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South Caucasus Geopolitical Watch – from September 17 to September 23, 2022

09/19/2022: Meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers in New York.

The Azerbaijani and Armenian Foreign Ministers, Djeyhoun Bayramov and Ararat Mirzoyan met in the presence of the United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken on September 19 in New York, within the framework of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly. It was the first official direct talks between the two countries since last week’s military escalation which resulted in the following official tolls: on the Armenian side 204 soldiers dead, three civilians killed and two missing, 293 soldiers and 3 civilians injured as well as 20 soldiers prisoners, and on the Azerbaijani side 80 soldiers dead, 282 soldiers and two civilians injured.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry insisted on the necessary withdrawal of the Azerbaijani armed forces from the sovereign territory of Armenia and the inadmissibility of the use of force while insisting on the “importance of solving humanitarian problems including the repatriation of prisoners of war“. While the Azerbaijani MFA claimed that Armenia had “provoked clashes by carrying out provocations and attacks against Azerbaijan” and “[obstructed] the processes and grossly violated its obligations under the Tripartite Declarations” and that Azerbaijan “[was] not interested in destabilization”.

From September 17 to 19, a US Congressional delegation visited Yerevan, led by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who spoke at a press conference with the Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly, Alen Simonian of “official US security [regarding] the recognition of the Armenian Genocide” and “illegal and deadly attacks by Azerbaijan on Armenian territory” which she strongly condemned, or of violence “initiated by the Azeris” while stating, “As Californians, the three of us recognize [along with Congress and President Biden] that 40% of Armenian Americans are in California. So we feel this is a family visit for us as we are surrounded not only by their heritage but also by their great faith and patriotism in America” while saying “Americans” want to be “ useful while being discreet”.

These remarks had obviously provoked the reactions of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which had qualified this statement, which according to it “distorts the situation in the region“, as “regrettable” while declaring: “the unfounded and unjust accusations made by N. Pelosi against Azerbaijan are unacceptable. The incident that occurred at the undemarcated border on the night of September 12-13, 2022 was a large-scale military provocation by Armenia against Azerbaijan” and by denouncing the fact that Nancy Pelosi “uses this visit for its domestic political agenda and to win the support of Armenian pressure circles in the United States” deeming it “unacceptable” to “transfer political intrigues and lobbying interests from the American domestic political agenda to the South Caucasus region via Armenia”.

09/19/2022: Alarmist television statement by the “President of Nagorno-Karabakh” urging Russia’s support.

“President of Nagorno-Karabakh”, Arayik Harutyunian, gave an alarmist televised speech on September 19 in which he said: “We must honestly admit that the Armenian state stands on the threshold of another catastrophic war, which could lead to consequences no less serious than the 44-day war. […] In view of the diverted attention from Russia, a certain breach has opened in the guarantees provided by the Russian blue helmets and Azerbaijan is taking advantage of it. On the other hand, all foreign hostile forces are constantly undertaking provocations of a military and informational nature in order to undermine the role of Russian peacekeepers and create distrust of Russia among the people of Artsakh. […] Despite the geopolitical rearrangements and existing challenges in the world and the region, the Russian Federation continues to provide security for the people of Artsakh. […] We hope that it will be possible to increase the effectiveness of the Russian peacekeeping mission and ensure its indefinite presence in Artsakh as the most important guarantee of the security of our people. […] Due to these challenges, we have spared no effort and will spare no effort to modernize our own defence system to the best of our abilities. […] We must make every effort to ensure a long-term peace, which will allow Artsakh to remain Armenian. […] The Azerbaijan-Karabakh conflict is not resolved and must still be, mainly on the basis of the full and non-negotiable recognition of the right to self-determination of the people of Artsakh”.

It is noteworthy that Russian MP, First Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots Konstantin Zatulin visited Armenia between September 16 and 18 where he notably met “the former presidents of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh Arkady Ghoukasian and Bako Sahakian” as well as Robert Kotcharian, former president of Armenia and previously of “Nagorno-Karabakh”. He thus published the following comments: “It turned out that Azerbaijan and Turkey expect from Armenians and Armenia a total rejection of their compatriots from Nagorno-Karabakh, which they remind them by the use of the force. Armenia, like the whole region, needs peace, but not at the cost of permanent humiliation. The peace treaty and the demarcation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border do not settle the problem of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, the search for a solution of which has been on the agenda of international relations for 30 years.[…] I left, but Nancy Pelosi stayed. It’s a bitter joke. But this reflects a situation in which the Armenian government and those who support it are trying to approach the United States and the West in order to gain their support, inside and outside the country. The West plays with Armenia and Azerbaijan, its main objective is to get rid of any Russian influence in the region. And he achieved ever greater success in this direction. […] The absence of a clear and public assessment of the events on our part arouses the disappointment of Armenian society. Acting bluntly, Azerbaijan – with Turkey behind it – has in fact been handed a lever that is causing anti-Russian sentiments to rise in allied Armenia, whose authorities themselves are not against rejecting the responsibility for all the difficulties on Russia, including the responsibility of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh”.

20/09/2022: The president of the Azerbaijani democratic group sentenced to 30 days in prison for anti-government remarks.

Ahmad Mammadli, Chairman of the Azerbaijani Democracy Group was sentenced to 30 days in prison by a court in Bakou following an abduction in the street by plainclothes police on the same day, because of his statements the day before: “Don’t defend the monarch who oppresses you, takes away all your basic rights and turns the country into a business. The more you defend it, the more it crushes you. Ilham Aliyev is a dictator with blood on his hands” and who on September 15 criticized President Ilham Aliyev’s decisions regarding the border clashes with Armenia.

09/20-23/2022: CSTO mission led by Stanislav Zas in Armenia.

CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas arrived in Armenia on September 20, leading a multi-day mission including representatives of member states of the organization “to assess the current situation, prepare a detailed report to be submitted to the heads of the CSTO member states on the situation in the region and to draw up proposals to defuse the tension that has arisen in certain areas on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan”.

09/21/2022: Speech by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Lachin.

Visiting the Lachin district on September 21, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev gave a long speech referring to “Armenian vandalism in every town and village” recalling the situation of the cities of Agdam, Lachin, Fizuli and Jabrayil, the construction of illegal settlements in the Lachin district calling it all a “war crime” which took place “under the eyes of the international community” and “including the co-chairs of the Minsk Group who were directly dealing with this issue, just turned a blind eye to it” while stating: “I have always said that we would never allow the creation of a second Armenian state on our lands. I would like to repeat that the liberation of the district and the town of Lachin from occupation is a historic event. […] When the districts of Lachin and Kalbajar were occupied in the early 1990s, a geographical connection was established between Armenia and Karabakh. The district of Lachin was occupied on May 18, 1992 and the district of Kalbajar at the beginning of April 1993. Thus the Armenians realized their dream. They believed they would live in these lands forever. They believed they could succeed. They saw that several countries that frequented them, that the organization that dealt directly with these issues turned a blind eye to their crimes. […] We offered them peace immediately after the war. This is perhaps one of the few examples in world military history where land has been occupied for 30 years, people living in suffering and deprivation, historical and religious monuments destroyed, cities razed, more a million mines have been planted, yet we offer peace. However, we see again that Armenia is not interested in peace”.

He thus complained about the lack of progress in the border delimitation process, in the signing of a peace treaty, in the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from Karabakh, in the construction of a corridor between Azerbaijan and its exclave of Nakhitchevan, or in construction of the railway linking the soon-to-be-completed portion on the Azerbaijani side. While denouncing Armenian “repeated military provocations”, and the laying of “more than 1,400 new landmines”.

21/09/2022: 31st anniversary of the independence of Armenia.

On September 21, Armenia celebrated the 31st anniversary of its independence, on which Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said: “Today is September 21 again and today is a new referendum on independence takes place. The 1991 referendum was held, but not completed, and the independence referendum is taking place today. Our martyrs who gave their lives for the Fatherland said Yes to Independence and it is very important that we do not kneel before the bitterness of their loss. […] And it is important to say Yes to Independence, to say Yes to Sovereignty, to say Yes to democracy and, if necessary, to reaffirm this Yes in the part of the 29 thousand 800 square kilometers of the Mother-State, where this Yes will be most needed». Letters of congratulations were sent by the French and American presidents.

09/21/2022: Meeting of the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister with his counterparts from GUAM and the Non-Aligned Movement in New York.

Djeyhoun Bayramov met on September 21 his counterparts from GUAM (Organization for Democracy and Development created in 1997 and composed of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) on the occasion of the 39th meeting of his Council of Foreign Ministers which took place in New York and during which he declared: “despite the destructive activity of Armenia, Azerbaijan is determined to advance the peace program and pursues negotiations” while stressing the worrying nature of the situation in Ukraine “that it is important to solve the problem through diplomacy and on the basis of international law, in particular in accordance with the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity at the within internationally recognized State borders” and appealing for the humanitarian aid provided by his country as well as financial aid of up to 15 million euros.

On the same day, the Azerbaijani MFA chaired a ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement with 50 counterparts where it was again reaffirmed that Azerbaijan was not “interested in destabilization” in the South Caucasus.

22/09/2022: Speech by the Prime Minister of Armenia at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan addressed the United Nations General Assembly on September 22, delivering a speech in which he said: “I would like to emphasize that the risk of further aggression by the Azerbaijan remains very high, especially considering that Azerbaijan violates the ceasefire every day. […] The inappropriate reaction to this situation by regional security organizations, which has raised very difficult questions within Armenian society, may serve as an additional factor for further escalation. […] Azerbaijan uses the subjects of the peace treaty with Armenia, the demarcation of borders and the agenda of opening up regional communication. Why is there no tangible progress in these directions? The reason is very simple: Azerbaijan uses all these subjects for territorial claims against Armenia. […] Now that the Border Delimitation and Security Commission has been formed and is functioning, Azerbaijan has launched a new phase of aggression”.

He then met Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The President of the Islamic Republic of Iran reiterated the inadmissibility of border changes in the region, to which the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry replied in the following terms: “The Iranian side has not expressed any attitude towards the change borders by force for 30 years. We do not know to whom these statements from Iran are addressed. There were meetings of the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Moscow and Brussels formats. Negotiations in these formats continue. As part of the negotiations conducted in these formats, with the consent of both parties, the State Commission on Border Delimitation was established and its composition was agreed. We believe that Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, including border issues between the two states, should be resolved without outside interference”.

22/09/2022: Speech by the Prime Minister of Georgia at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili addressed the United Nations General Assembly saying: “While we have made significant progress, we must recognize the ongoing acts of aggression against members of this body – the same kinds of acts that led to the creation of the United Nations after World War II. In 2008, my country was attacked by Russia, resulting in the continued occupation of 20% of our territory. […] We seek every opportunity to collaborate with our international partners to advance the cause of peace. In this regard, the international discussions in Geneva are particularly crucial in bringing the Russian Federation to the table. […] The historic decision of the European Council to give us a European perspective has created a new set of benchmarks. Just as in the past, Georgia will meet and exceed these criteria. […] here today at the United Nations General Assembly, I want to speak directly to my Abkhazian and Ossetian brothers and sisters and tell them once again that our strength lies in unity. We will build Georgia together and transform it peacefully into a prosperous, free and unified European state. The war resumes, not far from the gates of my country. Russia’s full-fledged war in Ukraine undermines the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, as well as the Charter of the United Nations and fundamental principles of international law. Georgia is alongside Ukraine. […] We have sponsored, joined or supported almost 400 resolutions, declarations, joint declarations and other initiatives made or proposed by all major international organizations and institutions in favour of Ukraine. […] As confirmed by the United States Department of State’s report on the investment climate in Georgia, “the National Bank of Georgia and Georgian financial institutions are acting in full compliance with the financial sanctions imposed by the United States and other to the Russian Federation”. […] The more predictable the Black Sea region becomes, the more we can unlock its economic potential for the benefit of our people and the global economy. This is why we are developing strategic transport corridors linking Asia to Europe. […] Despite the complex situation in our region, we are sparing no effort to promote rapprochement between our neighbours. We have already had successes, including the safe return of 15 Armenian detainees to their homeland in exchange for maps of mined territories in Azerbaijan. Last July, for the first time, the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia met in Tbilisi. We are ready to serve as a framework for this dialogue to bring the peace and stability that our region so badly needs. In this spirit, Georgia has promoted the Peaceful Neighbourhood Initiative, which envisages the participation of the three states of the South Caucasus. […] Our goal is to attract more institutional foreign investment, facilitate projects of regional importance and strengthen our infrastructural capacities – thus becoming a real bridge between East and West. Our goal is to transform the South Caucasus into a region of opportunities and economic growth”.

On September 20, a delegation of the EU Parliamentary Association Committee travelled to Georgia to meet with officials of the ruling Georgian Dream party such as Speaker of Parliament Shalva Papuashvili, or Chairman of the ruling party , Irakli Kobakhidze, and deputies from the opposition parties. This delegation held its 11th session in Parliament the next day, co-chaired by MP Maka Botchorishvili, Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on European Integration, and Marina Kaljurand, MEP, Chair of the EU-Georgia Parliamentary Association Committee.

23/09/2022: Visit of the co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions to Moscow

The co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions, the UN representative Cihan Sultanoglu and the EU special representative for the South Caucasus, Toivo Klaar, travelled to Moscow on September 23 to visit the Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko who insisted on the “unacceptable” nature of the “politicization of the Geneva platform”. The parties welcomed the stability and calm in the border regions between Georgia and its breakaway entities. This meeting followed those that took place in Tbilisi, Sokhoumi and Tskhinvali last week, the previous ones having been cancelled in March and June.

09/23/2022: 108th meeting of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism in Ergneti.

The 108th Mechanism for Prevention and Response to Incidents (MPRI) was held on September 23 in Ergneti, co-hosted by the Head of the EU Observer Mission in Georgia, Marek Szczygieł and the Special Representative of the President in-office of the OSCE for the South Caucasus, Viorel Moşanu, who welcomed the temporary openings of the crossing points during the religious festivals of Lomisoba in June and at the end of August. They also “welcomed the recent release of the detainees and called for a humanitarian approach to resolving existing detention cases.” Different points were discussed such as access to education, the pursuit of “bordering” activities, as well as access to irrigation and drinking water. Representatives also urged participants to use the hotline managed by the EUMM to facilitate the exchange of information. The next meeting should take place on November 10.

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