details. The clashes prompted a flurry of diplomacy to reduce the new tensions in a decades-old conflict between majority Christian Armenia and mainly Muslim Azerbaijan, with Russia calling for an immediate ceasefire and another regional power, Turkey, saying it would support Azerbaijan. President Donald Trump said on Sunday the United States would seek to end the violence.

“We’re looking at it very strongly,” he told a news briefing. “We have a lot of good relationships in that area. We’ll see if we can stop it.” The US State Department condemned the violence in a statement, calling for an immediate halt to hostilities and any rhetoric or other actions that could worsen matters.

US Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement that hostilities could escalate into a wider conflict and urged the Trump administration to push for more observers along the ceasefire line and for Russia “to stop cynically providing arms to both sides.”

Pipelines shipping Caspian oil and natural gas from Azerbaijan to the world pass close to Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia also warned about security risks in the South Caucasus in July after Azerbaijan threatened to attack Armenia’s nuclear power plant as possible retaliation. Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan in a conflict that broke out as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Although a ceasefire was agreed in 1994, after thousands of people were killed and many more displaced, Azerbaijan and Armenia frequently accuse each other of attacks around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the separate Azeri-Armenian frontier. Slideshow ( 5 images ) In Sunday’s clashes, Armenian right activists said an ethnic Armenian woman and child had also been killed.

Armenia said Azeri forces had attacked civilian targets including Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, Stepanakert, and promised a “proportionate response”. Slideshow ( 5 images ) “We stay strong next to our army to protect our motherland from Azeri invasion,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wrote on Twitter. Azerbaijan denied an Armenian defence ministry statement that said Azeri helicopters and tanks had been destroyed, and accused Armenian forces of launching “deliberate and targeted” attacks along the front line. “We defend our territory, our cause is right!” Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, said in an address to the nation.

Turkey said it was talking to members of the Minsk group, which mediates between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia, France and the United States are co-presidents. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone to Pashinyan but no details of the conversation were available, and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Aliyev. Erdogan, promising support for traditional ally Azerbaijan, said Armenia was “the biggest threat to peace in the region” and called on “the entire world to stand with Azerbaijan in their battle against invasion and cruelty.”

Pashinyan hit back, urged the international community to ensure Turkey does not get involved in the conflict. The European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) urged both sides to stop military actions and return to negotiations, as did Pope Francis. At least 200 people were killed in a flare-up of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in April 2016. At least 16 people were killed in clashes in July.

High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell said: "The European Union calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities, de-escalation and for strict observance of the ceasefire. The return to negotiations of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, without preconditions, is needed urgently."

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