Tag Archives: Azerbaijan

Armenia Gets a Monument to Kalashnikov

A monument to the legendary Russian arms-designer, creator of the AK-rifle series, Mikhail Kalashnikov, has been erected in Armenia. The full-length statue of the man whose weapons came to epitomize Russian/Soviet military might was placed in the northern town of Gyuimri, the site of Russia’s lone military base in the South Caucasus.  

The Kalashnikov monument will be unveiled officially and a museum will open on November 8, according to a press-release from the 102nd military base, cited by RIA Novosti. The base commander, Colonel Andrei Ruzinski, came up with the idea last year, when Kalashnikov passed away, leaving behind the legacy of what Russia says is the world’s most popular rifle.

Continue reading Armenia Gets a Monument to Kalashnikov

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Germany has regained its crown as the world’s most powerful passport

The world’s governments have spoken. Germany’s citizens are the travelers most welcome to cross their borders.

The Henley Passport Index, an annual ranking of passport power by the citizenship planning firm, came out today for 2018. Germany is at the top for the fifth year in a row, with visa-free or visa-upon-arrival access to 177 countries, up from 176 last year.

(In February 2017, Belarus introduced a five-day visa-free visit available to citizens of 80 countries, including Germany.)

Continue reading Germany has regained its crown as the world’s most powerful passport

Hungary appears to have sold Azeri axe murderer for $7 million

Documents uncovered this week suggest that the Orbán government’s motivation for handing back to Azerbaijan Ramil Safarov, the Azeri axe murder convicted of killing an Armenian army lieutenant in Hungary, may have been financial gain. In 2012, Hungary earned global scorn for transferring the murderer to a country where he was welcomed as a hero.

At the time, Hungary tried to explain away its actions by claiming that it fully expected the murderer to continue serving his prison sentence, considering that he had been sentenced to life by a Hungarian court. Of course, this did not happen–Ramil Safarov was not only pardoned, but was also promoted to the rank of major in Azerbaijan’s military immediately after his release from Hungary. The government of Viktor Orbán claimed in 2012 that it had been misled and expressed “disappointment.”

Continue reading Hungary appears to have sold Azeri axe murderer for $7 million

Safarov extradition prelude to April war – Artsakh Ombudsman

The Human Rights Defender of Artsakh is on a visit to Budapest, Hungary, to attend an International Conference on “Victims of armed conflicts at the juncture of international humanitarian law and human rights law.”

The Conference has been organized by the foreign affairs agencies of Hungary and Switzerland.

Continue reading Safarov extradition prelude to April war – Artsakh Ombudsman

Nagorno-Karabakh – A mountainous conflict

A nasty war seems on the brink of flaring up again

THROUGH a slit in a stone bunker, soldiers from the Nagorno-Karabakh republic can see their Azeri foes just 150 metres away. In these mountains between two former Soviet republics, there are echoes of Ukraine. This summer was “more tense than before”, says an officer at the front of this long-simmering conflict.

Nagorno-Karabakh is run by ethnic Armenians but is legally part of Azerbaijan. Secession in 1988 led to a war that killed some 30,000 people. A shaky ceasefire ensued in 1994, with Azerbaijan losing 14% of its territory. Exchanges of fire along the front have long been common, but the clashes this year have been the worst since 1994.

Commando raids became frequent, adding to the usual sniper fire. And the action has spread to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, where civilians have become targets. Each side blames the other. Heavy Azeri losses at the start of August provoked bellicose rhetoric from the president, Ilham Aliyev. “The war is not over,” he declared. “Only the first stage of it is.”

Like a headmaster disciplining unruly students, Russia’s Vladimir Putin summoned Mr Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sargsyan, for talks in Sochi in early August. Tensions cooled, but the parties are no closer to a settlement.

On September 2nd Mr Sargsyan congratulated Nagorno-Karabakh on the 23rd anniversary of its independence by calling the republic’s choice “an irreversible reality now”.

But it is Ukraine that casts an ominous shadow, “reinforcing the zero-sum mentality”, says Thomas de Waal of the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. Trust in international mediators and security guarantees has frayed. Officials in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, detect double standards over sovereignty and self-determination.

They wonder why the West punishes Russia for annexing Crimea, but not Armenia for similar behaviour in Karabakh. Many ask why the West approves of Ukraine using force to restore territorial integrity, but insists on Azerbaijan’s peaceful patience.

As a result, Azerbaijan is “losing trust in the ability of the West to maintain a deterrent or a peaceful ceasefire,” says Matthew Bryza, a former American ambassador to Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan feels vulnerable. Russia provides a security guarantee for Armenia, where it has a military base and 4,000-5,000 troops. Azeri officials see the Western response to Ukraine as tepid, part of a worrying pattern of disengagement.

This perceived indifference has favoured a crackdown in Azerbaijan. Several anti-government activists have been arrested this year, some charged with treason. The bank accounts of NGOs have been frozen. International pressure was once a “brake mechanism” on Azerbaijan, says Sabine Freizer, at the Atlantic Council, but it may no longer work.

Azerbaijan’s new assertiveness has come with the weakening of two restraints: its military disadvantage and the prospect of a diplomatic settlement. Riding a wave of petrodollars, Azerbaijan’s annual defence budget rose from $177m in 2003 to $3.4 billion in 2013.

Purchases include sophisticated weapons from Israel, Turkey and Russia. The country has a new and inexperienced defence minister.

Armenia has built up its forces and defences too. Even so, Mr Putin used its sense of vulnerability to persuade it to apply for membership of the Eurasian union, his pet project.

The risk of open war remains low, but the militarisation of the borders and the willingness to use violence creates “the risk of a war by accident”, says Richard Giragosian, director of the Yerevan-based Regional Studies Centre. The consequences would be disastrous, drawing in Russia, Turkey and Iran, and potentially feeding unrest in the Middle East.

The framework of a peace plan exists, hinging on the return of seven de jure Azerbaijani districts around Nagorno-Karabakh in exchange for the republic’s right to decide its own status.

A mountainous conlict

But in Stepanakert, the capital, leaders insist that a settlement is impossible without a seat at the table for Karabakh, which is represented by Armenia. Even then, a compromise that includes returning territory to Azerbaijan is “unrealistic”, says Nagorno-Karabakh’s prime minister, Arayik Harutyunyan.

While Stepanakert seems peaceful, the people steel themselves for what many see as an inevitable return to violence. Zhanna Galstyan, head of the Nagorno-Karabakh parliament’s defence committee, recalls an adage of Chekhov: “If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, at some point in the play it must go off.”

Putin’s Armenia Shock — Protests break out against a Russian ally in the Caucasus

Demonstrators wave national flags during a protest rally against a hike in electricity prices in Yerevan, Armenia on June 27.
Demonstrators wave national flags during a protest rally against a hike in electricity prices in Yerevan, Armenia on June 27

Ten thousand protesters over the weekend poured into the streets of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, defying the government’s crackdown. Russian-media reactions suggest the Kremlin is nervous, as Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is a close Moscow ally.

The so-called Electric Yerevan protests erupted this month after the state utilities commission announced a 17% rise in electricity rates, and they have steadily grown.

At issue isn’t merely the electricity price-hike in a country with 17% unemployment but the Russian domination of the local economy and the corruption and cronyism that are hallmarks of the Kremlin business model.

The local electricity provider, the Armenian Electricity Network, is a subsidiary of Russia’s Inter RAO, whose chairman, Igor Sechin, is a close friend of President Vladimir Putin.

The protesters allege the company is corrupt, and on Saturday Mr. Sargsyan conceded their demand for an audit. He also suspended the price hike, which was set to begin in August, until the audit is complete.

The Armenian leader and his Russian patrons seem to have grasped the depth of national feeling. The Kremlin over the weekend lent $200 million in military aid to Armenia, which has a long-standing territorial dispute with neighboring Azerbaijan.

Moscow also agreed to move the trial of a Russian soldier suspected of murdering an Armenian family in January to an Armenian court.

At stake for Mr. Putin are his military investments in Armenia. Home to some 3,000 troops, the 102nd Military Base in Gyumri, Armenia, is a crucial Russian beachhead in the South Caucasus corridor, without which Moscow can’t control the Caspian Sea and Central Asia.

Mr. Putin considers the Caucasus part of Russia’s imperial domain, and the Kremlin carved out bits of sovereign territory in the region in its 2008 assault on Georgia. Mr. Putin also wants stability in his Eurasian Economic Union, which Armenia joined this year.

The U.S. and Europe should aim to deny further Russian encroachments by encouraging westward steps. But no such determination is in evidence.

The European Union last month diluted its commitment to the Eastern Partnership countries, which include the South Caucasus states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. By denying such states a clear path to association, Europe pushes them into Mr. Putin’s sphere.

The U.S., meanwhile, took a stance on Twitter. “Concerned by tense situation downtown,” the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan tweeted over the weekend. “Urge all sides to display peaceful, restrained behavior befitting democratic values.” That’s nice.

Armenia: Will Murders Bring Change to Ties with Russia?

Russia has agreed to let Armenian courts try a Russian soldier accused of murdering seven members of an Armenian family after deserting Russia’s major military base in the country.

The move is a major concession by Moscow, and comes as large-scale street protests in Yerevan against Armenia’s Russian-owned electricity company have been gathering strength.

The soldier, Valery Permyakov, walked off Russia’s 102nd military base in Gyumri on January 12, walked into the nearby home of the Avetsiyan family and opened fire; six died immediately and a seventh, a six-month-old baby, died later in the hospital. The case outraged Armenians and led to unprecedented protests against the base.

From the beginning, Armenia and Russia have disagreed about who should be able to try Permyakov: Armenia wanted him tried in Armenian courts, while Russia wanted him to be tried by a Russian military court, albeit on Armenian soil.

On June 26, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan met with a Russian government delegation to discuss energy fees, the issue that sparked the Yerevan protests. But the scope of the discussions was apparently wider than that, and Sargsyan’s office issued a surprise announcement after the meeting:

“At the meeting … Sargsyan took the opportunity to express appreciation to the Russian law enforcement organs, in particular to the prosecutor’s office for effective cooperation with the Armenian prosecutor’s office on the investigation the inhuman crime in Gyumri in January,” Sargsyan’s office said in a statement, news agencies reported.

“The decision about the transfer of the criminal case to the Investigative Committee of Armenia and the appropriate authorities in Armenia, reflects the spirit of partnership and brotherhood and fully corresponds with the position of the Armenian-Russian agreement on the status of the Russian military base in Armenia.”

On top of that, Russia also apparently agreed to give Armenia $200 million in credit for arms purchases.

Various Russian officials have been darkly warning that the protests in Armenia represent an anti-Russian, U.S.-backed “maidan,” a la Ukraine, and advising Sargsyan to take a harsher stance against the protesters.

But this move shows that Moscow also realizes it needs to try to assuage Armenian public opinion, which has been wounded not just by the electricity issue and the Permyakov case, but arms sales to its enemy, Azerbaijan. Will this concession be enough to tamp down the anti-Russian sentiment on the streets of Yerevan?

Stay tuned.