Monday, 11 April 2016

Armenian News... A Topalian... Stakes are high, war flares...

The Times (London)
April 9, 2016 Saturday
Stakes are high as war flares again in Armenian enclave
by Tom Parfitt

The cake was baked, the wine stood ready and 25lb of lamb was soaking 
in marinade. 

Every year Vilen Petrosyan, head of the tiny hamlet of Talish, in 
northeast Nagorno-Karabakh, celebrates his birthday with relatives and 
friends from five surrounding villages. This year was to be no 
different - but instead of waking up a week ago to toasts and 
merriment, he and his family were driven from their beds at 3am by the 
sound of artillery shells crashing down around them. 

"I ran out on to the balcony and I could see them hitting our homes," 
he said. "In ten minutes the village shop was on fire." 

It soon became obvious that one of the most intractable conflicts in 
Europe had flared up again after years of apparent dormancy. At least 
30,000 people died in the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh 
between 1991 and 1994 when it seceded from Azerbaijan and proclaimed 
itself an independent republic. 

As with many of the ethnic conflicts that grew from the break-up of 
the Soviet Union, there have been occasional flurries of violence ever 
since. The fighting that broke out last week, however, was the 
bloodiest since the end of that battle - and it raises the spectre of 
a catastrophic wider war that could easily drag in Russia and Turkey, 
a member of Nato, on opposing sides. 

Armenia, which has long held sway in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, said 
that 44 of its soldiers were killed in the recent clashes, which began 
in Talish and spread along the ceasefire line, involving tanks, 
howitzers and rocket launchers. Azerbaijan lost at least 31 troops. 
Two of the Armenians were killed yesterday , despite a midweek truce. 

The likelihood of further fighting remains high, and the danger posed 
if a new war begins is enormous. The Moscow and Ankara governments are 
already at daggers drawn after a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian 
bomber on the Syrian border in November. Russia has a mutual defence 
pact with Armenia, a Christian state, while President Erdogan has said 
that the Turks, who are ethnically close to the Azeris, will support 
Azerbaijan "to the end". 

Stepanakert, the capital of the unrecognised Nagorno-Karabakh 
republic, is once again on a war footing. Men in camouflage milled 
around the Hotel Armenia this week and hunched over tables in 
smoke-filled restaurants. 

Driving north, the devastation wrought in the war of the early 1990s 
is still evident. The empty husks of hundreds of homes litter the 
landscape, especially in what remains of the town of Agdam, seized 
from Azerbaijan. 

In Talish, Mr Petrosyan, 52, remembered when, as a younger man, he and 
others fought to defend the village and he stepped twice on landmines, 
losing his left leg. 

This week the horror returned. The corpses of a dozen cows killed by 
artillery lay at the entrance to the village. Shells had ploughed into 
homes, a kindergarten and the village administration office. 

"I hid my children and relatives in the basement and then everyone 
fled in trucks and cars," Mr Petrosyan said. "One woman lost an arm." 

A small military unit based in Talish managed to fend off an Azeri 
ground attack, according to soldiers from an Armenian battalion that 
came to reinforce it. 

The bodies of a couple in their late 60s and the man's 92-year-old 
mother were found in their home. Their ears had been sliced off, and 
photos were produced of several other bodies that had been mutilated. 

Claims that several Armenian soldiers were beheaded after the fighting 
have not been confirmed. Such alleged atrocities and the rumours that 
swirl around them demonstrate the hatred that is nurtured on both 
sides. People in Nagorno-Karabakh speak of Azeris as beasts and 
murderers. They are indistinguishable from Turks, and no different 
from Isis jihadists, many say. 

Zori Balayan, 82, a writer and ideologue of the early Karabakh 
independence movement, said that peace talks this week overseen by the 
US, France and Russia were redundant. Nagorno-Karabakh would not give 
back several Azeri regions that it captured to join its territory to 
Armenia in exchange for full independent status, because Azerbaijan 
could then cut off the republic, or deny Armenia access to friendly 
Iran, he said. 

Feliks Khachatryan, the fledgeling republic's deputy foreign minister, 
said that the international community should recognise 
Nagorno-Karabakh as a state - but he could not name a concession that 
would help Azerbaijan to accept that. 

Many of the people living here expect only more bloodshed. In a war 
cemetery in Sisian, on the road to Armenia, five freshly turned mounds 
of earth had sprouted this week below two rows of 46 graves from the 
war in the Nineties. The new victims, buried on Wednesday , were 
volunteer fighters killed in Nagorno-Karabakh by an Azeri drone. 

"The first two lines of the book are already written and now the third 
has been started," said Father Parkev, the priest. Pointing from his 
church down at the graves, and a wide stretch of grass leading 
downhill, he added: "Look how many pages are left to be filled." 

The Times (London)
April 8, 2016 Friday
Suicide drone kills seven troops in battlefield debut
by Gregg Carlstrom 

A "suicide drone" has killed seven soldiers during clashes over a 
stretch of land between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is thought to be 
the first time that such a weapon has been deployed in combat. 

A video posted on a pro-Azerbaijani website showed the drone nosedive 
and disappear behind a hill in Nagorno-Karabakh. Artsrun Hovhannisyan, 
an Armenian defence ministry spokesman, told Ria Novosti news agency 
that it hit a bus full of military "volunteers". 

The drone had the distinctive shape of the Harop, manufactured by 
Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI). Mr Hovhannisyan identified it in a 
post on his Facebook page. He posted photos of a second drone, 
allegedly shot down by Armenian forces, with a fuselage that also 
matches the Harop's. 

Most combat drones carry guided missiles, which they fire then return 
to base. The Harop itself is a weapon: it carries a small warhead and 
destroys its target by crashing into it. 

It is fired like a missile from a launcher mounted on a lorry. It can 
fly for six hours, with a maximum range of at least 500km (300 miles). 
IAI markets it as a low-cost way to destroy enemy radar systems: it is 
estimated to cost less than $1 million. A US Reaper drone, by 
contrast, costs $17 million - although it is reusable. 

Azerbaijan and India are thought to be the only foreign users of the Harop. 

EuroNews, EU
April 9 2016
Russia says won’t halt arms sales to arch foes Armenia and Azerbaijan

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said it would continue selling arms to both
Azerbaijan and Armenia despite the latest flare-up of the conflict
over Nagorno-Karabakh, angering the Armenians who consider Moscow a
close ally.

Renewed fighting around Armenian-backed Nagorno-Karabakh, which broke
out last weekend, was the most intense since a 1994 ceasefire that
stopped the conflict around the rebel region but did not resolve the
underlying dispute.

A Moscow-brokered ceasefire agreed on Tuesday stopped the outburst of
violence in which Azerbaijan and the Armenia-backed rebel region lost
dozens of their servicemen.

On Saturday, after the ceasefire went into effect, the Vatican
announced that Pope Francis would visit Azerbaijan and Georgia from
September 30 to October 2. He is due to travel to Armenia on June

Russia plays an important role in the region as its former imperial
and Soviet-era overlord. It is also the main seller of weapons to both
Armenia, a close Moscow ally, and Azerbaijan, which has developed warm
relations with ethnically kin Turkey.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who travelled to both Armenia
and Azerbaijan this week in a display of Moscow’s lead role in
mediating in the conflict, said Russia had no intention of halting
arms sales to any side of the conflict.

“If we imagine for a minute that Russia has given up this role (of
arms seller), we well understand that this place will not stay
vacant,” Medvedev told the weekly “Vesti on Saturday” programme on
Russian state TV.

“They will buy weapons in other countries, and the degree of their
deadliness won’t change in any way,” he said. “But at the same time,
this could … destroy the existing balance of forces (in the region).”

Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan decried on Saturday Russia’s
continued arms supplies to Azerbaijan.

“Russia is our strategic partner, and our people take it with pain
that Russia sells weapons to aggressor Azerbaijan,” the government
press service quoted him as saying after a church funeral service for
a soldier killed in clashes with Azeri forces.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a mountainous enclave within Azerbaijan’s borders,
populated mainly by ethnic Armenians who reject Azerbaijan’s rule.
With support from Armenia, they fought a war in the early 1990s to
establish de facto control over the territory.

Russia’s active diplomacy has overshadowed the United States, which
has extensive interests in the South Caucasus region that includes
Azerbaijan and Armenia.

While the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia maintain their bellicose
rhetoric, Moscow believes the possible involvement of other major arms
exporters to the region “will most likely complicate the situation

“I believe weapons may and should be bought not only to be used one
day, but to be a deterrent factor,” Medvedev said. “This aspect must
be considered by both sides of the conflict.”

(This story has been refiled to remove extra characters)

(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov and Denis Dyomkin; Additional reporting
by Hasmik Mkrtchyan in Yerevan; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Toby

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