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Jamestown Foundation: End of Karabakh war opened up new opportunities for region

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It is worth recalling that 2019 was a year marked by domestic politics, reforms, and broad caution about Azerbaijan – Armenia conflict. Experts and observers on all sides avoided rushing to quick judgments about whether the so-called Velvet Revolution that overtook Armenia in 2018 would eventually lead to a peaceful resolution in Karabakh. But those trends quickly started to reverse at the start of last year.

While patiently waiting for Armenian politics' domestic dynamics to reach their logical conclusion and for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to finally clarify his position on Karabakh, the Azerbaijani leadership began 2020 by continuing to concentrate on domestic affairs. On February 9, 2020, Azerbaijan held snap elections after the national parliament was dissolved in December 2019.

The election campaign notably coincided with the earliest outbreaks of COVID-19 worldwide. The government commenced evaluating the possible threats and countermeasures to the growing health crisis even as early as January of 2020. And three weeks after the elections, on February 27, the authorities established an Operational Headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers to coordinate Azerbaijan's various state institutions and agencies in combating the novel coronavirus. Early adopted measures, such as launching modular hospitals, enabled Azerbaijan to control the pace of the coronavirus's spread enough so as not to overwhelm the national healthcare system—even during active phases of military operations later in the year.

At the same time, the government attempted to continue the pace of reforms launched in 2019. New faces, schooled in the West, were brought in to the government's highest positions, including Emin Amrullayev, a graduate of Columbia University, who was appointed minister of education on July 27, 2020.

On the foreign policy front, President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Pashinyan met on stage, on February 15, during the 56th Munich Security Conference, and publicly sparred over the way forward on the Karabakh conflict. Their debate—which followed months of sharpening rhetoric on both sides, including Pashinyan's aggressive declaration in August of 2019 that "Karabakh is Armenia – Period" —demonstrated that the two conflicting parties remained far from a shared understanding regarding how to secure a peaceful resolution.

And as an Armenian commentator, Akop Badalyan pointed out, the Munich meeting confirmed that the Pashinyan government had abandoned the agreed-to Madrid Principles, which dictated the outlines of a possible settlement.

The first full year (2019) of Pashinian's prime ministership saw a dramatic decline in the number of clashes along the frontline as well as an exchange of visiting journalists from both countries. And even days before the Second Karabakh War (September 27–November 9, 2020), Armenia and Azerbaijan's leaders reportedly launched a direct backchannel for talks without Russian involvement. However, none of those positive tendencies were enough to create the necessary background for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Hawkish elements prevailed in the Pashinian government (see EDM, May 2, 2019). The fragile negotiations (see EDM, April 1, 2019) were torpedoed, in part, by antagonistic statements of Armenian officials and other provocative actions. Prime Minister Pashinian recently confessed that the strategy of previous governments had been to instill Azerbaijanis with "false hopes" that negotiations would ultimately enable Azerbaijan to regain some of its occupied territories. But as the Armenian leader noted, he specifically and intentionally departed from that strategy, believing that it was unproductive.

After Munich came a series of increasingly aggressive moves in 2020. Amidst the pandemic, "presidential" (March 31 and April 14) and "parliamentary elections" were held in the occupied territories, and on May 21, an "inauguration ceremony" was organized in Shusha, Karabakh, with Pashinian's participation.

The photos and video of the event, combined with the announcement that the separatist legislature would supposedly be moved to Shusha, an unparalleled cultural and religious citadel of Azerbaijanis, triggered outrage and anger among the Azerbaijani public. Further raising the temperature, in June 2020, Armenians announced the start of construction of a new (third) highway to the occupied territories.

Finally, tensions exploded that summer. Between July 12 and 16, Azerbaijani and Armenian military forces clashed—not along the line of contact in Karabakh but over the official state border between two countries, in Tovuz. During the cross-border battles, a well-known and respected general, Polad Hashimov, was killed. On July 14, his funeral sparked anger and mass protest, with tens of thousands of people flooding Baku's streets and demanding that the Azerbaijani government launch a war to liberate the occupied territories from Armenia.

The following week, Prime Minister Pashinian put forward his so-called "seven demands" for returning to the negotiating table. And on August 21, Prime Minister Pashinian, in his Security Council speech, presented the Tovuz fighting as victorious for allegedly having "put an end to the attempts and intentions of Azerbaijan to resolve the conflict militarily." For many Azerbaijanis, the fighting in Tovuz was the final straw. Even Armenia's second president, Robert Kocharian, opined in an interview late last year that Pashinian's confrontational deterrence strategy had given Azerbaijan the legitimate right to respond and made war inevitable.

Finally, on September 27, when the Karabakh ceasefire was breached again, the Azerbaijani Armed Forces launched a counter-offensive operation against Armenian military units stationed in the occupied territories. The war lasted 44 days, leaving thousands dead, and was finally halted by the Russian-brokered ceasefire deal on November 10. Armenia capitulated, and Azerbaijan celebrated the victory, declaring that the conflict had finally been resolved.

Azerbaijan announced resettlement plans for these areas after the recapture of its southwestern territories and the onset of demarcation of the internationally recognized state borders. After 27 years, Azerbaijan's internally displaced persons (IDP) would be returning to their homes under the auspices of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, according to the trilateral ceasefire agreement.

For most of the world's nations, 2020 will go down in history for the challenges they experienced stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. For Azerbaijan, the previous year was the most dynamic and remarkable since independence in 1991. And the importance and consequences of the past year's events will reverberate not just for Azerbaijan but also for the region's future geopolitics.

The war and economic problems associated with the coronavirus crisis certainly tested the sustainability and resilience of Azerbaijan's political system. Yet as President Aliyev noted recently, during 2020, Azerbaijani GDP declined by only 4 percent, while the non-oil sector increased by 11 percent; even the value of revenues to the State Oil Fund increased by 0.5 percent despite huge costs associated with social expenditures for pandemic mitigation and the war. On November 15, 2020, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) started commercial operations. In December, for the first time in history, Azerbaijani natural gas reached the European market via the 3,500-kilometer Southern Gas Corridor, of which TAP is the final leg.

The end of the Second Karabakh War has also opened up new infrastructure opportunities for the South Caucasus. According to the trilateral ceasefire agreement, all economic and transport links between Azerbaijan and Armenia and in the region shall be unblocked after being unused for 30 years. Since the conclusion of the fighting, Azerbaijani and regional officials, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have offered an alternative future for the South Caucasus and even invited Armenia to join regional projects from which it had been isolated for decades. Thus, if Yerevan acquiesces to such requests, the former belligerents can win the peace together.

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31 years pass since January 20 tragedy

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Thirty-one years have passed since the events of January 20, 1990, which are went into history as the tragedy of 'Black January.'

On the night of January 20, 1990, the former Soviet military troops attacked Baku by the land and sea and carried out the punitive measures with unprecedented cruelty. As a result of this accident, 133 innocent civilians, including the children, women, and the old, were killed, 744 wounded, and 841 illegally arrested. The terrorist savagery attack of the Soviet army against Azerbaijani people carried out by order of USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev was written in the history of humanity in black letters as one of the worst crimes committed against humanity.

During the January 20 tragedy, the news was put under a blockade in the country; armed militants brutally exploded a power block of radio and television, the media was banned. The aim was to make the people unaware of this tragedy. On those hard days of peoples, on January 21, Heydar Aliyev arrived in Azerbaijan's representation in Moscow and spoke at the meeting. He stated that he stands by his people. He also assessed the January 20 tragedy from a political point of view. Heydar Aliyev said that it is the action against democracy and humanism and the rude political mistake made by the leaders of that time's republic. The text of Heydar Aliyev's historical speech was widely circulated in the country and around the world. The helpless people began to live with the light of trust and hope in their hearts.

In 1993, after the return of the national leader Heydar Aliyev to political power, essential steps were taken on the investigation of the causes of the outbreak of the January 20 events and the sentence of the offenders. Significant measures were taken to inform the world about the January 20 tragedy, its place, and its role in Azerbaijan's history and perpetuate it.

Milli Majlis ratified a decision on March 29, 2004, about the tragic events of January 20, 1990. Thus, as a result of President Heydar Aliyev's insistence, January 20 tragedy was marked at the state-political level, and the names of the offenders were openly stated.

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EU regulator to clear Boeing 737 MAX flights next week

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The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) plans to clear the Boeing 737 MAX to fly again next week, 22 months after the plane was grounded following two fatal crashes.

"For us, the MAX will be able to fly again starting next week," after the publication of a directive, EASA director Patrick Ky said in a video conference.

"We have reached the point where our four main demands have been fulfilled," Ky said during the conference, organized by the German association of aviation journalists.

The MAX was grounded in March 2019 after two crashes that killed 346 people — the 2018 Lion Air disaster in Indonesia and an Ethiopian Airlines crash the following year.

Investigators said the leading cause of both crashes was a faulty flight handling system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS.

Meant to keep the plane from stalling as it ascends, the automated system instead of forced the plane's nose downward.

The findings plunged Boeing into crisis, with more than 650 orders for the 737 MAX canceled since last year.

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Simpsons screenwriter passes away

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Producer David Richardson, one of the screenwriters of the animated series The Simpsons, has died at the age of 65, Report states, referring to Deadline magazine.

He passed away because of heart failure. Richardson's family plans to hold the funeral closed to the public. A mass farewell will be held after a while.

Richardson is the author of several television comedies.

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