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Center for National and International Studies
“… They leave us only the ashes of Kelbajar …”
The trilateral ceasefire statement of Ilham Aliyev, Vladimir Putin and Nikol Pashinian on Karabagh and the course of its implementation is the main topic on FB. The activists, journalists, and bloggers continue to express their growing concern and protest against the arrival of the Russian peacekeepers and the immediate establishment of branches of Russian state institutions in Nagorno Karabagh, follow and comment on the course of the departure of Armenian settlers from the occupied Kelbajar region, who are destroying the houses and infrastructure, mining the lands; react with dissatisfaction to the government’s decision to extend for 10 days the deadline for the withdrawal from the occupied regions, and decry violations of human rights in the country.
The trilateral ceasefire statement of the three leaders — Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan — is the main topic of FB debates and comments. Azadlyg newspaper writes about the meeting of the Russian “peacekeepers” with the leader of the separatist regime Araik Harutiunian. This news along with their photo against the background of the separatist regime banner is widely shared and decried. Will Russia give any explanation about it? Which status they are meeting them in? Will there be anyone in Baku to demand this explanation, asks the newspaper and FB users. The community report with concern and worry the speed with which Russians on 10-11 Nov have established posts on the designated territory in Karabagh, the Lachin corridor; the day before, they had located in Upper Karabagh. Meydan TV reports transfer of corpses of soldiers to the Armenian party. One of the activists reports the meeting of the Russian military and diplomatic delegation with Turkish officials in Ankara to discuss the technical details of the joint monitoring centre for implementation of the ceasefire in Karabagh. He suggests that regardless of the results of the talks, the Azerbaijan government should invite Turkey to Shusha and balance the presence of Russia by the creation of a joint Azerbaijani-Turkish military base.
The FB community comments with concern and criticism that the government gave an additional 10 days on the request of the Armenian party to withdraw from Kelbajar, which according to the schedule was supposed to happen on Nov 15th. The politicians and experts consider this very dangerous, as the Armenians when leaving Kelbajar besides destroying houses, poisoning water and burning forests, were mining the lands, so this gives them an additional time to do the same in the other regions. The economist and politician Gubad Ibadoglu assesses the plans of Pashinian to make reforms in the army: change the Soviet system of drafting, create military-industrial complex, and increase number of women in the army. He argues, while the first and third point is realistic, the 10% GDP deficit makes the second goal impossible.
The head of Baku Police Office, Mirgafar Seyidov, was moved to the position of the head of the Transport department in the Central Police Office by the decree of the minister of interior, Vilayet Guliyev. The FB community greets provision 8 of the ceasefire agreement about exchange of hostages, POWS and corpses and news about the return of the hostages to their homes, firstly Dilgam Asgerov and Shahbaz Guliyev to Kelbajar — but mourn Hasan Hasanov, who was killed by the Armenian party. FB users shares news about the creation of a museum by the Armenians on the historical Shahbulag fortress built by Panah Khan — but declared as a site of alleged remains of “ancient Tigranakert” on the occupied Agdam territory. They suspect that this museum is most probably is going to be used as an excuse not to leave the occupied territories. They also are concerned about the condition of the Azikh caves, a famous historical site, what state the Armenian occupation left it in. Civil and political leaders ironically assess the statement of MP Konul Nurullayeva, that demanding compensation from Armenia is not important now, as her economy is in crisis. They note that she is related to the SOCAR’s president and ask whether her criticism of the president’s instruction is not accidental. On Nov 13th her interview of the previous day with the Turkish channel TVNet was considered at the Ethics Commission of the Parliament, which concluded that her statement contradicted the policy of the country and did not reflect the position of the Parliament. The statement by Azerbaijani’s ambassador to Russia, Polad Bul-bul Oglu, that Turkish peacekeepers will not be present in Karabagh, which caused indignation on social networks, was responded to by the president’s assistant Hikmet Hajiyev. The latter stressed that this statement was unacceptable and that the diplomats should abstain from any arbitrary statements contradicting the policies of president Aliyev. The chair of the Committee on Health issues, MP Ahliman Amiraslanov, defended the presence of Russian peacekeepers and criticised those who decried their arrival on social networks. FB users share and discuss the results of the war, among them the uniting of the country and nation, the demonstration of the people’s capacity to defend its lands, the improvement in the information aspects of the conflict, the mobilization and formation of the Diaspora, the identification of the true allies and the transfer of Turkish-Azerbaijani relations to a higher level, the exposure of weak sides of the country, such as human rights, freedoms, and the necessity of serious reforms. They also mention the high cost of this war — hundreds of talented young people, up to 100 peaceful population. Ganimad Zahid, the journalist in exile divides the assessment of the results of the war into optimists and pessimists. The optimists list the achievements such as liberation of most of the lands, suggest that Russian peacekeepers have come only for a short-term period, the alliance with Turkey has strengthened, the degree of self-rule in Karabagh to be decided within the principle of sovereignty of Azerbaijan. The pessimists, conversely, consider that the territorial integrity of the country was not restored, the Russian peacekeepers will never leave, Armenia has not recognized the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, Turkey, while politically included, is not on the ground militarily, the status of Upper Karabagh has not been defined, which limits our capacity to influence it, etc. Zahid concludes that the real situation is developing daily, so it is not possible to say who is right, but one thing is clear, while Azerbaijan won militarily, the political victory is still not decided. The journalists report that there were more than 70 people killed in this 44-day war from one Jalilabad region only. The news is spread that Armenian officials are refusing to leave Lachin city, in direct violation of provision 6 of the statement. The video of the Armenian who was threatening Azerbaijan with the army coming to Baku a few years ago, and another where he is crying while leaving Karabagh is widely shared and commented on. FB is full of videos and photos of the Armenian population leaving occupied territories and burning houses, woods, while taking parts of the infrastructure and houseware (even toilets) with them. FB reports with reference to the Eurasia.net site’s Ani Mejlumian, that Armenians while leaving Kelbajar region are cutting and taking trees with them. They report the destruction of the self-built “Park of volunteers”. Seumur Hazi of PFP comments: “They leave us only ashes of Kelbajar … It’s OK, we will build it again …” The human rights defender Fuad Hasanov asks “Isn’t it the mandate of Russian peacekeepers to prevent the process of burning down the houses and forests by the Armenian families resettled in the occupied territories when they leave Kelbajar, Lachin and Agdam?” According to the official sources, the Armenian party mines the lands on leaving them, so the returning citizens are put in jeopardy and dying — Yasin Ahmadov was killed by a mine, while his brother Asif Ahemadov was seriously wounded.
The economist Samir Aliyev suggests that for recontraction of the liberated territories a development strategy “The return” should be created at an official level. He argues that reforms should start with the reconstructed areas – the upgrading to progressive standards of the legislation etc. and then its transfer to the rest of the country. One of the prominent lawyers reminds and warns his followers that in 1992 the Russian peacekeepers came to Transnistria and are still there, resulting in announcement of the creation of the Transnistria republic.
FB users discuss the situation in Armenia, such as the resignation of the deputy foreign minister Shavarsh Kocharian and arrest of the former chief of the National Intelligence Agency, Artur Vanetsyan, charged with an assassination plot against prime minister Pashinian. They also discuss the resignation of the spokesperson of the Defence Ministry, Artsrun Ovanissian, explained by lies, which he received from the Military Headquarters and had to repeat.
The prominent journalist Khadija Ismayil spread via FB the search for her missing nephew at the front, but she now reports that her brother is looking for him among the burnt dead bodies returned by the Armenian party to Azerbaijan, which is possible only based on DNA testing.
One of the activists argues that this statement is not about peace — this is ceasefire agreement for 5 years, and a foundation for more bloody wars in the future. The activist in exile decries the ceasefire statement, pointing that in 5 years the term will be prolonged after the presidential elections to be a guarantor of the presidency of Aliyev.
FB users discuss the interview of American expert, former US State Department secretary Paul Goble with the Voice of America, where he argues that while the statement does not mean full victory for Azerbaijan and is not a peace yet, but with time when Azerbaijan becomes stronger it can restore its effective sovereignty over Karabagh and the corridor to Nakhichevan.
People share the stories of heroism and dramas of the families of IDPs from the occupied territories, whose all men volunteered and many died in the front. Altay Geyushov, an academic, considers that those who advocated the military way should not be surprised by bringing Russian troops in, as Russia was an ally of Armenia and helped her to occupy Azerbaijan. He argues that everyone knew that Russia’s possible interference was a deterring factor of the military way until now and it was confirmed in 2016. Everyone knew that Putin was not deterred by any international norms, his army is strong enough, and nobody is capable of fighting Russia now anyway. Hence, he argues, the outcome of the war is better than expected, but the region has turned into an active center of regional confrontation. The responsibility for the outcome should be shared by everyone who wanted the war.
The military expert Ilham Ismayil comments that Azerbaijan behaves as if it were guilty, Armenia is a victim, while Russia is a peace dove. He urges everyone to be more alert, as Russia has activated all her state agencies and opened branches of them in Upper Karabagh. The political commentator Shahin Seferli expresses his concern to Azadlyg newspaper that Russia is opening an Interagency Center of Humanitarian Response, which will have key branches such as Ministry of Civil Defence, Ministry of Emergencies, Foreign Ministry, Federal Security Agency and other Russian state structures. He also mentions that in all the documents, the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan over Upper Karabagh is not mentioned. He considers that all this directly contradicts the Azerbaijani constitution. Especially in that Russia sent their representatives of the Foreign Ministry and the FSA border troops. Russia also returns the Armenians to Karabagh under the command of general major A. Volkov. He concludes that means of putting pressure of Russia on Azerbaijan with its related risks are increasing day by day.
Human rights and social issues. The activists, journalists and bloggers report the court hearings on the case of the hitting by a car (29 October 2019) of the prominent human rights defender, member of the board of the National Council of Democratic Forces, Ogtay Gulaliyev. He is still in a comatose condition, able at times to open his eyes or move his feet. On the 13th court hearing the doctors and medical personnel of the City Hospital, where he was placed following the accident, were asked to testify. The FB community discusses and decries the decision of the National Bar Association to start disciplinary procedure based on fake accusation against human rights lawyer Agil Layij. The activists consider that the real reason of this accusation is his FB status, critical of the location of Russian troops in the country. The activists and journalists continue to denounce the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the previous decision on the case of the female political leader, the board member of NCDF Gultakin Hajibeyli, on expropriation of her property, based on fake accusations. Arif Hajili calls the authorities to release all the political prisoners, while commenting on the decision to give 10 more days for withdrawal from Kelbajar and other regions due to humanist considerations. He asks if their humanism extends only to the enemy army? Yadigar Sadyghli of Musavat comments that the statement by the MP Konul Nurullayeva should not be a subject of Ethics Commission, as an MP she has a right to express different opinion. Perviz Hashimli also confirms that this contradicts the law. The human rights defender reports the pressing issue of families trying to get information about their members who fought in the front. Ilkin Rustamzade of NIDA publicize the issue of the soldier who was raised in an orphanage in Mashtaga (one of the Baku villages) and wrote a story about it. While he was at the front the bank did not cancel his debt, but on the contrary, continues to accumulate interest. Rustamzade appeals to society to help him to pay this debt. Natig Jafarli attracts attention to the omission of the $50bn compensation by Armenia to Azerbaijan in the ceasefire statement. He urges serious investigation and research into the damage during 30 years of occupation to make a claim to Armenia. While he does not believe that Armenia will pay it, the existence of such document is very important. The young activists report that FB trolls have already started attacking those who are critically approaching the entrance of Russian troops. Ilkin Rustamzade ironically comments: “Who should the amnesty appeal letter the political prisoners arrested for opposing Russia be addressed to – Putin or Aliyev?”
Reaction of political and civil leaders. Ali Karimli of the Popular Front Party widely shared statement says that the peacekeepers were supposed to be multilateral and located on the borders with Armenia, while arrival of Russian troops under the disguise of the peacekeepers represents significant damage to national interests. He demands an explanation from the government on the Russia Defence minister Shoygu’s announcement of them entering “Khankendi and Shusha”. Ali Karimli stresses that before the ink had dried on the agreement, Russia already exceeded its mandate, and that under the ceasefire statement Turkey’s signature should have been required too. Isa Gambar of Musavat, in his interview to Belsat TV Belarus, argued that Azerbaijan won the second Karabagh war, but Armenia lost not only to Azerbaijan but to Russia too, as it now fell under the complete control of Russia. The location of the Russian peacekeepers creates serious risks for Azerbaijan’s sovereignty. He also stressed that the absence of perfect democracy in some countries does not mean that this country should be occupied. Gambar argued that Russia’s increased influence in the region is due to the biased attitude in Karabagh conflict shown by Western states, above all by France. He concludes that the West should understand that the activization of Turkey — an important NATO ally in the region — limits Russia’s influence in the South Caucasus. Gultakin Hajibeyli decries the meeting of the head commander of the Russian “peacekeepers” Rustam Muradov with the “ president” of the separatist regime Araik Harutyunian, against whom the Azerbaijani General Prosecutor opened a criminal case and declared him the subject of an international search. She notes that Russia, under the disguise of ‘peacekeeping’ is strengthening its military base in Karabagh, as it brought the system BM-21 Grad and helicopters. She decries the actions and mandate of the Russians, including the creation of a monitoring centre on the sovereign territory of Azerbaijan, and the declared mission of the “protection” of cultural sites. Natig Jafarli of REAL regrets that the Armenians are burning everything behind themselves, and if the Armenians upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union had not started their territorial claims and realized their occupation dreams, South Caucasus could be a region of democracy and prosperity. The other problem, he notes, is that in order to decrease Russia’s influence in the region, Azerbaijan should do it in cooperation with Armenia, permanently talking about it with its neighbour. Ilkin Rustamzade of NIDA strongly denounced the entrance of Russia’s peacekeepers into the country. He promised to protest to the end, and that he did not care if he gets arrested by Putin this time. Tofig Yagublu of Musavat argues that at this stage Putin has successfully promoted the interests of Russia and his personal power, after which the second stage will start- instead of destroyed weapons in this war, to sell new ones to both parties and fill the budget. Gubad Ibadoglu of the ADR denounces aspects of the map of Russia’s peacekeepers’ location, which extend its expected geographical borders, hence violating Azerbaijan’s sovereignty. The ADR movement’s meeting made a decision to officially appeal to Turkey to locate Turkish military bases in Azerbaijan. Seymur Hezi, the deputy chair of the PFP, argues that Russia, taking an advantage of the uncertain policies of the USA, has made one more step into the Caucasus. But this time the Russian boots are stepping on the plans of the EU. The European Parliament adopted the resolution which recommended Russia not to interfere with the EaP’s six members’ cooperation with the EU. “Russia did not interfere, but simply moved in”, he concludes.
Arif Hajili, leader of the opposition Musavat party, made a statement regarding the preservation of the historical monuments. He considers that expressions of concern regarding the state of historical monuments is at least disrespectful to the Azerbaijani nation. Unlike their neighbours who deface historical monuments, conduct ethnic cleansing, and create monoethnic nation, Azerbaijan approaches other people’s monuments with respect, as Azerbaijan is the homeland of many ethnic and confessional groups. There are numerous churches and synagogues in the cities of Baku, Ganja, Guba, Shamaha, Gabala, Gakh, Zagatala and others — which are functioning and protected, with new ones built. There is an Armenian church in the centre of Baku which was not destroyed even in the worst times of war, when up to 1m refugees and IDPs were created, tens of thousands died in the war, and the Khojali Massacre was committed. Both the church itself and the old library is protected by the state and there are 10 thousand Armenians still living in Baku city alone. Azerbaijan is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. He finally concludes that for a country with such a strong tradition of diversity and multiculturalism, there is no need for “external peacekeepers” to protect the monuments, which the country can do by itself.
Relations with Turkey. The statement by the Defence Ministry of Turkey that the country will monitor the implementation of the conditions of ceasefire, return of all the lands under occupation to Azerbaijan, and in case of need would render all help to Azerbaijan is widely shared and praised on FB. The activist stresses that at last, after 18 years, Erdogan has declared that they need serious reforms in the economy for which the rule of law and an independent judiciary is a must. FB users hope that this intention will have its influence in Azerbaijan too. Another activist jokingly comments that he has been following the policies of Erdogan and whoever he called his brother was ousted, and his country destroyed. (Qaddafi, Assad, etc). “The last time, he called Ilham Aliyev his brother…” concludes the activist. Some critically assess the passivity of Turkey in regard to Russia’s peacekeepers arriving in the country. FB users also share information about Turkish immigrants in Germany having successfully developed an anti-COVID Vaccine.
Relations with Russia. FB users worryingly report that while Russia is locating its “peacekeepers” in Khankendi (Stepanakert), it is also creating an air defence base in Khojali. The Russian Defence Ministry disclosed that 8 Mi-8 and Mi-24 fighting helicopters were brought to Khojali. FB suggests intensifying talks with the Turkish government about locating military bases in Shusha. The activists and civil leaders decry the statement made by Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, that participation of the Turkish forces in the peacekeeping was not discussed at all, and that a monitoring centre would be located “not in Upper Karabagh, but on Azerbaijani territory”. They question the non-partisanship of Russia and demand an immediate reaction by the president’s assistant Hikmet Hajiyev. “Why have you agreed to the peacekeeping of a party which does not recognize Karabagh as Azerbaijan’s territory?? React immediately, define the red lines, enough of silence”. Some consider that Putin’s position will weaken so much with the new US president’s policy that he will forget about his troops in Karabagh.
International events. The FB community shares news about the resumption of fighting between Pakistan and India over Kashmir (reporting near 15 dead and 30 wounded), and in Morocco with the Western Sahara Polisario Front.
They greet the outcome of elections in Moldova, bringing to power pro-Western Maya Sandu, calling this “Putin lost in Moldova”. They stress the role of voting of more than 260 thousand Moldovans who are abroad, 70% of whose votes went to Sandu, who took 60% of the votes in the capital Chisinau. Transnistrians gave 85% of their votes to Dodon.