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As #Azerbaijan partnership strengthens, survey shows strong support for Aliyev’s policies 



More than 90% of the new EU-Azerbaijan trade and political agreement deal is already agreed, it has been revealed.

The news emerged from this week’s Azerbaijan-EU Co-operation Council in Brussels and coincides with publication of a new survey by a French pollster showing that over 85% of those polled appraised  Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev activities as “positive”.

The findings are timely as they come  as Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov addressed a press conference following the meeting of the Azerbaijan-EU Cooperation Council this week.

Speaking at the same Brussels briefing, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini said that Azerbaijan was an important partner for the EU, and its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity is fully supported by the EU.

The new agreement aims to replace the 1996 partnership and co-operation agreement and seeks to take account of the shared objectives and challenges the EU and Azerbaijan face today.

The survey, by French research company Opinionway, was published one year after presidential elections in Azerbaijan. It found that Azerbaijanis strongly endorse key actions by President Aliyev.

“The survey clearly shows that Azerbaijanis are happy with their political leadership,” said Bruno Jeanbart, Deputy CEO of Opinionway. “A year after his re-election, the perception of President Aliyev’s foreign and domestic policies, on stability, reforms and regional development is very positive,” he said at a press conference in Baku.

More than 80% of those surveyed attribute the “stability in the country” as the “success of the activities of President Aliyev.” Over 58% approve of the “strengthening of the country’s defence capability and army”.

Expressing their attitude towards Aliyev’s foreign policy, nearly 74% of respondents have rated it as “excellent”. On the issue of “strengthening Azerbaijan’s reputation in the international arena and achievements in foreign policy” nearly half of the people surveyed stated their approval.

On the domestic front too, the president fared well. 64% “have approved” his economic reforms and over 57% say the “population’s welfare has gotten better, salaries, pensions and allowances have increased”. 52% believe accessibility of education and health care has improved and 45.3 % are satisfied with the fight against corruption.

The “development of sport” also received wide-ranging support by Azerbaijanis, with 61.4% calling it a success. Azerbaijan has increasingly positioned itself on the sports map, hosting prestigious events such as Formula 1 racing, the Islamic Solidarity Games and the European Games.

Asked if Aliyev’s pre-electoral promises have been fulfilled, over three-quarters of respondent said that either “most” or “all” of the promises had been fulfilled.

Additional data showed that over 72% of respondents think that the regions have been developed as a result of the State Program on Socio-Economic Development of Regions, adopted by President Aliyev, and thanks to his attention to the regions.

The  survey was based on interviews with 2,000 respondents that were randomly selected in the country in March.


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



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-Azerbaijan clashes kill at least 23, undermine regional stability




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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PKK’s involvement in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict would jeopardize European security



The alarming reports that Armenia has been relocating Kurdistan Working Party (PKK) terrorists from Syria and Iraq to the occupied territories of Nagorno-Karabakh to prepare for future hostilities and train Armenian militias is news of the sort that should keep you awake at night, not only in Azerbaijan but also in Europe, writes James Wilson.

Changing the demographics of the occupied territories by bringing in refugees of Armenian origin from Lebanon, Syria and Iraq is one thing, even though unlawful, but populating Nagorno-Karabakh with PKK militants, classified by all Western countries, including the US and the EU, as a terrorist organisation, is another.

The artificial resettlement policies of Armenia following the explosion in Beirut on 4 August this year and the Syrian War in 2009, aim to change the demographics of Nagorno-Karabakh and to consolidate the 30-year-long Armenian occupation. They represent a violation of international law, the Geneva Convention and various international agreements. Professionally hired militants and terrorists being resettled to Nagorno-Karabakh would be designated as an war crime under international law, putting peace and stability in the region at risk.

According to Cairo24 News Agency and other reliable local sources, Armenia went so far as to let its top-level career diplomats negotiate a transfer plan for the terrorists with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the most militant wing of the Kurdish establishment led by Lahur Sheikh Jangi Talabany and Bafel Talabani. This followed a first failed attempt to negotiate a plan to create a corridor to send Kurdish fighters to Nagorno-Karabakh with the Kurdistan Autonomous Regions leader Nechirvan Barzani.

Reportedly, Armenias efforts led to the transfer of hundreds of armed terrorists from Suleymaniyah, considered to be a stronghold of the PKK in Iraq, to Nagorno-Karabakh via Iran. A separate group of YPG militants, seen by many as the Syrian wing of PKK, were sent to Nagorno-Karabakh from Qamishli region on the Syrian-Iraqi border while a third group of PKK/YPG militants, which was formed at the Makhmur base in the South of the Iraqi city of Erbil, was first deployed to the headquarters of Hezbollahs Iraqi wing to Baghdad before being transferred to Nagorno-Karabakh via Iran. 

According to intelligence, special camps were established by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to train the militants on Iranian soil before sending them to Nagorno-Karabakh, where they have also access to training camps at a safe distance from the PKKs Kandil base, which has been increasingly raided in recent years.

This is not the first time Armenia has been recruiting terrorists and paid mercenaries for its own interests.  Such was also the case during the Nagorno-Karabakh war in the 1990s. Even back in the Soviet times, Kurds were instrumentalised by Russia and Armenia, the former having established the autonomous region of Red Kurdistan in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1923-1929 to facilitate the resettlement of Kurds living in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Iran to the region. 

However, the current Armenian administration shows itself more and more belligerent towards Azerbaijan, thwarting the negotiation process between the two nations because of internal political considerations, including an unprecedented health and economic crisis. Not only did the current Armenian administration refuse to adhere to the OSCE framework agreement, which was agreed upon in principle, but asked for a start-over of peace negotiations from scratch. As Armenians increasingly refuse to send their children to the frontline, the Armenian administration seems to be determined to minimise personal losses through the use of militants from terrorist groups. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan even announced the peoples militia initiative in the country, dangerous examples of which were seen in other conflict-torn parts of the world, such as Burkina Fasso.

Under his leadership, the Caucasus has seen the worst hostilities in the last few years when the Armenian armed forces used distillery fire to attack the Tovuz district of Azerbaijan on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border on July 12th.  The attack resulted in 12 Azerbaijani deaths, including a 75-year-old civilian, leaving 4 injured and causing serious damage to Azerbaijani border villages and farms. On 21 September, one Azerbaijani soldier fell victim to new skirmishes in Tovuz region, as Armenia once again failed to respect the ceasefire.

Recognized by the UN as an Azerbaijani territory, Nagorno-Karabakh and its seven surrounding regions, have been under Armenian occupation for 30 years despite 4 UN resolutions calling for the immediate withdrawal of Armenian armed forces. The growing militarization of Nagorno-Karabakh as well as the involvement of mercenaries from paramilitary groups in the Middle East would lead to the internationalization of the conflict, putting regional powerhouses at odds.

 The dangerous actions of Armenia risks to further destabilize the region, which has a strategic importance for Azerbaijan and Europe, as it provides energy and transport links to Georgia, Turkey and Europe for the Azerbaijani oil and gas as well as other export commodities. By jeopardizing major infrastructure projects, such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, Armenia could put European energy and transport security at huge risk.

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