Should Pakistan sever diplomatic relations with Azerbaijan

Nagorno-Karabakh
Armenia and Azerbaijan: New battles in Nagorno-Karabakh

Heavy fighting between the Azerbaijani and Armenian military over the Nagorno-Karabakh region has continued since September 27th. The area belongs to Azerbaijan under international law, but is mostly inhabited by Armenians. Martial law was imposed in both countries. There are many dead and injured, including among the civilian population, and tens of thousands are on the run. An official ceasefire has been in effect since October 10th. freiheit.org spoke to the project manager of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for the South Caucasus, Peter-Andreas Bochmann, about the current situation.

freiheit.org: There has been a ceasefire since October 10th. How did it come about and does the ceasefire hold?

After two weeks of fierce fighting and many reminders and requests from the international community, the UN Security Council, the Minsk Group of the OSCE and other organizations to end the current military conflict immediately, the two foreign ministers held one after 10 hours of nightly negotiations in Moscow Truce reached. The mediator was Russia, namely Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The ceasefire is primarily a humanitarian one and should therefore serve the exchange of prisoners and the recovery of those killed and wounded under the supervision of the International Red Cross. Further modalities are still to be negotiated.

Unfortunately, despite the ceasefire, the fighting continues. Both sides accuse each other of violating the ceasefire. There was particularly intense conflict immediately before the ceasefire over the city of Hadrut. Both sides claim to have defended or conquered the city - and continue to fight. The battles flare up again and again in other places. Civilian targets are said to have been fired again on both sides.

freiheit.org: Why are the fronts between the two sides so hardened?

In the past few days, the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Paschinyan has called on the international community to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent (second Armenian) state. That would create facts that should actually be the subject of negotiations. The Azerbaijani side will not accept this and is relying on international law after the area belongs to Azerbaijan. Arayik Haruyunyan, elected President of the - internationally not recognized - Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (in Armenian: Artsakh) has clearly stated in the de facto capital Stepanakert that the region would never come under Azerbaijani sovereignty. And that is also the line of the Armenian government in Yerevan. So there seems to be no way out.

The Armenians see themselves fighting for their survival and fear the completion of the genocide begun in 1915 by Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan. In addition, they believe they are fighting international terrorism, as Syrian mercenaries - Armenia even speaks of jihadists of the Islamic State - are supposed to fight on the Azerbaijani side. In addition, Armenia is making a new alliance between Turkey, not only with Azerbaijan, but also with Pakistan, which would mean - from the Armenian point of view - 300 million versus 3 million. The fear of this is great and is discussed repeatedly in the Armenian media.

freiheit.org: Is the respective population still behind their governments after the already large losses?

The vast majority support their respective governments. The - you have to call it nationalism - is enormous on both sides, the other side is demonized. Few voices say otherwise. I recently spoke to a young Azerbaijani woman who believes that around ten percent, especially of the young people in her country, are against the war. There is evidence of this on social media. However, internet access is temporarily or completely blocked: This mainly affects Facebook and WhatsApp, whereas Twitter and Telegram are supposed to work. Evidence of increasing patriotism can be found in both countries and under various hashtags, such as "#AzerbaijanAggression" or "#StopArmenianOccupation" - one can assume that troll factories are booming. My conversation partner sees domestic political problems of the autocratic system of Azerbaijani President Aliyev as the main reason for the current escalation. The eventual example of the resistance of the younger generation in Belarus could easily be neutralized with the war hysteria and the associated internet restrictions, she speculates. But traditionally oppositional forces in Azerbaijan also support the army and thus also President Ilham Aliyev. The opposition parties in Armenia, in turn, support their government. So in a state of war there is no political opposition, no criticism.

freiheit.org: How are the reactions in neighboring Georgia?

Georgia maintains good relations with both countries and there are large Armenian and Azerbaijani minorities in the country. A further escalation of the fighting thus also harbors domestic political conflict potential for Georgia. The Georgian government wants to contribute to de-escalation in order to restore peace in the region and has offered itself several times as a mediator and place for neutral negotiations. But the political weight of Georgia is probably too small for this conflict, in which Russia and Turkey play a major role. With a view to the geographic location of Georgia, political commentators paint gloomy scenarios about possible corridors from Turkey to Azerbaijan and from Russia to Armenia, each of which would have to lead through Georgian territory. However, Georgia has clearly stated that it will not allow arms deliveries or other military transports across Georgian territory. Turkish trucks on the way to Azerbaijan were blocked by Armenians in Georgia, whereupon representatives of the Azerbaijani minority threatened to prevent transit traffic to Armenia. The allegations of the Armenian side, which were mainly spread in social networks, that Georgia would block the transport of fuel and aid supplies were described as false in a statement by the Armenian embassy in Georgia. The Georgian Foreign Ministry has also denied Armenian accusations that weapons are being brought into Azerbaijan through Georgia territory as misinformation and lies. Georgia is currently campaigning - parliamentary elections will take place on October 31. So far, however, the conflict has not had any influence on this.

freiheit.org: How do you assess the current situation with regard to Europe?

I fear that Europe and the EU are not taking the conflict seriously enough. It has the potential to become a wildfire. On the Azerbaijani side, Turkey is heavily involved and, as a member of the “Organization of the Collective Security Treaty” (CSTO), Armenia could in turn count on the military support of Russia and other post-Soviet states. Russia will not give up its influence in the South Caucasus and Turkey obviously wants to expand its influence in the region. Since 1992 the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) under the chairmanship of the USA, France and Russia has been trying unsuccessfully to mediate in the conflict. Other diplomatic attempts at mediation also failed due to the uncompromising behavior of the conflicting parties. New negotiation formats or an internationally recognized neutral moderator or mediator may have to be found. Acting heads of government are rather out of the question due to the lack of time, because this conflict will probably have to be negotiated and mediated extremely intensively for weeks and months. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be almost entirely forgotten. Both countries have relatively high case numbers and in Armenia the number of infections is currently increasing again sharply. Health systems threaten to collapse under the weight of the pandemic and war.

freiheit.org: What do you think still needs to be done?

In addition to the big political stage, much more needs to be done on the level of interpersonal relationships. Armenians and Azerbaijanis, especially the younger ones, do not know or understand each other at all. Since the 1990s, there have in fact been no opportunities for encounters between the people of both countries, apart from a few exceptions, where NGOs in Georgia or elsewhere offer smaller platforms for exchange, but then mostly only for NGO elites. As in Europe after the Second World War, exchange programs such as those between Germany and France had to take place on a large scale. School classes, universities, clubs and associations should meet, exchange ideas and learn to understand. Both countries probably don't want that at the moment. But the EU could - both countries belong to the Eastern Partnership Program of the EU - initiate activities for this and invite first of all encounters on the soil of other countries. In times of the corona pandemic, of course, hardly conceivable. But maybe already plannable?