04/06/2016, 14.32
ARMENIA – AZERBAIJAN
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Armenian bishop urges prayers for Christians in Karabakh as well as peace; IS Jihadis go from Syria to Azerbaijan

by Pierre Balanian

Whilst the ceasefire is holding, the war that restarted a few days ago marks a shift in the balance of power in the Caucasus. Recent killings and beheadings show a pattern similar to that of IS Jihadis. Azeri forces appear to include Jihadis and Turkish Grey Wolves. Russia is concerned about the war and IS fighters on its doorstep. The US, EU, and UN are absent from the picture.

Stepanakert (AsiaNews) – Both Azerbaijan and the internationally unrecognised Nagorno-Karabakh Republic continue to uphold a fragile ceasefire reached yesterday after the Azerbaijani forces suddenly broke it on 2 April. It had been in force since 1994.

For the first time in 30 years, Azerbaijan dealt indirectly with Nagorno-Karabakh rather than Armenia to discuss the cease-fire. The sudden flare-up in hostilities has so far left more than 300 people dead on both sides.

Yesterday, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) met urgently in Vienna and asked both sides to restore the ceasefire, saying that “no military solution” exists to the conflict that has pitted for decades Azerbaijan, backed by NATO member Turkey, and Nagorno-Karabakh, backed by Armenia, an ally of Russia.

Speaking to AsiaNews by phone, Mgr Raphael Minassian, Armenian Catholic bishop in Yerevan (pictured in a recent meeting with Pope Francis), expressed his disappointment about the neutral stance taken by the international media and world chancelleries towards the serious developments in the Caucasus and the Azerbaijan-Karabakh border.

"Many serious incidents in flagrant violation of international law have been omitted and censored by much of the press," the prelate said, “such as the indiscriminate Azerbaijani artillery shelling on towns, villages and schools, the decapitation of an Armenian soldier in Karabakh,” a picture of whose head was triumphantly posted on social media, and “especially" the barbaric execution of an elderly Armenian Catholic couple (Valera Khalapyan and his wife Razmela] in their home in Talish, last Saturday, which was overrun by Azerbaijani troops. The two seniors were killed in cold blood along with their daughter and their ears amputated."

According to several observers, this is the modus operandi of the Islamic State (IS) group, as evinced by events in Syria and Iraq.

Mgr Minassian called on people to "pray for the Christians of Nagorno-Karabakh whose lives are at risk like those of all the Christians of the East, and for the restoration of peace."

The killings by Azerbaijani troops are a grave violation of international law and the Geneva Convention on the treatment of civilians in war zones.

The cruel manner in which they occurred appears to confirm alarming news about the presence in Azerbaijan of IS Azerbaijani fighters after they fled from Syria via Turkey.

According to a Western analyst who asked that his name be withheld, "Azeris did not differentiate between soldiers and civilians”.

This confirms reports from the Armenian government about the "direct involvement of thousands of Azerbaijanis with IS. According to intelligence sources, some 2,500 Azerbaijanis are fighting in Syria and Iraq with IS.”

“At the same time, the jihadi style killings and the brutality shown by Azerbaijani forces against the Armenian civilian population parallel the type of violence perpetrated every day by IS Takfirists in in Syria and Iraq."

Armenian military intelligence sources in Nagorno-Karabakh have reported "radio intercepts of conversations" between front-line Azeri soldiers using jihadi style, Salafi-Takfirist lingo, like that used by IS terrorists in Syria and Iraq.

Following progress by Syrian and Iraqi troops in the territories formerly controlled by the Caliphate, many fighters fled through Turkey, including many Azerbaijanis and Chechens.

The international media has referred to the conflict as a "renewed war between Armenia and Azerbaijan", but in fact, hostilities broke out between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. The Armenian army has not fired a single shot.

Western media and government also missed an important fact, namely that this "lightning war" changed the delicate balances in the Caucasus in a few days.

“We have grounds to believe that Afghan mercenaries known as Grey Wolves as well as Islamic State fighters have been recruited by Azerbaijan,” said Nagorno-Karabakh President’s spokesman David Babayan

If confirmed, IS’s presence in Azerbaijan would have disastrous long-term consequences. Similarly, the presence of Turkish military instructors in Azerbaijan can only increase existing tensions between Russia and Turkey.

Meanwhile, the Sunni- and Saudi-dominated Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) issued an unexpected statement, expressing solidarity with Shia Azerbaijan against “Armenian acts of aggressions against Azerbaijan”.

The conflict seems to open the door to a rapprochement between Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Their respective foreign ministers met yesterday in Iran "to discuss the situation." It must also be said that 40 per cent of the weapons used by Azerbaijan come from Israel.

The only loser in the current situation appears to be Russia, threatened by war and the arrival of IS Jihadis on its doorstep.

For their part, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations seem to be completely absent from the picture.

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