The Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict: Answering Some Intriguing Questions

Dec 14 2020

By Dr. Sitakanta Mishra

Associate Professor of International Relations, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gujarat, India

Q.1: Armenia signed an agreement on a ceasefire and the withdrawal of its occupation forces from the territory of Azerbaijan. The problem is that she took this step after the military defeat. From the point of view of international law, what are the responsibilities of the party that lost the war?

The ‘realist’ paradigm suggests that one should not waste time arguing over the morality of the situation, because in practice “might makes right” or “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”. It would be futile to expect that the defeated party in a war will assume the onus and meet its responsibilities voluntarily. This is not to suggest that the winning party should be harsh. In an interdependent world of today, it would not be possible to impose unilateral decisions in the post-war period as multiple players get involved normally in any conflict. Therefore, first, the concerned parties can amicably negotiate to settle the score. Or, second, the concerned parties can knock on the doors of the International Criminal Court (ICC), established in 2003 as a treaty arrangement between member states to provide a neutral international court. The ‘war guilt’ can be fixed following the above-mentioned ways. One can draw lessons from WWII and the Treaty of Versailles (under clause 231 – the ‘War Guilt Clause’) where Germany had to accept complete responsibility for the war.

Q.2: The Azerbaijani authorities announced that they would demand from Armenia $ 50 billion for the damage caused. But, as we know, Armenia does not have that kind of money. How does international law regulate the recovery of compensation funds from a party that does not have enough funds? 

Though the WWII situation and Germany’s case cannot be extrapolated to the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict, significant inferences can be drawn from WWII history. The demand for reparations by Azerbaijan from Armenia through sound logical, the conflict between them is yet to end fully. It would be prudent to form a coalition of states concerned to ponder how to root out the causes of the conflict. Whether both conflicting parties should seek arbitration or adjudication method as bilateral negotiation seems unproductive to settle the competing claims and grievances.

As far as the extraction of reparation is concerned, Azerbaijan with support from its supporters can approach the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC), a claims reparation program created by the United Nations Security Council in May 1991, located in Geneva, Switzerland. The UNCC was established with the objectives to receive and decide claims against Iraq submitted on behalf of individuals, corporations, and governments (including mass claims on behalf of similarly situated individuals), and to pay compensation for such claims.

Q.3: As everyone knows, the signing of a ceasefire agreement, which is essentially a camouflaged form of Armenia's surrender, became possible with the direct participation of Moscow. If the Armenian side, overthrowing the Pashinyan government, brings radicals to power and resumes hostilities, how will the Russian leadership react to this? Suspicions are not taken from the ceiling, it is enough to look at what moods prevail in Yerevan …!

Conflict and the end result of conflict has a direct repercussion on the domestic politics of every country. It would be safe to assume that there might be political upheaval in Armenia which might culminate in a radical takeover of power. This would derail the temporary peace process in vogue. However, Russia, being a regional big-brother may not allow the situation to further deteriorate as this would invite critical questions on its ability as a global leader. Russia seems to have sufficient hold and ground on the conflict situation at the moment and it would not allow things to slip from its grip. On the other hand, Armenian leaders, be the moderates or radicals, will not be able to afford Russia’s wrath or loss of Moscow’s backing.

Q.4: The President of Azerbaijan has said that during the negotiations after the withdrawal of the Armenian forces, the issue of the status will not be discussed. Karabakh will not have any autonomy. Moreover, this statement did not receive any objections from Russia. Why? 

It is not prudent to draw any conclusion on the outcome of this protracted conflict or the ongoing negotiation process at this moment. Which way the conflict or its resolution will unfold is too early to predict. However, Azerbaijan having the upper hand in the current situation must bargain hard and explore all options to settle the conflict forever. Azerbaijan must channel aggressively the dominant presence of Russia and its influential role to its advantage.

Q.5: Suspicions were expressed that the Armenian side could carry out provocations against the Russian peacekeepers in order to provoke them to return fire. Everything in order to bring the program of Armenia's drift towards NATO to its logical end. Are there mechanisms to prevent provocations against Russian peacekeepers? 

I think Armenian leaders are matured enough and aware of the consequences of confronting Russian peacekeeping efforts. The fear rather emanates from non-state entities/mercenaries thriving in the region, any vested interest groups who would derail the peace process by resorting to violence to muddy the situation. The stakes of America and NATO in settling the conflict cannot be side-lined. Armenia would lean towards the US and NATO if the peace process does not address its grievances to its satisfaction. As the US is going through a political leadership transition amidst the COVID-19 health crisis and the President-elect will take some time to settle, Washington DC would not overlook Russia’s presence and role at once before putting its finger into the muddy waters.

Q.6: During the hostilities, Armenia launched missile strikes on civil and strategic targets on the territory of Azerbaijan outside the conflict zone. President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly said that those responsible for this will be brought to justice. How does this procedure go? Is the Hague Tribunal the only institution with the function of an international judicial and penitentiary body? 

The civilian casualty in any conflict is unwarranted and cannot be justified. The Armenian missile strikes on civil zones beyond the conflict zone in Azerbaijan tantamount to a war crime. This atrocity can be brought to the UN forum for global condemnation and swift action by the comity of nations. Beside the Hague Tribunal, UN Security Council, and International Court of Justice (ICJ), the issue can be raised at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as well which prohibits “Attacking, destroying, removing or rendering useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population” (Rule 54). 

Q.7: India, as an active participant and a serious player in the Eurasian space, is extremely interested in the stability in the South Caucasus. And the Karabakh conflict was one of the main dangers. Can we say that the resolution of the Karabakh issue is a pleasant event for India?

India has not publicly articulated its policy on South Caucasus yet, but the conflict in Eurasian theatre is undoubtedly a sensitive issue for New Delhi. Indian diplomacy has to walk a tight rope between the conflicting parties and outside powers. As far as Armenia is concerned, India has signed a Friendship and Cooperation Treaty (1995), which prohibits India from providing military or any other assistance to Azerbaijan. More importantly, India has received Armenia’s unequivocal support on the Kashmir issue whereas Azerbaijan, says Achal Malhotra, “not only supports but also promotes Pakistan’s narrative on this issue.” in 2008, India had gone to the extent of voting against Azerbaijan’s resolution in UNGA which demanded “the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan”. Meanwhile, it would be difficult for India to endorse the Armenian demand for Nagorno-Karabakh’s right for self-determination, as it might prove to be a double standard when it comes to the Kashmir issue.

However, Azerbaijan is equally important a partner for India in the energy sector and connectivity projects. Though bilateral trade and investment between the two is low at present, the ONGC/OVL has made relatively small investments in an oilfield project and LNG supply in Azerbaijan. Moreover, Azerbaijan falls on India’s dream project – the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) route, connecting India with Russia through central Asia; it can also connect India with Turkey and beyond through Baku-Tbilisi-Kars passenger and freight rail link. Given India’s competition with China in operationalizing connectivity-corridor projects, Azerbaijan is having strategic significance for India.

Therefore, India does not fancy a dichotomous diplomatic situation; rather it would project its non-aligned posture arguing for a negotiated settlement of the conflict regionally, as regional conflicts are better resolved through a regional approach. Ideally, India would not favor the involvement of any outside entity, including Turkey. But, given the inevitable presence of multiple players in the conflict, India has expressed its support for the efforts by the OSCE Minsk Group (co-chaired by France, the Russian Federation, and the United States) to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this insight piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of IndraStra Global.

CtHR Requests Information on Armenian POWs

Dec 27 2020

12/27/2020 Nagorno-Karabakh (International Christian Concern) – The European Court of Human Rights granted the request by the Republic of Armenia on December 21st that the Government of Azerbaijan provide information related to prisoners of war (POWs) by December 28th.

These POWs were captured during the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh (Armenian: Artsakh). This territory is internationally recognized as belonging to Azerbaijan, a Turkic Islamic nation, but Karabakh’s demographic is Armenian Christian. Azerbaijan, with the support of Turkey, invaded Karabakh and engaged in a number of activities that were genocidal in nature. Both Azerbaijan and Turkey have made it clear that this invasion is being pursued according to a pan-Islamic Turkic agenda.

Video footage obtained by ICC allegedly showing Armenian prisoners of war experiencing mistreatment at the hands of Azerbaijan show the religious undertones of this conflict. Grey Wolf symbolism features heavily throughout many of these videos. The Grey Wolves are an extremist organization from Turkey who have been involved in major cases of religious freedom violations, including the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.

Armenia: Ban on Turkey imports to take effect on December 31

Post Online Media
Dec 26 2020

CHRISTIAN FERNSBY ▼ | December 26, 2020

The State Revenue Committee of Armenia once again reminds that the ban on the import of goods of Turkish origin that are on the list defined in the appendix to a government decision shall be in force in Armenia as of December 31, and for six months.

TURKEY   Armenia
But this ban on such goods that are imported before December 31 shall not apply only if customs clearance is carried out on these goods before December 31.


This import ban applies to the aforementioned goods of Turkish origin that are imported into Armenia from all countries. 

Turkish servicemen head out for joint Russian-Turkish monitoring centre in Karabakh

JAM News
Dec 27 2020

    JAMnews, Baku

A joint Russian-Turkish monitoring center will start operating in Karabakh in the first week of 2021.

25 servicemen from Turkey have already set out for Azerbaijan, and this number will eventually increase to 60.

  • Armenian opposition: country needs one more Russian military base
  • How long-term loyalty to Russia cost Armenia dearly

The Russian-Turkish Joint Center located in Agdam will analyze information about the latest developments in the region obtained from the patrols of Russian peacekeepers and through drones.

In the event of any incidents related to the violation of the ceasefire regime, direct contact will be established with both Moscow and Ankara, and with Baku and Yerevan, and measures will be taken to ensure the terms of the ceasefire.

In addition to monitoring the situation in the region, the Turkish military, within the framework of cooperation with the armed forces of Azerbaijan, will take part in activities to provide humanitarian assistance and mine clearance.

Recent hostilities in Karabakh, the largest since the last ceasefire in 1994, came to an end on November 10 after the signing of a trilateral truce agreement by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia.

​The Stunning Churches of the World’s First Christian Nation

Dec 24 2020
The Stunning Churches of the World’s First Christian Nation
 Sugato Mukherjee | December 24, 2020
Discover the remarkable structures and the legends within.
A journey to Armenia means discovering one of Eurasia’s legendary enclaves. The tiny nation in the Caucasus was the first to adopt Christianity as the state religion in A.D. 301. And Armenia’s early Christian structures—sprawling, majestic complexes nestled in the folds of wildly green canyons and hilltops—bear brilliant testimony to the creative power of one of the world’s oldest civilizations. Armenia’s deeply religious past is also manifested in its pagan temples and monasteries tucked deep in the wildflower-dappled hills and valleys.
Surprisingly, all of these apostolic complexes have been immaculately preserved from the medieval ages. While Christian churches across Europe with ornate frescoes and heavily decorated interiors look beautiful, the Armenian churches are markedly different with a signature architectural style.
Khor Virap
Khor Virap monastery is at the foothills of the biblical Mt. Ararat (elevation 16,854 feet) near the closed Turko-Armenian border. Originally established as a prison site, it had held Grigor Lusavorich in a subterranean pit (Khor Virap in Armenian means “deep dungeon”) for 13 years. The story goes that Lusavorich cured the Armenian monarch of a fatal disease and subsequently converted him to Christianity. Soon after, the Caucasian kingdom became the first official Christian nation in the world in A.D. 301. Lusavorich was sainted as Gregory the Illuminator and Khor Virap, which took its current incarnation in the 17th century, has remained the most visited sacred pilgrimage site of Armenia.
Zvartnots was an early Christian cathedral, consecrated in A.D. 652, about 10 kilometers west of Yerevan, the Armenian capital. Zvartnots stood as one of the tallest structures in the world at 45 meters for 320 years before its collapse in the 10th century. The reason for its destruction is still contested: it could be an earthquake or a result of Arab invasions. The cathedral has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000.
Sevanavank, one of the earliest monasteries of Armenia, is located on the northwestern shores of Lake Sevan, the largest freshwater lake in the Caucasus region. According to an inscription in one of the churches, the monastery of Sevanavank was founded in 874. The church buildings were constructed from black tuff, which probably gave the monastery its name Sevanavank—“the Black Monastery.”
The ornate and massive complex of Geghard monastery, another UNESCO World Heritage site, stands at the entrance of the Azat Valley in central Armenia. Founded by Gregory the Illuminator in the 4th century, it is also known as the “Monastery of the Spear,” named after the spear used to stab Jesus Christ during the crucifixion. It was brought to Armenia and housed inside Geghard monastery, and is now stored in the treasury of Echmiadzin, the spiritual center of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Inside the rock-cut chapel of Geghard runs a natural spring, and its water is considered holy.
Located 122 kilometers from Yerevan, the sheer brick-red cliffs of a narrow gorge cut by the Amaghu River nestles Noravank monastery within its deep folds in a spectacular setting. The double-storeyed monastery is best known for its upper floor church, accessible by a dank stone staircase that protrudes from the façade of the 13th-century building—one of the earliest examples of cantilever architecture.
Hovhannavank monastery on the edge of Kasagh river canyon adjacent to the village of Ohanavan. The monastic complex consists of the 4th-century basilica church of St. John the Baptist and the main church of St. Karapet (St. John’s other name). The basilica was completely renovated between 1652 and 1734.
The medieval Haghpat monastery was built between the 10th and 13th centuries. It is a brilliant example of early Armenian architecture where small niches were created to fit stones in such a design that would survive an earthquake. In its earliest stage, Haghpat was a center of copying ancient manuscripts and had a huge book depository. Much of its interiors have remained intact including the food storage area, 13th-century grindstones, and a community eating space for the monks.
Garni, the 1st-century Hellenistic temple, stands on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ravine of the Azat River, at a distance of 26 kilometers from Yerevan. The temple is a part of the fortress of Garni, strategically located for the defense of the kingdom. It is also the only remaining example of Greco-Roman colonnaded architectural style in Armenia and the whole of the former Soviet Union.

Armenia against coronavirus: Projection for 2021

Dec 29 2020

For Armenia — just like most countries that went through a second wave — it is essential at least to stabilise the situation as soon as possible in order to prevent a new potential wave.

Karen Minasyan — AFP via Getty

This article is part of the series — The Future of the Pandemic in 2021 and Beyond.

2020 is the year that will certainly be remembered for the outbreak of COVID-19. Since the years of the Great Depression in the previous century, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has become a major health issue and economic burden for most of the Western hemisphere. However, its detrimental impact has been particularly tangible for smaller countries with limited economic and social capacity to fight the outbreak of the virus. According to open sources, judging by the number of total cases per million population, Armenia has suffered the most compared to other South Caucasian states and has notoriously climbed up to the top 10 worldwide by the aforementioned index.

Starting from March 2020, the national government of the Republic has introduced a number of unpopular but necessary measures, including harsh travel restrictions aimed at stopping proliferation of the virus. At the same time, sensible amounts of funds have been allocated to provide social and economic aid to the local population and national manufacturers. By the end of the summer, it seemed like the peak of the virus had passed with the country slowly but firmly moving to a post-pandemic period of gradual recovery.

However, the Azerbaijani-Armenian war, unleashed on 27 September, has had significant impact on the number of COVID cases in Armenia. The positive tendency achieved by the second half of September was nulled due to a major shift in the priorities of the country and attention of the people, for whom the coronavirus destruction became secondary in light of the active hostilities and escalation in Nagorno Karabakh. Facing a large-scale war causing massive destruction and civilian casualties in the region and prioritising above all else the matter of self-defence against military aggression, the Armenian people seemed to temporarily forget about the threat that the coronavirus poses. Unfortunately, the escalation of the war coincided with the second wave of COVID-19 — explained internationally as an acceleration of the spread of the virus in the cold season. An understandable shift in everyone’s attention to the urgencies of war made the country very weak in terms of allocating additional time and resources against a foe that seemed to have been defeated in the summer.

As the relevant data revealed, the number of infected cases in Armenia grew drastically precisely during the period of war. More than 2,000 daily cases (a truly record number for a country with a population of less than three million) were registered between 22 October and 9 November. Compared to the previous months, when the numbers were relatively low and declining during the summer — which allowed the national government to talk about certain improvements in the fight against COVID — a sharp increase of positive tests during the entire war period made national authorities revise their projections.

Combating the pandemic and its tremendous repercussions urged Armenia to seek external support as well. India, Russia, and France, to name but a few, were prompt to help Armenia in the most complicated periods of the last months, providing medical, vocational, economic and other aid to ease the burden of the pandemic’s effect on the country in general. In particular, the Minister of Health, Arsen Torosyan, asked the Ambassador of India to Armenia, Kishan Dan Dewal, to consider the possibility of providing humanitarian assistance. According to the press service of the ministry, Torosyan told the ambassador that the Armenian health system was ready for the second wave of the coronavirus; however, as a result of the war, it became necessary to replenish Armenian medical centres with new equipment and medicines. The ambassador, in turn, assured that he would consider all possible options for assistance after consulting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India.

Having said all of this, what could one expect from 2021? Clearly, it is not wise to anticipate an immediate improvement of the situation. If the specifics of the virus remain highly volatile, it is too early to hope for substantial betterment. For Armenia, just like most countries that went through a second wave, it is essential at least to stabilise the situation as soon as possible in order to prevent a new potential wave, higher than the current one, which is already overloading the national healthcare system.

The development and appearance of several vaccines on the market, not fully efficient yet, promises that the current forms of SARS-CoV-2 can be healed with relative success. In this respect, Armenia can potentially benefit from the vaccines developed by Russia, called Sputnik V, and its subsequent versions, as well as any other vaccine with a stably high rate of efficiency. There should be no geopolitical ambiguity when it comes to saving thousands of peoples’ lives. The last reports suggest that the US-developed Moderna has 100% efficacy against severe COVID-19 cases. The traditionally decent relationship between the United States and Armenia, as well as the very fact that the most efficient vaccine so far has been developed by a pharmaceutical company whose CEO is of Armenian descendant, may positively affect the likelihood of Armenia receiving the Moderna vaccine at a lower market price.

Following the examples of several countries and taking into account the currently poor domestic economy, possible mandatory vaccination should be realised either at very low cost or for free. This being said, Armenia can negotiate and secure further international support to stabilise the local epidemic situation. However, it would be naïve to predict the precise scenario of how a country that is very dependent on external support will feel in case of global uncertainty. Geopolitical squabbles must be put aside when a threat of this scale appears. Smaller countries, like Armenia, may yet have their loud voice heard in bringing different countries together to address the issue in an all-inclusive manner.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

Iran, Armenia Discuss Closer Business Ties

Iran Front Page
Dec 29 2020

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Armenian counterpart Ara Ayvazyan have discussed the latest developments in Armenia as well as bilateral and regional cooperation.

In a Monday phone conversation, the top Iranian diplomat expressed regret over the recent conflict between Armenia and the Azerbaijan Republic and condoled with the families of those who lost their loved ones in the war.

Zarif reiterated Iran’s stance that international borders are not changeable, and stressed Iran’s sensitivity in that regard.

He said the end of the conflict will set the stage for multilateral cooperation among regional countries.

The Iranian foreign minister expressed content with the expansion of economic cooperation between the private sectors of both countries, saying Iran is prepared to further boost economic ties with Armenia during the new year.

​Why Does No One Care About Genocide?

Dec 28 2020
Why Does No One Care About Genocide?
Ewelina U. Ochab, Contributor
The issue of genocide is not a topic that generates significant attention or public interest. It is one thing to support the general principle of “Never Again.” It is a different thing to take active steps to ensure that the slogan becomes a reality. Indeed, the majority (if not everyone) would agree that we should never again allow such atrocities as those perpetrated by the Nazis in the 20th century. Again, while we agree on the principle, after the Nazi atrocities, we saw similar atrocities in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and Libya, little was done to address the atrocities. In the last few years, we have witnessed mass atrocities that may be classified as genocide, including the atrocities perpetrated by Daesh against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, the Burmese military’s atrocities against the Rohingyas in Myanmar, the CCP’s atrocities against the Uyghurs and atrocities against religious minorities in Nigeria. Most recently, we see early warning signs that the practices that targeted the communities over 100 years ago in the Ottoman Empire are being introduced yet again.
Indeed, the case of the Ottoman Empire’s genocide against the Armenians is a case that should teach us about the cost of doing nothing. The Armenian genocide took place between 1915 and 1923 when 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were arrested, deported or murdered by the Ottoman Empire. Currently, some 32 countries recognize the events as meeting the legal definition of genocide. The official recognition of historic cases as genocide is not a matter of semantics. Such an official recognition is crucial for survivors and their families in their efforts to move on. It is crucial for reconciliation and discovery of the truth. It is also crucial to deter similar crimes in the future, to ensure that such atrocities do not happen again. As we witness some concerning signs that the atrocities may happen again, we see little political will to engage and prevent the atrocities from materializing.
The question is then, why there is no political will to prevent genocide and address it once it occurs?
For many of us, genocide happens far from home, and falls within the purview of “foreign policy.” As such, genocide is not a top priority for politicians. Ultimately, politicians rely on their electorate in their respective countries. If the people who choose politicians do not raise the issue, do not show that this is what they want their politicians to engage with, nothing will be done. The question is then how to engage the general public on the topic of genocide?
Media outlets report on genocide, but mostly when it has already occurred. Nothing makes the headlines more than bodies on the streets. Early warning signs and risk factors of genocide do not get the same attention. This is despite the fact that only a sharp focus on early earning signs of genocide can help to prevent the crime from occurring. When bodies lie on the streets it is too late as we have failed to prevent the genocide.
To address the general lack of interest in early warning signs and risk factors of genocide, some public figures have become more vocal on the issue, for example in the recent case of the atrocities in Nagorno-Karabkh. Artists and celebrities such as Cher and Kim Kardashian, with millions of fans and followers on social media, have been speaking out about the deteriorating situation. Others, such as the heavy metal band System Of A Down, turned their messages into music. Amid the deteriorating situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, System Of A Down released two singles, “Protect the Land” and “Genocidal Humanoidz” to engage the public and to raise funds to help those affected. The two singles have raised over $600,000 for the Armenia Fund. Members of the band have also been using their social media presence to inform their followers about the situation in Nagorno-Karabkh and the concerning developments as the situation was deteriorating. Their engagement and important voice on the issue shows that raising awareness of genocide is not a matter to be left to legal experts, researcher and journalists only. In fact, in order to turn the slogan of “Never Again” into reality, everyone needs to play their part. Genocide prevention is not a job of a few, it is a job for the whole humanity.
Ewelina U. Ochab is a human rights advocate, author and co-founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response. Ochab works on the topic of genocide, with specific focus on persecution of religious minorities around the world, with main projects including Daesh genocide in Syria and Iraq, Boko Haram atrocities in West Africa, and the situation of religious minorities in South Asia. Ochab has written over 30 UN reports (including Universal Periodic Review reports) and has made oral and written submissions at the Human Rights Council sessions and the UN Forum on Minority Issues. Ochab is currently working on her PhD in international law, human rights and medical ethics. Ochab authored the initiative and proposal to establish the UN International Day Commemorating Victims and Survivors of Religious Persecution. The initiative has led to the establishment of the UN International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief on August 22. Follow @EwelinaUO

Leader of Lebanese Armenian Church appreciates Ayatollah Khamenei’s support

Dec 26 2020

The head of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church Jathliq Aram Keshishian, during a meeting with Abbas Khamehyar, Iran"s Cultural Attaché in Lebanon said I will never forget the support extended to Armenians of Iran by Ayatollah Khamenei and love for the Armenian community in Iran.

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): The head of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church Jathliq Aram Keshishian, during a meeting with Abbas Khamehyar, Iran"s Cultural Attaché in Lebanon said I will never forget the support extended to Armenians of Iran by Ayatollah Khamenei and love for the Armenian community in Iran.

According to the Public Relations Department of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, Abbas Khamehyar expressed his greeting to the Lebanese Armenians on the Christian New Year and wished them well.

He also expressed his sympathy with the families of the victims of the explosion at the port of Beirut and the great sacrifice endured by the Lebanese people. He said Immediately after the explosion, our compatriots lit candles in front of the Lebanese embassy in Tehran and some parks and sent thousands of messages in cyberspace to express their condolences and the Municipality of Tehran, by lighting the Lebanese flag on the tower of Azadi Square and Milad Telecommunications Tower and playing the Lebanese national anthem, showed their solidarity with the Lebanese people.

Khamehyar also referred to the initiative taken by the Iranian musicians in this regard and said Iranian National Symphony Orchestra performed and played a piece titled" Beirut, your pain is my pain "and conducted by" Andre Alhaj ", a Lebanese Christian. It was shown that it was highly praised and a letter was sent by the Lebanese President thanking him for this unprecedented cultural event.

Iranian Cultural Attache conveyed the written message of the Chairman of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, on the expansion of bilateral cultural and religious relations and congratulations on the birth of Jesus Christ, and presented a report on the current situation in our country in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and US sanctions. He said despite the sanctions that did not allow the import of some essential medicines into our country, we were able to meet the needs of patients and the number of patients affected by coronavirus shows a better achievement than many European countries.

Aram I Keshishian, the head of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church, expressed his condolences on the martyrdom of Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and his regret over this event. He Appreciated the efforts of the Islamic Republic of Iran to maintain stability in the region, especially the recent events in Azerbaijan and Armenia, and strongly condemned US pressure and sanctions against Iran. He called it an inhumane act and called the sanctions as more dangerous than virus of occupation and colonialism.

Khamehyar also presented his analysis and views about the conflict between two northwestern neighbors of the Islamic Republic of Iran (the Republic of Azerbaijan and Armenia) and its consequences. Cardinal Aram I also pointed to the good relations of the Lebanese Armenian community with Iran and said we are always by the side of the Islamic Republic of Iran and we will not withhold any help and effort in supporting the resistance. Expressing his memories of the meeting with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, he added that I will never forget his support and love for the Armenian community in Iran.

During the Meeting of the Iranian Cultural Attaché and Cardinal Aram 1, issues related to holding of the interreligious dialogue between Islam and Christianity, and especially the ninth round of talks between Iranian religious Scholars and the Armenian Church leaders in Lebanon, was also discussed and the necessary decisions were made.

Abbas Khamehyar thanked the Armenian top clergy for his efforts in creating unity among Christians by presenting him with a collection of different books on introducing the culture, art and status of Iranian literature. Then, Cardinal Jathliq Aram Keshishian, wished success for the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian nation and its leadership so that this country could be at the forefront of developed scientific and economic countries. He also thanked the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran for the attention they pay to Armenian community in Iran and granting all political, cultural, social and economic rights to them. Aram I, also did donate his new book titled "The Armenian Church" to the Cultural Attaché of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This book has been translated into all living languages of the world, including Persian. The meeting also discussed practical steps to hold a preliminary meeting of the Biennial Dialogue Conference between the Armenian Churches and the of the Islamic Culture and Communication Organization.

Armenian winemakers hope to maintain ancient tradition following Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – Boston
Dec 28 2020

A man with an Armenian national flag visits the 12th-13th century Orthodox Dadivank Monastery on the outskirts of Kalbajar, in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, on Nov. 13, 2020. 

Conveyor belts rattle at the Stepanakert Brandy Factory while technicians in white coats peer into flasks and workers pack bottles into cases. It’s the first day of business in Nagorno-Karabakh’s de-facto capital since war erupted on Sept. 27, and operations director Vladik Alibabayan is seeing what can be salvaged.

Related: Nagorno-Karabakh refugees are beginning to return home, but many are still displaced

“Some of our fields near the frontlines where we grew grapes and pomegranates are now under the control of Azerbaijani forces, so we don’t know what will happen next. The loss for the industry will be significant.”

Vladik Alibabayan, operations director, Stepanakert Brandy factory

“We managed to collect 1,700 tons of grapes before the war and then everything shut down,” Alibabayan explained. “Some of our fields near the frontlines where we grew grapes and pomegranates are now under the control of Azerbaijani forces, so we don’t know what will happen next. The loss for the industry will be significant.”

It could have been worse. 

A shaft of sunlight beams through a small hole in the roof of a warehouse next door to the brandy factory. Underneath, protruding from the bottom of a cylindrical tank is a gigantic unexploded rocket, one of the thousands that rained down on the city during Armenia’s 44-day war with Azerbaijan. 

The rocket hit an empty tank, narrowly missing a vat full of 15-year-old Madatoff cognac. A lucky escape for the factory but for the country’s nascent wine industry in general, the war has been a huge setback. The latest conflict flared up in the middle of the harvest season. 

As the country mobilized for war, grapes wilted on the vine. 

But some people were able to adapt. At a small farm on the other side of the city, artisan winemaker David Astsatryan makes brandy from grape residue on a rattling homemade stove. 

On the first day of shelling on the city of Stepanakert, Astsatryan’s son headed for the frontline. Astsatryan joined him days later with a few hundred bottles from the cellar to boost the troops’ morale. 

Astsatryan produces tangy, orange-colored wines in clay amphoras submerged in soil, and full-bodied, inky reds using khndoghni — a grape native to the Nagorno-Karabakh area. 

“Khndoghni is our local grape, there’s no sense to use any others,” Astsatryan said, holding up a bottle to the light. “…This is a trademark of Karabakh, and it’s been growing here for centuries with this soil, air and sunshine. If you grow the same grape in Armenia, it tastes totally different.”

Khndoghni is derived from the word “laughter” in Armenian, though there has been little to laugh about this year. Astsatryan’s land, bathed in early December sunshine, looks out across the valley and up to the mountaintop city of Shushi.

As the highest and most strategic settlement in Karabakh, the war was effectively finished when Azerbaijan captured it, ending over three decades of Armenian control. And now, though people displaced during the war are coming back home to Stepanakert, many feel vulnerable to attack from the new Azerbaijani positions above them.

“I see the people coming back,” he said cautiously, casting an eye up to the hills, “but I don’t see life returning to normal. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Vahe Keushguerian is one of the top winemakers and entrepreneurs in Armenia. For him, encouraging investment in the vineyards of an unrecognized country in a warzone has never been easy. Under most international law, Nagorno-Karabakh is considered part of Azerbaijan.

“Institutions, by their charter, would not touch Karabakh, because of the status. And vineyards are a very long-term investment, it’s at least 10 years until you can even see something let alone get a return.”

Vahe Keushguerian, winemaker and entrepeneur, Armenia

“Institutions, by their charter, would not touch Karabakh, because of the status. And vineyards are a very long-term investment, it’s at least 10 years until you can even see something let alone get a return.” Keushguerian explained. “So, I see two ways out for Karabakh; it is formally acknowledged as a region of Armenia, or as an independent country, then there might be funding opportunities available.”

International recognition of the territory seems like a pipe dream but, despite the ruins of war, Keushguerian said he wants to start a cooperative winery, “as a symbol.” “Regardless of whatever calamity happened, we need to go on forward,” he said. 

Armenia has one of the world’s oldest wine industries — archaeologists have unearthed fragments of jugs and presses dating back more than 6,000 years. But the country’s turbulent history has held it back from becoming a Napa Valley of the Caucasus. 

For 70 years, the Soviet economy demanded that Armenia prioritize brandy production instead of wine, and occasionally experimented with prohibition. Poverty in the 1980s and conflict with Azerbaijan also stymied business.

But in the last decade, Armenia has experienced a wine-drinking renaissance. In Vino, on Yerevan’s Martiros Saryan street, was the city’s first modern wine bar. Opening in 2012, with just 10 Armenian wines, it now sells over 180, with numbers from the Nagorno-Karabakh among the bestselling. 

“By drinking wine from Karabakh I feel that people are connecting with the situation. … You feel the 'terroir' in your glass — especially now.”

Mariam Saghatelyan, In Vino, Yerevan, Armenia

“By drinking wine from Karabakh I feel that people are connecting with the situation,” said Mariam Saghatelyan, a partner at the business. “Every single bottle of wine has the philosophy and ideology of that certain producer and the region. You feel the terroir in your glass — especially now.”

Just as the business was in full bloom, the war came to Armenia once again and some of the country’s most notable vineyards had to be urgently evacuated and are now behind enemy lines. Within days, bottles from the lost territories flew off the shelves to be resold by speculators and, Saghatelyan said, decades-old family businesses evaporated overnight. 

“The industry is just about to bloom, then this happens. It’s heart-breaking and there are all these unanswered questions. What will be the fate of those wineries?”

Saghatelyan hopes that the conflict will encourage outsiders, including Armenia’s huge global diaspora, to support the struggling region even more. 

“We have to treasure what we have, and then other people might be interested, as well. … Making wine here, you always wonder what if another war breaks out? But if you keep thinking ‘what if,' you never really do anything. Life is short, it really is.”

War and the COVID-19 pandemic have wrecked the Armenian economy. The same attachment to the land of Nagorno-Karabakh that has produced such fine wines has also cost thousands of lives. 

But against all the odds, Armenia’s winemakers are defiant and hope that by invigorating the country’s ancient tradition and boosting local businesses, the region one day might have something to celebrate.