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How will the people “be prepared for peace” against the background of the escalation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border?

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Zaur Shiriev, the International Crisis Group‘s Analyst for South Caucasus, in an interview with JAMnews on how to prevent bloodshed on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border during the beginning of the harvest season, and on the escalation that took place on July 12-16, 2020.

Op-ed: what really happened in the July fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, what are the results?

Recent fighting on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border is surrounded by more questions than answers

Op-ed: what really happened in the July fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, what are the results?

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In the recent report of the International Crisis Group on the escalation in July, the focus was on the situation in which civilians find themselves. What’s the difference between last year and now?

We prepared the basic part of this study in 2019, and the reality was different then.

In March 2019, the leaders of the two countries met, and an agreement was reached on the strict observance of the ceasefire along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border during the sowing and harvesting period.

There was also the political will to support this agreement. The atmosphere was positive.

We looked for common problems in the lives of people on both sides of the border, and suggested what general ways of solving them might be.

Some problems were not formed as a result of the conflict, but the conflict exacerbated them, and they can be solved only with the cooperation of the two countries.

Such steps can no doubt strengthen people’s confidence in peace.

We planned to publish the study on July 20. But on July 12, clashes broke out at the border, and this changed the atmosphere and context.

We tried to incorporate new findings due to the latest events, but in general, our recommendations have remained unchanged.

The report notes the importance of establishing direct communication between Baku and Yerevan – so that children in front-line villages can safely go to school, and farmers can work in their fields. This communication existed in 2018 and 2019. What will happen now?

After a meeting of representatives of the parties in September 2018 in Dushanbe and in March 2019 in Vienna, a communication channel was not only created, but also developed.

Its essence was, basically, that Baku and Yerevan would inform each other after certain events had already taken place.

But we showed in our report that working proactively can help in many areas.

The actions of engineering units or patrol groups can be perceived differently by the two sides, the likelihood of misunderstandings is high. To avoid this, the parties must inform each other.

[The problem is also] that communication between capitals does not reach the peoples […] Recent events have hit the population very hard socially and psychologically. It will be difficult and time consuming to convince them.

Who could benefit from the conflict moving to the border?

I find it difficult to say whether there is any interest in Armenia or Azerbaijan.

If the clash took place on the line of contact of the troops – […] one could assume that the Azerbaijani authorities are interested […] in the partial return of the lands, as, for example, it was during the escalation in April 2016.

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But there are no military or political expectations associated with the border.

Some in Azerbaijan say that [Armenia] intended to seize a military post. Is this a strong enough argument to nullify all the results achieved over the past two years?

What happened is a great loss for both sides.

Why did it happen exactly there? Over the past 6-7 months, clashes in that border zone have become more frequent. Political rhetoric has changed, and accusations and discontent may have increased tensions.

At the same time, Armenia announced its official version, while Azerbaijan did not give any comments.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry only stated that Armenia’s version does not correspond to the truth, and our ambassador to Russia said that the UAZ is ‘not a tank.’

Azerbaijani officials told the International Crisis Group that a UAZ vehicle is carrying out a patrol service between our posts on that territory. That the enemy side had staged a provocation the day before and attacked this UAZ, and then, when the soldiers in the car were heading to their post, they opened artillery fire on them.

If we talk about third-party forces, then some interpret the incident as an attack on Azerbaijan’s energy projects. But I do not think this is the case.

Not only a gas pipeline runs in that direction, but also a railway. If someone was interested in this, it could have been arranged during the construction of the gas pipeline.

If we talk about Russia, at the moment Azerbaijan does not compete with Russia on the gas market.

In your opinion, is the Minsk Group, which facilitates the negotiation process in the Karabakh conflict, still the best format?

Azerbaijan believes that the Minsk Group, if it wants to, can achieve the signing of a “peace agreement”.

But these expectations are often too high, and the result is therefore disappointing.

The disappointment stems from the fact that we sometimes perceive the Minsk Group not as a mediator, but as an arbiter. […]

The Minsk Group was active in the settlement process at the level of the leader, that is, in other words, it performed the functions of a leader. At the Key West talks in 2001, the USA was the leader, at the talks in Rambouillet in 2006 – France, in 2008 and 2011 – Russia.

But the job of the mediators is to propose plans and find a compromise between the parties.

I largely agree with the criticism leveled at them. But it is unrealistic to abandon the Minsk Group or replace the format.

An appeal was made to “prepare the peoples for peace,” but after a little over a year, these peoples are fighting hand-to-hand in foreign countries.

Unfortunately, after the statement was made in January 2019 on preparing the peoples for peace, this statement was never filled with content.

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They could not explain to themselves, to societies, to experts, or to journalists what this means.

The preparation of the peoples for peace in Armenia and Azerbaijan had to take place in different ways.

But during all this time, only a mutual trip of journalists was organized, and they also could not tell their peoples anything.

In the 1990s, Azerbaijani journalists formed opinion in their society. And today, independent media is stifled.

They must not be hindered; on the contrary, all conditions must be created so that they can convey their voices to the people. In the peace process at the most critical moment, the voice of the people becomes decisive, and it is very important in which direction the formation of public opinion will be directed.

What is happening today is regrettable. The epicenter of events moved from Armenia and Azerbaijan abroad.

I am concerned that this increases the chances of further exacerbating the situation, adding fuel to the fire.

I am also worried that terms are devalued in our country. In recent days, those who call for an end to clashes are called “pacifists.” That is, in fact, they give this word a derogatory, insulting meaning, in fact, equate it in meaning with a “coward”, “traitor”, “defeatist”.

And this shows that a significant part of society does not understand the meaning of such terms as “liberal”, “nationalist”, “pacifist”, does not understand the types of ideology. And some people, so as not to be ranked among the “pacifists”, chose to sit quietly and not express their opinion.

For society, a period of transparency should come in the context of a direct conflict, they should know what results the negotiations brought or did not bring, what a compromise is.

If people do not see the big picture, do not know which path was passed, what a compromise is and how it was reached, expectations will grow. And in the absence of changes in the resolution of the conflict, this will be accompanied by disappointment.

The main role in this whole process, of course, belongs to free media and NGOs.

The post How will the people “be prepared for peace” against the background of the escalation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border? appeared first on English Jamnews.

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‘Our Animals Are Dying’: Water Goes Bad In Azerbaijani Village

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Residents in the village of Banka in Azerbaijan say they lack basic water supplies for themselves and their animals after water in the Kura River dropped and became contaminated with salt water from the nearby Caspian Sea. Experts believe farming, a major hydroelectric plant upstream, and climate change could be to blame.Read Original Article here by RFERL

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Citizens of Baku to remain stuck at home? No info on future as last day of strict quarantine approaches

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As of August 3, citizens of Baku and 14 other cities and regions in Azerbaijan have spent six weeks living under a strict quarantine regime due to the coronavirus.

Since June 21, people have been allowed to go outside for three hours a day after receiving SMS permission from the authorities, and all stores are closed, excluding grocery stores and pharmacies.

Public transport is not running on Saturdays or Sundays.

The authorities’ most recent decision states that the quarantine will end at 6 am on August 5. However, no statement has been released about lifting the quarantine, and there is a growing fear that it may be extended.

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Within the past three weeks, there were several times when the quarantine was scheduled to be lifted, but was instead extended. But the authorities had issued a statement informing citizens ahead of time.

Azerbaijan continues to celebrate Eid al-Adha, and August 4 is the first working day after the holiday.

MP of the Milli Mejlis Musa Guliyev reported some positive news:

“The roads between cities and regions will reopen, the metro will start running again, and people will be able to leave the house without SMS permission. But at the same time, we musts not forget that the epidemic is still going on and we must adhere to safety measures.”

However, people on social networks have more to say about the pessimistic forecast of the chief infectious disease specialist Jalal Isaev.

He said that the authorities may extend the strict quarantine for several more weeks in order to bring the number of new cases a day down into the double digits.

Over the past 24 hours, 286 new cases have been reported in Azerbaijan, bringing the total since the beginning of the epidemic to 32,443 cases. Eight more people have died, bringing the total in Azerbaijan to 462. 27,113 people have recovered.

Baku, Tbilisi Avenue. Photo JAMnews

The post Citizens of Baku to remain stuck at home? No info on future as last day of strict quarantine approaches appeared first on English Jamnews.

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Azerbaijani Ombudsman denies death of political prisoner. New reports of torture in prisons. Updated

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12.00 / August 2

It remains unclear whether Azerbaijani political prisoner Fuad Qahramanli, a board member of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, is alive or has died in prison.

On the evening of August 1, information about his possible death from torture appeared on social media [more in the report below]. Then, former prosecutor Rufat Safarov denied this message on his Facebook page.

“The head of the department for the prevention of torture of the Azerbaijani Ombudsman’s Office, Rashid Rumzadeh, said that Fuad Qahramanli is alive,” Safarov wrote with reference to lawyer Bahruz Bayramov.

The lawyer was promised that on Monday, August 3, they would try to arrange a meeting with Qahramanli.

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Rufat Safarov, in the same post, critically noted that the ombudsman’s staff should have visited the prisoner after the alarming messages on social media and provided reliable information to his family and friends.

Instead, they postponed the issue for several days.

With the hope that Fuad Qahramanli is still alive, opposition blogger Bakhtiyar Hajiyev also writes:

I appealed to the Ombudsman about the state of Qahramanli. About half an hour later, I was informed that he was alive and that he was currently in the Kurdakhan detention center. It is reported that his condition and conditions of detention are good.

The issue is now under the personal control of Ombudswoman Sabina Aliyeva. I look forward to a solution to the issue of organizing meetings between prisoners and their families and lawyers.

There is very little information on the state of political prisoners in Azerbaijan’s prisons as a whole.

Blogger Nihad Huseyn wrote on his Twitter that opposition activist Seymur Akhmedov was able to send a letter from prison to his loved ones, in which he reported being tortured daily and beaten.

Akhmedov, like Qahramanli, was detained among 45 opposition activists for participating in a rally in Baku in support of the army on the night of July 15.

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Seymur Akhmedov writes that … a man in civilian clothes beat him for hours in the building of the Narimanov district police station,” blogger Nihad Huseyn said.

19.00 / August 1

Political prisoner Fuad Qahramanli may have died from torture in a Baku prison on August 1, local social media write. There is no official confirmation or evidence yet.

Fuad Qahramanli is one of more than 45 members of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan who were detained after the July 15 rally in Baku in support of the army.

“Ilham Aliyev [President of Azerbaijan], if something happens to the people you have arrested, you are responsible for it,” his ex-wife Zumrud Yagmur wrote on her Facebook page.

While no official confirmation has been given, a number of messages to effect have been published, amongst others by well-known investigative journalist Khadija Ismail:

Various sources say that PFPA executive director Fuad Qahramanli was tortured. There is also information that he is dead. Lawyer Bahruz Bayramov was not allowed to see him from the moment of his arrest.

“Two other party members, Baba Suleiman and Seymur Akhmadov, were also severely tortured and threatened with rape. Baba reportedly agreed to sign false statements against party chairman Ali Karimli after being tortured.

“We try to check the reports. Lawyers are not allowed to see their clients, and there is no effective mechanism against torture in Azerbaijan.”

Azerbaijani bloggers have recently begun to conduct a daily report in two areas: statistics on coronavirus and the number of oppositionists detained by the authorities.

The 45 opposition activists who were recently arrested were initially charged with illegal protests during the rally in support of the army on the night of July 15.

However, the charges then escalated, and some of the detainees are now charged with ‘attempting to overthrow the government’.

The post Azerbaijani Ombudsman denies death of political prisoner. New reports of torture in prisons. Updated appeared first on English Jamnews.

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