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AZERBAIJAN-ARMENIA: “Our holy mission is to keep peace,” Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in Azerbaijan says

In exclusive interview, head of Russian Orthodox Church in Baku invites defeated Armenians into economic cooperation after Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and laments lost ethnic fraternity.


By Jayson Casper


Christianity Today (05.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/3pQw3mq – In November, Christian-heritage Armenia surrendered to Muslim-majority Azerbaijani forces besieging the Caucasus mountain area of Nagorno-Karabakh. The ceasefire agreement ended a six-week war that cost each side roughly 3,000 soldiers and left unsettled the final status of the Armenian-populated enclave they call Artsakh.


Azerbaijan, however, recovered the rest of its internationally recognized territory, including the historic city of Shushi. The first Karabakh war ended in 1994 and displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes on both sides.


Archbishop Alexander, head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Azerbaijan, reached out to CT to promote a process of reconciliation.


It will not be easy.


Azerbaijanis returning to Adgam, left in ruins by Armenian occupation for 25 years, will see for the first time the damage to their city once inhabited by 30,000 people. Its mosque was relabeled “Persian,” while 63 of Nagorno-Karabakh’s 67 mosques are said to be razed to the ground.


Meanwhile, Catholicos Karekin II, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, issued a plea to save the ancient heritage of Armenian church properties lost in the war. In 2005, a gravesite containing sixth-century khatchkar crosses was destroyed in the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhchivan.


Azerbaijan has pledged to preserve them. But the United Nations’ cultural arm UNESCO stated that its authorities have failed to respond to several requests to deploy an independent fact-finding mission.


Meanwhile, members of Azerbaijan’s Christian Udi minority were dispatched to hold services in the ninth-century Dadivank Monastery. The Udi are related to the Caucasian Albanian Christians, assimilated into other ethnic groups a thousand years ago. But Azerbaijan maintains the churches of the region are actually Albanian, and not Armenian in origin.


International academics find it difficult to examine all the historical sources. But one nonaligned expert stated the theory has “little currency outside of Azerbaijan,” calling it “bizarre.”


Efforts at reconciliation must also overcome the trauma of war.


Azerbaijan stated that 100 civilians were killed in the shelling of populated areas, while Armenia stated at least 55 civilians were killed. Human Rights Watch condemned the use of cluster munitions on both sides.


Amnesty International has similarly documented video footage showing mistreatment of captured soldiers—including decapitations.


Alexander, elevated to archbishop in 2012, is not a neutral peacemaker.


Early in the war, he signed an Azerbaijani interfaith letter congratulating President Ilham Aliyev on his military victories. A later letter pledged that Azerbaijan was not seeking the displacement of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and offered them autonomy.


But after the war, amid claims of Azerbaijan erasing Armenian cultural heritage, a third letter endorsed the Albanian origin of churches and defended the nation’s multireligious character.


Aliyev has since retracted the offer of autonomy.


Of Azerbaijan’s population of 10 million, 96 percent are Muslim—roughly two-thirds Shiite and one-third Sunni. Alexander’s Russian Orthodox represent two-thirds of Christians, while over 15,000 Jews date back to the Old Testament era.


A peacemaker, however, does not need to be neutral, only committed.


Speaking through a translator, Alexander described his experience of past good relations between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, his hope for future economic cooperation, and his present willingness to meet with Catholicos Karekin II.


Read the full interview here.

Further recommended reading:

Six Christian sites Armenia fears it has lost to Azerbaijan


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ARMENIA: Nagorno-Karabakh War: Putin destabilising Pashinyan’s regime

By Willy Fautre (Human Rights Without Frontiers)


The European Times (17.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/2H7PrdQ – On 9 November 2020, an armistice agreement was signed between Baku and Yerevan under the aegis of Moscow after over six weeks of fighting.


Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Armenia suffered a crushing defeat and lost territories that have been under its control for about 30 years. President Ilham Alijev’s Azerbaijan regained about one half of the territories seized by Armenian forces in the early 1990’s that Azerbaijan had been trying to reclaim for decades on the basis of several UN resolutions. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey asserted its ambitions to be recognised as a regional power in the Caucasus and President Vladimir Putin’s Russia imposed a unilateral peacekeeping operation under its sole authority.


By stopping the war, Putin is freezing – again – the conflict between the two former Soviet republics and increasing his military presence on the ground. The deployment of peace troops in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Lachin corridor strengthens Russia’s dominant position in the Caucasus, side-lining and making obsolete the OSCE Minsk Group co-chaired by France, Russia, and the US since its inception in 1992.


Another important opportunity for Putin to expand Russia’s reach in the region might still be to come: the toppling of Pashinyan by the same people who elected him two years ago. In the aftermath of the armistice, thousands of Armenians have expressed feeling humiliated and betrayed by their Prime Minister. They said Pashinyan did not have the right to sign such an agreement without consulting the people. They took to the streets to protest the secured territorial advances for Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, storming the parliament building and demanding Pashinyan’s resignation. However, he refuses to step down.


Pashinyan was the leader of the 2018 Armenian revolution that overthrew the corrupt and dictatorial regime of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan. On 8 May 2018, Pashinyan managed to obtain enough votes from the Parliament to become the Prime Minister himself.


For years, Putin has sold arms to both Azerbaijan and Armenia. He had good relations with former PM Sargsyan and so he was greatly concerned at the emergence of a people’s revolution calling for a democratic regime. Rebellions and quests for democracy and human rights in Russia’s neighbourhood are always perceived as an existential threat to Putin’s own rule because revolutions can be contagious.


The question is if Putin could have intervened more energetically at an earlier stage of the conflict to put an end to it or if he waited on purpose until the inevitable capitulation of Armenia to successfully push his pawns forward. Now that Pashinyan’s rule is contested, a regime change that side-lines the influence of the West in Yerevan and aligns more with Moscow might be the next episode in the post-conflict period.


The successful political and diplomatic operation led by Putin provides him with significant leverage to manipulate and pressure all parties in the region for a long time to come, pending a definitive solution which seems unlikely.

Photo: The European Times.

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ARMENIA-AZERBAIJIAN: Erdogan’s victory in Nagorno-Karabakh

The Yerevan parliament stormed and violence outside the home of Prime Minister Pašinyan. Baku celebrates with victory parades. Turkey and Russia are moving towards the “Syrian model” of joint territorial control. 10 Iljušin-76 aircraft are ready to carry the troops of the “peacemakers”. In all, about 2000 soldiers will be deployed.


By Vladimir Rozanskij


AsiaNews.it (11.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/32zeBcS – The peace agreement reached yesterday between Armenia and Azerbaijian, with Russian mediation, is being seen as a surrender by the Armenians, and a strategic victory for Turkey, which has obtained its goal: Access to the the South Caucasus as a protagonist. Victory parades took place in the streets of Baku, while the Armenians stormed their parliament and government buildings in Yerevan.


10 Iljušin-76 aircraft have already landed in Russia to transport the “peacemaker” troops. In all, about 2000 soldiers, 80 armoured vehicles and 380 means of transport with specialized technologies for territorial control will be deployed.


Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev also stated that the peace mission in Nagorno Karabakh will be composed of mixed forces, Russian and Turkish. Turkey had engaged several foreign mercenaries in the conflict, ISIS fighters in Syria, who are likely to remain on the territory. Although Turkey did not take part directly in the negotiations, Ankara has appropriated victory. Turkish foreign minister Mevljut Chavushoglu has declared “Azerbaijan has achieved great success on the battlefield and at the negotiations table of the, and I wholeheartedly congratulate you on this success”.


The Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pašinyan said he accepted the agreement “with great suffering”, even if in fact the Armenians still achieved a significant result, retaining a crucial part of the Armenian-majority territory recaptured already 20 years ago and declared “the Nagorno Karabakh Republic”, with the exclusion of the city of Shusha.


Pašinyan’s major efforts are aimed at persuading his compatriots that “this is not a defeat”, because the pacts signed were the only way to keep control over the city of Stepanakert and the Lachinsk corridor. “I kneel before our dead, and I bow to all our soldiers … with their sacrifice they have saved the Armenians of Artsakh,” the premier wrote on Facebook, using the Armenian name of Karabakh.


The status quo achieved is not the one indicated for some time in the OECD’s “Minsk agreements”, under the supervision of Russia, France and the United States, but the one established by Russia, which has taken all responsibility for the agreement upon itself, and which assigns a much larger territory to Azerbaijan than that of the Minsk text. The city of Shusha and its surroundings, moreover, had already been lost by the Armenians since November 5: this was revealed by the president of the Armenian republic of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh), Araik Arutjunyan, and on November 7 the Armenian forces had totally abandoned the city.


Armenians angry at the agreement attacked the president of parliament, Ararat Mirzoyan, who was beaten by demonstrators after pulling him out of the car he was trying to flee in. The residence of Prime Minister Pašinyan was also attacked and sacked; the prime minister of last year’s “flower revolution” is today overwhelmed by criticism from all political and social formations in the country, including the Apostolic Church of katholikos Karekin II. Pašinyan defended himself by claiming that he had to rush to the negotiating table, after “those who want my resignation had withdrawn from Shusha the previous days”.


However, the peace agreements appear rather fragile; Azerbaijani President Aliev has repeatedly stated that he wants to take back all of Nagorno Karabakh, and in all likelihood he will wait for the right moment to resume the conflict, as the signed pact lacks a long-term perspective. A new political crisis is also expected in Armenia, with the attempt to influence or replace Pašinyan. Turkey and Russia seem to concur on applying the “Syrian model” of joint control of the territory, where rather than peacekeeping forces, real armies will rule.

Photo: AsiaNews.it.

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