Berlin hosts foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan for peace talks

Feb 28 2024

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock aimed to make progress on a peace treaty between the two nations, which has stalled due to mutual distrust.

Germany aimed to advance discussions on a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan by hosting the foreign ministers of the two countries in Berlin, on Wednesday.

At a secluded government villa, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock welcomed Armenia's Ararat Mirzoyan and Azerbaijan's Jeyhun Bayramov for what was scheduled as two days of negotiations.

The latest talks followed a meeting on Feb. 17 between German Chancellor OIaf Scholz, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. Scholz underlined Germany's willingness to help conclude peace talks, along with that of European Council President Charles Michel.

“We believe that Armenia and Azerbaijan now have an opportunity to achieve an enduring peace after years of painful conflict,” Baerbock, who visited both countries in November, said ahead of a three-way meeting. 

"What we’re seeing now are courageous steps by both countries to put the past behind and to work toward a durable peace for their people."

Armenia and Azerbaijan have a long history of land disputes. The latest clash at their border resulted in the death of at least four Armenian soldiers in mid-February.

Azerbaijan waged a lightning military campaign last year to reclaim the Karabakh region, which Armenian separatists had ruled for three decades.

The region, which was known internationally as Nagorno-Karabakh, and large swaths of surrounding territory came under full control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia at the end of a separatist war in 1994.

Azerbaijan regained parts of Karabakh and most of the surrounding territory in a six-week war in 2020 that ended with a Russian-brokered truce. In December 2022, Azerbaijan started blockading the road linking the region with Armenia, causing food and fuel shortages.

It then launched a blitz in September 2023 that routed the separatist forces in one day and forced them to lay down arms. More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fled the region, leaving it nearly deserted.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have pledged to work toward signing a peace treaty, but no visible progress has been made, and tensions have continued to soar amid mutual distrust.

"Direct dialog like today and tomorrow is the best way to make further progress," Baerbock said.

Armenpress: European Parliament to discuss resolution on visa liberalization with Armenia next week


YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 23, ARMENPRESS. The European Parliament will discuss a resolution on visa liberalization with Armenia next week. German member of the European Parliament, Viola von Cramon-Taubadel told Armenpress Brussels correspondent.

“Now we are pushing in a [European Parliament] resolution for next week, to the plenary session, we push for a real visa action plan. We aim to strengthen other institutional ties with Armenia to ensure that the Armenian population feels welcomed.

We really would like to see Armenia at some point being or becoming a part of the European Union. So at least if we come with a visa action plan or liberalization action plan, this is something tangible for the people and also in terms of trade and liberalization of our markets,” she said.

To the question of whether there are any obstacles for the European Union to start talks with Armenia on visa liberalization, the member of the European Parliament  answered that it is not the European Parliament that would probably block or who has blocked so far. She detailed that the problem has always existed in the European Council.

Viola von Cramon-Taubadel noted that the diplomats of Armenia should carry out some work on this issue with some EU member countries, without clarifying which countries in particular. She said that some EU member states have deep-rooted concerns regarding visa liberalization with Armenia.

How France became the target of Azerbaijan’s smear campaign

Feb 20 2024
France 24

Story by Sébastian SEIBT • 

What do the absence of French observers at Azerbaijan's February 7 presidential election, a group denouncing "French colonialism" and an online campaign targeting the 2024 Paris Olympics have in common? They are three facets of a new offensive strategy adopted by Azerbaijani diplomacy towards France. FRANCE 24 investigated this shift with the Forbidden Stories consortium and other media outlets as part of "The Baku Connection" project.

Azerbaijan’s February 7 presidential election, which handed President Ilham Aliyev an unsurprising and unopposed victory with 92% of the vote and a fifth term in office, provided the backdrop for the latest illustration of deteriorating Franco-Azerbaijani relations.

For the first time in at least a decade, there were no French elected representatives or independent observers on the team of international observers monitoring the vote. As Aliyev tightens his grip on power and the country’s electoral system, there were fewer West European nationals on the international monitoring team. But a few German, Austrian, Spanish and Italian nationals did make it on the observer mission.

The absence of a French presence on the observer team is the result of a disaccord between France and Azerbaijan. French parliamentarians who have visited the former Soviet republic in the past as election observers no longer want to hear about it. "When you have a president who systematically gets elected with over 80% of the vote, I wouldn’t call that free and fair elections," said Claude Kern, senator from France’s eastern Bas-Rhin region, who was part of the French delegation for the 2018 presidential election.

Even the Association of Friends of Azerbaijan at the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament, has experienced an exodus of almost all its members in recent months.

Azerbaijan also appears to have closed the door on the few independent French nationals wishing to observe the presidential election on the ground. This was the case with journalist Jean-Michel Brun, who contributes to the websites, “Musulmans de France” and “Gazette du Caucase”, two portals with a very pro-Azerbaijani slant.

His candidacy was rejected by Azerbaijani authorities, without explanation, a few days before the election. "Relations with Azerbaijan are so rotten at the moment that they may have decided not to invite any French people," said Brun. When contacted by FRANCE 24 and Forbidden Stories, Azerbaijani authorities did not respond to the reasons for the absence of French observers.

The election observer issue is part of a wider context of escalating bilateral tensions. The month of December was marked by a particularly sharp deterioration: a Frenchman was arrested in Baku and accused of espionage, Azerbaijan then expelled two French diplomats, Paris promptly responded, declaring two Azerbaijani embassy officials persona non grata. The diplomatic tit-for-tat was accompanied by acerbic statements from both sides.

For French nationals in Azerbaijan, the message was clear. "French authorities made us understand that we had to be careful because we could be expelled overnight," confided a Frenchman living in Azerbaijan who did not wish to be named. Despite the strained ties between Paris and Baku, the Frenchman said he was quite satisfied with living conditions in Azerbaijan. When contacted, the French embassy in Azerbaijan did not respond to FRANCE 24 and Forbidden Stories.

The rapid and overt diplomatic deterioration between Azerbaijan and France is a new low, according to experts. “It’s the first time we see this kind of development against a European country, a Western country,” said Altay Goyushov, a political scientist at the Baku Research Institute, an independent Azerbaijani research center. “This is a completely new development, when a French citizen is arrested on spying charges, it’s never happened before,” he noted, adding that Azerbaijani authorities have mostly used “these kind of tactics” against the domestic opposition and the media in the past.

Historically, it hasn't always been this way. France, like other European countries, has long been the target of what has come to be called "caviar diplomacy". It’s a term employed by experts and journalists for over a decade to describe oil-rich Azerbaijan’s particularly lavish and distinctive lobbying strategy, which includes costly official trips for foreign politicians and influencers, and providing expensive gifts and funds for projects such as the renovation of churches. The payback, documented in several news reports, includes soft-power wins for Azerbaijan by securing its influence in Europe’s political and media worlds.

In the past, France held a special place for Baku’s political elites. France is a member of the OSCE Minsk Group, which also includes the US and Russia. Since the early 2000s, Paris has attempted to play a key role, within the Minsk Group, to try to find a diplomatic solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

France was therefore considered an important European power in Baku, one worth wooing and trying to keep on side. For Azerbaijan, this is particularly important since Baku has long believed the Armenian community in France to be very influential in French power circles, a position echoed by several pro-Azerbaijan figures interviewed by FRANCE 24 and the Forbidden Stories consortium.

The September 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, which resulted in Azerbaijan reclaiming a third of the disputed enclave, marked the beginning of the bilateral break. Two years later, in an interview with France 2 TV station, French President Emmanuel Macron declared that France "will never abandon the Armenians".

The French president’s avowal was viewed as a diplomatic slap by Baku. "It was very frustrating for Ilham Aliyev, who wants to be able to impose his demands on a weak Armenia, which is not the case if Yerevan thinks it can count on French support," noted Goyushov.

This French support began to take shape after French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna’s October 2023 visit to Armenia when she announced that "France has given its agreement to the conclusion of future contracts with Armenia which will enable the delivery of military equipment to Armenia so that it can ensure its defence". The announcement sparked disapproval from Aliyev, who accused France of "preparing the ground [for] new wars".

Azerbaijan then began a diplomatic shift that increasingly resembled a 180-degree turn.

The tone was first set by a song performed on public television and soberly titled, "Emmanuel". Broadcast a week after Macron's France 2 interview, the lyrics featured criticisms levelled at the French president – accusing him of "betraying his promises", for instance – while children punctuated each verse, singing "Emmanuel" in chorus.

It was a very public display of Azerbaijan’s new disaffection for France. Official accusations – such as the one frequently adopted by  Elchin Amirbayov, the Azerbaijani president's special representative for the normalisation of relations with Armenia, accusing France of “undermining the peace efforts” with Armenia – represent just the tip of the iceberg of Baku’s new diplomatic turn. The submerged component includes a number of initiatives aimed at denigrating France.

In November 2023, a video highly critical of the organisation of the 2024 Paris Olympics emerged, sparking a media stir in France. According to VIGINUM, the French government agency for the defence against foreign digital interference, it was an influence campaign linked to "an actor close to Azerbaijan".

In its technical report, seen by FRANCE 24 and Forbidden Stories, VIGINUM concluded that the operation, amplified by fake sites and accounts on social media, is "likely to harm the fundamental interests of the nation".

On another, parallel track, Azerbaijan is promoting the claims of a new structure called the "Baku Initiative Group". Its members, independence fighters from French overseas territories and regions such as French Guiana, Martinique, New Caledonia and Guadeloupe, have been denouncing France's "colonisation” and “neocolonialism”, and have been calling for “decolonisation”.

"At the last Non-Aligned Movement conference [chaired by Azerbaijan] in July 2023 in Baku, we wanted to take stock of the situation in the territories still under French domination, and decided to form the Baku Initiative Group," explained Jean-Jacob Bicep, president of the People’s Union for the Liberation of Guadeloupe, a far-left political party in the French overseas region. "The aim is to make the world aware of France's colonial policy," added another representative who asked to remain anonymous.

These pro-independence activists have already been able to make their case against what they call "French colonialism" before the UN on two occasions: first at a conference in September at the UN’s New York headquarters, then at its Geneva office in December. Both events were organised by the Baku Initiative Group.

What does this have to do with Azerbaijan? It's not just a coincidence that Azerbaijan held the rotating presidency of the Non-Aligned Group at just the right time. The executive director of these “anti-French colonialism” gatherings is Azerbaijani Abbas Abbassov, who has long worked for Azerbaijan's State Oil Fund. 

In addition, a July 2023 roundtable in Baku titled, “Towards the Complete Elimination of Colonialism” was organised by the AIR Center, one of Azerbaijan’s leading think tanks, whose chairman, Farid Shafiyev, is Azerbaijan’s former ambassador to the Czech Republic.

The Baku roundtable ended with an agreement on the establishment of “the Baku Initiative Group against French colonialism”, according to an AIR Center statement. When contacted, the think tank did not respond to questions from FRANCE 24 and Forbidden Stories.

The group of French nationals who have attended the Baku Initiative Group meetings includes well-known figures in the pro-Azerbaijani camp, such as journalist Yannick Urrien. "It was Hikmet Hajiyev who asked me to come to a conference of the group in Baku in October 2023," explained Urrien.

Hikmet Hajiyev is a well-known figure in Azerbaijan power circles: he is the foreign policy advisor to Azerbaijan’s president and a close associate of President Aliyev. "He is the mastermind behind the smear campaigns against other countries, including France," explained Emmanuel Dupuy, president of the Institute for Prospective and Security in Europe (IPSE) and a former advisor to Azerbaijan for around six years.

Aliyev himself used a speech at a decolonisation conference in Baku in November to deliver a scathing broadside against France. In his address, the Azerbaijani president referred to France more than 20 times, accusing Paris of “inflicting conflict” in the Caucasus and committing "most of the bloody crimes in the colonial history of humanity".

Some of the French participants in Baku’s decolonisation conferences deny being instrumentalised or prefer to ignore the issue. "It's none of my business. We seize every opportunity to achieve our goal, and all France has to do is settle its own problems with Azerbaijan," said Bicep, the leader of the far-left People’s Union for the Liberation of Guadeloupe.

Another participant, who asked to remain anonymous, admits that the creation of the Baku Initiative Group came at the best possible time for Azerbaijan, which "doesn't really have any chemistry with France at the moment". It’s probably a way of asking the French government "to put its own house in order before criticising what others are doing [in Nagorno-Karabakh]", he added.

Azerbaijan has also proved to be creative in increasing the resonance of these pro-independence demands on social media. On Twitter, they are relayed by anonymous Azerbaijanis and influential personalities, such as AIR Center director Farid Shafiyev.

Since October, the Azerbaijani parliament has even hosted a support group for the people of Corsica, the French Mediterranean island which has had a tumultuous relationship with mainland France since it became French in the 18th century. A communiqué published in early February by the people of Corsica support group set up by Azerbaijan’s parliament denounced "the Macron Dictatorship". ().

In December, Azerbaijan was accused of sending journalists "known for their proximity to Azerbaijani intelligence services" to cover French Defence Minister Sébastien Lecornu’s trip to New Caledonia, a French archipelago in the Pacific. Their mission was to write articles “with an anti-France angle", said radio station Europe 1, which broke the story.

The creation of the Baku Initiative Group and the media hype surrounding the issue of anti-colonialism are "a monumental mistake", according to Dupuy. The former advisor to Azerbaijan asserted that this strategy has "no chance" of moving France one iota on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, while scuttling relations between the two countries. It’s an opinion he says he shares with his contacts in Azerbaijan.

But it's not surprising that Baku is resorting to this kind of tactic, explained Goyushov of the Baku Research Institute. With its internet disinformation operations and anti-West rhetoric harking back to the colonial era, Azerbaijan is taking a leaf out of the Kremlin playbook for winning friends and gaining influence in Africa.

“You have to take into account one thing: Azerbaijan was a part of the Soviet Union,” said Goyushov. Aliyev’s father, Heydar Aliyev, who was Azerbaijan’s president for a decade before his son took over the office, was a former KGB official – like Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Of course they are still almost the same,” added the political scientist. “They are copying each other in many ways. Their rhetoric against the West uses the same methods against their opponents, employs the same tactics on social media.”

But Goyushov doesn't expect the Azerbaijani offensive to succeed. Firstly, because Azerbaijan does not have the same resources as Russia to deploy large-scale operations, such as Russia's Doppelgänger disinformation campaign, which has been spreading false information in several European countries since 2022.

Secondly, Azerbaijan "is much more economically dependent on Western countries than Russia", noted Goyushov. Aliyev, he believes, does not have the luxury of getting permanently upset with a power like France.

"It's quite similar to what happened in 2013 with Germany," explained Goyushov. Back then, Germany criticised the infringements of religious freedom in Azerbaijan, a country with a Muslim majority. In the lead-up to a presidential election in Azerbaijan, "there were numerous attacks on Germany for about two years", noted Goyushov.

But then the anti-German attacks abruptly stopped. The reason, according to Goyushov, is that these smear campaigns serve mainly internal political purposes. "In an authoritarian regime, you sometimes need to find a common enemy that allows the country to unite around the leader," he explained. Perhaps COP 29, the 2024 climate conference to be held in Azerbaijan in November, will be an opportunity for the authorities to redress the diplomatic balance with the West, and France in particular.

Eloïse Layan (Forbidden Stories) contributed to this report.

This article has been translated from the original in French.


US Dept. of State : Press Briefing – February 12, 2024

US Department of State
Feb 12 2024
[Armenian News note: Only parts pertaining to Armenia are posted here; for full press briefing, please go to the link below]

QUESTION: And finally, if I may, on South Caucasus – Azerbaijan and Armenia. Looks like they are trying to move along through negotiation process without any mediator. Where do you stand on this?

MR MILLER: I don’t – I don’t want to comment on that specifically, but I’ll say that we do obviously support continued dialogue around that issue. We believe it’s the best way to reach a sustainable end to the conflict, and we will continue to pursue it.

QUESTION: And Azerbaijan has —

QUESTION: You say – you said several times that you want Russia to pay for the damage that it’s caused. Is that because you – they were – they are the – you see them as the aggressor here, or they are the aggressor?

MR MILLER: They very much are the aggressor, yeah.


France-Armenia-India: Forging a Euro-Asia Strategic Alliance

Feb 14 2024

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has defended Armenia’s armaments deals with France and India, emphasizing the situational necessity for the country’s national security and defense. Azerbaijan opposes this stance, viewing the military sales as exacerbating the arms race in the South Caucasus region. The development marks a significant shift from Armenia’s long-standing reliance on Russia in its foreign policy, while underscoring the need to creating an international dialogue in the post-war reconstruction of war-ravaged Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Following it is factually debated whether this trilateral cooperation, driven by situational imperatives, is genuinely taking place, or if it simply represents an effort to establish a connection between the three countries that lack deep historical ties.

France-India Growing International Synergies

During President Macron’s recent visit as the chief guest for India’s 75th Republic Day celebrations, the two countries unveiled a “defence industrial roadmap”. The plan places a strong emphasis on “co-design and co-development,” or cooperative manufacture of military weapons. The two countries reached notable agreements on space collaboration, and both countries pledged to work together to produce defense hardware, such as helicopters and submarines, for the Indian military and ‘friendly nations’.  

One of the key focuses of this partnership is the Indo-Pacific strategy, wherein both countries have recognized the importance of an inclusive, free, and open region. France has endorsed India’s permanent membership in the UN Security Council on several occasions, and its acknowledgment of India’s pivotal role in global governance serves as evidence of the two countries’ mutual trust and strategic alignment.

The expansion of their respective space and cyber capabilities is a top priority in this expanding partnership, which also touches on other important domains like cybersecurity.  The breadth of this partnership is well demonstrated by a shared vision for space cooperation, which calls for working together on interplanetary missions and exchanging satellite data. A shared commitment to enhancing defense capabilities is further highlighted by the 2021 agreement on combined military capabilities development and France’s assistance in modernizing India’s armed forces. 

Moreover, India and France’s collaboration on climate change and sustainable energy projects, such as the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative and the International Solar Alliance, demonstrates a more comprehensive understanding of security that includes energy and environmental security. The foundation of the strategic alliance between France and India is an all-encompassing approach to security, which encompasses both traditional and non-traditional sectors. It indicates a deep and multifaceted collaboration that aligns the national security objectives of both countries.

A trilateral cooperation framework already exists between France and India (the France-India-UAE model), which could be replicated with Armenia, creating a new strategic trilateral axis. Such an alliance among France, India, and Armenia would build upon their shared national security objectives and address concerns at the global level, further solidifying their strategic goals.

France-Armenia Deepening Comprehensive Ties

A significant shift toward closer military and strategic cooperation is evident in the France-Armenia relationship, as evidenced by the signing of a major weapons deal. With this agreement, which includes the future delivery of Mistral anti-air missiles and the sale of three Thales GM 200 radar systems by France to Armenia, a new chapter in bilateral relations has begun. France demonstrates its commitment to enhancing Armenia’s defensive capabilities, especially in air defense, in response to regional concerns in the South Caucasus by supplying sophisticated surface-to-air missiles and radar technologies.

The announcement of this historic agreement by Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu underscores the expanding defense cooperation between the two countries and the important role that France plays as an ally in aiding Armenia’s attempts to modernize its armed forces. This strategic alliance is evidence of their shared commitment to preserving peace and stability in the region.

Political ties have been the primary foundation of the relationship, as demonstrated by France’s acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide in 2001 and its co-chairing of the OSCE Minsk Group during the mediation of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute from 1997. This shows a common dedication to historical acknowledgment and regional stability.

Economically, the partnership has proven robust and expanding, especially considering the current global challenges. The trade between the two countries has maintained remarkable growth, notwithstanding a decline during the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. With investments mostly in vital industries including banking, water management, and agrifood, France has remained the second-largest foreign investor in Armenia since 2016. France’s importance in supporting Armenia’s economic growth and infrastructure is emphasized by this strong investment landscape, which includes notable French businesses such as Veolia, Pernod Ricard, and Crédit Agricole.

Culturally and economically, the two countries have forged stronger ties through various projects. This is best demonstrated by the founding and growth of the French University in Armenia (UFAR) and the Anatole France French Educational Complex. These establishments represent the linked futures of both countries while providing high-quality education. Their role in advancing French language and culture in Armenia is crucial as it fosters mutual understanding.

Another pillar of this partnership has been decentralized cooperation, with many French local governments participating in twinning programs and initiatives in a range of industries, including tourism, healthcare, and education in Armenia. The relationship has become even more robust and complex as a result of these local activities.

This relationship has the potential to develop further and benefit both parties in the near-future. It may also serve as a model for improved cooperation within the parameters of the EU’s neighborhood policy.

India-Armenia Intensifying Defense Collaboration  

The connection between Armenia and India has significantly expanded and diversified recently, supported by a number of cooperative and strategic efforts. The strengthening of relations is apparent in a number of areas, such as economic cooperation, technology, and defense.

A key component of this expanding partnership is the defense industry. India has recently emerged as an important arms supplier to Armenia, marking a new era in bilateral ties. Notably, Armenia became the first international client to acquire India’s Swathi weapon locating radar system, a deal valued at $40 million This acquisition was part of Armenia’s strategic shift to diversify its defense procurement, which historically was excessively reliant on Russia. Further consolidating this defense partnership, Armenia has also received the advanced MArG 155 howitzers from India, in addition to signing a $250 million agreement for Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers, anti-tank munitions, and other armaments. This increasing defense cooperation is a strategic move for both countries, enhancing Armenia’s military capabilities while consolidating India’s role as an emerging defense exporter at the world level. 

In the realm of digital innovation and technology, the relationship has taken significant strides. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Indian Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology and the Armenian Ministry of High-Tech Industry in June 2023, which illustrates a commitment to mutual technological advancement. This agreement aims to facilitate the exchange of digital solutions and expertise, promoting digital transformation in both countries.

Economic interactions have also seen an uptick, although not exponentially. Armenia has recently expressed interest in integrating its payment systems with India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI), a move that would facilitate financial transactions between the two countries. This step is particularly significant given the increasing presence of the Indian labor force in Armenia, especially in sectors like construction and delivery services. 

Emerging Synthesis 

The growing strategic collaborations between France, Armenia, and India reflect a synthesis of national interests and global aspirations, driven by mutual security concerns and a shared ambition for enhanced trade and cooperation. This tripartite relationship is steadily, but surely, starting to impact contemporary geopolitics, exemplifying a dynamic model of multi-dimensional cooperation

The partnership’s primary focus is security; France and India, with their advanced defense capabilities, complement Armenia’s desire to expand its military alliances. This defense cooperation goes beyond simple acquisition; it is a step toward incorporating Armenia into a more comprehensive security framework that goes beyond its fluctuating national borders and regional dynamics. 

From an economic perspective, there is ample room for scaling up cooperation. France, with its experience in investments, India, with its technological and market capabilities, and Armenia, with its strategic location and expanding economy, provide a dynamic framework for cooperative economic growth that includes opportunities in digital technology, infrastructure, and sustainable energy, with each nation contributing its special strengths to promote economic benefits for both.

Moreover, this new trilateral partnership represents a strategic turn away from bilateral relations and toward a comprehensive approach to global challenges. It represents the convergence of three long-term goals: France’s endorsement of India’s global role, India’s technological outreach to Armenia, and Armenia’s ambitions for European integration.

Way Forward

The indeed emerging strategic alliance between France, Armenia, and India demonstrates a new paradigm in international relations. Nations with diverse cultural backgrounds and geopolitical statures are forging unprecedented cooperation under present changing times. This forward-looking synthesis aims to shape a more multipolar and balanced world order, focusing not just on countering threats or seizing economic opportunities, but on broader, strategic collaboration based on the ‘epistemological character’ of the nations.

[Photo by the Prime Minister’s Office of the Republic of Armenia]

Dr. Hriday Sarma is currently a Fellow at the South Asia Democratic Forum in Brussels. He is also an India-based lawyer specializing in cross-border trade and investments. Beyond his legal expertise, Dr. Hriday has been associated with a few prestigious think tanks and research institutions. His past affiliations include the Institute for National Security Studies (Israel), the Centre for Advanced Research in European Culture and History (Azerbaijan) and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (India) where he contributed to their research and policy analysis. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Why Iran doesn’t want a war

Feb 7 2024

The war in Gaza has now gone where many feared it would, expanding into conflict in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and the Red Sea. With America’s repeated strikes against the Houthis in Yemen this month, fears of a larger regional conflagration are steadily growing.

Present in each of those arenas is Iran — and the question of whether Tehran and its powerful military will enter a wider war.

For years, Iran has provided funding, arms or training to Hamas and Hezbollah, which are fighting Israel, and to the Houthis, who have been attacking ships in the Red Sea. Iran has also launched its own strikes in recent days in retaliation for a deadly bombing earlier this month, claiming to target Israeli spy headquarters in Iraq and the Islamic State in Syria. It has also exchanged strikes with Pakistan across their shared border.

While Iran is clearly asserting its military strength amid the widening regional turmoil, that doesn’t mean its leaders want to be drawn into a wider war. They have said as much publicly, and perhaps more importantly, they have meticulously avoided taking direct military action against either Israel or the United States. The regime appears to be content for now to lean into its long-time strategy of proxy warfare: the groups they back are fighting Iran’s foes and so far, neither Israel nor the United States have signalled any interest in retaliating directly.

At the heart of Iran’s aversion to a major conflict are the domestic issues that have been preoccupying the regime. The elderly supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is seeking to secure his legacy – by overcoming political headwinds to install a like-minded successor, pursuing a nuclear weapon and ensuring the survival of the regime as an Islamist paladin dominating the Middle East – and that means not getting dragged into a wider war.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s government has been trying to keep his political opposition in check since 2022, when the Islamic Republic faced perhaps its most serious uprising since the revolution. The death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police tapped into widespread frustration with the country’s leaders and triggered a national movement explicitly intent on toppling the theocracy. Using brutal methods, the mullahs’ security forces regained the streets and schools, well aware that even unorganised protests can become a threat to the regime. Iran is also facing an economic crisis because of corruption, chronic fiscal mismanagement and sanctions imposed because of its nuclear infractions.

Today, Iran’s Assembly of Experts, a body of 88 elderly clerics, is constitutionally empowered to select the next supreme leader. Much about that process is veiled in secrecy.

Even under less fraught circumstances, succession would be a delicate task in Iran. The only other time the Islamic Republic has had to choose a new supreme leader since its founding in 1979 was in 1989, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the revolution, died. At the time, Ayatollah Khamenei worried that unless the regime got the process right, its Western and domestic enemies would use the vacuum at the top to overthrow the young theocracy.

Today, Iran’s Assembly of Experts, a body of 88 elderly clerics, is constitutionally empowered to select the next supreme leader. Much about that process is veiled in secrecy, but recent reports in Iranian media indicate that a three-man commission that includes President Ebrahim Raisi and the Assembly members Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami and Ayatollah Rahim Tavakol is vetting candidates under Ayatollah Khamenei’s supervision. While the process may be intended to look like an open search in the fractured political environment, it is almost certainly just staging for the installation of another revolutionary conservative into the job.

To Ayatollah Khamenei, a fellow religious hard-liner would be the only candidate fit to continue Iran’s quest for regional dominance, or to lock in another key part of his legacy: the pursuit of a nuclear weapon. As the world has been focused on wars in Ukraine and Gaza, Tehran has been inching closer to the bomb — enriching uranium at higher levels, constructing more advanced centrifuges and improving the range and payload of ballistic missiles. At a time when the bomb seems tantalisingly close, Ayatollah Khamenei is unlikely to jeopardise that progress by conduct that might invite a strike on those facilities.

As he oversees the succession search and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Ayatollah Khamenei appears to be content, for now, to let the Arab militias across the Middle East do what Tehran has been paying and training them to do. Iran’s so-called ‘axis of resistance,’ which includes Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis, is at the core of the Islamic Republic’s grand strategy against Israel, the United States and Sunni Arab leaders, allowing the regime to strike out at its adversaries without using its own forces or endangering its territory. The various militias and terrorist groups that Tehran nurtures have allowed it to indirectly evict America from Iraq, sustain the Assad family in Syria and, on 7 October, help inflict a deeply traumatising attack on the Jewish state.

As its proxy fighters inflame Israel’s northern front through sporadic Hezbollah missile strikes, instigate attacks on US bases in Iraq and impede maritime shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, Iran is likely hoping to pressure the international community to restrain Israel. And the imperative of not expanding the Israel-Gaza war, which has thus far guided American and Israeli policy, means that neither is likely to retaliate against the Islamic Republic — only against its proxies.

For Ayatollah Khamenei, the home front will always prevail over problems in the neighbourhood.

Of course, Hamas, which Israel has vowed to eliminate, is valuable to Iran. The regime has invested time and money into the group, and unlike most Islamic Republic proxies and allies, Hamas is Sunni, which helps the Shiite theocracy transcend sectarianism in the region. Liberating Palestinians, whom Iranian revolutionaries have been fond of since the Palestine Liberation Organization aided them against the Shah in 1979, is also at the core of the clerical regime’s anti-imperialist, Islamist mission.

But for Ayatollah Khamenei, the home front will always prevail over problems in the neighbourhood. In the end, in the event Israel succeeds in its goal of eliminating Hamas, the clerical state would most likely concede to the group’s demise, however grudgingly.

Of course, the more conflict Iran engages in – directly or indirectly – also increases the chance that a rogue or poorly judged strike could send the violence spinning out of control — in a direction Iran does not favour. History is riddled with miscalculations, and there is a real possibility that Iran could find itself pulled into the larger conflict that it has sought to avoid.

But Iran’s supreme leader is the longest-serving ruler in the Middle East precisely because of his uncanny ability to blend militancy with caution. He understands the weaknesses and strengths of his homeland when he seeks to advance the Islamic revolution beyond its borders.

In other words, Ayatollah Khamenei knows his limits — and he knows the legacy he needs to secure for the revolution to survive his passing.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


Following deadly Azerbaijani attack, Armenia and EU announce “ambitious” partnership

Nerkin Hand (Facebook)

Following the deadliest attack against Armenia by Azerbaijan in months, Armenia and the European Union announced an “ambitious” partnership agenda on February 13. 

Four Armenian soldiers were killed on February 13 after Azerbaijani armed forces opened fire on Armenian positions in the Nerkin Hand village of the Syunik province. Edward Hamlet Harutyunyan (1974), Gagik Varazdat Manukyan (1982), Arsen Gagik Hambardzumyan (1979) and Hrachya Talish Hovhannisyan (1957) were killed, and one soldier was wounded. 

Azerbaijan launched the attack after Azerbaijan’s State Border Service accused Armenian troops stationed near Nerkin Hand of firing on Azerbaijani soldiers near Kollugishlaq village in the Zangilan province on February 12. One Azerbaijani soldier was reportedly injured. 

The Armenian Defense Ministry did not deny that the incident took place. It promptly released a statement announcing that the information regarding the “alleged opening of fire by Armenian border guards” is “under investigation.” The Defense Ministry suggested that superior command had not provided written orders permitting the soldier to open fire. “If this is confirmed, those responsible for violating the orders will be held accountable,” the MoD said.

The following day, Azerbaijani authorities announced a “revenge operation” on February 13 in response to the “provocation committed by the Armenian Armed Forces.” It claimed that the Armenian combat post near Nerkin Hand was “completely destroyed, and the combat positions were silenced.” Azerbaijani armed forces opened fire on Nerkin Hand from 5:30-9:30 a.m., according to the Armenian MoD.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry condemned the attack, accusing Azerbaijan of “looking for pretexts for escalation on the border.” In a statement, it said that the Azerbaijani side “carried out aggressive actions” in retaliation for the previous day’s incident, in spite of the investigation launched by the Armenian MoD.

On February 12, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry also accused the Armenian armed forces of firing at Azerbaijani positions along the northeastern part of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. The Armenian Defense Ministry denied the accusation.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called the incident part of “Azerbaijan’s policy aimed at disrupting the peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan by all possible means.” He accused Azerbaijan of engaging in a series of provocations in order to deepen enmity and military escalations in the region. 

“But despite all these facts, our government is devoted to the peace process, because our belief is that the peace process has no alternative,” PM Pashinyan said in a meeting with a United Kingdom parliamentary delegation. “But unfortunately, it is not possible to do this without the political will of the other side.” 

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov reacted to what he called “alarming news,” calling on both sides to show “restraint to avoid in every possible way any actions that the other side may consider provocative.”

The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell discussed the incident during a meeting in Brussels with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan on February 13. While he called the Armenian shooting of the Azerbaijani soldier “deplorable,” he said that Azerbaijan’s response “seems to be disproportionate, ignoring the announcement by the Armenian Minister of Defense that this incident will be fully investigated.”

Since the 2020 Artsakh War, Armenia has taken steps to move away from its traditional security partner Russia, who it has accused of failing to uphold mutual defense agreements in response to Azerbaijani aggression. Armenian authorities have indicated their interest in diversifying their security ties, especially with the West. 

On February 13, Borrell announced an “ambitious new EU-Armenian Partnership Agenda” following his meeting with Mirzoyan. The enhanced partnership includes collaboration on trade, energy, connectivity, security and defense. It also includes discussions to start visa liberalization between Armenia and the EU. During the meeting, the EU announced €5.5 million in aid for Artsakh refugees in Armenia, in addition to the €12.2 million already provided in September following the forced mass displacement.

Borrell also reaffirmed the EU’s support for the “urgent need for the distancing of forces” along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. 

While Armenia has been attempting to strengthen ties with the West, Azerbaijan’s relations with the West have deteriorated in recent months. Azerbaijani authorities have accused the West of demonstrating pro-Armenia bias, in response to criticism from Western actors of Azerbaijan’s human rights and ceasefire violations. 

In particular, in recent days Azerbaijan has voiced its criticisms of the EU Mission in Armenia (EUMA). The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry condemned what it called Borrell’s “groundless allegations,” accusing Borrell of “taking a unilateral pro-Armenian stance.” It called his proposal for the distancing of forces “regretful”. 

It also claimed that the EU border mission, which it called “mercenaries deployed by Armenia in border regions under the ‘patronage of the European Union Mission,’” “jeopardizes the lives of Azerbaijani servicemen and civilians.” 

The EU deployed a border monitoring mission to the region following the two-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in September 2022. In December 2023, the EU increased the number of unarmed civilian observers from 138 to 209. 

On February 12, one day before Azerbaijan’s border attack, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry summoned the EU Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Peter Michalko, to express its discontent with the EUMA. In a statement, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said that the mission is “being widely exploited as an anti-Azerbaijani propaganda tool.”

“Whom do they mean by ‘mercenaries’? This is a crazy statement even for Azerbaijani propaganda,” Yerevan-based foreign policy expert Sossi Tatikyan tweeted in response to the statement from the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry. “Azerbaijan is accusing Armenia & EU for the existence of Armenian military protecting Armenian borders and villages within sovereign Armenia partially occupied by Azerbaijan.”

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev lambasted EU mediation of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict during his presidential inauguration speech on February 14. “We do not need a mediator in this matter,” Aliyev said. “I think that the process of normalization of Azerbaijan-Armenia relations should be dropped from the international agenda. Because anyone seems to want to deal with this issue. Mind your own business!” 

Aliyev went on to issue new threats against Armenia, stating that if Armenia continues to make “groundless claims” against Azerbaijan, a peace treaty will “not be signed, but nothing will change for Azerbaijan.”

Lillian Avedian is the assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly. She reports on international women's rights, South Caucasus politics, and diasporic identity. Her writing has also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Democracy in Exile, and Girls on Key Press. She holds master's degrees in journalism and Near Eastern studies from New York University.

Aliyev’s representative proposes absurd demands against Armenia reminiscent of medieval expansionism

Feb 10 2024

Azerbaijan continues its unsubstantiated demands on Armenia, as recently demonstrated by Elchin Amirbekov, Azerbaijan’s senior envoy for special assignments. This information is conveyed by Joshua Kucera, a contributor to “Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty” (RFE/RL), in his article titled “As Peace Negotiations Advance, Armenia And Azerbaijan Are Going It Alone.”

As negotiations progress, it becomes increasingly apparent that Azerbaijan’s demands extend beyond reasonable expectations. These demands are not only unsupported by credible evidence but also raise questions about the legitimacy of Azerbaijan’s claims. The lack of transparency in their assertions further complicates the already delicate peace talks, creating a potential obstacle to finding a sustainable resolution.

Upon a preliminary examination of Joshua Kucera’s article, a discernible bias is evident, particularly in the way he introduces the topic before quoting Amirbekov. Kucera asserts that Azerbaijani officials have expressed dissatisfaction with Armenia’s formal claim to Karabakh in its constitution, citing a preamble referring to a 1989 act advocating for the unification of Karabakh with Armenia. While Kucera notes the lack of response from the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he includes a statement from Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan on January 25, attempting to link it to the narrative presented by Amirbekov.

“Azerbaijani officials have complained that Armenia continues to stake a claim to Karabakh in its constitution formally, the preamble of which makes reference to a 1989 act calling to unify Karabakh with Armenia.

Amirbayov said there are several other such claims in Armenia’s formal statements and legislation. For example, when Armenia’s legislature ratified the 1991 Alma Ata accords, which accepted Soviet republic borders as the borders of the newly independent states, lawmakers added language saying that it did not apply to Karabakh. He also called attention to language on the Armenian Foreign Ministry website saying that Nagorno-Karabakh is “an integral part of historic Armenia,” and recent Armenian filings in the European Court of Human Rights that imply a claim on Azerbaijan.

“We have pointed the attention of the Armenian side to those facts many times, during our [in-person] negotiations, but also through different exchanges of comments,” he said. “And the Armenian side acknowledges that this is the fact, but nothing is being done…. When they try to cheat, if I may use the word, if they try to put all the blame and the responsibility on our shoulders, and at the same time in the back of their minds still having these territorial claims against us, it’s not going to work,” he said”, Kucera writes in his article, quoting Amirbayov’s words

Upon closer inspection of the article, Amirbekov’s assertions become increasingly dubious. Notably, he claims that the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website acknowledges Karabakh as an “integral part of historical Armenia.” However, this assertion aligns with historical facts widely accepted within academic circles. Amirbekov’s demand to negate this historical fact appears unreasonable, especially when considering that historical truths should not be subject to revisionist interference based on individual whims. It is worth mentioning that Amirbekov’s ancestors are historically associated with nomadic tribes residing in the steppes of Turkestan until the mid-Middle Ages, a fact supported by numerous academic monographs, establishing it as an accepted and proven historical reality.

Amirbekov’s unfounded statements extend beyond this point. He raises Armenia’s claims against Azerbaijan at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), a topic that seems to surpass the boundaries of reasonable discussion, particularly given the substantial evidence of Azerbaijani crimes, including those committed against civilians. Intermediate decisions from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) further affirm the groundlessness of Amirbekov’s accusations. Unfortunately, the article fails to include these crucial facts when describing the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiation process.

In conclusion, Amirbekov’s position appears devoid of coherence and logical consistency, marked by tendentious and misleading disinformation disseminated by a representative of the Azerbaijani president. The article, in its current form, neglects to provide a balanced perspective and overlooks significant facts that could contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the ongoing Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiation process. It is imperative to approach such complex geopolitical issues with a commitment to unbiased reporting and a thorough consideration of all relevant information.

By Deputy Editor-in-Chief of “ARMENPRESS”, Ararat Petrosyan. His Twitter.

Meeting between the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and France starts in Paris

 20:18, 9 February 2024

YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 9, ARMENPRESS.  The meeting of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia Ararat Mirzoyan and the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France Stéphane Séjourné has commenced in Paris, the foreign ministry said.

''The Armenian Foreign Minister has arrived in France. The meeting of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia Ararat Mirzoyan and the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France Stéphane Séjourné which encompasses a wide range of issues pertaining to both bilateral partnership and regional issues has launched," the statement reads.

Will Yerevan sue Aliyev at the ICC? No answers yet

Feb 9 2024

  • JAMnews
  • Yerevan

Will Armenia sue Aliyev?

During the official welcoming ceremony for Armenia’s accession to the International Criminal Court, Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan delivered a speech that sparked dissatisfaction in Baku.

“Continued aggressions against the Republic of Armenia and occupation of our sovereign territories, heinous atrocity crimes perpetrated against Armenians, ethnic cleansing of Nagorno Karabakh, as a result of which over 100.000 Armenians had to escape their homes to find shelter in Armenia, had devastating humanitarian consequences and continue to pose imminent risks for our region…

In this context, we are convinced that the Rome Statute among other mechanisms has real potential to prevent any further escalation and atrocities, becoming a milestone towards stability and sustainable peace in our region,” stated the head of the Armenian Foreign Ministry.

In response, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aykhan Hajizade declared that “Armenia’s accession to the Rome Statute is an attempt to exploit this institution for its baseless claims, hostile actions, propagation of hatred, dissemination of misinformation, and misinterpretation of international law.”

The Rome Statute is the international treaty that established the International Criminal Court. Its creation was explained by the need for an independent court to resolve cases related to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Armenian authorities assert that by joining the ICC, they aim to hold Azerbaijan accountable for war crimes. At the expert level, there is also discussion about the possibility of filing a lawsuit against Azerbaijan at the ICC for the displacement of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh. Tensions regarding Armenia’s accession to the ICC are also observed in Moscow. This is because the court previously issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin. All countries that ratify the treaty are obligated to hand over such individuals to the court if they are located on their territory.

Speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia at the ICC, discussions in the Armenian parliament, and expert opinions.

  • Opinion: “The only viable option for Armenia is to coexist with Turkey and Azerbaijan”
  • “Pashinyan seeks peace, while Aliyev pursues war”: opinion from Yerevan
  • “Baku and Moscow will not change their policy towards Yerevan” – Armenian ambassador to EU

In his speech, Ararat Mirzoyan emphasized that the Rome Statute is aimed at eradicating the most serious crimes and impunity:

“The International Criminal Court stands as a bastion against the horrors of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. In this regard, Armenia’s consistent cooperative approach to the ICC is based on the following major objectives:

1) preventing the most serious crimes which are of concern to the international community as a whole,

2) strengthening the rule of law in the international community,

3) achieving more universality of the ICC”.  

According to him, the International Criminal Court serves as a bulwark in the fight against genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression.

Unfortunately, in our region, we were confronted not only by complete unwillingness to resolve the issue by peaceful means but also with a clear intent to proliferate war, hatred and terror.”

However, he stated that the Rome Statute has real potential to prevent “further escalation and atrocities” and can contribute to stability and sustainable peace in the region:

“We highlight the Court’s important role for delivering justice to victims of unimaginable atrocities, giving them a voice by enabling them to participate in its proceedings, providing assistance and awarding reparations.”

The minister assured that Armenia will be an active member of the court.

Deputies from the ruling Civil Contract faction informed reporters that lawsuits are already being prepared. Will a lawsuit against Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev be submitted to the ICC? They did not answer this question and urged contacting the Ministry of Justice.

According to the secretary of the ruling faction, Arthur Hovhannisyan, their political goal “is not formulated against any person or entity.”

“The Republic of Armenia has set itself the goal of taking action on all crimes committed. Which entity will be held accountable as a result of these steps is already a legal question,” he explained.

Earlier, the question of the likelihood of bringing the president of Azerbaijan to justice through the ICC was also raised by opposition deputies. Minister of Justice Grigor Minasyan also did not openly answer:

“Ratification of such documents forces the government to act in accordance with international principles. If the presence of guilt is recorded, there will be responsibility.”

According to international law specialist Ara Khzmalyan, the Rome Statute is another tool to increase pressure on Baku. Unlike previous trials, in this case, the focus is on holding specific individuals criminally accountable.

“Individuals who are responsible, at least for crimes committed on the territory of Armenia, particularly military aggression and ongoing occupation, can be held internationally accountable,” he emphasized.

He also addressed the question of whether it is possible to bring the president of Azerbaijan to justice.

“In practice, the likelihood of apprehending a head of state and bringing them to trial is very slim. However, at the very least, this possibility could significantly constrain their international travels. Moreover, the prospect of facing criminal charges is highly undesirable for the reputation of a country’s leader.”

Khzmalyan disagrees with the prevalent notion that trials yield nothing for Armenia, as Azerbaijan, regardless, fails to adhere to the resultant decisions. He contends that they remain a tool of pressure and also help keep several crucial issues on the agenda, such as the repatriation of Armenian prisoners of war detained in Baku.