The Land That Was Once Nagorno-Karabakh

FP – Foreign Policy
Feb 27 2024

By Hannah Lucinda Smith, a journalist based in Turkey.

AGDAM, AZERBAIJAN—In a clearing between overgrown grasses, Khalid Zulfugarov opens a stack of wooden crates, each filled with bright chunks of metal that glint in the winter sun. There are shells, anti-tank mines, and cluster bombs with tail fins. Nearby, next to a crater blown in the earth, a 20-liter water jug is filled with thousands of bullet casings, piled together like spare change, the collected relics of a conflict that has ravaged this land for 30 years.

Zulfugarov, the head of an Azerbaijani mine disposal team, is picking through his contaminated homeland, sifting through the soil with sniffer dogs and metal detectors to find each tiny, potentially deadly fragment. As he does so, his memories of Karabakh rush back.

“This is where I was born. I studied here; I fought with my friends,” he says.

His ancestral village is Nuzgar, which is located 50 miles south of Agdam, the area that he is currently clearing. It was once a bucolic settlement on the fertile lowlands of the southern Caucasus, mostly home to farmers who tended the rich, arable land. During Soviet times, it was part of the Nagorno-Karabakh oblast, home to ethnic Armenians and Azeris such as Zulfugarov, as well as the vineyards that produced the Soviet Union’s best-known cheap wine.

But when communism collapsed, so did the peace in Karabakh. Newly independent Armenia and Azerbaijan fought over the territory. Neighbors became enemies, and as Armenian paramilitaries gained control, Karabakh’s entire population of 700,000 Azeris fled.

For the next three decades, Nagorno-Karabakh was governed by an ethnic Armenian administration as the Republic of Artsakh, an unrecognized country. Its shrunken, monoethnic population lived up on the mountains at its heart. Down on the plains, the abandoned Azeri towns and villages were looted and closed off to the world, becoming a buffer zone between Artsakh and Azerbaijan. A de facto 185-mile border was carved into the landscape with berms, barbed wire, and land mines. What was once vineyards became a barren no-man’s land.

In 1993, Zulfugarov, then a 19-year-old Azerbaijani conscript, fled Karabakh to Azerbaijan proper. There, he worked in construction before joining the national demining agency. For the past three years, he has been clearing the land just miles away from his home village of Nuzgar, yet he is still unable to return.

In 2020, after 26 years of relatively frozen conflict, Karabakh’s war reignited. Azerbaijan had turned into a gas-rich autocracy, and grievances over its loss of Karabakh had become central to its national story. Baku wagered that the geopolitical timing was right, and over the first nine months of 2020, it pumped up its military arsenal with $123 million of Turkish-made defense and aviation equipment. On Sept. 27, Baku launched a surprise offensive and recaptured the lowlands. Three years later, it launched a second offensive and seized the main city, Stepanakert, too. Nearly all of the region’s entire ethnically Armenian population fled, just as the Azeris had three decades earlier.

On Jan. 1 of this year, the Republic of Artsakh officially ceased to exist. The land that was once Nagorno-Karabakh is now fully controlled by Azerbaijan.

War and occupation have stripped the landscape of life and color; the ruins of Azeri villages are now the same beige-grey as the scrubby undergrowth, the once-fertile soil riddled with metal from tanks, shells, and bullets. The pomegranate trees are among the few things that survived from the old times, bearing yearly fruit that hangs unpicked until it bursts blood-red.

The area remains closed to the public, but Foreign Policy was granted access by the Azerbaijani government. (We were not given permission to visit some areas we requested, and Stepanakert is currently closed to foreign media.) We spent five days in the region, being escorted through a huge reconstruction project unfolding behind a curtain of checkpoints: demining sites, new villages, roads and airports, and reforestation projects, all being readied for former residents to return.

The fighting in Karabakh is now over, and the Republic of Artsakh is no more. But a new conflict—this time, centered on the region’s landscape and the scars that war has inflicted on it—is now underway.

Nagorno-Karabakh is the water source for much of the southern Caucasus. Tributaries of the major Aras, Kura, and Tatar rivers run through the region’s mountains and down to the plains of Azerbaijan. The Soviet-built Sarsang reservoir—once the biggest in the region—fell under the control of Artsakh in 1993. In September 2013, Baku filed a case with the Council of Europe, complaining that Artsakh was misusing Sarsang and intentionally depriving 400,000 people in Azerbaijan’s border regions of water. Baku’s case succeeded: In January 2016, the council called for Armenian forces to withdraw from the area around Sarsang to allow international teams to assess and repair critical infrastructure.

When Karabakh’s hot war reignited in September 2020, the landscape quickly became a focus of misinformation. Huge forest fires broke out on the front lines in the far north and southwest of the territory and close to Stepanakert. Fires are common in conflict, but these blazes were immediately weaponized. Azeri social media accounts accused Armenians of torching the trees as they fled the advancing Azerbaijani army. Armenian accounts accused Azerbaijani forces of starting the fires with incendiary weapons to provide cover for their offensive.

“Nowhere else has environmental misinformation been used at this level. It’s just off the scale,” said Eoghan Darbyshire, a researcher at the U.K.-based Conflict and Environment Observatory. He analyzed open-source satellite imagery and climate data and found that while the fires were almost certainly related to the conflict, proving who had started them and how was far stickier than the absolutist social media posts suggested.

By November 2020, Azerbaijan had recaptured the Karabakh plains, and Artsakh conceded the loss. Stepanakert remained in Armenian hands, while the rest of the territory was left with Azerbaijan. Russian and Turkish peacekeepers monitored the cease-fire. Although combat was over, the environmental dispute only intensified.

Following the cease-fire, Azeris began trickling back to the Karabakh plains to visit their homes for the first time in three decades, only to realize that the whole area had changed. The lush hilltop forests had been hacked away, and the water in the once-clear streams smelled putrid. Agdam’s ancient Oriental plane trees, which had been protected as state monuments since Soviet times, had been felled, and their roots were scorched. Azerbaijani officials say that Artsakh’s government caused the destruction—through some combination of pillaging Karabakh’s hardwood forests, opening a gold mine that leached pollutants into the water, and simple vandalism.

In March 2022, Azerbaijan’s government invited the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to assess the Karabakh plains. The UNEP documented 2,000-year-old trees felled, once-cultivated farmland abandoned, 52 new quarries or mines opened under Armenian administration, and extremely high levels of heavy metals in the Okhchuchay River, which flows from Karabakh to Azerbaijan.

The report that the program produced was meant to be for internal use only, but the Azerbaijani government released it publicly, using it as the basis for a new legal challenge. In January 2023, Azerbaijan announced that it would be filing another case against Armenia with the Council of Europe, this time alleging breaches of the Bern Convention, which governs the conservation of European natural habitats and wildlife.

Meanwhile, in December 2022, Azerbaijani eco-activists began blockading Stepanakert with pickets on the Lachin Corridor, the sole road running from the rump state of Artsakh to Armenia proper. Their complaints were the same as those made by the government: that Artsakh was illegally destroying Karabakh’s habitats. Baku said the protests were independently organized, and media organizations connected to the Azerbaijani state invited journalists in to report. Baku also engaged public relations firms to spread the news of the Bern arbitration.

In April 2023, Azerbaijan built a permanent military checkpoint on Lachin, cutting off all traffic in and out of Stepanakert—as well as the city’s gas and electricity cables. For nine months, Artsakh relied solely on the Sarsang dam to generate electricity. As a result, the reservoir, which feeds springs to the Tatar River and supports migratory birds, dropped to critically low levels.

Foreign Policy requested but was not granted access to the reservoir, but photographs shared with FP show the reservoir’s decline over the course of 2023. Steppes of brown banks drop sharply to the new water level, some 20 meters (65 feet) below what it was before the blockade. The ground left behind is sticky and infertile.

Karabakh’s environment is now a cornerstone of Azerbaijan’s image campaign as it pushes to reconstruct and repopulate the region as quickly as possible. At the COP28 U.N. climate conference in Dubai in November 2023, Baku showcased its plans for the reconstruction of Karabakh from a display in its wood-trimmed pavilion, decorated with pictures of tranquil lakes and mountains.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has promised that new hydroelectric dams in the region will be generating 270 megawatts by the end of this year, and that a solar farm capable of generating 240 megawatts will soon begin construction. New houses are being fitted with solar panels, and dams and climate-monitoring stations are undergoing restoration. Huge replantation projects are already underway to regrow lost forests, and native species, such as the Eurasian gazelle, are being reintroduced after decades of localized extinction. Baku has pledged to prioritize environmental and climate concerns during this process and has committed to a net-zero carbon emissions target in Karabakh by 2050, when the reconstruction is expected to be completed. Eventually, Aliyev says, Karabakh will turn Azerbaijan into an exporter of green energy.

“The great return will be a green return. We want to focus on the future, what we can improve,” Umayra Taghiyeva, Azerbaijan’s deputy minister for ecology and natural resources, told Foreign Policy.

In reality, Azerbaijan’s environmental imperatives are clashing with political and economic ones. On the ground, the region is mostly a construction site as new villages and towns, thousands of miles of roads and railways, and even two new airports are being built from scratch. Convoys of diggers chug through the ever-expanding arteries of this newly disturbed land, kicking up dust and petrol fumes.

In Agdam, they are starting to claw down the pomegranate trees to make way for the newly laid-out city. According to UNEP reports, waste from the demolition of old buildings is being poured into landfills, and the construction of new roads is destroying even more of Karabakh’s forests.

Much of what has been built already is Potemkin-like. Brand-new buildings, conference halls, and village squares are silent and underused—a jarring sight against the ruins of the old settlements. The first batch of former residents who have returned and resettled have been willing to withstand a strange isolation for the prize of coming home. Their rebuilt villages lie at the end of the ruler-straight new highways, about a four hours’ drive from Baku. The populations are still tiny—in the thousands overall. Most places, however, are still mined; independent experts and the Azerbaijani government have estimated that more than 1 million mines have been laid in the area. As of April 2023, only 7 percent of the contaminated land had been cleared.

The only commercial flights into the new airports thus far are transporting delegations from Turkey—one of Aliyev’s biggest allies—whose constructors have won major contracts in Karabakh. The construction company Kalyon, which is controlled by in-laws of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is building roads, while another in-law has won the contract to build an agropark—part of Baku’s ambitions to turn the once-agricultural region into a high-tech farming hub.

Baku will ramp up its green public relations drive later this year when it hosts COP29—a bid that it won with Armenian backing. Unsurprisingly, given that Azerbaijan is also a major petrochemicals producer, some see this public commitment to sustainability as little more than lip service. Its ambitious promises in Karabakh will undoubtedly be scrutinized under the spotlight.

“It is one of the more powerful examples of state greenwashing. In a different world they could create a new national park, and create employment through environmental projects and tourism,” Darbyshire said.

Aliyev has gained popularity from his victory in Karabakh and its reconstruction; many of the region’s newly returned residents proudly showed Foreign Policy their photos with the president. Today, however, there is almost no political opposition left in Azerbaijan, and critics of the war tend to live abroad in exile. But in less guarded moments, many Azeris working in Karabakh raise an amused eyebrow at the stark differences between the old land and the new.

Demining is expected to take decades, and full reconstruction—let alone rehabilitating the landscape—will take longer still. By the time the region is a fully functioning part of Azerbaijan, it will likely be unrecognizable from the idyllic place where Zulfugarov grew up. Reconstruction is yet to start in Nuzgar, which is still inaccessible, but he is certain that he will move back someday.

“I don’t think of what happened here, I think of what it will become,” he says, gesturing to the diggers working on the horizon. “In five or 10 years, this can be one of the most beautiful places.”

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Hannah Lucinda Smith is a journalist based in Turkey. She is the author of Erdogan Rising: The Battle for the Soul of Turkey and the co-author of Zarifa: A Woman’s Battle in a Man’s World. Twitter: @hannahluci

Members of Armenian delegation to PACE meet with Candidate for CoE Secretary General Indrek Saar


YEREVAN, 27 FEBUARY, ARMENPRESS. On February 27, the members of the delegation of the National Assembly of Armenia to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Sona Ghazaryan, Arusyak Julhakyan and Armen Gevorgyan met with the candidate nominated by Estonia in the elections for the Secretary General of the Council of Europe (CoE) Indrek Saar, the Armenian National Assembly said in a statement.

The guest presented to the Armenian parliamentarians his vision and priorities within the framework of the activities of the CoE Secretary General.

According to the source, at the meeting the member of the Armenian delegation Sona Ghazaryan touched upon the security challenges facing Armenia. The MP spoke about ongoing process on the Peace Treaty with Azerbaijan, expressed concern on the danger of the aggressive rhetoric of Azerbaijan, which does not promote the establishment of peace.

According to Sona Ghazaryan, the circumstance that Azerbaijan has become a record holder of the organization in not executing the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is concerning for the Armenian side. The MP expressed conviction that that circumstance does not promote the normalization of the Armenian-Azerbaijani relations and the institutional establishment of the structure.

'' It is important that the member states respect their assumed obligations,'' she said.

Armen Gevorgyan referred to the Armenian captives and the civilians being held in Baku and highlighted their return to the homeland.

Arusyak Julhakyan spoke about the importance of the negotiations based on the democratic principles between the member states of the structure, underscoring the role of the organization in that issue.

Central Bank of Armenia: exchange rates and prices of precious metals – 26-02-24


YEREVAN, 23 FEBUARY, ARMENPRESS. The Central Bank of Armenia informs “Armenpress” that today, 26 February, USD exchange rate up by 0.07 drams to 404.42 drams. EUR exchange rate up by 0.96 drams to 438.63 drams. Russian Ruble exchange rate up by 0.03 drams to 4.38 drams. GBP exchange rate up by 0.13 drams to 512.60 drams.

The Central Bank has set the following prices for precious metals.

Gold price up by 49.41 drams to 26361.72 drams. Silver price down by 4.56 drams to 295.35 drams.

France plants flag in Russia’s backyard with Armenia arms deals

Feb 23 2024

The closer defense ties between the two countries are also angering regional rival Azerbaijan.

YEREVAN, Armenia — France wants Armenia to know it has its back — amid increased tensions with its neighbor Azerbaijan and strained ties with its historic ally, Russia.

On Friday, French Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu and his Armenian counterpart Suren Papikyan met in the Armenian capital to highlight deepening defense links between the two countries.

Lecornu's airplane carried night vision goggles for Armenia, which also signed a contract to buy assault rifles from French company PGM; discussions about purchasing short-range Mistral missiles from European contractor MBDA are moving forward.

"This cooperation, which has been going on for a year and a half now, is of great importance to Armenia. … We've made progress, which means we can look forward to long-term planning in the years ahead," Papikyan told reporters after the meeting.

"It's an absolute priority for us to help Armenia protect its people … it's because Armenia needs us right now that we're here," Lecornu added.

That closer relationship with France came as Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Friday said Armenia has effectively suspended its membership in the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military alliance.

Armenia feels betrayed by Moscow after Azerbaijan launched an offensive to retake the breakaway Armenian-inhabited region of Nagorno-Karabakh in September. Russia had a peacekeeping contingent stationed there, which stood aside and didn't interfere.

Armenia has also made clear it doesn't support Russia's war in Ukraine.

But untangling from the Kremlin's grip is complex; Pashinyan said there was no intention to shut a Russian military base in Armenia.

Armenia's main security challenge is Azerbaijan, which is demanding a corridor running through Armenia to connect to its exclave of Nakhchivan — something Armenia refuses to agree to. A skirmish earlier this month killed four Armenian soldiers.

With its alliance with Moscow in tatters, Armenia is looking for new friends and France, with its large ethnic Armenian minority, is one of the only Western countries in the running.

"Yerevan is looking to those partners who truly provide security," Lecornu said, in a thinly-veiled poke at Russia. Friday was the first trip to Yerevan by a French defense minister and Lecornu's fourth meeting with his Armenian counterpart Papikyan since May 2022.

"The visit of the French minister of the armed forces only two years after the start of our defense relationship is proof that it is already systemic and far-reaching," Papikyan said.

Pashinyan was in Paris earlier this week where he met with French President Emmanuel Macron, who warned that “the danger of escalation remains real” in the wake of the border incident.

The Armenian PM was in the French capital to attend the ceremony of Missak Manouchian's induction in the Panthéon mausoleum of French national heroes — the stateless poet of Armenian origin died as a resistance fighter during World War II.

Armenia is looking for political backing and also for help in transforming its Soviet-era army into one that can better stand up to Azerbaijan's larger and much better equipped military. The oil- and gas-rich country has a close military relationship with NATO member Turkey and is a big buyer of Israeli weapons.

The Armenian government is expected to spend between $1.4 billion and $1.5 billion on defense this year and is also buying weaponry from India. 

Armenia is seeking Western support to “restore the military balance” with Azerbaijan, which Tigran Grigoryan, director of Yerevan’s Regional Center for Democracy and Security, said “has been exploiting Armenia's vulnerabilities and its inability to defend itself, pursuing an extremely maximalist agenda.”

But for Armenia, there’s a long road ahead to have a military able to actually deter local regional powers.

Just buying modern weapons isn't enough, said Grigoryan. “All military analysts in Armenia agree that without a comprehensive reform process, all these procurements won't be of any use.”

Lecornu was in the Armenian capital with French defense contractors MBDA, Nexter, Arquus, Safran, Thales and PGM, as well as lawmakers from both the majority and opposition parties. 

Besides the MBDA-made Mistral missiles, the two ministers also discussed surface-to-air defense, short-, medium- and long-range defense, artillery and anti-drone systems, Lecornu told reporters. In October, the two ministers announced contracts for three Thales-made Ground Master 200 radars, expected to be delivered this summer.

France has also been training Armenian troops. Paris and Yerevan on Friday signed a partnership between France's elite Saint-Cyr military school and the Armenian military academy. A French military official will act as a defense consultant for the Armenian executive branch as of July.

“The Armenian army is of Soviet tradition and needs to transform in terms of both doctrine and equipment,” a French official told reporters on Wednesday.

Paris insists the weapons it's selling are only defensive, but France’s growing interest in the region has been met with fiery criticism from Azerbaijan.

“The half-baked move by France to insert itself into the region will likely provoke significant reactions from Russia and Iran, and Azerbaijan is concerned that this will lead to regional instability, obstructing efforts towards normalization,” said Ayaz Rzayev, a research fellow at Baku’s influential Topchubashov Center think tank. 

“Even if weapons are labeled as defensive, they inherently possess some offensive potential. Consequently, Azerbaijan feels compelled to respond to these arms deliveries with countermeasures,” he added. “All of this creates a vicious cycle of actions and counteractions that could spiral into an arms race, potentially leading to conflict.”

Armenia has suspended participation in the CSTO: Pashinyan’s loud statements

Feb 23 2024
Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan announced that Armenia's participation in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is "frozen". The head of the Armenian government said this in an interview with France 24.
"The Collective Security Treaty, in our opinion, has not been fulfilled with regard to Armenia… This could not remain without our attention. We have suspended our participation in this contract. Let's see what happens next," Pashinyan said.

At the same time, Pashinyan assured that the issue of preserving the Russian military base in Armenia is not on the agenda.

Nikol Pashinyan also claims that a few months ago, Russia "openly called on the Armenian population to overthrow the government." According to him, "this propaganda from Moscow against him is not weakening."

Pashinyan also expressed his concern about the detention in Armenia of the Russian Dmytro Setrakov, who left the mobilization, calling it a "kidnapping". "We cannot tolerate illegal actions on our territory," said Nikol Pashinyan and threatened "consequences" if "Yerevan's demands remain unanswered."


RFE/RL Armenian Service – 02/23/2024


French Defense Chief Visits Armenia Amid Deepening Ties

        • Astghik Bedevian

Armenia - French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu (left) speaks at a joint 
news conference with his Armenian counterpart Suren Papikian, Yerevan, February 
23, 2024.

France will provide more weapons and other military assistance to Armenia to 
help the South Caucasus country defend its territory, French Defense Minister 
Sebastien Lecornu said during a first-ever visit to Yerevan on Friday.

“Threats hanging over Armenia force us to move forward faster,” he told Prime 
Minister Nikol Pashinian. “It is very important for us to react and take 
necessary steps quickly.”

Speaking after talks with his Armenian counterpart Suren Papikian held earlier 
in the day, Lecornu confirmed that Armenia took delivery the previous night of 
the first batch of French night-vision devices commissioned by it last year. The 
Armenian military will also receive soon air-defense radar systems and more 
armored personnel carriers from French manufacturers, he said.

The French defense group Thales signed with the Armenian Defense Ministry a 
contract for the supply of three GM200 radars during Papikian’s visit to Paris 
last October. Papikian and Lecornu signed at the time a “letter of intent” on 
Armenia’s future acquisition of short-range surface-to-air missiles manufactured 
by another French company.

Lecornu indicated that the supply of the Mistral air-defense systems is a matter 
of time. What is more, he expressed France’s readiness to also sell more 
long-range systems to Armenia. He further announced that a French military 
adviser specializing in air defense will be deployed in Armenia to help it 
neutralize “possible strikes by potential aggressors.”

Armenia - Armenian and French flags fly outside the Defense Ministry building in 
Yerevan, .

“Nobody can reproach the Armenian army for boosting its defense capacity,” 
Lecornu told a joint news conference with Papikian, clearly alluding to 
Azerbaijan’s strong criticism of French-Armenian military cooperation.

The Armenian minister emphasized, for his part, that Yerevan is acquiring these 
and other weapons for solely defensive purposes. In an apparent reference to 
Azerbaijan, he spoke of a “visible threat” to Armenia’s territorial integrity.

Neither minister shed light on a number of documents that were signed by them 
after their talks. The AFP news agency reported that the Armenian side also 
signed on Friday a supply contract with the French company PGM manufacturing 
sniper rifles. It said no details of the deal were made public.

The defense cooperation is part of a broader deepening of French-Armenian 
relations cemented by the existence of an influential Armenian community in 
France. It comes amid Armenia’s mounting tensions with Russia, its longtime 
ally. Neighboring Iran has also signaled unease over the pro-Western tilt in 
Armenian foreign policy.

“Our Iranian partners respect our cooperation with other partners, and I think 
our Russian and other partners should do the same because Armenia has no taboos 
when it comes to cooperation to the benefit of Armenia,” Papikian said in this 

Armenia is “turning to partners that are truly providers of security,” Lecornu 
said when asked to comment on the tensions between Yerevan and Moscow.

Armenian Security Service Denies Russian Obstruction Of EU Mission

        • Artak Khulian

Armenia -- The main entrance to the National Security Service headquarters in 

The National Security Service (NSS) denied on Friday claims that Russian border 
guards prevent European Union monitors from inspecting a section of Armenia’s 
border with Azerbaijan where four Armenian soldiers were killed last week.

They died when their positions around Nerkin Hand, a village in the southeastern 
Syunik province, came under cross-border fire early on February 13.

The head of the EU monitoring mission, Markus Ritter, said on Wednesday that the 
Russian side did not allow its members to visit Nerkin Hand both before and 
after the incident. Armen Grigorian, the pro-Western secretary of Armenia’s 
Security Council, echoed the claim, saying that Yerevan “will try to address the 

RFE/RL’s Armenian Service asked the NSS to clarify whether the EU monitors 
indeed have no access to border sections where Russian border guards and 
military personnel are deployed.

“There are no obstacles to the observation activities of representatives of the 
EU mission at the sections of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border guarded by the 
border guard troops of the NSS,” the security agency said in a written reply.

“The purpose of the deployment of Russian border guards on the 
Armenian-Azerbaijani border is to monitor and take measures aimed at resolving 
possible conflicts peacefully,” added the statement.

Grigorian also blamed the Russians for Azerbaijan’s deadly ceasefire violation. 
“Russia is present there and it failed to prevent the incident,” he said.

Narek Ghahramanian, a Syunik-based parliamentarian representing Armenia’s ruling 
Civil Contract party, insisted on Thursday that “there is no Russian presence” 
in or around Nerkin Hand. There is only a Russian checkpoint on a road leading 
to Nerkin Hand, Ghahramanian said, adding that he has never had trouble visiting 
the remote village.

Russia deployed troops to Syunik during and shortly after the 2020 war in 
Nagorno-Karabakh to help the Armenian military defend the strategic region 
against possible Azerbaijani attacks. Russian-Armenian relations have 
significantly deteriorated since then, with Yerevan accusing Moscow of not 
honoring its security commitments to Armenia.

Pashinian Again Warns Of Azeri Attack On Armenia

        • Ruzanna Stepanian

Germany - German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hosts talks between Azerbaijani 
President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, February 18, 

Just days after his latest talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Prime 
Minister Nikol Pashinian has accused Azerbaijan of planning military aggression 
against Armenia.

“Analyzing … statements made from official Baku, we come to the conclusion that 
yes, an attack on Armenia is very likely,” he told the France 24 TV channel in 
an interview broadcast on Friday.

Pashinian complained that the Azerbaijani leadership is still reluctant to 
recognize Armenia’s border “without ambiguity” and continues to refer to much of 
Armenian territory as “Western Azerbaijan.” He said Baku is not honoring 
understandings on the key parameters of an Armenian-Azerbaijani peace treaty 
reached by him and Aliyev during their meetings in 2022 and 2023 mediated by the 
European Union.

Speaking on February 18, one day after meeting with Aliyev in Munich, Pashinian 
stated that both sides are “committed to those understandings.” Both leaders 
sounded satisfied with the talks hosted by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The 
latter said they “agreed to resolve open issues without new violence.”

It was also agreed that the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers will meet 
soon for further discussions on the peace treaty. A senior Armenian official 
said on Thursday that the two sides continue to disagree on key provisions of 
the would-be treaty.

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry rejected Pashinian’s latest claims. It said 
they are “absolutely baseless” and aimed at misleading the international 

Pashinian already charged on February 15 that Azerbaijan is pursuing a “policy 
of military coercion” in an effort to clinch more Armenian territory and other 
concessions from Yerevan. He said it may be planning to launch “military 
operations at some sections of the border with the prospect of turning the 
military escalation into a full-scale war against Armenia.”

The premier went on to reject Azerbaijani demands for major legislative changes 
in Armenia, saying that they constitute a violation of his country’s sovereignty 
and interference in its internal affairs. Pashinian himself called last month 
for the adoption of a new Armenian constitution reflecting the “new geopolitical 
environment” in the region. His critics say that he did so under Azerbaijani 

Armenia’s Membership In Russian-Led Defense Bloc ‘Frozen’

France - French President Emmanuel Macron meets Armenian Prime Minister Nikol 
Pashinian at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 21, 2024.

Armenia has essentially frozen its membership in the Russian-led Collective 
Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said in a 
televised interview publicized on Friday.

“In our view, the CSTO has not fulfilled -- in 2021 and 2022 in particular -- 
its security obligations to Armenia, and we could not have let that go without 
consequences,” Pashinian told the France 24 TV channel. “As a consequence, we 
have, in effect, frozen our participation in the CSTO. We’ll see what happens 

Armenia officially requested military intervention from Russia and other CSTO 
allies after Azerbaijan’s offensive military operations launched along the 
Armenian-Azerbaijani border in September 2022. It has since repeatedly accused 
them of ignoring the request in breach of the CSTO’s statutes and declared 
mission. It has declined CSTO offers to provide “military-technical assistance” 
to Yerevan and deploy a monitoring mission to the border.

Last year, Pashinian’s government not only shunned various-level CSTO meetings 
but also cancelled a CSTO exercise in Armenia, refused to name an Armenian 
deputy head of the organization and recalled the Armenian representative to its 
Moscow headquarters.

Moscow reacted cautiously to Pashinian’s latest remarks, with Kremlin spokesman 
Dmitry Peskov saying that it expects Yerevan to clarify them. Peskov also noted 
that the Armenian side has not notified the CSTO about the suspensions of its 
membership in the organization.

Belarus - Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a CSTO summit in Minsk, 
November 23, 2023.

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested in December that Armenia is not 
planning to leave the CSTO and attributed Yerevan’s boycott of the organization 
to internal “processes” taking place in the country. By contrast, the Russian 
Foreign Ministry earlier accused Pashinian of systematically “destroying” 
Russian-Armenian relations.

Pashinian, who was apparently interviewed by the French broadcaster during a 
visit to Paris on Wednesday, also claimed that in the wake of Azerbaijan’s 
recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh last September “Russia’s most high-ranking 
representatives” encouraged Armenians to take to the streets and topple him. 
Moscow did not immediately respond to the claim.

Pashinian also hit out at out Russia when he visited Germany at the weekend to 
attend an annual security conference in Munich. He met with German Chancellor 
Olaf Scholz, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and British intelligence 
chief Richard Moore on the sidelines of the forum.

The Armenian premier’s latest criticism of Russia highlights a deepening rift 
between the two longtime allies. He has so far stopped short of announcing plans 
to pull Armenia out of the CSTO and demand the withdrawal Russian troops from 
the country.

Pashinian and his political allies say that they are “diversifying” Armenia’s 
foreign and security policy due to the lack of Russian support. Their political 
opponents regard the policy change as reckless, arguing that the West is not 
ready to give Yerevan any security guarantees or provide it with significant 
military aid.

Reposted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL
Copyright (c) 2024 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc.
1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.


Moscow Wants Assurances from Yerevan about Putin’s Arrest Warrant

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (left) meets with President Vladimir Putin of Russ in the Kremlin on May 16, 2022

Moscow said Monday that it wants assurances from Yerevan before a possible visit by President Vladimir Putin of Russia to Armenia, given that the International Criminal Court, of which Armenia is now a member, has issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Russia has “already said that, of course, the new reality related to Armenia’s membership in the international statute cannot but have a negative impact on our bilateral relations.”

“Of course, it is very important here to receive certain assurances from our Armenian partners. That matter still needs to be resolved within the framework of bilateral dialogue, which we are willing to do,” Peskov told reporters.

Peskov’s comments follow vague responses on the matter given by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in an interview with the UK-based The Telegraph that was published over the weekend.

When Pashinyan was asked, point blank by The Telegraph’s Roland Oliphant, “if Vladimir Putin arrived in Yerevan, would you arrest him?,” he responded by saying that he will leave it up to the legal professionals to make that determination.

“I want to say that the Republic of Armenia started the process of joining the Rome Statute in December 2022, and that decision was conditioned by the assessment of changes in our security environment. We ratified the Rome Statute, among other things, analyzing the consequences of the September 2022 war and noting that there are some cracks in our security system. In that sense, we also ratified the Rome Statute as an additional factor to increase Armenia’s security level. I understand that it was a difficult time period, and we made that decision because it was a difficult period. That decision serves to increase the security level of Armenia,” Pashinyan told The Telegraph.

“As for the legal nuances, I can’t carry out a legal analysis right now because that’s the job of lawyers. I think, as I said, Armenia as a responsible state should adhere to all its international commitments, including the commitments it has in relations with the Russian Federation, the commitments it has in relations with the international community,” said Pashinyan.

“By the way, there are various opinions and legal analyses on that topic, and in particular, the lawyers who say that the current heads of state have immunity, insurmountable immunity, due to their status are not just a few. I mean, it’s a legal issue, not a political issue that I have to discuss and respond to,” the prime minister added.

“Since 2018, many large-scale democratic reforms have started in Armenia, and I do not make decisions about who should be arrested and who should not be arrested. There is an established legal order in Armenia, there are legal institutions, and in all cases the legal institutions of Armenia are the ones who make such decisions,” Pashinyan told The Telegraph. “For that we have the Prosecutor’s Office, we have courts, we have the Investigative Committee.

“It is very important that, being a member of the Eastern Partnership, the Republic of Armenia stands out especially for institutional reforms of having an independent judicial system. There is rule of law in the Republic of Armenia, the Prime Minister has his powers in the Republic of Armenia. Under no circumstances those powers include the solution of the question whether this person should be arrested or not. All of that is done through legal procedures,” said the prime minister.

Pashinyan was also asked by Oliphant, whether it was possible for him to call Putin and “tell him just not to come, because you cannot promise that he will not be arrested?,” saying it would be an awkward situation.

“I don’t think that Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] needs my advice,” Pashinyan responded to the question.

Book: The Sheikhs’ Inheritors: A family saga without a plot

Egypt – Feb 11 2024
Hesham Taha, Sunday 11 Feb 2024

Warathit Aal Al-Shaikh (The Sheikhs' Inheritors) is not only a novel but also a family saga written by Ahmed Al-Qarmalawi, published by Al-Dar Al-Arabiya Lil-Kitab in 2020.

Ahmed Al-Qarmalawi constructed his fifth novel on a vision passed from one generation to another about a hidden treasure in the form of seven tall clay jars full of gold, buried underneath the family house and guarded by a fallen hair monkey, which will give it to the rightful descendent, named Mohammed, among seven descendants bearing the same name!

It is not just a novel but rather a family saga, intertwined with the efforts of the narrator Ahmed, who works as an engineer like the author, to emigrate from Egypt to Australia after the failure of the 2011 Revolution.

This thinly veiled semi-autobiography is so packed with numerous characters to a confusing extent and comprises some vignettes with varying degrees of quality. One unforgettable vignette is when Nashaat, an army officer, who is almost one of the narrator’s grandfathers, returned wounded from Palestine during WWI, taking full pride in defeating the Turks. Being a Turk, his mother had ambivalent feelings towards this; she was happy for her son’s return. At the same time, he trounced those who are symbolically his forefathers! Another vignette was when an aunt of the narrator’s father brought from between her legs a bat which she caught and which deprived the narrator of sleep in the country house.

A third one, the most harrowing episode, is when the Cairo Police Commissioner Sedqi Bek, who is also almost one of the narrator’s grandfathers, went to his brother-in-law’s palace along with a company of soldiers, tied him, killed his horses, and seized his precious horse in revenge for strangulating Neamat, his sister, to satisfy his sadistic desires. The bright side is when Neamat, who was below 18 years old when she got married and remained unmarried until her death, resided in the country house (the one with the aforementioned vision). During his life, her father bequeathed her a large piece of land, upon which she built this house. Then, she started to rent lands to peasants and thrived when her nephew came and managed these lands.

After that comes the love affair of epic proportions between Nashaat, the wounded army officer, and Lilit, a neighbouring Armenian girl, who fled with her mother after the reported Armenian genocide in Turkey. His commanding officer gave him a gift: two telephone sets, a leftover from the British troops at the end of WWI, which was a wonder at the time. He used them in talking to his lover after training her how to use them. He used to accompany her to Port Said by train with all his military regalia pretending to be a high-ranking military officer escorting a princess visiting the city, which became a reception point for Armenians fleeing the Turks. Although Armenians were wary of Nashaat, being a Muslim officer, he gained their trust when he recounted his victory against the Turks. Unfortunately, this affair did not end in marriage because the Armenian Orthodox priest, who wanted to terminate this relationship, told Lilit to ask Nashaat to convert to Christianity.   

A tragic episode occurred when one of Mohammed's family burnt down the hut of Ephraim, a Jewish photographer, which he used as a studio, in revenge for refusing to return photos he took for Zubeida, his beloved cousin. Ephraim instructed a group of Jewish youth to start a brawl with Mohammed, through harassing his sister, which resulted in losing an eye.

Zubeida, who used to look down upon her female cousins viewing herself as much more refined and who eagerly wanted to be a fashion model in the West, was an enchanting beauty who did not care a bit for her cousin’s love. She got married to Shaher, a truly smart engineer, who provided her with a velvet dreamlike life, only to be shaken to the core by his premature death. She never got married again!

On the other hand, Fadel, Mohammed’s father, suffered a psychological breakdown when his wife humiliated him for not executing a severe punishment upon his son’s attackers. As a result, he left the house and used to return to it occasionally. He became a Sufi and led an ascetic life, roaming about many mosques.

Being the only child, Ahmed, the narrator, was torn between leaving his mother and father, who are cousins, and his home country while his financial fortunes were dwindling monthly and emigrating. He was also struggling with his wife and father-in-law, who was a former high-ranking police officer and viewed the 2011 Revolution as a conspiracy against the state.

Ahmed was also striving to persuade his wife of the idea of emigration, which he finally decided to embark on solely.   

The final pages show that the hidden treasure was the oil discovered and excavated by the government in the family land!

As a conclusion, the number of successes in this family saga is outweighed by the tragedies. Although the novel is comprised of 43 chapters, the author put number 44 on a blank page, alluding to an open end or denoting that the narrator/author did not write it because he did not live it to relate it!

Al-Qarmalawi won the Sheikh Zayed Book Award in 2017 for his novel “Summer Rains.”

The novelist was so keen to tell the story apparently of his family at the expense of a robust novel. One felt that certain episodes should have been excluded totally or at least abridged.   

Armenpress: Hungary’s president resigns over child sexual abuse scandal


YEREVAN, FEBRUARY 10, ARMENPRESS. Hungarian President Katalin Novak has resigned after coming under mounting pressure for pardoning a man convicted for helping to cover up sexual abuse in a children’s home, Reuters reports.

President Novak pardoned some two dozen people in April 2023 – among them the deputy director of the children’s home, who helped the institution’s former director hide crimes.

For the last time addressing the nation as president, Katalin Novak admitted she “made a mistake”.

“I issued a pardon that caused bewilderment and unrest for many people,” Novák said on February 10. “I made a mistake.” 

This week, Hungarian opposition parties had demanded Novak’s resignation over the case and on February 9 a thousand demonstrators rallied at Novak’s office calling for her to quit.

In a bid to contain the political damage, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban submitted a constitutional amendment to parliament on February 8, depriving the president of the right to pardon crimes committed against children.

46-year-old Katalin Novak – the first female president in Hungary’s history, has held the position of president since 2022.

Besides the president, Orban’s former Justice Minister Judit Varga who also signed off on the pardon – said on Facebook she would step down as the ruling Fidesz party MP, taking responsibility for the decision.

AW: Vartan and Vartanank

The Battle of Avarayr, Sharaknots, 1482, Artist: Karapet Berkretsi (Wikimedia Commons)

May 26, 451 A.D., is one of the most glorious dates in the history of the Armenian people. It is the date of the Battle of Avarayr, which took place in the Plain of Shavarshan (modern Maku, in the northwestern corner of Iran) along the banks of Dghmud (a tributary of the River Arax), when 1,036 Armenian soldiers, together with their commander Vartan Mamigonian, died in defense of their faith and freedom. The battle involved 66,000 Armenian soldiers against the 300,000-member Persian army and was a military disaster for the Armenian nation. Armenians lost militarily, and their hero, Vartan the Brave, was killed.

The battle was lost, but not the war! Over the next 33 years, brave and bold Armenian souls took refuge in the hills, as they struggled to organize an effective defense of their homeland and secure the right to religious freedom and cultural and political autonomy. 

Eventually, Vahan Mamigonian, the son of Vartan’s brother Hmayak, successfully led and won a guerrilla war against the Persians. Thereupon, the Persians signed a treaty with the Armenians in 484 – the famous Treaty of Nvarsak – whereby the Persian King Vagharsh granted Armenians religious freedom and cultural autonomy.

The fifth-century heroic struggle of the Armenian nation came to be called the Vartanantz War, in honor of the main hero, Vartan Mamigonian. During the Middle Ages, Armenia’s church fathers moved the observance of the Vartanantz War from May 26 to the Thursday preceding Lent. Vartan’s comrades – those who shared his profound faith in God and demonstrated loyalty to his cherished causes – came to be called Vartanank.

The crisis that developed and culminated in the armed confrontation known as the Vartanantz War began in the late 440s, when King Yazdegerd II of Persia (438-457), a fanatical Zoroastrian monarch, ordered all the subjects of his empire to adhere to his faith. The majority of the Armenian people were directly affected by Yazdegerd’s royal edict, since a large section of Armenia was under Persian control after the unfortunate partition of Armenia by the Byzantine and Persian empires in 387 A.D.

I believe we can honor these heroes if we live by the principles, values and causes for which they died. We can honor them if we hear their message, take it to heart and apply it to our lives.

The official reply of the Armenian people to Yazdegerd’s edict was formulated in a general assembly held in Artashat in 449 – an assembly attended by the political and religious leadership of the country. 

Not only did the elite of the Armenian nation refuse to renounce their Christian faith, but also proclaimed their loyalty to Christ to the death. They concluded their reply: “From this belief (Christianity) no one can move us; neither fire, nor sword, nor water, nor any other horrid tortures…”

Thereafter, the Persian Empire embarked on an armed invasion of Armenia, and the  Armenian army, under the leadership of General Vartan Mamigonian, engaged in a war of self-defense – the War of Vartanantz.

Although the Armenians suffered a military defeat on the battlefield of Avarayr, their relentlessness eventually scored them a victory. Thus, the Vartanantz War became a pivotal point in Armenian history and a source of inspiration for the succeeding generations.

For centuries, Armenians have set aside the Feast of Vartanantz Day to honor their heroic ancestors and pay tribute to their memory. But how can we really do that today? We could, of course, speak of our noble ancestors in glowing terms, praising them and celebrating their accomplishments in song and speech. But frankly, I believe Vartanank would care very little for our testimonies and accolades. However, I believe we can honor these heroes if we live by the principles, values and causes for which they died. We can honor them if we hear their message, take it to heart and apply it to our lives. We can honor them if our faith, like theirs, can stand the test – if we can serve the cause of the King of kings, Jesus Christ.

Certainly we can cherish Vartan and Vartanank, but the faith of our fathers cannot serve us and save us. The vital faith that accomplishes and sustains always has to be a contemporary faith. If the sacrifice and contribution of Vartan and Vartanank are to have any significance for us, their Christian faith has to be reborn in our generation, and we have to come to grips with it in terms of our problems and challenges. 

Finally, Vartan and Vartanank were the heroes who tolled the bell for freedom. They paid a high price for freedom. That freedom can be kept only with great vigilance. It can be lost overnight by a generation that exploits its privileges and renounces its responsibilities. Freedom is a spiritual quality that lives in the hearts and wills of those who are determined to keep it.

Honoring Vartan and Vartanank demands of us, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Standing firm in our faith, being courageous and strong.” Keep ringing the bell of freedom and living by those ideals and causes for which our noble ancestors died.

Rev. Dr. Vahan H. Tootikian is the Executive Director of the Armenian Evangelical World Council.