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Armenia, Azerbaijan – and Nagorno-Karabakh: “Germany is pretending not to see or hear“


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from Qantara.de – Dialogue with the Islamic World.

The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has been brewing for decades. Why is it taking so long to find a solution?

Ilias Uyar: The solution would be peace and security for the people in Nagorno-Karabakh. The international community and the OSCE Minsk Group haven’t done enough to achieve this in recent years.

The people in Nagorno-Karabakh are invoking their right to self-determination set out in Article 1 of the United Nations Charter; the territorial integrity claimed by Azerbaijan is based on a decision made by the dictator Stalin, who arbitrarily ceded Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan.

Precisely this major principle of international law, the right to self-determination, was answered by Azerbaijan in the late 80s with pogroms and repeated attacks and war.

Since then, the Republic of Artsakh, or Nagorno-Karabakh, has established itself as a democratic state. There are elections, there’s a party system, there are universities, schools, cultural institutions and those holding political responsibility are not related to one another. There’s no family clan ruling over everything. Azerbaijan is the total opposite.

Nevertheless, the sovereign status of Nagorno-Karabakh is not recognised under international law…

Uyar: All the prerequisites are there from a legal point of view, all that’s missing is the international political will. The recognition of this sovereignty is being torpedoed by the oil state of Azerbaijan with cash, lobby firms from Washington’s K Street and the famous caviar diplomacy.

We know from research by 15 international media companies within the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium that Azerbaijan has bribed deputies and manipulated decision-makers in the U.S., the EU and in Germany.

Infographic on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (source: AP)

Successful mediation: the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to an end to all fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. The “total” ceasefire was mediated by Russian President Putin. The Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that after more than a month of bloodshed he had signed an agreement with Azerbaijan and Russia that was “unspeakably painful for me and for our people”. After a thorough analysis of the situation, he decided to end the conflict, said Pashinyan. There was immediate talk of capitulation in Armenia, which led to protests and riots in the capital Yerevan

Peace initiatives sidelined

In 2016, the former Armenian foreign minister Vartan Oskanian said in an interview: “The decider here will be overcoming the mentality of the state of war. Ultimately, I have faith in a reconciliation.” The Azerbaijani deputy Rasim Musabeyov issued a similar statement, saying: “I would like to believe that I will see peace with my own eyes.” If key actors on both sides are saying they want peace, why has the conflict been reignited now?

Uyar: This is essentially due to Turkish influence. Turkish President Erdogan and Azerbaijani President Aliyev are kindred spirits. They are not concerned with the well-being of their nations, what they care about is that their regimes retain power by any means necessary. Both nations are in an economically precarious situation, they hope that the war will weld them together on the domestic policy front. 

The voices calling for peaceful solutions are being silenced in both countries. In Turkey, Erdogan has been persecuting and arresting members of the opposition for years; Aliyev is doing exactly the same. In Azerbaijan, Akram Aylisli, regarded there as a great writer for the people, has been subjected to a campaign of harassment; he was stripped of all his titles after he wrote a novel in 2012 that was critical of the pogroms against Armenians. 

The human rights activist Giyas Ibrahimov spoke out publicly in favour of peace at the start of the conflict and then received a visit from the Azerbaijani police. Voices like this should be heeded, but that’s exactly what the Aliyev regime wants to prevent.

The OSCE Minsk Group has been trying to mediate in this conflict since 1992. Has this endeavour now failed?

Uyar: Three ceasefires were agreed at the instigation of France, the U.S. and Russia. But Azerbaijan has no interest in such a move. Following a meeting between the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Geneva, (Swedish foreign minister at the time and head of an EU delegation) Carl Bildt tweeted: “Armenia wants a ceasefire, Azerbaijan wants victory.”

Peace isn’t an option for Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s military budget is larger than the entire national budget of Armenia. Aliyev believes he can win with the support of Israeli and Turkish drones.

Israeli arms supplies to Azerbaijan

Why does Israel of all countries support such aggression?

Uyar: Israel says it is contractually obliged to Azerbaijan through weapons shipments. This is cynical. Israel is thereby squandering any moral claim. With Turkey, we’re dealing with the grandchildren of the perpetrators of the 1915 genocide, firing today on the grandchildren of the survivors of the genocide with Israeli weapons. Despite this ominous situation, Israel has ignored several demands to stop supplying this war with weapons. It really is unbelievable.

Azerbaijan and Armenia have been at war again over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in the South Caucasus for over a month. Three ceasefires have failed. The conflict is taking its toll on civilians. Julia Hahn reports

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Ruins of destroyed buildings; several people and a church spire in the background, Shusha, Nagorno-Karabakh (photo: Baghdasaryan/Photolure/Reuters)

Residential area reduced to rubble: the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan accuse each other of deliberately bombing civilian targets. For example, part of the city of Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh’s famous 19th-century cathedral was destroyed in early October. According to authorities in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Azerbaijani troops are just a few kilometres from the strategically important city

Ragiba Guliyeva in front of the rubble of her home (photo: Julia Hahn/DW)

Destroyed livelihood: Ragiba Guliyeva stands in the ruins of her house in Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second largest city, which was hit in a rocket attack. “I was in the kitchen when beams and stones rained on me all of a sudden,” she said. “I screamed as loudly as I could.” Ganja is dozens of kilometres from the front. The government of Azerbaijan blames Armenian troops for the attack

A woman lights a candle for a boy who was killed in the attack on Ganja (photo: Julia Hahn/DW)

Mourning the children: several people were killed in the attack on Ganja, according to Azerbaijani authorities.Guliyeva’s 13-year-old grandson, Artur, was one of the victims. At a church service, teachers and classmates paid their respects. According to official figures, at least 130 civilians were killed on both sides

Several men, some wearing camouflage shirts, squatting and standing in front of a building in Stepanakert (photo: Aris Messinis/AFP)

Volunteering for the front: authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh say 1,200 soldiers have died since fighting started in September. Azerbaijan’s government has not reported the extent of its military losses. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently mentioned a total of 5,000 people dead on both sides. Young men keep on volunteering for service at the front, such as these fighters in the Nagorno-Karabakh capital, Stepanakert

Women and children in a room and a large painting of a soldier (photo: Julia Hahn/DW)

A decades-old conflict: the region has been controlled by Armenian separatists since Azerbaijan’s government lost control in a territorial war from 1988 to 1994. A fragile ceasefire has been in effect since. The painting in a school in Barda honours a soldier who died

Turkish and Azerbaijani flags in front of a business with propaganda posters in the windows (photo: Julia Hahn/DW)

International intervention? Propaganda and war rhetoric govern everyday life in Azerbaijan, which is ruled by an authoritarian regime. The government, in Baku, receives weapons and expressions of solidarity from Turkey. Russia is the protective power for Armenia’s government, in Yerevan. Observers warn that the regional powers could actively intervene in the conflict

An elderly man in the dark, seated a table with a lit candle and plates with boiled eggs, a tomato, bread (photo: Stanislav Krasilnikov/ITAR-TASS/imago images)

Holding out in shelters: regional authorities estimate that half of the residents, or 75,000 people, could flee the fighting. Residents who remain continue to hold out in basements and shelters

People sitting on benches, cots and chairs in a shelter in Stepanakert (photo: Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure/Reuters)

The coronavirus in a conflict zon: life in shelters has become routine for many Stepanakert residents. The rooms are crowded and poorly ventilated. The people are safe from the bomb attacks, but doctors warn of a rapid spread of the coronavirus. There are no officials figures, but some doctors have estimated that about half of the shelters’ residents test positive on a daily basis

Three young girls seated on a cot, reading, in the Azerbaijani town of Barda (photo: Julia Hahn/DW)

Classrooms as emergency shelters: people fled the fighting in Azerbaijan, too, including from the town of Terter, which is right on the front. Some found refuge in neighbouring Barda, about 20 kilometres from Nagorno-Karabakh, where schools have been used as emergency shelters since the end of September. But they are not safe either

A burned-out car in front of a building with a shop that has been destroyed in Barda (photo: Julia Hahn/DW)

The front approaches: several buildings were destroyed and cars burned out during an air raid on Barda a few days ago. Azerbaijani authorities reported at least 21 dead and dozens injured. The Armenian government denied the attack, but Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, pledged “retaliation on the battlefield” and “revenge”

View from inside a building in Nagorno-Karabakh, the windows blown out, rubble on the floor (photo: Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure/Reuters)

No foreseeable peace: the fighting continues. The government of Azerbaijan has demanded the complete withdrawal of Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, has officially asked Russia for help. The Foreign Ministry has pledged Russia’s “necessary assistance” should the fighting shift to Armenian territory

What role does Turkey play as a close ally of Azerbaijan?

Uyar: Following clashes in the summer, Turkey despatched jets and high-ranking officers to Azerbaijan, arms sales have gone through the roof. The air space over Azerbaijan is monitored by Turkish officers, Turkey has sent allied jihadists from Syria to the region, who are now murdering in its name.

One captured jihadist stated that the fighters are being paid 100 dollars for the head of every dead Armenian. This makes Turkey, a NATO partner and EU accession candidate, an active party in an illegal war of aggression.

We’re hearing some new genocide rhetoric from Turkey, which to this day denies the 1915 Armenian genocide. In the summer, there could be no mistaking what Turkish President Erdogan meant when he spoke of “ending what our grandfathers began in the Caucasus”. It’s my impression that these threats aren’t really being taken seriously in the EU. How can this be interpreted?

Uyar: Both the EU and Germany are pretending they can’t see or hear anything. This appears to be a tradition in Germany when it comes to the existence of the Armenians; the silence reminds me of 1915. The government clearly has other interests. It probably wants to protect the refugee agreement with Turkey; also I assume it wants to avoid problems with sections of the Turkish community in Germany.

German-Armenian lawyer Ilias Uyar (photo: DW)

The German-Armenian lawyer Ilias Uyar lives in Cologne and is active in the civil society initiative “RECOGNITION NOW”, which was instrumental in the German parliament’s resolution to recognise the genocide of Armenians, Assyrians and Pontus Greeks and also demands that the genocide of Armenians be taught in schools. He is also active in local politics in the Cologne CDU

The role of Germany’s Turkish community

In Germany too, the DITIB is drumming up support for the war – just as it did several times before when it took action against the Kurds…

Uyar: I don’t know what the DITIB is actually preaching in its mosques, but it’s known that they preached in favour of the war when Turkey invaded Syria. DITIB mosque congregations post war propaganda related to the war in Nagorno-Karabakh in social networks, while the Armenian church in Germany holds prayers for peace.

When the German government remains silent over this, it is playing into the hands of nationalists and agitators. They perceive this as an encouragement to continue. The German government shares some of the responsibility should the situation escalate. It is cynical, if DITIB congregations receive political support as co-operation partners for integration and anti-racism projects. Why, in this country, is financial support being given to Turkish organisations and associations that deny the Armenian genocide?

The French government has responded with a ban on the right-wing extremist Grey Wolves organisation, following violence against Armenians in France. Would this also be an option for Germany?

Uyar: This is a necessary measure and long overdue, particularly as intelligence agencies have had their eye on the Grey Wolves for some time already. Turkish and Azerbaijani extremists carried out attacks on Armenian shops in Germany this summer. I referred to this threat already back in early October at the federal press conference. We shouldn’t be waiting until the same thing that happened in France also happens here. The German government must abandon its course of inaction, and in doing so it should make no distinction between German, Turkish and other right-wing extremists. The Grey Wolves organisation should be banned.

The peace process has barely made any progress since the 1990s. Is finding a solution still possible at all? What does the future hold for the region, do you think?

Uyar: I very much hope that peace can be established because that is the only realistic option. I’m working to achieve this every day. The Armenians have lived in Nagorno-Karabakh for millennia and will also continue to defend themselves against aggressions. But I’m pessimistic. Because on an international level, the Armenians with their peace efforts aren’t listened to, only the aggressor with the cash and the oil.

Interview conducted by Gerrit Wustmann

© Qantara.de 2020

Translated from the German by Nina Coon