By Eduard Abrahamyan (02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Armenia’s relationship with Russia has never been simple. Although Russia has considered Armenia a reliable ally since its independence, the relationship has never transformed into a formal partnership. Russia’s policy of double standards on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and its delivery of weaponry to Azerbaijan has gradually increased distrust in Armenian society towards Russia in recent years. A bloody incident in Gyumri on January 12, 2015, when a soldier from the deployed Russian 102nd military base killed the entire Avetisyan family in their sleep, including two children, has catalyzed a vivid debate in Armenia on the nature of the relationship to Russia.
By Erik Davtyan (02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On January 16, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan rejected his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s invitation to take part in the events commemorating the centenary of the Battle of Gallipoli. Earlier this month, Erdogan sent out invitation letters to 102 heads of state to attend the events. Every year, Turkey celebrates March 18 as the anniversary of the Gallipoli victory over the Allies, but this year Turkish authorities decided to celebrate it on April 24 when Armenians all over the world will commemorate the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. Therefore, President Sargsyan in his response stressed that the invitation serves “a simple-minded goal to distract the attention of the international community from the events dedicated to the centennial of the Armenian Genocide.”
Armenia’s president underlined that “it is not a common practice for Armenians to be hosted by the invitees, without receiving a response to our invitation.” This response was stipulated by the fact that Erdogan had not answered Sargsyan’s official invitation to commemorate the Centennial of the Genocide this year in Yerevan. During his visit to Ankara in August, 2014, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian had handed Sargsyan’s invitation to Erdogan, but no answer has been received till now. During the next two weeks, Sargsyan’s response to the invitation provoked some criticism in Turkey. On January 31, Ibrahim Kalın, a spokesperson of the Turkish president, said that “it is impossible to admit remarks by Sargsyan aiming at the Turkish president’s invitation to Armenia, which are against diplomatic practices.” The same opinion was shared by Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During the 15th meeting of the Armenia-EU Cooperation Council in Brussels, Foreign Minister Nalbandian reaffirmed Sargsyan’s position, adding that it is inappropriate to organize such an event in Turkey on April 24 and that it is unbelievable that anybody can perceive this as a proper step. Nevertheless, the idea to commemorate the battle was welcomed by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. During his visit to Turkey, Aliyev said that “the choice of the date was very important.”
Erdogan’s invitation was unanimously criticized in Armenia. The head of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences, turkologist Ruben Safrastyan believes that this step aims at undermining Armenia’s initiative to invite heads of states to Yerevan on April 24. According to the expert, the Turkish President wants to draw the international community’s attention to the Gallipoli victory, rather than the Armenian Genocide. The same view was shared by another turkologist, Ruben Melkonyan. In his interview to Armlur.am, he qualified Erdogan’s step as a falsification of history and a counter step against the events dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. Shortly after Erdogan’s statement, the Coordination Council of Armenian Organizations of France made a respective statement, qualifying the step as a part of the Turkish policy of denial, aimed at diminishing the international resonance of the Centennial events in Yerevan.
Erdogan’s invitation was not the last message issued to Armenia. On January 20, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu made a statement on the commemoration of the 8th anniversary of the assassination of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. He hoped that Armenia and Turkey will begin addressing “the great trauma that froze time in 1915” and underlined that “Turkey has transcended this critical threshold and relinquished the generalizations and stereotypical assertions of the past.” Davutoglu ensured that the parties will manage to give “the due recognition to the Armenian cultural heritage in Turkey” and expressed hope that the two nations will be able to contribute to a new beginning, demonstrate the wisdom to understand each other and contemplate a future together.
This step by the Turkish authorities provoked a second wave of complaints in Armenia. In an interview to Armenpress news agency, turkologist Hakob Chakryan said that Davutoglu had previously used this approach many times, however this one was, in fact, stipulated by internal criticism in Turkey. Some experts, especially Safrastyan, qualified the statement as “the continuation of the official policy of Turkey regarding the Armenian Genocide.” On this occasion, the Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Relations of the National Assembly of Armenia, Artak Zakaryan, blamed Turkey for continuing a policy of denial regarding the Genocide and mentioned that unlike Davutoglu’s statement, the first attempts to initiate the signing of an agreement were always carried out only by Armenia. Zakaryan believes that Turkey is not ready to bolster the mutual trust, to break the stereotypes and to hold a dialogue with Armenia.
By Huseyn Aliyev (12/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On November 12, an Armenian combat helicopter was shot down by Azerbaijani defense forces after an attempted attack on Azerbaijani positions over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The incident took place just two weeks after the fruitless peace talks between Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan, organized on the initiative of French President Francois Hollande in Paris. Although the escalation of violence on the border between the Armenian-controlled breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan has been growing steadily since the early summer, this particular incident appears to be the highest point yet in the confrontation.
By Bakhtiyar Aslanov (12/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On November 12, 2014, the Press Service of the Ministry of Defense in Azerbaijan made the following statement regarding the shooting down of a helicopter over Nagorno-Karabakh: “the military aviation of the enemy side has been doing provocative flights and maneuvers during the latest military trainings, implemented by the Military Forces of the Republic of Armenia within the last 3 days in the front-line between Azerbaijan and Armenia. After continuous and intensified maneuvers over our positions and posts; two military helicopters tried to attack our positions in the airspace controlled by the military of Azerbaijan. Two MI-24 helicopters owned by the Military Forces of the Republic of Armenia again tried to attack our posts at 13:45 on November 12, 2014. As a response, Air Forces of Azerbaijan shot down one of those armed helicopter, 1,700 meters northeast of Kangarli village in Agdam. The remains of the helicopter fell 500 meters from the front-line.” Armenian officials responded that the helicopter belongs to the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership, not Armenia.
The next day, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense made another statement, claiming that the Mi-24 combat helicopter belonged to the Erebuni military aerodrome close to Erevan. The dead crew members, mayor Sergey Sahakyan, senior lieutenant Sargis Nazaryan and lieutenant Azat Sahakyan are officers of the Armenian Air Force. Although denied by Armenia, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense listed the names and released detailed background information on the officers.
Emphasizing the presidents’ meeting in Paris initiated by the French President Francois Hollande on October 27, 2014, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated on November 12 that Armenia embarked on large-scale military exercises in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and had continuously been violating the cease-fire along the line of contact. Hence, Azerbaijan’s MFA claims that Armenia alone carries all responsibility for the re-escalation of the conflict. An MFA spokesperson stated that by shooting down a helicopter that violated Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized airspace, Baku does not violate any liability of the OSCE Minsk Group.
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan both reacted quickly to the incident. Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan immediately visited Nagorno-Karabakh and spoke in front of the soldiers on November 13. Although he used very special words targeted to the local audience, Sargsyan underlined that a re-escalation of the conflict into war will not happen. Ilham Aliyev also visited a military camp in Shamkir on November 15, and while seeming very confident and satisfied when congratulating the soldiers, he avoided using overtly inflammatory language.
In Basel, Switzerland, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and French Secretary of State for European Affairs Harlem Désir, expressed their concerns over violations of the cease-fire in 2014 during a meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council. They emphasized that the violations of the cease-fire in July and August caused several causalities; enhanced the tension and deepened mutual distrust between the parties. On December 4, the aforementioned diplomats signed a joint statement, noting that “there is no military solution to the conflict. We call on both sides to restrain from using violence and work on the concrete peaceful solution of the conflict”.
Hikmat Hajiyev, a spokesperson for Azerbaijan’s MFA, commented on the statement that the military trainings of Armenian forces with huge numbers of personnel and military equipment and their provocative maneuvers along the line of contact after the meetings of the presidents in Sochi and Paris caused the downing of the helicopter. Regarding the call from the Minsk Group Co-Chairs to speed up negotiations for a peace agreement, Hajiyev reiterated Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov’s statement on Baku’s readiness to work on the Broader Peace Agreement supported by the co-chairs after the meeting in Paris.
Officials in Yerevan have claimed that their military forces were able to claim the bodies of the dead soldiers in the helicopter incident after shooting two Azerbaijani soldiers. According to the PanArmenian news agency, the three officers were buried at St. Sargis Church in Yerevan on November 24. However, Baku has denied this information and states that Azerbaijani soldiers protect the area where the remains of the helicopter are located.
Armenia and Azerbaijan cancelled an expected meeting of the two countries’ Foreign Ministers in Basel after the incident. “We regret that the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia were unable to meet at OSCE … Dialogue is a necessary part of the peace process” the U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, James Warlick wrote on his Twitter page on December 8.
By Erik Davtyan (12/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On October 26-28, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan paid a working visit to Paris at French President Francois Hollande’s invitation. At the Paris Marine Palace, the Armenian and French presidents discussed a broad range of issues concerning on the Armenian-French agenda and contemporary regional and international challenges. Regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution process, Sargsyan stressed that Armenia has always supported a resolution of the conflict exclusively through peaceful negotiations and noted that he highly appreciates the OSCE Minks Group’s efforts targeted at pushing the negotiation process forward and establishing lasting peace and stability in the region. The most important part of the working visit was Sargsyan’s meeting with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. After the Sochi and Newport talks in August and September respectively, this was the third regular meeting organized at the level of heads of states.
On October 27, Sargsyan and Aliyev held talks with the participation of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs (Igor Popov, James Warlick, and Pierre Andrieu) and the personal representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office Anjey Kasperchik, followed by a private conversation between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents. The participants attached great importance to continuing dialogue within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmanship and confidence-building efforts in order to make progress in peaceful negotiations, and stressed that no alternative existed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The parties arranged to proceed with high-level negotiations.
The high-level meeting attained various interpretations in Armenia. Armenia’s minister of foreign affairs emphasized the official viewpoint on the Sargsyan-Aliyev talks. During a briefing with journalists Edward Nalbandian described the meeting as “useful, sincere and constructive.” The foreign minister said that “there was an opportunity to touch upon a number of regional and international issues which showed that the approaches of Armenia and Azerbaijan on some issues can be close to each other,” adding that the two states took “a small step toward bringing the positions of the two sides a little bit closer.” The head of the Armenian National Congress party’s committee on foreign relations, Vladimir Karapetyan, believes that the meeting itself was a positive step. The fact that the co-chairs display activity, he says, proves that the international community pays attention to the region and the conflict, and that Azerbaijan sees no alternative but the talks.
According to Davit Ishkhanyan, representing the “Armenian Revolutionary Federation” party, the deadlock in the negotiation process may have negative impact, therefore “each meeting should be regarded as a guarantee for the preservation of peace.” Taking into account the fact that Sargsyan and Aliyev had tête-à-tête talks (unlike during the Sochi and Newport meetings), Ishkhanyan thinks the Paris meeting was progressive for the format of the negotiation process, rather than for its essence. The Armenian daily Zhoghovurd shared the view that the parties anticipated meeting in Paris in advance, since Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and the U.S. Secretary of State had each initiated trilateral meetings with Sargsyan and Aliyev before, so this meeting was to be organized by France, the third member state of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmanship.
Presenting his opinion to Tert.am, politologist Ruben Mehrabyan believes that the Paris meeting was a good opportunity to reach midterm results in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict regulation process. The most important implication of these meetings, according to Mehrabyan, was the fact that they took place “outside the Russian platform.” Another politologist, Levon Melik-Shahnazaryan, does not have any expectations from the meeting as “the meetings between heads of the two states generally depend on the internal and external problems of other states.” Clarifying his viewpoint, Melik-Shahnazaryan says the activation of high-level meetings is not stipulated by the regulation of the conflict, but by the interests of the states that organize those meetings.
The Nagorno-Karabakh issue remained one of the most debated themes in November due to the Mi-24 helicopter that Armenia claims belonged to the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities, which was shot down by the Azerbaijani armed forces during what Armenia alleges was a training flight on November 12. The downing of a helicopter was a unique incident that has not occurred since the cease-fire in 1994. The chair of the Standing Committee on Defense, National Security and Internal Affairs of Armenia’s National Assembly, Koryun Nahapetyan, described the incident as “unprecedented” and the “rudest violation of the cease-fire.” According to the head of the Social Democrat Hnchakyan Party’s central office, Hakob Tigranyan, “the downing of the helicopter was nothing more than an invitation to war,” hence “any negotiations with Aliyev are pointless after this crime.”
In an interview to Armenianow.com, analyst Stepan Safaryan says the incident will have an extremely negative impact on the conflict regulation process and that its consequences may even be unprecedented. Safaryan underlined that “the results of the meetings between presidents are now nullified.” Moreover, Sargis Asatryan, a specialist on Azerbaijani studies, believes that “the downing was a desperate step which may be directly connected to national, social and religious problems that exist in Azerbaijan.” Armenia’s Ombudsman Karen Andreasyan instead emphasized the humanitarian side of the incident. He says the regular violation of the cease-fire has disabled medical aid to the staff of the helicopter for nearly 8 days, which is “completely against the norms of international humanitarian law.”
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.