Zakir Hasanov, Azerbaijan's new defense minister (photo: Azerbaijan Ministry of Internal Affairs)
Azerbaijan's newly re-elected president Ilham Aliyev has announced his new cabinet, and it contains one surprise: long-serving Defense Minister Safar Abiyev has been let go. Abiyev was a controversial figure, holding his post since 1995 and widely seen as the source of much corruption in the MoD. The conventional wisdom for some time has held that if Abiyev were replaced, that would be a signal that Azerbaijan was getting ready to move to try to take back the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh. So is that what's happening?
Yerevan-based analyst Richard Giragosian says so; he posted on his social media sites that "the risk of war over Karabakh has just increased three-fold, as this move may signal the start of real defense reform and adoption of serious offensive posture, as well as a possible end to corruption within the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense."
But a source in Baku, who asked not to be named, said that internal considerations may be more at play in Abiyev's removal. For one, he was the target of recent protests over poor conditions for Azerbaijani soldiers. Secondly, he was at the center of a dispute this month between the U.S. embassy in Baku and the Azerbaijani government over criticism of the presidential vote. And Abiyev reportedly had a bad reputation among allies.
The monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had to suspend its activities last week because of an as-yet unexplained shooting:
Following the usual exchange of security guarantees by local commanders on both sides of the Line of Contact, members of both OSCE teams heard shooting as they approached their observation points. It was not possible to determine from where the shots were fired. Safety and security concerns prompted the Personal Representative to abandon the exercise.
Naturally, both sides blamed the other. Azerbaijan's APA reported:
The Armenians violated ceasefire while the contact line was being monitored by the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office.
Defense Ministry Spokesman Eldar Sabiroghlu told APA that today the Armenian Army units violated ceasefire..
A planned monitoring of the Line of Contact between the armed forces of Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan to be conducted by the OSCE Mission in the Hadrut direction, scheduled for October 17, was stopped because of the submachine gun shots from the Azerbaijani side towards the positions of the NKR Defense Army.
The risk of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is increasing and international meditors need to step up efforts to make sure that conflict doesn't arise in the "coming weeks and months," says the International Crisis Group in a new report.
The report (pdf), Armenia and Azerbaijan: A Season of Risks, argues that internal tension in both Baku and Yerevan could cause a small conflict on the border -- which occur nearly constantly -- to spiral into a full-fledged war. In Azerbaijan, presidential elections will be held next month, and Armenia's recent abrupt announcement that it is joining Russia's Customs Union has thrown that country's political scene into turmoil, the report argues. This, combined with the arms both sides (but especially Azerbaijan) have been acquiring, could be a deadly mixture, the ICG argues: "Confrontation, low-intensity but volatile, between Azerbaijan and Armenia has entered a period of heightened sensitivity. The ICG "does not predict a second war is either imminent or more likely than not. It does suggest the near-term threats to stability are becoming more acute... Vigorous international engagement is needed to lessen chances of violent escalation during coming weeks and months."
After last week's post about Azerbaijan threatening to shoot down flights to the soon-to-open airport in Nagorno-Karabakh, a number of Azerbaijanis wrote in to argue that Azerbaijan would be fully in its rights to do so. One of them, Adil Baguirov, co-founder and member of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Azeris Network, agreed to a short email interview. It's printed, in its entirety, below.
The Bug Pit: Do you believe Azerbaijan would have a legal right to shoot down civilian aircraft going to the Karabakh airport?
Adil Baguirov: By definition, as well as from the standpoint of law and even logic, there can be no civil aircraft that would be determined, in a non-emergency situation, to land at an airport in the Armenia-occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Any and all aircraft that willingly tries to fly into, and land in, the Armenia-occupied territories of Azerbaijan, such as into the Khojaly airport (a.k.a. Stepanakert airport, or Khankendi airport) is not a civilian aircraft, but a military aircraft that can be carrying military cargo and personnel, and thus can be legally shot down. That entire airspace over the occupied territories has been a publicly declared Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) since 1992.
Armenian authorities denied entry on March 10 to a European Union-based television documentary crew that is taking an independent look at the Nagorno-Karabkah conflict.
Foreigners routinely obtain visas at Yerevan airport, provided they have appropriate support paperwork. The four-member television crew -- comprising a Lithuanian, Finn and two Estonians – all had valid documentation needed to obtain a visa. Yet, according to an executive producer of the project, Andrius Brokas, border officials denied the crew entry.
A representative of the Armenian Foreign Ministry confirmed that the crew had been barred from entering the country, citing technical reasons. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not grant visas inside the country upon arrival," the ministry representative claimed. "In addition, they did not address us for accreditation according to the set procedure."
Speaking by phone from Helsinki, Finland, Brokas said the documentary crew, is working on the documentary for broadcast by the Finnish National Broadcasting Company YLE. The group had coordinated the project with a local Armenian partner, AZD, a Yerevan-based production company. AZD representatives had assured Brokas that all necessary permissions had been obtained for four days of filming in Karabakh and three in Yerevan.
The television crew may have encountered problems at Yerevan airport because former president and current opposition leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian, was among the individuals lined up for interviews. The documentary project also has conducted its own investigation into the Khojaly tragedy of 1992. Azerbaijani officials assert that Armenian forces slaughtered hundreds of Azerbaijani civilians in the incident.
Get ready for an Azerbaijani-Armenian scrum at the United Nations when the General Assembly convenes in mid-September. Azerbaijan is working to gather support for a resolution on the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.
A draft of the resolution calls for the return of Azerbaijani displaced persons to Karabakh and adjacent areas currently controlled by Armenia. It also calls on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to conduct a probe into possible humanitarian law violations in the conflict zone. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev briefed diplomats from Islamic states on the measure in late August in Baku.
Baku is counting on support from the 57 member states of the Organization of The Islamic Conference for its Karabakh resolution. Armenian officials say they have sufficient diplomatic clout to block the measure in the General Assembly.
A similar draft resolution proposed by Azerbaijan in 2008 stalled at the General Assembly. Most voting members abstained when the measure came up for a vote, including the United States, Russia and France, the three co-chairs of the Minsk Group, the OSCE entity overseeing the Karabakh peace process.
Officials in Yerevan have described Azerbaijan’s initiative as counterproductive in the search for a lasting Karabakh peace settlement.
Two weeks after visiting Armenia, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has arrived in Azerbaijan.
Officially, defining the blurry border between Russia and its southern neighbor takes the top billing at the summit, but Medvedev and his host Ilham Aliyev have an array of other, more important issues to sort through.
Anonymous Kremlin sources have said that bilateral talks in Baku will center on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. Underscoring the ongoing difficulties in the search for a political settlement, a skirmish between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces on August 31 left three Armenians and two Azerbaijanis dead, according to officials in Baku.
Apart from Karabakh, Medvedev and Aliyev are expected to discuss resurgent Iran, arms sale to Azerbaijan and Baku’s displeasure with Moscow’s renewed commitment to boost Armenia’s defense capabilities.
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