Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Turkey's Misak-i Milli and Caucasus

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent Misak-i Milli talk has given rise to various speculations and some feverish map-making, indicating Erdogan's hypothetical territorial claims.

So, first of all, what is Misak-i Milli? It is the so-called National Oath adopted by the Ottoman parliament in Jan. 1920, listing Turkish nationalist territorial demands, including determination of status of Kars, Ardahan and Batum(i) via referendum. See wikipedia entries in English and Turkish.

Most of the declaration's relevance today has to do with hypothetical Turkish territorial claims on Iraq, Syria and even Greece, and less so on Georgia, Armenia or Azerbaijan. In this sense, cartographic representations of these claims with regard to the Caucasus are particularly confusing.

Maps published so far include Turkish claims encompassing:

1. all of present-day Republic of Armenia, part of Georgia (Batumi) and Nakhichevan, e.g. a map first published by Hurriyet in 2009;



2. a modified version of the map 1. that claims most of modern Republic of Armenia, except for Tavush/Gegharkunik/Vayotsdzor, and Nakhichevan, but not Batumi, e.g. published by the Washington Post on Oct. 21, 2016;



3. another version that makes no claims to modern Republic of Armenia, but still claims Batumi, Nakhichevan, as well Iran's Maku, e.g. published by the Foreign Policy on Oct. 23, 2016.



4. and finally, there is a map on Turkish Wikipedia entry that includes claims on Batumi, but not on either modern Republic of Armenia or Nakhichevan; this map comes closest to reflect Misak-i Milli claims, but is still wrong in one detail, which I explain below.



So what is up with all the uncertainty of Misak-i Milli territorial claims whereas they are pretty clearly spelled out, in point 2, as "The status of Kars, Ardahan and Batum may be determined by a referendum"?

Kars, Ardahan and Batum were collectively acquired by the Russian empire following the 1877-78 war and one of the Ottomans' major WWI goals was to reverse that. As of the time of Misak-i Milli in early 1920 these areas were part of the republics of Georgia (Batumi, and part of Ardahan) and Armenia (part of Ardahan and Kars), but retained substantial Muslim population that sought to return to Ottoman/Turkish control, hence the reference to referendum.

Following the simultaneous Turkish and Soviet Russian invasion of Armenia in September-November 1920, Turkish forces occupied Kars and Ardahan, and Turkey's control over both was confirmed by Moscow agreement of March 1921 between Bolsheviks and Kemalists. As part of the treaty, Turkey also gained areas south of Batum, but conditionally relinquished its claim to the port city itself.

However, in November 1920 Turkish forces also occupied areas that were not part of the Misak-i Milli claim, including Armenia's Alexandropol (Gyumri), Nakhichevan and Surmalu. As part of the 1921 deal, Turkish forces withdrew from Alexandropol and Nakhichevan, from the latter on condition that it is made a "protectorate" of Azerbaijan. But Turkey retained control of Surmalu.

Surmalu is now known as Turkey's Igdir province, located just south of Yerevan and is probably best known for Mt. Ararat located within it. For centuries, this historically Armenian area (likely named after Surb Mariam i.e. St. Mary) was disputed by the Ottomans and Persians, but was mostly controlled by the latter. It became part of the Russian empire together with Yerevan and Nakhichevan in 1828, i.e. 50 years before Kars, Ardahan and Batumi, and it was acquired by the Russians from the Persians.

By mid-1918, following the Russian revolution and pullout from the Caucasus, Ottoman forces occupied much of the Caucasus. But after their capitulation in WWI on Oct. 30, 1918, Ottomans were ordered by the British to withdraw behind the former Ottoman-Russian boundary. As they did, local Muslim leaders in Ardahan, Kars, Batumi and Surmalu declared the Southwest Caucasus Democratic Republic and those in Nakhichevan, the Arax republic, which also claimed Surmalu. Under British pressure, both of these entities self-disbanded by 1919 and recognized the respective sovereignty of Republics of Georgia and Armenia.

By the time of Misak-i Milli claim in early 1920, Surmalu and Igdir were well outside the Ottoman Empire, which had last controlled that area for several years in the 1740s. Therefore, it was not part of the Misak-i Milli claim, but ended up within Republic of Turkey nevertheless. This resulted from the Turkish occupation of Surmalu in November 1920 and its effective 'exchange' for Batum(i) in Bolshevik-Kemalist agreements of 1921.

Like nationalist activists playing cartographers everywhere, those drawing maps of expanded Turkey would be loath to relinquish any territories, no matter how small, that are _already_ part of Turkey, hence the creative extensions into the Caucasus observed in maps 1, 2 and 3, even though territories of the modern Republic of Armenia, as well as Nakhichevan and Surmalu, were not part of Ottoman territorial claims in the Caucasus, as outlined in Misak-i Milli declaration.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

April 2016 war in Karabakh: a chronology

Map of northeastern corner of Nagorno Karabakh where much of the intense
fighting occurred between Apr. 2-5. Due to Az. artillery fire, Arm. side
evacuated residents of Talish, Madagis and Mardakert.  Solid white line
running from upper left to bottom right is the Line of Contact.
Prepared by Emil Sanamyan.

All times local for Armenia and Azerbaijan, 1 hour ahead of Moscow and 8 hours ahead of EST.

April 2, Saturday

01:15 - President Bako Sahakyan consults with NKR's top military and security officials after first reports of Azerbaijani deployments. Initial assessment was that these deployments did not signify a large-scale attack, but a smaller-scale attacks typical of last two years. The meeting was dismissed but Defense Army commander Gen. Levon Mnatsakanyan remained at work to watch the situation.

02:30 - An Azerbaijani special forces team surrounded in Talish/Madagis area, in the northeastern corner of Nagorno Karabakh.

After receiving reports of evacuation of Azerbaijani villages around Terter, Armenian officials begin to evacuate civilians from Talish, Madagis and Mardakert, located just 3-4 kilometers from LoC. More than 5,000 people were eventually evacuated and no civilian deaths have been reported from Az. missile and artillery fire in this area.

03:00-04:00 Sargsyan, then Aliyev fly from Washington after international nuclear security summit. 

03:20 - Azerbaijani forces begin shelling Talish, Madagis, the town of Mardakert in the northeast and Mekhakavan and Araler in the south, with artillery and Grad missiles. Electricity was knocked out in the area as missile fire also hit the Madagis HPP generator. An RT video shows Azerbaijani Grad MLRS firing on Apr. 2 from south of Tartar.  In his April 4 press conference, Defense Army spokesman estimated some 1,350 Grad-type missiles fired within an hour.

04:00 - Azerbaijani forces launch attacks at frontline Armenian posts in Kazakhlar-Nuzger and Alkhanli-Fizuli areas in the south, as well as Gapanli/Seysulan-Shotlanli, Chailu-Madagis and Gulistan-Tonashen in the north; by 06:00 they succeeded in capturing five posts in Nuzger direction located on Lale Tepe hills. In Shotlanli direction, three posts were reported overran but all recaptured by Armenian forces later in the day. A post is part of the first line of Karabakah Defense Army's line of defense; each post is typically manned by an 8-member squad with 2 servicemen serving as lookouts at any given time.

04:15 - Armenian frontline observation camera video shows dozens of Azeri forces concentrating for an attack opposite posts 170-171 in Talish area. In subsequent attacks in Tapkarakoyunlu-Talish direction, Azerbaijani forces capture at least eight Armenian posts, at least two of which were returned in Armenian counterattacks on April 3-4.

08:00 Azerbaijani forces begin launching armored attacks in Horadiz-Nuzger in the south and Kaziyan-Shurabad in the northeast.

08:19 In the first public release about the escalation, Karabakh Defense Army reports on its web site about Azerbaijani offensive operations with the use of tanks, artillery and aviation in the southern, southeastern and northeastern directions; Karabakh civilian areas and military units hit by artillery fire; Armenian forces "having accepted the opponent's challenge, are engaged in defensive battles."

09:10 Karabakh Defense Army reports Azerbaijani helicopter hit in Gulistan area in the north of Karabakh around 0800. Later reports suggested that an Mi-8 that attempted to drop a special forces group behind Armenian posts was brought down with Igla MANPAD and crash-landed in Azerbaijani-controlled territory.

Early in the morning Azerbaijani Su-25 aircraft seen flying from Kurdamir air base towards Karabakh, but they did not engage targets on the ground. Later in the day, Armenian aircraft and helicopters reportedly fly out from airbases in Gumri and Erebuni, but also stay out of the fighting.

10:00 According to FlightRadar data, Azerbaijani civilian flights resume from Nakhichevan and Baku after 4-hour delay. 

10:25 Karabakh Defense Army reports Grad strike at 08:30, aiming at a military base near Martuni, killed a 12 year-old schoolboy and wounded two others; although Saturday, April 2 was a working and a school day in Armenia and NKR with the following Monday a day off.

12:00 In its first public statement on the fighting, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense reports Armenian artillery fire in Terter and Agdam districts; 1 civilian dead and 2 others wounded when their car is hit by Grad shrapnel; denies losing a helicopter.

12:50 Karabakh Defense Army reports continued heavy fighting in Horadiz-Hadrut and Terter-Mardakert directions, publishes photos of dead Azerbaijani special forces personnel and of Israeli-made ThunderB UAV brought down nearly intact in northern NK, claims 2 Azerbaijani tanks hit by Armenian forces in the south and 1 in the north. Says 2nd Azerbaijani helicopter shot down in southeastern direction around 12:30. (On April 4 Bars Media Films talked to soldiers from the frontline post that shot down that Mi-24G; according to documents recovered from it, a day earlier the Kala-based Mi-24G no. 305 was pre-positioned in the town of Beylagan, 30km from LoC, and was tasked with hitting targets in the southeastern direction, up to 10km inside the LoC). 

12:58 Russian president Vladimir Putin "calls for an immediate cessation of fire to avoid additional human losses," according to a statement circulated by his spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

14:00 Armenian president returns to Yerevan, his office announces plans to hold a National Security Council session in the evening.

17:00 Azerbaijani MoD press release claims control of Talish, Madagis, Seysulan and Lale Tepe hills near Iranian border, says 12 of its soldiers killed, confirms one helicopter shot down. Some time later the Azerbaijani MoD modified its press release to drop references to control of Talish, Madagis and Seysulan and referring instead to "heights around Talish." Subsequent Armenian media coverage from Talish and the heights, such as this PanArmenian photo report, challenged this claim, but confirmed that Azerbaijani forces managed to capture Armenian frontline posts northeast of Talish. Most of the ruins of Seysulan in Mardakert district have been under Azerbaijani control since 1992 and could not have been captured afresh; the attack in this area was reversed by mid-day April 2 with Azerbaijani forces sustaining heavy casualties. The Defense Army acknowledged Azerbaijani control of Lale Tepe; a video report made on April 7 showed Armenian and Azerbaijani forces digging new trenches in that area.


On the south-eastern corner of Armenian-controlled territory fighting reportedly focused on Lale Tepe (center), just two
kilometers from Iranian border (divided from the Caucasus by Araxes river).
Azerbaijan social media groups spread video and photos of severed head of 19-year-old army Pvt. Karam Sloyan , bodies of other dead Armenian soldiers seen in frontline trenches. (According to a later report, Sloyan's body was recovered when his Seysulan area post was recaptured, but the decapitated head was only returned by Azerbaijani officials on April 10. According to later reports three of 21 bodies of Armenian servicemen that were recovered were decapitated; bodies of other soldiers exchanged by Azerbaijan were otherwise mutilated.)

18:50 Photos are published of half a dozen bodies Azerbaijani special forces servicemen in Talish/Madagiz areas; Karabakh defense army says that in addition to two helicopters throughout the day Azerbaijani forces lost 2 tanks and 2 UAVs in Mardakert direction and 2 tanks in southern direction; first video and photos of the Mi-24G helicopter wreckage are published at 20:50.

Reservists and volunteers gather in Stepanakert as partial mobilization begins.

20:00 Sargsyan chairs the National Security Council meeting in Yerevan. In a televised portion he says that 18 Armenian servicemen have been confirmed killed and 35 wounded, but that the Armenian military has "taken the situation under its control."

19:35 Karabakh defense army publishes drone video and stills from over Seysulan frontline showing more than twenty bodies lying along the frontline, as well as one apparently damaged tank (click for youtube link).

April 3, Sunday

07:25 Karabakh Defense Army reports Azerbaijan resumed artillery fire and offensive operations in southern direction at 06:00. 

11:35 Karabakh Defense Army reports intense fighting ongoing in northeast NK and near Araxes, says Armenian forces have pushed back Azerbaijani forces in Talish area; reports additional 2 tanks, 1 IFV destroyed in southern direction.

Midday: Journalists from Yerevan (CivilnetRFERLHetq168.amSputnik), Tbilisi (Rustavi2) and Moscow (RT, Meduza.ioKommersant) that arrived overnight in Stepanakert travel to Mardakert; some of them come under artillery fire and later return to Stepanakert. Meantime, other journalists departing Yerevan in morning of April 3 are stuck in a snowstorm in southern Armenia; with snow in the mountains, it is raining in much of Karabakh foothills, also restricting combat operations.

15:00 Yerevan photographers Hakob Poghosyan and German Avagyan joined a group of policemen from Mardakert going to Talish to evacuate remaining civilians there. In the evening Hetq.am publishes Poghosyan's photographs from Talish of an elderly couple and their elderly female relative killed and at least two of their bodies mutilated. The killings are believed to be the work of an Azerbaijani SF group that was in the area early on April 2 and also ambushed an army supply truck killing its driver and accompanying military officer, and decapitating them. Both Avagyan - whose photos from Talish on April 3 are here - and Meduza.io journalist Ilya Azar who visited Talish on April 6 noted that the house where the killings of civilians took place was at the very edge of the village, closest to the frontline. Italy's Sky TV interviewed Hakob Poghosyan about his photographs. Subsequent video reports, such as this one by Hetq.am, showed bodies of Azerbaijani SF personnel killed in the minefield just north of Talish.

16:25 Karabakh Defense Army dismissed Azerbaijani MoD's claims of unilateral cease-fire and says that fighting continues; says that return to cease-fire is possible only when the cease-fire line is restored to where it was on April 1.

Azerbaijani MoD confirms three more of its soldiers killed; ANS TV shows footage of Azerbaijani forces shooting down what they believe is an Armenian drone, but it looks like Israel-made Orbiter-2M used by Azerbaijan rather than any of the drones known to be used by Armenia. 

18:00 Russian Life News TV crew is expelled from Az. for its report from Tartar that claimed that locals were fleeing the bombardment and were unhappy with the fighting; the Life News crew also recorded a report from Sarijali in Tartar district. A Georgian Rustavi TV crew was also detained by local police while reporting from the area.

22:00 Buses with volunteers, many of them veterans of the 1991-94 war, begin arriving in Stepanakert; some of the volunteers are interviewed by CivilNet

April 4, Monday

04:00 In a later interview a Defense Army Zu-23-2 AA gun operator reported shooting down a Harop UAV at about 04:00 on April 4; around the same time another Harop drone was reported brought down by an Armenian Zu-23-2 AA gun in the same area.  Flight radar data from later in the morning registered Azerbaijani Defense Ministry's Il-76 (AZAF8) transport plane arriving at Israeli military base and departing after several hours; the same Il-76 made another trip to Israel on April 6.

08:10 Karabakh Defense Army reports continued fighting and exchanges of fire using Grad MLRS and 152-mm artillery. At 10:45 Karabakh Defense Army claims Armenian forces have "retaken the initiative in the fighting," claims 3 Azerbaijani tanks hit in the north and 2 in the south. 

Media group (inc. RT) travels to Mardakert, comes under artillery fire. An RFERL video captures a an Israeli IAI-produced Harop drone striking a target in Mardakert district. Among targets hit by Harop drones was a bus with volunteers from Sisian area standing at entrance to Talish, seven people on the bus are killed, two of the injured died days later. 

13:30 Karabakh Defense army reports that Azerbaijan has for the first time fired from Tos-1A MLRS reportedly in Talish area, but  causing no significant damage; claims Armenian forces destroyed three attack drones. Harop drones were used to attack buildings and military and civilian vehicles in Talish area, videos released by Azerbaijani defense ministry the following day appeared to show Harop strikes on a military base in Talish and three Armenian T-72s. 

Azerbaijani sources claim that since April 3, Israeli-produced Spike anti-tank guided missiles helped knock out a number of Armenian T-72s; photos subsequently confirmed use of Spike ATGMs.

13:55 Karabakh Defense Army reports continued intense fighting in the north and in the south; says Azerbaijani side lost 3 tanks in Mardakert direction. Since April 2, Az. side is estimated to have lost 14 tanks and 5 IFVs. The Armenian side confirms loss of 1 tank. Grad missile and 152-mm artillery fire continues against Mardakert.

In the afternoon, Armenian forces observe Azerbaijani armor build up along the frontline in Agdam district. This video from Azerbaijani side shows at least 18 Az. tanks, 1 IFV and 1 armored recovery vehicle "moving towards Agdam." Armenian artillery opens fire on tanks and other Azerbaijani positions. On April 6, Azerbaijani service of Russian Sputnik news agency reported on damage to civilians in Mahrizli, saying that "more than 100" shells and Grad rockets hit villages of Mahrizli and Zangishali in Agdam district in the evening of April 4. 

16:31 Russia's Life News claims some of the hundreds of Azerbaijani citizens fighting for ISIS were going from Syria to join the fight in Karabakh; the report followed the expulsion of the channel's crew from Azerbaijan and was not otherwise substantiated. The following day Azerbaijani government promised to arrest any ISIS members arriving in Azerbaijan.

19:00 Karabakh Defense Army operations chief Col. Viktor Arustamyan holds a briefing for foreign media, reports Armenian losses at 20 killed, 72 wounded and 26 missing, as well as 7 tanks lost; estimates Azerbaijani side's losses at 18 tanks, 2 helicopters, 1 Grad MLRS and 6 UAVs. Says Azerbaijani army captured and retain 5 posts in Nuzger direction on Lale Tepe hills and 3 posts in Tapkarakoyunlu-Talish direction. 

19:15 Azerbaijani Minister of Defense publicly orders "preparations of heavy missile-artillery forces for a strike on Xankendi area," the Azerbaijani name for Stepanakert. Defense Army warns Azerbaijani military command of a "painful response" if its threat to attack Stepanakert is carried out. Later in the year, Armenian Public TV revealed that already on April 3, Armenian forces were ready to launch Iskander, Scud and Tochka ballistic missiles at Azerbaijani targets should Armenian towns come under Azerbaijani missile attack.

19:17 The Russian Southern Military District reports its Dagestan-based motor-rifle brigade (1000 men, 300 units of equipment) holding snap exercises near Buinaksk, practicing counter-insurgency tactics; those exercises continued for several days. 

22:30 A bus with a group of journalists returning from Madagis to Mardakert comes under artillery fire, no casualties reported. 

23:30 Haqqin.az - a news site controlled by the Azerbaijani president's office - citing its "regional correspondent" claims the Azerbaijani forces had just captured Madagis, Karabakh MoD denies the report at 23:59, and no evidence of Azerbaijani advance in this area is subsequently furnished.

According to FlightRadar data, Russian Il-76 flies to Yerevan via Azerbaijan and Iran.

April 5, Tuesday
    
08:35: Karabakh Defense Army reports heavy artillery fire overnight, including first use of Smerch MLRS in southern direction; Armenian MoD reports that Tavush border villages came under fire.

10:00 Az. MoD says that 16 az. soldiers have been killed ‘in last 2 days’ for total of 31 killed. At this time, exiled Azerbaijani journalist publish names and photographs of some 50 Azerbaijani servicemen killed.

11:45 Karabakh Defense Army reports continued artillery attacks against civilian areas in Mardakert and Martuni districts. Video published of Armenian Osa-AKM crew hitting another Azerbaijani drone, likely an Orbiter 2M

12:53 An anonymous Armenian military source, citing Azerbaijani threats against Stepanakert, threatens a ballistic missile strike on Azerbaijani energy infrastructure.

14:00 Russian president's spokesman Dmitry Peskov is cited as saying that developments in Karabakh are causing "growing concerns" and that "energetic efforts are underway" to address these concerns. Later in the day, Russian media reports that Putin made calls to Aliyev and Sargsyan. Reports surface that Armenian and Azerbaijani chiefs of staff generals Khachaturov and Sadykov met in Moscow and agreed to a cease fire.

14:00 During a media trip to an Armenian artillery battery SE of Hadrut, no shooting is reported. Report by Ilya Azar of Meduza; video report by RT. Reporters photograph Smerch munitions launched by Azerbaijani forces that landed near Shukurbeyli, some 10 kilometers from the LoC and about 1 kilometer from the Iranian border. Later in the day, Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman published additional photos of Smerch munitions that landed in Karabakh. 

14:44 RT: Karabakh forces agreed to truce "since noon;" Azerbaijan confirms soon after.

Afternoon: Azerbaijani TV shows Aliyev speaking to several families of servicemen killed in fighting outside main military hospital in Baku says that an "adequate blow was delivered to Armenians."

19:00 Karabakh Defense Army briefing reports Armenian side suffered 29 killed, 101 wounded and 14 tanks lost; estimates Az. side's losses at 24 tanks, 5 IFVs, 2 helicopters, 1 Grad system, 12 UAVs.

April 6, Wednesday

While the cease-fire held generally, a media group visiting Talish heard some shelling in the area. Later in the day, the Karabakh defense ministry reported deaths of two volunteers that day, one near Talish and another in the southeast. Additionally, a medical emergency vehicle was reportedly fired upon by an Azerbaijani tank near LoC as it was in the area to collect bodies of tank crew killed days earlier.

22:45 An Armenian ZSU-23-4 AA self-propelled gun reportedly brought down another Harop suicide drone; this Harop's warhead was later reported destroyed by Karabakh branch of HALO Trust.

April 7, Thursday

7PM: Defense army reported an Azerbaijani-launched UAV shot down in Askeran area. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry for its part reported that it managed to recover an intact Armenian-made X-55-type reconnaissance UAV.

10PM: Shooting and explosions reported in Stepanakert as an Azerbaijani drone was reportedly brought down on city outskirts. According to NK military sources, this was the first recorded attempt by Azerbaijan to dispatch a UAV to over Stepanakert, some 40km from the LoC, and coincided with the OSCE Minsk Group diplomats' visit.

April 8-10, Friday-Sunday

Sides agreed to exchange bodies of soldiers killed in action and left on the battlefield or captured and facilitate searches for those missing. Remains of 21 Armenian and 13 Azerbaijani servicemen are exchanged at Bash Karvend. Nearly all of the remains of Armenian servicemen came from the captured Armenian positions at Leletepe in the south, all of the Azerbaijani remains were of special forces personnel killed in the Mardakert district in the north. Dozens more bodies of Azerbaijani personnel were collected from no-man's land, mostly near Armenian positions at Seysulan and Talish.

April 26-28, Tuesday-Thursday

Following a relative hiatus in fighting, Armenian and Azerbaijani forces engaged in three straight nights of artillery exchanges, using 122/152mm howitzers and BM-21 Grad systems, as well as mortars; subsequently HALO Trust reported that parts of the Mardakert district were hit with Israeli-produced M095 cluster munitions fired from Lar-160 MLRS. Armenian side reported two servicemen killed by hostile fire on 4/26; Az. MoD did not report on its military casualties, but Az. Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed there were some. The shelling focused on an area roughly up to 10km from LoC, as well as frontline positions. Armenian side reported Az. attacks at Madagis, Nerkin Oratagh and the town of Mardakert. Az. reported Armenian attacks in Goranboy, Terter, Agdam and Agjabedi districts and civilian damage. Armenian claimed civilian damage was due to Azerbaijani forces locating artillery positions inside or near residential areas, publishing drone-shot footage of Azerbaijani-controlled Agdam district villages.

Casualties

Following exchanges of remains of soldiers initially listed as missing in action (MIA), the Armenian military's casualties for April 2-5 reached 65 servicemen killed in combat and more than 120 wounded. Of the 65 killed, 15 were identified as officers and 1 NCO, 15 contracted and 34 drafted enlisted men. Additionally, 13 civilian volunteers and 4 local civilian residents were killed. The updated list of the names of Armenian fatalities is published here.


The Azerbaijani defense ministry has not release any additional casualty figures to 31 officially reported on April 5 and never published a more or less complete list of its casualties. But Meydan TV, Azadliq.info and Razm.info collected information on some 100 servicemen killed in combat or missing (and presumed dead) and six civilians killed in shelling between April 2-5. Since the list was compiled primarily from public funerals reports, the real death toll remains unknown. At least 44 of those identified were special forces personnel, including chief of staff and chief intelligence for the Special Forces Command and two SF brigade commanders.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

My recent article highlights

Got a chance to ask Armenia's president about his political
successor and public diplomacy towards Azerbaijan. Oct. 1
2015 photo by Armenian president's press office
A list of my recent publications with links to full articles or summaries, where available (some content is available only to subscribers):

- Feb. 18, 2016 Russia details USD200 million arms sale to Armenia, Jane's Defence Weekly
- Feb. 6, 2016 China in the Caucasus, The Diplomat
- Feb. 2, 2016 Armenia: State foils domestic terrorism plot, Economist Intelligence Unit
- Feb. 1, 2016 Majority-minority relations in Armenia, Caucasus Edition 
- Jan. 18, 2016 Russian military expands in Armenia amid tensions with Turkey, Jane’s Defence Weekly
- Jan. 14, 2016 Armenia-Azerbaijan Attrition War Escalates, The Armenian Weekly (Boston)
- UAVs contribute to spike in Armenia-Azerbaijan fighting, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Jan. 6, 2016 
- Overhaul of Azerbaijan’s National Security Ministry and Its Significance, The Armenian Wеekly (U.S.), Dec. 29, 2015
- Nardaran: Azerbaijan cracks down on religious opposition, Economist Intelligence Unit, Dec. 21, 2015
- Interview with Georgian Defence Minister Tinatin Khidasheli, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Dec. 8, 2015
- Tactics shift in Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, Jane’s Intelligence ReviewOct. 20, 2015 
- Azerbaijan: President dismisses security chief, Economist Intelligence UnitOct. 19, 2015 
- Azerbaijani Security Service and Its Glendale Bank Account, The Armenian Weekly (U.S.), July 31, 2015 
- On Armenia and Turkey after the genocide (prepared notes for Carnegie Endowment for International Peace event held in Washington on Apr. 30, 2015) 
- Ամերիկա-իրանական տանդե՞մ (On potential U.S.-Iranian cooperation in Middle East) Analyticon (Stepanakert)April 2015 
- Şu Diaspora dedikleri... (On Armenian American Diaspora) Agos (Istanbul)Mar. 13, 2015
- Armenia politics: Will Sargsyan serve his full term? Economist Intelligence UnitMar. 10, 2015
- Date with destiny: Centenary highlights Turkey’s political shifts, Jane’s Intelligence ReviewFeb. 2015 
- Interview with Georgian Defence Minister Mindia Janelidze, Jane’s Defence WeeklyFeb. 10, 2015 
- Gruesome killings undermine Russia-Armenia rapport, Jane’s Defence WeeklyFeb. 4, 2015
- Loose Restraints: A Look at the Increasingly Shaky Karabagh Ceasefire, The Armenian Weekly (U.S.), Feb. 4, 2015 
- Cost of conflict: Azerbaijan censors casualty data, Economist Intelligence UnitJan. 31, 2015
- Rhetoric and reality in Azerbaijan’s military spending, Economist Intelligence Unit, Jan. 28, 2015 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

My interview with incoming Armenian ambassador to U.S.

This interview with Grigor Hovhannisian is from Aug. 2012, while he was consul general in Los Angeles (2009-13). From 2013 to 2016 Hovhannisian was Armenia's ambassador to Mexico. For more background see an earlier interview from Feb. 2009.

Armenia’s Consul in LA: Status of Armenia in the Western U.S. has been elevated

A former UN relief worker in MidEast, Grigor Hovhannissian says exodus of Armenians from region likely

Published: Friday August 10, 2012
Grigor Hovhannisian. Wikipedia
Armenia's Consul General in Los Angeles Grigor Hovhannissian was recently a subject of an anonymous complaint published by Hetq.am from a group of compatriots now living in the United States. This has prompted The Armenian Reporter's editor Emil Sanamyan to follow up with Mr. Hovhannissian on the charges made against him and other topics related to the Consulate's work. Taking into account the current crisis in Syria and Mr. Hovhannissian's background in humanitarian work for the United Nations in the Middle East, The Reporter's questions also dealt with that subject. The questions were submitted and returned in writing. 

Emil Sanamyan for The Armenian Reporter: This issue is not in your current area of responsibility but one in which you have considerable expertise: the worsening humanitarian situation in Syria and of Aleppo specifically. What kind of action should Armenia and Diaspora Armenian organizations undertake to help their compatriots?

Grigor Hovhannissian: I can only answer your question as an ex-practitioner who served in the region for several years. Therefore, this would be my personal opinion, not an official one.

Middle East is undergoing tectonic changes and this process takes a heavy toll on one of the largest clusters of the Armenian people and its oldest institutions - political and cultural. We are all seriously alarmed as the conflict unfolds in and around one of the last Armenian "strongholds" in the region- Aleppo. This being said, we should resist the temptation to become alarmists and not rush into precipitous conclusions particularly because our policy choices are fairly limited.

We must continue the world-wide Armenian debate about our Syrian compatriots' future-- something we did not do during and in the aftermath of the war in Iraq. We must maintain a long term perspective while being watchful and strongly concerned with the immediate short term security and well-being of our compatriots.

As far as humanitarian situation is concerned, as we speak, it is serious, but not yet dire. It would take a longer period, harsher sanctions and a more intense unrest and insurgency to bring this upper middle income country to a near collapse, when the economy as a whole and the population's individual coping mechanisms fail to meet increasing costs of war and destruction. 

For now, we observe accelerated economic decline, massive loss of income, damage to infrastructure, particularly in the north and a significant population displacement both internally and internationally. It's unfortunate. We already hear reports of disruptions to the supply of basic commodities (e.g. long queues at Aleppo's bakeries), however this is mainly caused by urban warfare and insecurity.

For the purpose of crisis preparedness we should build on earlier experiences of the Arab Spring, however, the Syrian crisis is likely to follow the pattern of its own. My take is that all else equal, in the immediate short term, the Syrian army will maintain its grip over much of the country and gain the upper hand in Aleppo. I expect that Syrian Armenians, who have long developed their own coping strategies, would remain largely intact.

However, it is increasingly obvious that already in the mid to long run - say within the next couple of years, there may be a massive exodus of our compatriots from Syria, and, unfortunately, from the rest of the Middle East.

For now, we should focus on advocacy efforts - at all levels and with all stakeholders as to make sure that the interest and the physical security of our compatriots is factored in while making post-war plans.  I do not believe that Armenia should induce an accelerated flight of compatriots to Armenia.

In an ideal world, a permanently stand by airlift capacity should be in place to reach out to our compatriots in various areas of their possible displacement (not just Aleppo international airport) under the worst case scenario.

AR: In your estimation do Armenian diplomats and organizations in Syria have the capacity to properly assess the humanitarian situation of the community in present circumstances?

GH: I do believe that we have adequate knowledge of the country and the community and hence all the tools to make accurate assessment. We have all heard that the Government of Armenia currently operates a plan that has three scenarios for possible development and, accordingly, an action plan for each of the plausible scenarios. 

As far as "things turning bad" - in recent years in the region we have seen total incommunicado situations in Iraq at the height of insurrection and more recently in Libya. I do not expect similar difficulties in Syria. I also believe that our country will maintain a minimum diplomatic presence in Syria and will not evacuate even under more adverse circumstances and help the community and its organizations throughout the crisis.

AR: Currently the inflow from Syria to Armenia has been relatively small, estimated at several thousand people, but this flow could increase. How should Armenia go about seeking international assistance to make preparations now for the likelihood of additional displaced persons from Syria?

GH: The international community has all sorts of contingency plans in place for massive population displacement in and out of Syria. Specialized agencies would most probably anticipate and in a way guide the outflows towards Turkey and possibly Jordan. Lebanon, would be reluctant to receive large refugee groups from Syria, because of the country's size and willingness to contain the political and demographic implications the influx would entail (Lebanon already has a very serious refugee situation with Palestinians in the camps).
So if large numbers of Armenians made it to Republic of Armenia - it would be over time, say several months, and it would be gradual. When that happens, of course, Armenia should expect the international community to assist the country in accepting, securing, sheltering those who seek refuge.

As I said above, many experts believe that the exodus of Christians from the Middle East is imminent. Under this scenario, Armenia should want to retain at least a portion of the fleeing Armenian population. International humanitarian effort will not be adequate to bring and retain that population. More elaborate schemes, through public -private partnership, through financial instruments and long term affordable mortgages should be devised to build new viable communities, or even new towns in Armenia, to make the country more attractive for our compatriots. In turn, they will bring lots of skills and talent, and certainly contribute to Armenia's rich culture, competitiveness and growth.

AR: We last spoke in 2009, shortly after you took up your responsibilities in LA. What would you say have been your main accomplishments in these three years plus? You described the consulate three years ago as a "service mission" what sort of services would you now say you successfully undertake?

GH: In absolute terms, the Consulate grew significantly in its scope and coverage. As a result, the status of Armenia in the Western United States has been elevated. The level of cooperation and interaction with our community, authorities, opinion makers and the private sector has developed along cultural, economic and diplomatic lines.

Three and a half years into my tenure, I still believe and preach a "service mission" as the main motto for the Armenian Consulate in Los Angeles. As a result, we have taken strides in the right direction-- although I realize that the evaluation of these services should come from the end users.

This being said, there are things that are quantifiable and I would like to take a minute to list activities that the Consulate of Armenia started and implemented for the first time in the last 16 years Armenia has a consular mission in the US West Coast.

·         Consulate became more accessible physically and "virtually" for consular services. We moved into the community and improved the physical and technical conditions, which now parallel those of more advanced countries. We became "virtually" accessible to our compatriots who live in States outside California through our website, downloadable applications, hotline, a Facebook page, advanced telephone system that provide pre-recorded information on all consular services 24X7. We also help all citizens who seek qualified legal assistance and cannot afford otherwise;

·         Consulate supports the Armenian community through building strategic alliances with other communities;

·         Consulate introduced Armenia and the Armenian-American community to prestigious trade, travel, and book shows;

·         Consulate is promoting business to business contacts between Armenian business, Armenian importers and their counterparts in other communities;

·         Consulate is reaching out to critically important institutions, e.g. museums, universities, newspapers, cultural institutions and linking them to/with the Armenian community; promoting Armenian artists and organizing major exhibits at the Consulate of Armenia; promoting the community and local Armenian leaders among international community representatives through hosting annual consular events;

·         Consulate started open house initiatives - open to the whole community: on Armenian Christmas eve and on Armenian Independence Day for the community to visit the consulate and celebrate.

·         Consulate brought enhanced cooperation with the already existing community initiatives, such as ArmTech, Arpa Film Festival, etc. and established professional awards - for the Armenian cineastes, Silicon Valley professionals, educators, Armenian National Basketball Team etc.

·         And of course a crown jewel - House of Armenia! We as a nation and as a country now have a home in greater Los Angeles that is a source of pride and inspiration for so many of us.

And all of the above was and is being achieved at no additional cost to the Armenian taxpayer.

AR: For as long as I remember, LA Armenians have been complaining about Armenian consuls in LA. What complaints do you hear most frequently and what do you do about them?

GH: I agree with this observation as far as the citizens or former Armenian nationals are concerned. There is a number of explanations for the above.

First and foremost is that the causes that prompted these people to leave Armenia in the first place have not been "alleviated." A certain level of dissatisfaction with our services, e.g. perceived slowness in delivering bureaucratic formalities, fees associated for the paperwork, is typical to a low income group who either migrated to the US illegally, or are in process of asylum applications, i.e. in both cases their access to US social benefits is severely curtailed. Added, is their inability to travel to Armenia, for the lack of papers and resources, and, for the fear of military draft, one can gauge the overall level of their frustration.

Can the Consulate be more forthcoming and treat these compatriots more compassionately? Yes and no. In exceptional cases, we can and we do waive fees, and in urgent cases, we help our people in any way we can. But there are things we cannot change - like the mandatory military service and registration for service, without which no males of draft age can travel to Armenia or enter into any formal transactions.

AR: One complaint I have seen in recent weeks is that you had "refused" from meeting with some of the community members - presumably on more than one occasion - why was that?

GH: I have never refused to meet with community members who want to discuss matters of concern to the community, our country, specific organizations or groups. Also, we at the Consulate do not exercise a selective approach as to who to meet and who to not. Those who claim the contrary to this statement are being disingenuous and cannot produce any proofs to the contrary.

There is hardly any organization or association in the community that has not been to the House of Armenia for an event, consultation, reception, working session, etc.

AR: What is your attitude towards community members staging protests outside the consulate with regard to events in Armenia, such as the recent murder of Vahe Avetyan?

GH: People have their constitutional right to express their views and voice their protest. As an apolitical institution, we do not and we cannot have an attitude or judgment as to the cause or purpose of those protests.  To our best ability, we guarantee that our country and our national symbols are treated with due respect during these protests.

On our official Facebook page and communications, we have thanked all community members who had expressed their solidarity with Armenia in the wake of Vahe's tragic death, that has caused a massive outrage both in Armenia and diaspora.

AR: How frequently would you say you appear in public and what sort of audiences are these?

GH: Several times a week, I attend or host public events. With minor exceptions, when I cannot, I do attend all major community events across the entire spectrum: political, professional, educational, compatriotic, religious, etc.

On a regular basis, I communicate with local media through press conferences, media briefings, and televised interviews. Since early 2012, close to 30 interviews were given to local Armenian TV outlets. In addition, our Facebook page, Consulate's newsletter, which is being mass-mailed and the website provide timely information on Consulate's activities and Consul's meetings.

AR: Do you think there is a disconnect between community expectations and consul's mandate? What are these disconnects?

GH: Over the last years, we have considerably expanded the mandate to meet the ever changing characteristics, size and distribution of the Armenian - American community in the Western U.S.

Many countries with large ethnic diasporas experience similar situations. Some countries adjusted their mandate to cater to the needs of their migrant workers (e.g. Mexican Consulates provide free medical services) and to actually foster labor migration, others regard their nationals as an extension of domestic political process , some others regard their citizenry exclusively as a vector to promoting economic interests.

Our own mandate is tailored to ensure the strong bonds between the homeland and the community, preservation of national identity, culture and language, to ensure that the rights of our citizens are respected, while not encouraging additional immigration, to contribute to the consolidation of various segments of the diaspora and to promote Armenia's interests through Armenian-American community.

Of course, this broad statement of objective creates additional expectations in the community as to Armenia's more active engagement in the support of institutions, which contribute to all the above: schools, media, charities, youth and advocacy groups. And here, unfortunately, we are lagging behind expectations, although the gap is narrowing.

AR: Several years ago, U.S.authorities charged a number of individuals associated with the Consulate (prior to your appointment) on charges of fraud and other corrupt activities. What has come of those charges? Can you ascertain that such practices have stopped?

GH: The infamous "consuls' affair" caused a major blow to the Consulate and the community in the wake of my new mission. Because of the large resonance it created, a considerable effort went into damage control.

To this date, no convictions were made against the alleged wrongdoers - none of whom were incumbent diplomats serving at the Consulate of Armenia at the time of the alleged crime.

And my answer is "Yes" I can ascertain that the Consulate is free of non-transparent and illegal practices. All transactions and services offered at the Consulate are provided in accordance with the spirit and letter of the Armenian law.

AR: Finally, as a former director of the Shushi Revival Fund, do you continue to follow events in Shushi, what is your assessment of them and is that Fund still functioning?

GH: Of course I do. I remain very passionate about the historic capital of Artsakh and I do follow developments and reconstruction efforts. 

Following my resignation from the Fund, it operated for another year or so and was dissolved based on the Trustees' decision to hand over the assets and projects to the Government of NK and the Armenia Fund. I personally regret that decision, because Shushi Fund's comparative advantage was in its ability to attract private investment into what would be an economic development plan, as opposed to reconstruction through public fundraising.

Nevertheless, Armenia Fund has made remarkable progress in the city over the last couple of years, thus dramatically improving Shushi's infrastructure and its residents' standards of living. On my part, I am happy to have been involved in the Shushi Revival Fund and for projects we accomplished.

For more information about the consulate visit http://www.armeniaconsulatela.org.