BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Just days before the first anniversary of the 44-day war, the Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan and the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev clashed once again, this time in a bloodless confrontation via video at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.
In my opinion, both Aliyev and Pashinyan made the mistake of not appearing in person at the UN meeting. The issue is not just the speech which they delivered by video, but their absence from an important international gathering of close to 200 leaders from around the world. This was an important opportunity, particularly for Armenia’s Prime Minister, to rub shoulders with many of these leaders in private and public settings to transmit to them Armenia’s grievances and publicize Azerbaijan’s brutal violations during last year’s war.
Fortunately, Pashinyan dispatched to the UN Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan who held several important meetings with his counterparts from many countries, including Azerbaijan, the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group, and the Secretary General of the UN.
While Armenia and Azerbaijan were not represented at the UN by their heads of state, Turkey was wisely represented by Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who took advantage of the opportunity to meet with dozens of heads of state and inaugurate the new Turkish Center’s high-rise building across the UN headquarters which was attended by many dignitaries and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Erdogan’s only setback was the refusal of Pres. Biden to meet with him at the UN.
Turning to the speeches, Pres. Aliyev addressed the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23 delivering a 38-minute speech in English by video. Pashinyan’s video speech was much shorter — it lasted less than 12 minutes. Aliyev’s lengthy speech was not necessarily a good thing. He probably bored to death the dignitaries at the General Assembly who were listening to non-stop speeches day after day. Whereas it was smart of Aliyev to speak in English, Pashinyan, despite his knowledge of English, chose to speak in Armenian which means that the attendees had to listen to the translation of his speech via earphones, not the best way to communicate. Nevertheless, Pashinyan wisely used a teleprompter to read his speech which made it much more interesting to watch, versus Aliyev who was looking down the whole time, while reading the speech from a paper in front of him. This prompted a non-Armenian to comment sarcastically on YouTube, under the video of Aliyev’s speech: “What happened to Aliyev’s petrodollars? Couldn’t he afford to buy a teleprompter?”
In his lengthy speech, Aliyev told dozens of lies:
1. That Armenia, not Azerbaijan, started last September’s war. Aliyev must have forgotten that he had previously admitted proudly that he started the war. He also accused Armenia of initiating an attack on Azerbaijan in July 2020. Armenia had no reason to start a war neither in July nor September 2020.
2. Aliyev referred to the 12th century poet Nizami Ganjavi as “the great Azerbaijani poet.” Ganjavi is in fact Persian, not Azeri (see Wikipedia’s numerous sources). In the 12th century, Azerbaijan did not even exist. Ganjavi was born in Ganja (Kantzag in Armenian) which at the time was “densely populated with Iranians and a small number of Christians,” according to Armenian historian Guiragos Kantzagetsi (1200 – 1271).
3. Aliyev falsely described Azerbaijan “as an example of tolerance and peaceful coexistence of representatives of various religious and ethnic groups living in our country.” On the contrary, Azerbaijan is a very intolerant and violent country. Its history is full of repeated massacres of Armenians. Yet, shamelessly, Aliyev accused Armenia of committing “genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity!”
4. Aliyev also accused Armenia of “gross violation of international law, including the Geneva Convention.” This is the exact description of Azerbaijan’s own violations and crimes. He falsely claimed Armenia used “white phosphorus and cluster munitions” and attacked civilians. Once again, Aliyev was describing Azerbaijan’s own war crimes against Armenian civilians, hospitals and churches.
5. Aliyev also claimed that Armenia recruited “mercenaries and foreign fighters from abroad.” As is widely known, this is exactly what Azerbaijan did.
6. Aliyev lied about Armenians engaging in “the full destruction of cities and villages, including the cultural and religious heritage sites of Azerbaijani people.” The truth is the exact opposite.
7. Aliyev claimed that Azerbaijan “started taking legal actions against [foreign companies] for illegally exploiting our natural resources in the formerly occupied lands.” Hopefully, these companies will countersue Azerbaijan for confiscating their properties.
8. Indirectly admitting that Azerbaijan has encroached on the territory of Armenia, Aliyev boasted that “the country has been weakened to the extent that it cannot even guard its own borders by itself.”
9. Instead of respecting the agreement signed on Nov. 9, 2020 by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, to release all prisoners of war, Aliyev demanded that Armenia “provide us with accurate mine maps of all liberated territories.” There is no mention of such a requirement in the Nov. 9 agreement.
10. After telling all these lies and many others too numerous to mention, Aliyev has the audacity to urge Armenia to sign a “peace agreement … based on mutual recognition of sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other.” He is thus pursuing a total abandonment of Artsakh by Armenia.
Prime Minister Pashinyan delivered his speech at the UN on Sept. 24. He started by setting the record straight, stating that “in the fall of 2020, Nagorno-Karabakh was subjected to aggression… [which] was accompanied by numerous gross violations of international law by the Azerbaijani armed forces, including deliberate targeting of civilians and vital infrastructure, extrajudicial killings of prisoners of war and civilian hostages, torture and many other documented crimes. As a result of these actions, in the parts of Nagorno-Karabakh, which came under the control of Azerbaijan, the Armenian people were subjected to complete ethnic cleansing.”
Pashinyan went on to highlight Armenia’s democratic credentials, vainly hoping that the international community will be impressed and take positive steps to protect the country against Azerbaijan’s aggression. Armenia’s Prime Minister also spoke of his country’s readiness for peace with its neighbors, again hoping for support from UN member states. He does not seem to realize that the world does not care about such niceties. The only thing the world respects is strength.
Pashinyan next condemned Azerbaijan for holding Armenian prisoners of war as hostages in Baku and spoke about Azeri videos that show “decapitated bodies or shot bodies of these soldiers.”
Pashinyan also mentioned “reopening transport links” between Armenia and Azerbaijan. He naively added that “if the railway connecting Armenia to Turkey is opened too, then the topic of opening regional communications will cover broader scope.”
The Prime Minister made one more pitch “to resume the peace process for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs.”
Regrettably, this process has reached a dead end, as Aliyev claims to have solved the Artsakh issue by force and sees no need to engage in any further negotiations on this subject.
Pashinyan mentioned “with regret” that Azerbaijan’s forces crossed Armenia’s borders on May 12, 2021 and have refused to leave. He suggested that both countries withdraw from “the Soviet times border” and invite the deployment of “international observers” along the border. It is not clear why Armenia should withdraw from its own border!
Unfortunately, nice words do not mean much in realpolitik. The world believes only in power. While Azerbaijan and Turkey speak from a position of strength, Armenia is obliged to submit to the imposition of its more powerful and brutal enemies.