Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Armenian News... A Topalian... Azerbaijan distorting history

How Azerbaijan is distorting history to give it centuries of 

existence whereas it came into being in 1918 with a usurped 

The Economist
Nagorno-Karabakh’s war
A frozen conflict explodes
After facing off for decades, Armenia and Azerbaijan start 
Apr 9th 2016 

WITH so many conflicts in the world, Nagorno-Karabakh gets little 
attention. The bloody fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani 
forces in the mountainous enclave this week was a reminder that 
it should. Tanks and artillery traded fire; at least 50 people were killed 
in four days. The spectre loomed of a wider war, one that could draw 
in Russia, Turkey and Iran. A ceasefire brokered in Moscow on 
April 5th appears to be holding for now. But it brought the two foes no 
 closer to peace.

The fighting dates back to 1988, when Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic 
Armenians attempted to secede from Azerbaijan. (At the time, both 
Armenia and Azerbaijan were republics of the Soviet Union.) As the 
Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, the conflict grew into a full-scale war. 
By 1994 some 30,000 people were dead and Nagorno-Karabakh was 
under Armenian control. Russia, America and France brokered a 
 ceasefire, but sporadic shooting continued. Rather than time healing 
 old wounds, it deepened them.

On April 2nd the frustration spilled over. Azerbaijani forces seized 
settlements and strategic heights along the front. (Both sides accuse 
each other of starting the fighting.) The campaign to capture territory 
marked a departure from an earlier Azeri strategy of attacks aimed at
“pressure and posturing”, says Richard Giragosian, head of the 
Regional Studies Centre, a think-tank in Yerevan. Armenian and 
Karabakhi officials say they retook the captured land, but their claims 
have not been independently verified. The outburst demonstrates 
that the 1994 ceasefire framework, with no peacekeepers and only 
a handful of unarmed monitors, “no longer fits”, says Thomas de 
Waal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

The fact that the assault began with both the Azeri and Armenian 
presidents in Washington for a security summit suggests that it was 
no accident. Discontent with the stalled diplomacy may have pushed 
Azerbaijan to try to change facts on the ground. “This is about 
bringing Armenia to the negotiating table,” says Zaur Shiriyev of 
Chatham House, a British think-tank.   [really? who is being resistive?]

At home, the political dividends were immediate. The brief war 
“created  euphoria”, says Anar Valiyev, a Baku-based analyst. The 
government boasted of newfound military superiority, the result of the 
oil-rich state’s expansion of defence spending (from $177m in 2003 
to $3 billion in 2015). Casualties were seen as justified. “The people 
are hungry for victories,” says Mr Valiyev. 

That may help Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, cushion the pain 
of falling oil prices. Oil and gas accounted for 94% of the country’s 
exports in 2013. As prices dropped over the past two years, the Azeri 
central bank burned up more than two-thirds of its reserves supporting 
the currency before allowing it to devalue sharply. In January 2016 
the government imposed a 20% tax on foreign-exchange transactions 
and sounded out the International Monetary Fund about a possible 
loan. Rising prices and unemployment prompted protests in several 
smaller towns earlier this year, a rarity under Mr Aliev’s tight watch.

Some on the Armenian side suggested that Turkey, a longtime ally 
of Azerbaijan and new foe of Russia, helped provoke the violence. 
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, fueled the speculation 
by declaring that he would stand by Azerbaijan “to the end”. Yet the 
Turkish role is a red herring, says Laurence Broers of Chatham 
House: “The motives are local and not about great-power competition.” 

Nonetheless, peacemaking will require a push from powers such as 
Russia. Moscow has closer ties with Armenia: it has a military base 
there and a treaty obligation to defend the country against attacks 
on its territory (excluding Nagorno-Karabakh). But Russia also sells 
large quantities of arms to Baku. Any peace plan depends on external 
pressure overcoming local resistance. The stakes of diplomatic failure 
have never been clearer: little is left to prevent a repeat, or worse, of 
last week’s clashes. “Now there is no excuse for the outside powers 
to say the situation can just be managed,” says Mr de Waal.

RFE/RL Report 
Armenia Blasts Kazakhstan Over Summit Cancellation
Emil Danielyan

Armenia has accused Kazakhstan of damaging the Eurasian Economic 
Union (EEU) with its refusal to attend a high-level meeting of the
Russian-led bloc's member states in Yerevan in an apparent show of
support for Azerbaijan.

The prime ministers of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and
Kyrgyzstan were scheduled to hold a regular session of the EEU's
"intergovernmental council" in the Armenian capital on Friday. The
meeting was cancelled after Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Karim Masimov
refused to attend it, proposing Moscow as an alternative venue.

President Serzh Sarkisian raised the matter with Russian Prime
Minister Dmitry Medvedev when they met in Yerevan late on Thursday. 
"I regret that some of our partners among Eurasian Economic Union 
member states have refused to come to Yerevan for participating 
in the pre-planned event," Sarkisian told Medvedev.

"I don't know just how much they have helped Azerbaijan with that
move, but that they have undermined the reputation of our organization
is beyond doubt," he said.

The Kazakh government, which currently holds the rotating chairmanship
of the EEU, has publicly given no reasons for its stance. Observers
believe it wants to move the summit to avoid the impression that
Kazakhstan, which has strong linguistic and cultural ties with
Azerbaijan, supports Armenia in the Karabakh conflict.

Like other Muslim and Turkic Central Asian states, Kazakhstan has
repeatedly signed up to pro-Azerbaijani multilateral declarations on
the dispute.

Medvedev sought to downplay Kazakhstan's stance. "In part, one can
probably understand their behavior and decision because not everyone
is so well informed about the current situation and about what could
happen and what will happen," he told the Armenian president.

Medvedev said that Moscow will strive to arrange an EEU prime
ministerial meeting in Yerevan later this year. But it remained
unclear whether the cancelled session will take place in the Russian
capital next week.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin again phoned his Kazakh
counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev on Friday to discuss what a Kremlin
statement described as a "timetable of upcoming high-level meetings
within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union."

According to the statement, Putin also briefed Nazarbayev on the
escalation of the Karabakh conflict and Russian efforts to restore the
Armenian-Azerbaijani ceasefire. 

RFE/RL Report
Armenia Complains To Russia Over Arms Sales To Azerbaijan
Sargis Harutyunyan

In a stern rebuke to Moscow, President Serzh Sarkisian told Russia's
visiting Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev late on Thursday that
Azerbaijan used Russian weapons purchased in recent years during heavy
fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh that broke out a week ago.

The two men discussed the unprecedented escalation and Russian efforts
to defuse tensions in the Karabakh conflict zone when they met in

"Dmitry Anatolievich, I'm sure you know that the fact that the
Azerbaijanis used in full weapons that they acquired in Russia
recently has had a lot of resonance in Armenia," Sarkisian said in his
opening remarks at the meeting. "This is natural because the people of
Armenia consider Russia to be our closest ally and friend."

Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian likewise told Medvedev earlier on
Thursday that the Azerbaijani army used Russian-made T-90 tanks,
TOS-1A flamethrowers and devastating Smerch rocket systems during the
fighting. Baku bought these and other weapons as part of defense
contracts with Moscow worth at least $4 billion. They were reportedly
signed in 2009-2011, at a time when Medvedev served as Russia's

Armenian critics of these deals argue that unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia
is allied to Russia politically and militarily. They say that the
Russian arms sales to Armenia's arch-foe run counter to that alliance
even considering the fact that Moscow has long been providing military
assistance to Yerevan.

Medvedev did not react to Sarkisian's complaint at the start of the
talks. It is not clear whether Sarkisian demanded a halt to further
arms deliveries to Baku after the talks continued behind the closed

According to the TASS news agency, one of Medvedev's deputies, Dmitry
Rogozin, defended the Russian-Azerbaijani arms deals when he spoke to
reporters in Baku on Friday. He hinted that Moscow intends to complete
arms deliveries envisaged by them.

Sarkisian also told Medvedev that Yerevan expects from Moscow
"targeted statements and concrete actions" that would keep Baku from
again ratcheting up tensions in the conflict zone. He warned that
another "large-scale" Azerbaijani attack on Karabakh would result in a
full-blown war.

Medvedev proceeded to Baku on Friday. Meeting with the Russian
premier, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev claimed that he had "no
intentions to start large-scale hostilities" along the Karabakh "line
of contact." "We simply defended our positions and peaceful lives of
our citizens," Aliyev said.

RFE/RL Report 
Mediators Strive To Bolster Karabakh Truce
Nane Sahakian

The parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have pledged to honor a
Russian-brokered agreement that stopped heavy fighting between their
troops, international mediators said on Saturday at the end of their
visit to Baku, Stepanakert and Yerevan.

The U.S., Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk
Group rushed to the region early this week following the outbreak of
worst hostilities along the Karabakh "line of contact" since 1994.

"Our main task was to help the parties stabilize the situation and
take measures to prevent a repeat of hostilities," Igor Popov, the
Russian co-chair, told a news conference in Yerevan.

"I want to stress that it was not part of our mandate to conduct an
investigation as to who started the fighting first and who is
responsible for it," he said.

"The overall conclusion drawn from our talks is that the parties
intend, or at least they are showing readiness, to maintain the
ceasefire that was agreed in Moscow on Tuesday," added Popov.

Nagorno Karabakh - Children play on the street in Nagorno-Karabakh's
city of Stepanakert, April 7, 2016

The mediators met with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister
Edward Nalbandian earlier in the day. They met with Azerbaijan's
President Ilham Aliyev in Baku before proceeding to Karabakh for
similar talks with the unrecognized republic's leadership on Thursday.

In Popov's words, the conflicting parties assured the mediating troika
they are also committed to restarting negotiations on a mutually
acceptable political agreement to end the Karabakh conflict. "There is
an understanding that it's necessary to return to political
discussions," said the Russian envoy.

Popov also confirmed that the co-chairs stand by a framework peace
accord drafted by them about a decade ago and repeatedly modified
since then. It is based on the internationally recognized principles
of non-use of force, territorial integrity of states, and peoples'
right to self-determination.

The proposed Basic Principles of a Karabakh settlement contain what
Popov called "six elements." The most important of them, he said, is a
mechanism for determining Karabakh's status and a "return of
territories" around Karabakh also controlled by the Armenian side.

The Basic Principles reportedly call for a future referendum in
Karabakh on the disputed territory's status. The conflicting parties
have until now disagreed on practical modalities of such a vote and
other important details of the peace deal.

Popov further made clear that the Karabakh Armenian leaders should
join peace talks held by Yerevan and Baku "at a certain stage." That
could happen after the parties agree on the Basic Principles and start
discussing a comprehensive peace accord, he said. 

Why the Turkish government seized this Armenian church
11 Apr 2016
Siranush Ghazanchyan

Al-Monitor – Turkey has been making drastic decisions in different
towns of the majority Kurdish southeast in the past few weeks. On
March 21, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government
hastily passed legislation referred to as “urgent expropriation of the
Sur district” of Diyarbakir province. On March 26, the government’s
Official Gazette announced all the addresses of the properties to be

These decisions have been met with local opposition, which has been
silenced swiftly. But the Sur situation generated global reactions
because of the town’s history — so much so that Galip Ensarioglu, a
prominent AKP parliamentarian, told the press that the US Embassy had
called him asking about the reports. Ensarioglu said the reports
amounted to a smear campaign spreading false information about the
confiscation process. Others beg to differ.

Indeed, the story of Sur evolves around historic churches and citadels
of the town, which are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Months of
fighting with the Kurdistan Workers Party have left the region in
ruins, and ambiguous government statements furthered the frustration
of civilians who were obliged to leave their homes. One of the
concerned groups is Armenian. About 110 years ago, the region’s
population distribution shows Sur was an Armenian majority town.

As aerial images of Sur expropriations started circulating on social
media, Armenians all around the world became concerned, particularly
about one church that was reopened only in 2011. Soon it became clear
that several inalienable religious endowment properties, or waqf,
along with the largest Armenian Church, St. Giragos Armenian Apostolic
Church, were included on the list. About 82% of the district is
estimated to have been expropriated by the government.

Raffi Bedrosyan, a Canadian-Armenian civil engineer and writer who was
involved in the reconstruction of St. Giragos, spoke to Al-Monitor
about its significance. According to Bedrosyan, St. Giragos is the
largest Armenian church in the Middle East. “It dates back to the 14th
century, and with several expansions, it served the large Armenian
community of 100,000 in Diyarbakir until 1915,” he said.

After the Armenians were forced to leave the city, the church was made
to serve different purposes, from an army barracks to a warehouse.
Constant attempts to keep it functioning as a church were futile until
a waqf foundation was able to reclaim the property.

“In 2009, a newly formed church charitable foundation showed the
courage and determination to start reconstruction of [St.] Giragos.
With organized fundraising from the Armenian community in Istanbul and
worldwide Armenian diasporas, as well as some contribution from the
local Kurdish municipal leaders, the church was renovated and opened
in 2011, and more than 4,000 people attended,” Bedrosyan said.

He added, “It soon became a spiritual and cultural center for Armenian
pilgrims from the diaspora and a meeting place for thousands and
thousands of hidden Armenians living in the region, who are the
descendants of 1915 orphaned Armenian girls and boys [who were]
forcibly Islamized, Kurdified and Turkified. The [St.] Giragos Church
Foundation also succeeded in having several properties … restored to
church ownership.”

In 2012, Bedrosyan gave a memorable piano concert at the church. The
church became a catalyst, bringing Christians and descendants of
Armenians from all around the world to Sur, and it also served as a
spiritual refuge for hundreds of Islamized Armenian survivors.

Aline Ozinian is a regional analyst for the Armenian Assembly of
America and a correspondent for Agos, an Armenian daily published in
Turkey. She described for Al-Monitor how the news of expropriation
resonated among Armenians.

“First and foremost, it caused a loss of trust of the government. In
the early years of the AKP, there was hope for a fresh start because
the AKP appeared to be embracing the rhetoric of religious freedom.
During the reconstruction process of [St.] Giragos, there was hope
that, as citizens of Turkey, Armenians would have an achievement,”
Ozinian said. “Yet with this expropriation decision, it is confirmed
that this was a cheap illusion. The police mentality that yells at the
Kurds ‘You are all Armenians’ has now been institutionalized. The
expropriation of [St.] Giragos symbolizes a punishment for both Kurds
and Armenians. It is highly probable that the AKP is punishing
Armenians, as some Armenians have voted for the pro-Kurdish HDP
[Peoples’ Democratic Party].”

The AKP has repeatedly denied expropriating churches. Ensarioglu
vehemently rejected expropriation of any of the churches, saying, “We
are only here to repair the churches and give them back to the waqfs.”
Yet none of the locals seemed convinced by his statements. As the
pressure built, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Sur on April 1.

Ozinian said, “Davutoglu’s first task at Sur was to pray at a mosque.
This was a message. The church had rejuvenated the Islamized Armenians
in the region, encouraging them to investigate their histories. It
seems the Turkish government, intolerant toward differences, will
resolve all problems by expropriating the church.”

She also emphasized the sudden turn in Turkish press coverage. “During
the reconstruction process of the church from 2009 to 2011, the press
coverage was extensive. The church was portrayed as a monument of ‘the
AKP’s tolerance,’ yet the expropriation news barely made it into the
mainstream media, and not to the headlines at all. In 1915, hatred
removed and cleansed the Armenians from Sur, and now I fear a similar
destiny awaits the Kurds.”

Indeed, Ozinian’s concerns have been repeated by several columnists
from the region who say they fear the government plans to empty the
region of Kurds and settle Syrian refugees as a buffer zone between
Kurdish areas. Another concern is the greed factor. The AKP has
prepared a video showing what the future of the historic Sur district
would look like. Davutoglu likened it to the reconstructed city of
Toledo, Spain. “I told my wife, we should own a house in Sur as well,”
he added.

Locals were not satisfied with his words, as prominent columnist
Nurcan Baysal penned a searing column titled “Take Toledo for yourself
and leave Sur alone.” Garo Paylan, an Armenian member of the HDP, had
already submitted an inquiry about the ancient church and has been
seeking to halt its expropriation.

Many believe this move by the AKP is another lucrative gentrification
project for construction companies belonging to AKP cronies. In the
midst of all this, the country’s biggest Armenian church appears to
have met the same destiny as dozens of others in the region — it has
become collateral damage.

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