- - Thursday, July 6, 2017


As Americans set off fireworks throughout the land on Independence Day, the Armenian military occupying the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan were using explosives of their own, ordinance not directed at an opposing military force but at innocent civilians.

In an open letter, Norica Nicolai, the European Parliament rapporteur for Azerbaijan, and Ryszard Czarnecki, vice president of the European Parliament, stated, “The indiscriminate killing of civilians, women and children is unacceptable in any circumstances and must be stopped immediately! It has emerged that this killing was the result of a mortar and grenade attack committed by Armenian armed personnel against Azerbaijani unarmed civilians in the village of Alkanli, in the Fuzuli province.”

A near-daily incidence, the Armenian military alternately shells, mortars, snipes at civilians along the “line of contact,” the line of demarcation that separates Azerbaijan proper from its occupied territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Often used as a harassment and instigation tactic, seemingly geared to draw Azerbaijan into a larger-scale conflagration, the Fourth of July incident is indicative of new Armenian military doctrine — avoidance of the Azerbaijani military in favor of engaging civilian targets — challenging Azerbaijan to respond as an aggressor.

This doctrine appears to have come into practice following the April 2016 Five-Day War, begun as a heavy artillery bombardment initiated by the Armenian military that resulted in the heaviest fighting in more than 20 years. During the fighting, the Azerbaijani military fielded state-of-the-art weapons, command-and-control systems, and a military force demonstrably better trained, and more proficient and professional than the Armenian military faced previously. Azerbaijan, compelled to retaliate, routed the Armenian forces and the liberated strategic highlands and a significant swath of territory.

In this incident, roughly three miles inside Azerbaijani territory, the Armenian military explicitly chose to avoid targeting Azerbaijani gun emplacements, tanks and troops. Instead, Azerbaijan’s Alkhanli village was targeted with 82- and 120-millimeter mortars and heavy grenade launchers. During the bombardment, 2-year-old Zahra Guliyeva lost her life, one of the many children killed in recent and nearly exact military on civilian engagements.

Also, killed in the attack was Zahra’s grandmother, 50-year-old Sahiba Guliyeva, while numerous other villagers were hospitalized for serious shrapnel and other wounds.

It is worth noting that Azerbaijanis who live in proximity to the “line of contact,” build their homes and children’s schools into the back side of hills to keep citizens safe from the Armenian military. This, while on the Armenia side of the line of contact, there exists only military installations — no civilians.

Although media report the Armenian military states that the village was targeted due to the presence of Azerbaijani military assets, the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan as well as international observers have avowed that no military assets existed in Akhanly.

This latest bombardment takes place in the wake of the visit by the Organization for the Security Co-operation in Europe Minsk Group co-chairs to the region. The co-chairs called for changing the status quo of occupation by substantive and serious negotiations. The Minsk Group is comprised of Russia, France and the United States. In effect, due to American appointments far outranked by those of Russia, it is “Russia’s show,” hence it adheres to Russia’s interests.

In a U.S. enthralled with Russian intervention, covert and explicit, is this yet another example of undue Russian influence, in what they term their “near abroad,” the regions surrounding the Russian Federation they deem under their control or within their sphere of influence?

Armenia’s President Serge Sargysan declared some months ago that in addition to border security, control of Armenia’s airspace and the continued presence of Russian troops on Armenian territory, Armenia would farm out its foreign policy, too.

It would seem to work in Russia’s favor to keep the Minsk Group dithering, as it has for more than two decades while compelling Western-friendly Azerbaijan to remain on a war footing, all as Azerbaijan nears completion of numerous, large energy projects that are in direct competition to Russia’s energy stranglehold on Europe and Western markets. This, in addition to Azerbaijan successfully hosting Western-oriented, world-scale events like the recent Formula One, European Games and Eurovision.

In America’s best interests, the Trump administration should lend support to Azerbaijan — diplomatic, military and political — as a geopolitical and geostrategic hedge related to the reasons above, but also because Azerbaijan is one of the America’s true, stable and dependable Muslim-majority friends.

Russia is clearly not America’s friend, and while Armenia is firmly in line with Russia and Iran, Azerbaijan is an indispensable ally for the United States, the West and Israel. America should be proactive in supporting its allies.

• Alexander Murinson is a senior fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center and Bar Ilan University. He is the author of “Turkey’s Entente with Israel and Azerbaijan: State Identity and Security in the Middle East and Caucasus” (Routledge, 2009).

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