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South-Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from November 12 to November 18, 2022

11/14/2022: Dismantling of an Iranian “spy network” in Azerbaijan

A press release from the Azerbaijani state security services announced on November 14 that it had arrested a “spy network created by the Iranian special services“, ie 5 people charged with “treason” under Article 274 of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code. These services also announced that other Azerbaijani citizens were “hiding in Iran” and acting “on the instructions of the Iranian special services agency“.

On November 15, the Georgian security services announced that they had arrested several people with dual Pakistani and Iranian-Georgian nationality for having attempted to kill an Israeli citizen. The sponsor would be an Iranian citizen.

11/15-16/2022: Visit of the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement to Georgia.

The European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Oliver Varheli, visited Georgia on 15 and 16 November where he met Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and President Salomé Zourabishvili. According to the media Civil.ge relaying the press release of the presidency as well as that of the Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili would have thanked his interlocutor for his “personal contribution” to the Europeanization of Georgia, qualifying him as “a true friend of our country, a friend of our people” while announcing that it is working “meticulously” for the implementation of the 12 recommendations of the EU while deploring that the opposition “whose direct obligation is to implement these recommendations, [and] the main, first recommendation – which is depolarization,” was not involved in the process. And Salomé Zourabishvili would have underlined “the enormous potential of Georgia in terms of the development of the infrastructure, energy and transport corridors connecting Europe”.

He also held, together with the Prime Minister, meetings with several ministers and financial institutions (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank, French Development Agency and German Reconstruction Credit Bank) which, according to the Georgian government’s press release allegedly gave rise to “discussions on issues of cooperation in energy, communications and trade” as well as “priority projects in the direction of connectivity in the Black Sea“. It would thus have been noted that “Georgia, due to its strategic location, [could] play an important role in leading the diversification of transport routes and guaranteeing the energy supply of Europe”.

For his part, the European Commissioner said according to the report of the European Commission: “We note that the vast majority of the Georgian population is in favor of joining the EU. This is a very strong mandate, not only for the government, but for the entire political elite of the country and for all those who are actively working there. […] However, I must also emphasize that, of course, this can only be achieved if the whole country, the whole of Georgia and all Georgians – inside or outside Georgia – work for this goal common. Because I am convinced that history never offers the same chance twice. We must therefore seize it and realize it. […] Very important decisions, proposals are being taken and prepared in parliament, and I see that the government is also working very actively to complete all the work related to the achievement of the 12 priorities. Just to give you a few examples, we are already seeing positive developments regarding judicial reform, we are also seeing progress in the fight against corruption where Georgia is leading. […] But of course there is still a lot to do and, for example, we need a completely independent anti-corruption agency, we would need the law on deoligarchization […] we need measures to intensify work against organized crime. […] it will also immediately contribute to boosting the economy, providing local growth and jobs, and ensuring social stability for Georgians in Georgia”. He also said on Twitter after his meeting with the President: “The EU is delighted to welcome Georgia into our European family”.

11/15/2022: The French Senate adopts a motion for a resolution in favour of recognizing the “Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh”

On November 15, the French Senate adopted by 295 votes for and 1 against a motion for a resolution aimed at applying sanctions against Azerbaijan and demanding its “immediate withdrawal from Armenian territory” and reaffirming the need to “recognize the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh” and to make this recognition an “instrument of negotiations with a view to establishing a lasting peace“. This motion for a resolution “invites the Government […] to consider, together with its European partners, the strongest appropriate responses – including the seizure of the assets of Azerbaijani leaders and an embargo on imports of gas and oil from Azerbaijan” and “to demonstrate by all means France’s support for Armenia, by considering in particular the strengthening of Armenia’s defence capabilities with a view to ensuring its territorial integrity“.

On November 12, French President Emmanuel Macron had a meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliev, an exchange during which, according to the Elysée, “the President of the Republic welcomed the stabilizing effect of the European Union’s civilian mission along the border with Azerbaijan” while the press release of the Azerbaijani Presidency mentions the insistence of the Azerbaijani side to emphasize “the importance of showing a neutral, impartial and balanced approach in the process of normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan“, the Azerbaijani leader stressing that “the statements made by Armenia in recent days [contradicted] the process of normalization of relations between the two countries and the peace agenda“.

This motion for a resolution was criticized by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs which, in a press release dated 16 November, qualified this approach as “completely removed from the truth” and reflecting “false and slanderous provisions, and having the character of an open provocation”. According to him, “this resolution adopted by the Senate, while being legally non-binding, once again demonstrates France’s biased and unilateral political position as a country that has declared its intention to contribute to the normalization process” and he declares : “in general, all the outlandish claims mentioned in the resolution are another indicator of the ignorance of its authors about the historical facts and the current situation in the region“. The French charge d’affaires in Azerbaijan, Julien Le Lan, was, according to the Azerbaijani Foreign Affairs Ministry, summoned to inform him that “the resolution adopted by the French Senate, which contained totally false and slanderous provisions, had been firmly rejected by Azerbaijan” and that “France, which claims to contribute to the peace process, [had] once again clearly demonstrated its pro-Armenian, partial and unilateral position” while specifying that “in addition to violating gravely the norms and principles of international law, the mentioned resolution [was] totally contrary to the obligations arising from article 2, clause 3 of the “Treaty of Friendship, Mutual Understanding and Cooperation” (1993) between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the French Republic”. Similarly, the report of the Milli Madjlis relating to the plenary session of November 16 mentions the objections expressed in relation to this proposal and the declarations according to which the document was “false” and showed “the biased and unjust position of the French Senate”. It reads “declaring that this resolution is the third document adopted by the French parliament against Azerbaijan in the past two years, the deputies declared that France’s actions against our country are intentional, that this country is a country that has invaded and colonized dozens of countries in its history, that the resolution has no legal value and that what happened will remain on paper“.

Armenian National Assembly Speaker Alen Simonian congratulated the initiative via Twitter, saying: “The Senate of Friendly France, one of the cradles of democracy, passed a resolution supporting Armenia and proposing sanctions against Azerbaijan. Thank you to our partners for serving justice.

Reciprocal accusations of ceasefire have multiplied this week, with the Armenian Ministry of Defence denouncing on November 12 Azerbaijani fire targeting civilians in the village of Khramort, information confirmed the next day by the Russian peacekeeping contingent, as well as shooting “in the eastern part of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border zone”. The same ministry denounced similar shootings on November 14 and then the death of a soldier on November 18. The “Nagorno-Karabakh police” also informed on November 16 via facebook of shootings at civilians in the Askeran district and on November 18 in the village of Hatsi / Tchörekli. On November 14, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence denounced shootings in the direction of the district of Kelbajar which would have occurred the day before, as well as shootings in the district of Khojavend, accusations denied by the Armenian side. The same applies on November 16, concerning shots that occurred the day before “in the direction of the settlement of Mollabayramli in the district of Kelbajar”, which was denied by the Armenian side. Furthermore, on November 17, the same ministry denounced “illegal engineering works” carried out by the “Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army” in the districts of Agdam and Khojaly. Then on November 18 concerning shootings in the direction of the colony of Mollabayramli in the district of Kelbajar and in the direction of the colony of Yukhari Veysalli in the district of Fizouli, which was denied by the Armenian side.

On November 16, Ilham Aliyev signed a decree approving the “first state program on the great return to the territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan liberated from occupation”.

11/15/2022: Visit of the President of Azerbaijan to Albania and strengthening of gas cooperation.

On November 15, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev visited Albania where he met his counterpart Bayram Begay with whom they made joint statements to the press. On this occasion, Ilham Aliev said: “Our fruitful cooperation in international organizations also strengthens our relations. You mentioned that Albania has always supported the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and this support has always been reciprocal. […] We highly appreciate the statements of Albanian officials, both during the occupation and during the Second Karabakh War. […] There are many good opportunities for cooperation beyond the energy sector: mutual investments, joint activity of Albanian and Azerbaijani companies, creation of joint ventures, tourism, agriculture, modern technologies. […] Regarding gas supply issues, Azerbaijan and Albania are members of the TAP project, and our countries have played a very important role in the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor. […] Based on this protocol [on strategic cooperation in the field of energy signed between Azerbaijan and the EU in July], we intend to double the gas supply of Europe by 2027. Of course, this gas will pass through Albanian territory, thus providing additional support and contribution to Europe’s energy security. […] At the same time, we discussed with you today how we can contribute to the development of the gas industry in Albania. We have our own opinion on the matter. There is no established gas network in Albania so far. Azerbaijan can participate in this field as an investor, and we are ready for it. […] We were among the first non-NATO countries to join the peacekeeping mission. We are among the last two countries to leave Afghanistan – the last two countries were Turkey and Azerbaijan. All the other NATO members left before us. It is also a manifestation of our sense of responsibility. Albania, as a member of NATO, has always strongly supported NATO-Azerbaijan relations”.

The Albanian President wrote on TwitterToday hosted the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev in the first ever visit by an Azerbaijani President to Albania. Albania’s gasification process is one of the areas where we could continue to collaborate. Albania, as a transit country for TAP, should become a beneficiary of gas transport. We discussed the need to further strengthen economic and trade cooperation between the two countries. Investments in energy infrastructure are necessary, especially in the face of current crises and conflicts”.

11/15/2022: The Vice-President of the Republic of Azerbaijan announces her resignation as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Oral and Musical Traditions.

According to a November 15 press release from the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, Mehriban Aliyeva, Azerbaijan’s first vice-president and wife of the head of state, sent a letter to UNESCO director Audrey Azoulay to “put termination of her mandate as goodwill ambassador” of this organization due to the impossibility of fulfilling her functions given her “special role” relating to her active participation in “the large-scale restoration and revitalization of the region [Karabakh]”. She also reportedly expressed hope for “the earliest dispatch of the UNESCO mission to the liberated territories, to assess the damage caused to the cultural heritage of Azerbaijan as a result of the occupation of Armenia“.

The Armenian Ambassador to the Netherlands and Luxembourg wrote on Twitter: “Great news to start the day. The wife of the President of Azerbaijan, Ms Mehriban Aliyeva is no longer a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. After decades of working against the values and principles of this organization, denying the UNESCO mission access to areas under its control, justice has come”.

11/15-17/2022: Visit of the Delegation of EU Envoys and EU Member States for the Eastern Partnership to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

A delegation of EU envoys and EU Member States for the Eastern Partnership led by European Union Special Envoy for the Eastern Partnership Dirk Schuebel visited Armenia on 15 November where they met Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, and Security Council Secretary Armen Grigorian. According to the Prime Minister’s press release, the latter highlighted “the reforms implemented […] within the framework of the Eastern Partnership program in the areas of development of democracy, justice, economy” and “the need to ensure the effective implementation of the €2.6 billion economic and investment package announced by the EU for Armenia”. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, according to his press release, exchanged views on “the activity and importance of the EU observation mission in Armenia” while informing on the “consequences of the Azerbaijani aggression September 13 and 14”. He said that “Azerbaijan’s maximalist approaches [continue] to hinder the establishment of stability and peace in the region“.

On November 17, the delegation travelled to Baku where members met with President Ilham Aliyev. According to the presidency press release tracing the exchange of statements, the European Union’s special envoy for the Eastern Partnership Dirk Schuebel said: “We are making progress on many fronts, energy, of course, that goes without say. But also politically […] the European Union is an honest partner. We have no hidden agenda. We don’t have a specific agenda. We just want to cooperate and move forward in our cooperation. Many dialogues have been established. Security dialogs, many more. […] But of course we don’t forget the main problem – the conflict. It’s no secret, I think, Mr. President, we come from Armenia. […] and I think the main message we all got there was that Armenia is also interested in peace. And we also hear that it is also in your interest”.

Ilham Aliyev endorsed the need to revitalize the Eastern Partnership in these terms: “Of course, when it comes to the Eastern Partnership, you know that from the very beginning of this program Azerbaijan has been very supportive and has actively participated in various events, including summits. Now, I agree that it is time to modernize it, to review what has been done, because it has already been more than a decade since the program was launched. And the members of the Eastern Partnership have made their choice. Some of them have signed an association agreement, and some of them have joined the Eurasian Economic Union, while Azerbaijan is the only one that has not joined any of the formats. […] it is a good platform and we see it as a basis for our negotiations with the EU on the agreement. And it is progressing successfully but slowly. Successful, because we have completed most of the chapters, more than 90%, slowly because we are stuck with the problems that we believe can be solved if we have the political will on both sides. There are some concerns in Azerbaijan, because any agreement that we have signed or plan to sign must bring additional benefits to us and our partners. So we can’t sign something that in the medium or long term can create some economic difficulties. Therefore, the chapters where we are stuck are trade, economy and a few others”.

Regarding the peace process with Armenia, he said: “You mentioned your visit to Armenia and that you received a message from the Armenian leadership about peace, you know, we have heard these messages for all the years of occupation that they want peace. And they weren’t sincere. We also wanted peace, but we also wanted our land back. They wanted peace without returning the land. It is a difference. And we had to resolve the conflict by force and then by political means. Now, when they talk about peace, I think it’s a kind of manipulation, because if they really wanted peace, they would have responded to our proposal. It was we who proposed to start negotiations on a peace agreement immediately after the end of the war. And it was one of the probably unique cases in the history of the world. The country whose lands were occupied for so many years, who restored justice by force, and after the enemy was defeated and expelled from our territories, we offered peace. […] But Armenia’s statements are very controversial. They claim to recognize our territorial integrity and our sovereignty. Not only say, but they signed under it in Prague and in Sochi. This means sovereignty over all our territory. We all understand what sovereignty means. At the same time, they want to integrate the issues related to the Armenian minority in Azerbaijan into our peace agreement. It will not work. It is not possible. And we won’t agree on that. Therefore, we must have a very clear position from the Armenian government on its program. […] And, also the country that wants peace should refrain from the very dangerous rhetoric, which Armenian officials have allowed themselves to use recently, comparing Azerbaijan to ISIS and Al-Qaeda, I think it’s is very dangerous rhetoric. First, because they are the ones who acted as ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Ambassadors from EU Member States visited the liberated territories. The Armenians did the same as what was done by ISIS and Al-Qaeda regarding historical and religious heritage. It wasn’t us, it was them. So they committed acts of terror, they committed genocide, they destroyed our mosques, not us. […] If they want to talk about the rights and security of Armenians in Karabakh, it won’t work. We are ready to talk about it with the Armenians who live in Karabakh, not with those who were sent from Moscow hiding in their pockets billions of money stolen from the Russian people, like a man named Vardanyan who was transferred from Moscow there with a very clear agenda. But we are ready to talk to those Karabakh people who live there and want to live there. We are ready. By the way, this process has begun. Without the outside interference and the attempts to block this process by some countries, which I have just mentioned, I think the process could have had a better momentum. But that has nothing to do with Pashinyan and his government. It must be separated”.

These remarks were commented on Telegram by the new “Minister of State of Nagorno-Karabakh” in these terms: “I welcome the willingness of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to launch a direct dialogue with Artsakh. Artsakh should be a subject in this process. […] I would also like to suggest moving to a more constructive tone and asking for clarification on the “clear agenda” that I supposedly have, according to Mr. Aliyev. I have repeatedly stressed that I renounced Russian citizenship in order to avoid being accused of pursuing someone else’s interests in Artsakh […] I believe that I fully meet the criterion of a negotiator put forward by Mr. Aliyev: “who lives in Karabakh and wants to live there”. While the “Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nagorno-Karabakh” issued a statement saying that “Azerbaijan’s attempts to abolish Artsakh’s status as a party to the conflict, as well as to present the negotiations as a “conversation with the Armenians living in Karabakh”[…] [was] unacceptable for the Republic of Artsakh” recalling that his ministry had “repeatedly underlined the need for its full participation in the negotiations and the importance of maintaining the format of the OSCE Minsk Group as the best platform for the peaceful settlement of the conflict“.

11/16/2022: Statement by Nikol Pashinyan to the Armenian National Assembly regarding the peace process with Azerbaijan.

On November 16, the Armenian Prime Minister made several comments in the National Assembly regarding the ongoing peace process with Azerbaijan, which were relayed by several local media (News.am, Armenpress, Aysor.am). He reportedly said: “Armenia has handed over to Azerbaijan its proposals on a peace treaty, our text, in Washington, we are waiting for Baku’s response. […] Armenia perceives certain tendencies of tension […] related to specific events and situations. Armenia’s position is clear: Azerbaijani troops must withdraw from the occupied territories of Armenia, positions that were in place before May 11, 2021. In fact, the international community supports our positions, we hope that the CSTO will also defend our position. Of course, the situation is strange, it should have been the other way around, the CSTO should have clearly defended us, and we should have worked with other partners to build a position around us, but now we have the exact opposite . I hope that we will record such a consensus on November 23 at the CSTO summit in Yerevan. […] We do not want to provoke a war between the CSTO and Azerbaijan. We are interested in a political position. […] I think that the attitude of the citizens of the Republic of Armenia towards the CSTO and the future of our relations will be formed around this very issue. […] We had hoped and we still believe today that the delimitation of the borders should be completed at the time of the signing or entry into force of the peace treaty. There are currently signals indicating that this may not be very realistic. On the other hand, there too, there is a solution: we are proposing a troop withdrawal scheme, taking as a basis the line that really existed in 1991, carrying out a mirror troop withdrawal, creating a monitoring mechanism, renouncing as a whole the presence of troops in the border areas, to transfer them under the supervision of the Border Service, to consolidate the perceived border line, after which, we would calmly proceed with the delimitation process, which in fact can drag on for many years. […] As far as the peace treaty is concerned, there are two approaches – a detailed one and the model framework agreement, where a framework is drawn, without too many details. Experience shows that difficulties can arise when trying to solve very detailed problems. That is why Armenia offered to sign a framework peace agreement. […] The reason why we accepted the Russian position was precisely the fact that we are not promoting the status issue, but rather ensuring the security and rights of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians. As was the case in 2018, we still believe today that Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians should be the main participants in the conversation. There seems to be an agreement within the international community that there should be an internationally visible conversation between representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan on the rights and security of Armenians in the republic”.

On this occasion, he also announced, according to the related press release, the increase in the Defence budget “to 509 billion drams” specifying that “the increase is 113% compared to 2018, more than double , and 47% compared to 2022”.

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