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Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan appear to have flared up

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(CNN)Long-simmering tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan appear to have flared up in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, with both sides accusing each other of attacking civilians amid reports of casualties.

The neighboring former Soviet republics have long been at odds over the territory — which is situated within the borders of Azerbaijan — and fought a war over it that finished in 1994.
Despite the conflict ending with a Russian-brokered ceasefire, military skirmishes between the two sides are not uncommon.
While Armenia said it was responding to missile attacks launched by its neighbor Sunday, Azerbaijan blamed Armenia for the clashes.
In response to the alleged firing of projectiles by Azerbaijan, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan tweeted that his country had “shot down 2 helicopters & 3 UAVs, destroyed 3 tanks.”
Arayik Harutyunyan, leader of the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, a de facto independent Armenian state not recognized internationally which controls Nagorno-Karabakh, said the region had lost positions to Azerbaijan.
“We have lost some positions. Mostly in the direction of Talysh and in the southern parts,” Harutyunyan said during a press conference Sunday.
As a result of the escalating tensions, the Armenian government has decided to impose martial law and to order “general mobilization,” Pashinyan said in a later tweet.
Azerbaijan’s parliament on Sunday voted to impose martial law, effective as of midnight (4 p.m. ET), and President Ilham Aliyev approved the decision.
Armenia earlier claimed that its neighbor had targeted civilians in peaceful areas, including in Stepanakert, the region’s capital.
Artak Beglaryan, an Artsakh official Artsakh, said in a tweet that a mother and child had been killed.
Beglaryan also said dozens of people had been wounded and large infrastructural damage had been caused, adding: “Azerbaijan is intentionally targeting civilian objects.”
However, Azerbaijan suggested Armenia was accountable for the latest flare-up between the two countries.
Hikmet Hajiyev, assistant of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan and head of the Foreign Policy Affairs Department of the presidential administration, tweeted Sunday: “There are reports of dead and wounded among civilians and military servicemen. Extensive damage has been inflicted on many homes and civilian infrastructure.”
Accusing Armenia of “an act of aggression and use of force,” Hajiyev added that the “political-military leadership of Armenia bears full responsibility.”
At least five people in one family were killed as a result of artillery shelling by Armenian armed forces on Sunday, according to Azerbaijan’s state news agency APA, which cited the Azerbaijani prosecutor general’s office.
So far, 19 civilians have been injured and hospitalized following the clashes, APA reported.
At least 14 civilians were injured in villages along the border due to artillery and tank fire from the breakaway Armenian enclave, according to state media Azertac. CNN has been unable to independently verify claims by either side.
“Currently, the Azerbaijan Army is taking retaliatory actions and our troops fully control the operational situation,” Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement Sunday.
But Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement: “We strongly condemn the aggression of the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan.”
“The military political leadership of Azerbaijan bears full responsibility for the consequences of their aggression,” the statement added.
Fighting between the two sides has been increasing in recent months.
In 2016, dozens of soldiers from both countries died during clashes. Two years earlier, then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to “commit themselves to immediate de-escalation and continuing dialogue” after reports of violence and casualties along the border.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but is governed by a majority group of ethnic Armenians.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced support for Azerbaijan on Sunday, claiming that Armenia is “the biggest threat to peace and security in the region.”
“The Turkish nation continues to stand by its Azerbaijani brothers and sisters with all its means, as it has always done,” Erdogan said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the escalation in a phone call with Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan, according to statements from the Kremlin and from the Armenian Prime Minister’s Office.
The Kremlin statement said Putin expressed concern at the clashes, saying, “It was noted that it is important now to take all necessary efforts to prevent a military escalation of the confrontation, and most importantly, to stop military operations.”
The United States said it was “alarmed” by reports of military action between Armenia and Azerbaijan and urged both sides to cease hostilities immediately, according to a statement from US State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.

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Armenia, Azerbaijan agree on ‘humanitarian ceasefire’

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By DPA Time of article publishedOct 17, 2020

Moscow – Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed on a new “humanitarian ceasefire” to come into force at midnight (2000 GMT) on Saturday, both foreign ministries said.

The statements had the same wording and come a week after the imposition of a short-lived Russian brokered ceasefire, which both sides blamed the other for breaking shortly after it came into force.

The agreement comes after calls to both sides by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urging them to adhere to the ceasefire.

France’s Elysee Palace meanwhile put out a statement saying the agreement came “after French mediation over the last few days and hours, in co-ordination with the co-chairs of the Minsk group [Russia and the US]”.

“This ceasefire must be unconditional and strictly respected by the two sides,” the statement said. “France will pay great attention to that and will remain engaged for a lasting end to hostilities and a quick start of credible negotiations.”

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Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict update: 12 killed as Ganja comes under missile attack

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At least 12 people were killed and over 40 injured in Azerbaijan’s second-largest city Ganja on Saturday which came under a missile attack from the Armenian military, alleged Baku.

“Civilians are continued to be saved from the debris of destruction by emergency services,” Hikmet Hajiyev, assistant to the Azerbaijani president, said on Twitter.

“Treacherous and cruel missile attack of Armenia against civilians in Ganja is sign of weakness and desperation of Armenia’s political-military leadership in the face of its defeat on battleground,” Hajiyev said, condemning Armenia for deliberately targeting Azerbaijan’s civilians.

“Two kids are among the dead. Emergency works are still going on. Armenia’s terror and War Crimes continue,” Hajiyev said earlier on Twitter. “Armenia’s foreign ministry in vile manner attempts to deny its state responsibility for this nefarious war crimes,” he said.

He said that preliminary reports pointed out to the destruction of as many as 20 houses due to the missile attack.

Turkey condemns Armenian attack

Condemning Armenia’s attack, Turkey’s ruling party spokesperson reiterated support for Azerbaijan.

“Armenia is killing civilians as a rogue state. It is carrying out brutal massacres. The murderers and their supporters are breaking the law. Attacks against Ganja are crimes against humanity,” Omer Celik said on Twitter.

He said that the attackers must not go unpunished and Armenia should be prosecuted for crimes. The official added that Armenia was killing women, children, elderly and civilians ‘indiscriminately’.

Why are Armenia and Azerbaijan fighting?

Two ex-Soviet republics in the Caucasus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, are engaged in a decades-long territorial dispute which has re-erupted with the heaviest clashes in years on Sunday.

Here are the key factors surrounding their conflict:

Nagorny Karabakh

At the heart of the standoff between Yerevan and Baku is the contested Nagorny Karabakh region.

The Soviet authorities merged the predominantly ethnic Armenian territory with Azerbaijan in 1921.

After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenian separatists seized it in a move supported by Yerevan.

An ensuing war left 30,000 dead and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Despite a ceasefire mediated in 1994 by Russia, the United States, and France, peace negotiations struggle to move forward and fighting erupts frequently.

The latest clashes on Sunday saw Azerbaijan and Armenian separatists accuse each other of igniting the fighting that left both sides with casualties, including civilians.

It followed a flare-up along the border in July which claimed the lives of 17 soldiers from both sides.

In April 2016, some 110 people were killed in the most serious fighting in years.

Revolts and dynasty

Armenia has been rocked by political and economic instability since it gained independence from the former USSR.

The country’s post-Soviet leadership repressed opposition to its rule, was accused of falsifying ballot results, and was largely beholden to the interests of Russia.

In the spring of 2018, mass street protests brought current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to power. He has since cracked down on corruption and introduced popular judicial reforms.

Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea, has been under the authoritarian grip of a single-family since 1993.

Heydar Aliyev, a former officer of the Soviet security services, the KGB, ruled the country with an iron fist until October 2003. He handed over power to his son, Ilham, weeks before his death.

Like his father, Ilham has quashed all opposition to his rule and in 2017 made his wife, Mehriban, the country´s first vice president.

Russia and Turkey

Turkey, with ambitions to be a regional powerbroker in the Caucasus, has thrown its weight behind oil-rich and Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan.

Their alliance is fuelled by a mutual mistrust of Armenia, and Ankara routinely issues strongly-worded statements in support of Baku’s ambitions to reclaim Nagorny Karabakh.

Yerevan harbours hostility towards Turkey over the massacres of some 1.5 million Armenians by Turkey under the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

More than 30 countries have recognised the killings as genocide, though Ankara fiercely disputes the term.

Russia, which maintains close ties with Armenia, is the major powerbroker in the region. It leads the Collective Security Treaty Organisation military alliance of ex-Soviet countries that includes Armenia.

Yerevan relies on Russian support and military guarantees because its defence budget is overshadowed by Azerbaijan´s spending on arms.

Oil and diaspora

Azerbaijan has recently begun leveraging oil revenues as part of a bid to overhaul its image in the West.

Baku has invested in massive sponsorship deals including with the Euro 2020 football championship, which was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Baku was due to host matches this year and Azerbaijan has held Formula 1 Grand Prix races since 2016.

Azerbaijan has also tried to pitch itself to European countries as an alternative energy supplier to Russia.

Reality TV star Kim Kardashian, the late singer Charles Aznavour, and pop star and actress Cher all trace their roots to Armenia.

Some have appointed themselves unofficial ambassadors, like Kardashian who has been outspoken on the issue of the Armenian genocide.


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Eight Principles of Iran’s Foreign Policy Towards the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

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The Iranian governments have not announced any specific strategy or official document on foreign policy towards Central Asia and the Caucasus, particularly about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, principles of Iran’s foreign policy towards the conflict can be understood via analysis of the positions taken by Iranian officials and also Iran’s practical approaches in the last three decades. In his article, Dr. Vali Kaleji, a Tehran-based expert on Central Asia and Caucasian Studies, proposes eight principles for Iran’s foreign policy towards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This would contribute to a better disclosure of Iran’s approaches as an influential actor in the South Caucasus, especially regarding recent tension between Armenia and Republic of Azerbaijan on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Apart from the ancient and long-lasting historical, religious and lingual ties between Iran and the Caucasus, there are 800 kilometers of border lines that connect Iran to this region. The Iranian provinces of Ardabil and Eastern Azarbaijan have 369 kilometers and 200 kilometers of joint borders with the Republic of Azerbaijan respectively. Eastern Azarbaijan is the only Iranian province that shares borders with Armenia. This border line is 35 kilometers long. Iran is also the only country adjacent to the disputed region of Karabakh. None of Georgia, Russia and Turkey are in such close proximity to these disputes. The Iranian village of Khoda Afarin, located on the Eastern Azarbaijan-Armenia border, has been hit by the artilleries of the conflicting parties several times. The sound of the bullets, shells and missiles fired by the Armenian and Azerbaijani armed forces are heard in other Iranian villages close to the northwestern border. This puts Iran in a sensitive situation so that tension and war in Karabakh region and its surrounding areas directly impacts the security of Iran’s northwestern borders.

In addition to the security and border-related considerations, Iran is in a very different position compared with Georgia, Russia and Turkey. The presence of millions of Azeris in the northwestern provinces of Iran who are sensitive to the position of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the Karabakh issue as well as presence of a hundred thousand of Armenians in Iran who sympathize with Armenia has made the Karabakh dispute outstanding for Iran from an ethnical perspective. The other dimension is the religious considerations that the Shia seminaries particularly in the cities of Qom and Mashhad inside Iran and Najaf in Iraq have about supporting the Shia Muslims of the Republic of Azerbaijan and expect the Iranian government to support the Republic of Azerbaijan in the Karabakh dispute more actively. It is also noteworthy that there is a close tie between the two religious and ethnic considerations in many parts of Northwestern Iran with an Azeri majority population. In the meantime, some pan-Azeri and Pan-Turkish currents activate the religious and ethnical sentiments in these Azeri settling areas of Iran. In many occasions they disseminate false news about Iranian government’s position vis-à-vis the Karabakh dispute.

However, when it comes to the position of Iran’s government on the Karabakh issue in the past three decades, eight principles can be referred to which can clear up many probable ambiguities:

1. Recognizing the government of Azerbaijan’s right to sovereignty over the Karabakh region and the seven regions around it

From the beginning of the Karabakh crisis in early 1990s, the Iranian government has recognized the region of Karabakh and regions around it as part of the Republic of Azerbaijan. This position has never changed during the previous three decades. Basically, Iran’s opposition to the ethnic dynamics and secessionism is one of the fundamental factors in Iran’s foreign policy in the South Caucasus. Iranian society is comprised of various ethnic groups and therefore, Iran opposes any ethnic-political dynamic that is separatist. In this framework, Iran never recognized the independence of Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in spite of good and close relations between Iran and Armenia and also Iran and the Russian Federation. In the past decades, this Iranian approach to ethnic dynamics and separatism has been persistent and is observed in Chechnya, Dagestan in North Caucasus and in Iraqi Kurdistan.

2. Non-recognition of the Republic of Artsakh and other political developments in the Karabakh region

In line with the abovementioned principle, Iran has not recognized any of the internal political developments in the region of Karabakh including the existence of Artsakh Republic and the results of the referendums and elections held in this region by the Armenians. Tehran has rejected all of them as invalid and believes that any political transformation in this region should be after the resolution of the dispute and conclusion of a peace treaty that is consented by all conflicting parties namely the government of Armenia, the Karabakh region and the government of Azerbaijan.

3. The balanced approach and maintenance of relations with both Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan

Iran has fifteen neighbors. This number is only comparable to such countries as China and Russia. Iran’s principal policy is maintenance of good relations with all its neighbors and therefore it has never initiated severing its relations with any of its neighbors. In this framework, from early 1990s Iran has asked for a balanced approach and maintenance of relations with both governments of Armenia and the Republic of Azarbaijan. Therefore, Iran’s position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is different from that of Turkey, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan who have either cut their relations with Armenia or have not recognized it as an independent country. Fred Halliday calls this approach “bunch of flowers policy”. Svante Cornell describes it as the “disinterested player” and for Shirin Hunter it is “pragmatism”.

Regardless of what this policy is named, it has been in accordance to this policy that Iran has provided humanitarian and financial assistances to both Armenia and Azerbaijan from early 1990s. Contrary to some allegations by the pan-Azeri and pan-Turkish allegations, Iran provided the people of Azerbaijan, particularly, the residents of Nakhchivan with gas, electricity and basic goods from early 1990s and hosted thousands of Azerbaijanis displaced by war. Such actions of Iran are mentioned in the memoirs of Abulfaz Elchibey, Heydar Aliyev and also Hashemi Rafsanjani. Add to this the point that the balanced approach and the neighborhood policy of Iran in south Caucasus does not only apply to Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan but also includes Georgia. From this perspective, Iran enjoys a special and outstanding place in South Caucasus, as it is only Iran among the three neighbors of the region that has sustainable diplomatic relations with all three countries of the South Caucasus including Armenia and Georgia as the two Christian countries and Republic of Azerbaijan as the Muslim and Shia country. As a matter of fact, there are no political relations between Armenia and Turkey from 1993 to the present time. Russia and Georgia have also cut their relations since 2008. This grants Iran a unique place in South Caucasus.

4. Opposing the war and using force to resolve the Karabakh crisis

In line with the balanced approach and its neighborhood policy based on maintenance of relations with both governments of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, which was explained under the previous heading, Iran is against any war and application of force to resolve the Karabakh crisis by the Armenian and Azeri parties. As was mentioned in the beginning of this piece, unlike Georgia, Russia and Turkey, Iran is adjacent to the disputed region of Karabakh and therefore any military encounter in this region can easily threaten the security of northwestern border areas of Iran in the two provinces of East Azerbaijan and Ardabil and instigate the ethnic and religious sentiments of millions of people inside Iran. Following such approach, Iran actively entered a process of mediation between Armenian and Azeri parties in 1990s and has supported any initiation for ceasefire and peace building that is agreed by both parties. For this reason, in the clashes of the past few years including the four days wars of April 2016 and July 2020 and also the recent clash starting from September 27, 2020 the Iranian high-ranking officials have immediately called for ceasefire between the two parties in the Karabakh dispute because continuation of the war and clashes close to Iran’s border is a serious threat to the national interests and security of Iran.

5. Maintaining the rights and security of the Armenians of Karabakh in the Karabakh peace plans

Iran’s approach to the Karabakh conflict is not a one-sided one. For Tehran, the rights and security of the Armenians of Karabakh is also important and should be respected. In any peace plan and in the case of any development including the return of Azeri war refugees from the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Karabakh region and the seven regions around it or any other political and legal development such as a referendum, the right to self-determination of the Armenians of Karabakh should be respected. From the Iranian perspective, overlooking this could lead to resumption of conflict between Armenians and Azeris which could in turn trigger a war or conflict in the region and ruin any peace plan in the Karabakh region.

6. Opposing the interference of trans-regional powers in resolution of the Karabakh crisis

In line with its foreign and defense policy, Iran is opposed to any interference of trans-regional powers such as United States and NATO in the resolution of the Karabakh crisis. Similar to other crises in the region including those in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Syria, Iran believes that the Karabakh crisis should also be resolved with the political will of the two countries of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The neighboring countries like Georgia, Russia, Turley and Iran can join this process in various forms if Yerevan and Baku ask for it.

7. Opposing the stationing of international peacekeeping forces in the Karabakh contact lines along the Iranian border

In line with the principle of opposing the interference of the trans-regional powers in the resolution of the Karabakh crisis, Iran is also opposed to stationing of international peace keeping forces particularly if they include trans-regional forces in the contact lines of Karabakh close to Iran’s border. Instead, Iran supports indigenous and regional mechanisms for maintenance of ceasefire and peace in Karabakh as well as provision of security to its residents both Armenian and Azeri.

8. Mediating the process of peace and dispute resolution upon the request from the governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia

In early 1990s the Iranian government actively embarked on mediation between Azerbaijan and Armenia upon their request. This resulted in a peace agreement between Yagub Mammadov (the acting president of Azerbaijan) and Levon Ter-Petrosyan, the then president of Armenia mediated by Iranian president of the time Hashemi Rafsanjani in May 1992. Unfortunately, due to some conditions including the occupation of the city of Shusha by Armenians in May 8, 1992 (only one day after conclusion of the Tehran agreement) this mediation failed. Here, Iran could not repeat the successful experience of mediating in the Tajikistan civil war which culminated in the signing of the peace agreement between the government of Tajikistan and the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) in 1997. In this case, the Russian Federation was also involved. Despite this unsuccessful experience and despite excluding Iran from the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the government of Iran has supported any mediation and initiation for ceasefire and peace between Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan on the issue of Karabakh and has always insisted that Iran’s involvement in such initiatives is contingent upon the willingness and request of the leaders of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

In light of the eight mentioned principles, Iran has anxiously followed up the clashes between Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, started from September 27, 2020 which unlike the two previous four days wars of April 2016 and July 2020 are serious breach of the ceasefire from 1994 to date. The recent clashes in Karabakh have been outstanding in terms of the expansion and volume of the conflict, human and financial losses, the level of preparedness, the curfew and the general mobilization inside Armenia and Azerbaijan and also the all-out political and military support of the Turkish government and army from the Republic of Azerbaijan. These have added to Iran’s concerns about the conditions of the region. Iran’s demand in the current situation is a quick ceasefire by the two parties to prevent more human and financial losses and to curb the intensification of the conflict into an all-out war in the Caucasus that would make the conditions uncontrollable with all the three countries in the Caucasus (Armenia, the Republic of Azerbaijan and Georgia) and the three neighboring countries of Iran, Russia and Turkey the losers.

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