Increased worries over the internationalization of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

By | Rachel Brooks

November 3, 2020 

Above image retrieved from the White House. Public Domain. 

Worries loom over the foreign policy of an “increased internationalization” of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict front, citing the Associated Press. This follows on the heels of the weaponization of the press, with both sides accusing each other of employing the use of Middle Eastern national insurgents. The Associated Press quoted the Russian Foreign Minister as saying that at least 2,000 Syrian insurgents were present at the war front. At the time of the report, the Russian Foreign Minister noted grave concern from Russia regarding the presence of insurgencies in the conflict. Russia backs Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Likewise, Arab News reported that Lebanese Armenians feel a sort of pull to join the fight in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, implying a pipeline of recruitment between Armenia’s diaspora population within the MENA and the conflict front. 

Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of supplying these insurgents, but with superior force numbers, Azerbaijan would have little tactical motive to do this. However, reports published by the Jewish Press on November 2 introduced a new potential problem to the war front. The appearance of the former leadership of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia abbreviated ASALA, triggered questions of a copycat of the 1975-to-circa 1993 era terrorist organization. These reports remain undetermined. The Global Terrorism Database has received insufficient funds to fully update its registry, and so no cases newer than a year’s date are fully documented. For this reason, no activity of ASALA-related groups can be pinpointed to the recent month based upon data. It should also be noted that data records events that included attacks and casualties, not mobilization or communications. 

As reports file regarding the internationalization of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the world grinds its teeth over the future of U.S.-led mitigation. Azerbaijan’s allies in the conflict, Israel and Turkey, have been reported by Foreign Policy to fear an upset of foreign policy if the current U.S. President Donald Trump is overthrown in the election’s final results. The world sits on a pensive edge, fearing proxy war and dramatic changes in international policy under looming regime change over the western world. Likewise, foreign powers that back Armenia look on in wonder, as the Trump administration made significant crackdowns against foreign allies of Armenia, especially Iran, who has been a covert supporter of the Armenian offensive, as evidenced by the activity of IRGC forces in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Zone. 

Reports of Gilber Minasyan’s presence at the front 

 Trend News agency reported sighting of Gilber Minasyan at the front of the current Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as of October 13. Republic Underground actively seeks data to confirm the resurfacing of Minasyan and other former ASALA leadership of the late 1980s era in the current conflict. Confirmed reports would solidify some of the international concerns that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is internationalizing, due to ASALA’s former presence in Tehran, Beirut, Belgium, France, and West Germany, see GTD database. 

Minasyan was a commander of the ASALA front after its officially documented activity ended, replacing Leonid Azkhaldian after Azkhaldian died of a bullet wound in 1992. Minasyan led Armenian forces in 1993. He returned to Yerevan at the announcement of a ceasefire, and later to France on the power of attorney. 

 Minasyan was believed to have sought asylum in France and was arrested in 2004. He returned to Marseille upon his freedom, learned about the fighting along the front in the Nagorno-Karabakh 2020 era, and immediately redeployed to the front. 

One photograph of insurgents suggested fighters from Lebanon, Syria, and other areas of the former ASALA MENA network region.

Photographic documentation of Syrian Kurds PKK fighters 

However, the photographically documented presence of Syrian Kurds  PKK insurgent groups in Armenia has raised questions about the possible collaboration of former ASALA leadership and current PKK forces. These two groups have historically collaborated. 

 The organization was effectively defunct by the late 1980s but retained the fame of its particular brand of insurgency due to its leadership’s presence in the Nagorno-Karabakh until near the end of active fire in 1993.

The saga of Monte Melkonian gives key insights into who old ASALA teams were  

One famous hero of the ASALA front was Monte Melkonian, a U.S.-born spokesman of the ASALA who was killed in the battle of Agdam in 1993. His life is described in detail by his brother Markar Melkonian in the book “My Brother’s Road: An American’s Fateful Journey to Armenia”. 

Research into the life, recruitment, aliases, patterns, tactics, and finally the death of Monte Melkonian are integral to understanding ASALA’s latter days as an official organization. Melkonian’s presence in the organization is documented by the CIA. 

Research into the activity of ASALA in the years following the lull of its bombings focuses with interest on the 1980s era of the organization. Some anecdotal research pursuits exist, detecting a pattern of recruitment across Beirut, Europe, and other indeterminate locations. The anecdotal research into ASALA ideology recruitment continues into the 1990s. However, it is the elusive nature of the ASALA that makes future recruitment and tactical configuration go astray at this point. 

ASALA may have merged theologically with the PKK post-1990

While ASALA’s activity transformed from acts of aggression to aggressive intellectual moves in politics over the years since the first holding ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, its theologies believed to have merged with the Kurdish Workers Party or PKK. Spurred by the Syrian conflict and the anti-Turk involvement in it, Armenia and Syrian PKK fighters have solid motives to work together on some fronts. See a list of PKK incidents via the Global Terrorism Database. 

Citing the Global Terrorism Database, the last official documented act of terrorism by the ASALA’s former group composition was on June 21, 1997. It occurred in Brussels, Belgium, and was conducted by the subgroup named after Gourgen Yankinian. Yankinian is likewise the perpetrator of the Consul Bahadir Demir assassination in Los Angeles in 1973. In the 1997 attack, there were no known casualties. Yankinian died in 1984. The data confirms only one known perpetrator of the Brussels attack. The data meets all three of the criteria for classifying a terror attack by the standards of GTD. 

The specific incident gives insights into the divided ASALA’s post-1993 activity. It also emphasizes the fact that, while ASALA’s activity as an official organization ceased provocative activity in the late 1980s, it still existed in terms of loyalty following and indoctrination. Under the former leadership, and merging with foreign extremist recruits, the major concern of today’s Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would be the internationalization and mobilization of ASALA. Rallies sporting ASALA t-shirts and sentiments have been spotted, which may denote a re-engagement of former indoctrination strategies. 

U.S. Intelligence traced the moves of Melkonian to affiliation with the Armenian diaspora of Syria, including a Syrian-Armenian woman who sheltered him, and a possible connection to insurgents of the PKK as long ago as 1980-1990 era, see declassified statements of 1986. The Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK is a paramilitary group for the liberation of Kurds and has been infiltrated by extremists. Photographic documentation links the presence of Syrian Kurdish nationalist fighters to the Nagorno-Karabakh front. While it is not confirmed that these parties were recruited directly by ASALA, there is a historical link through Melkonian’s historical ties that could imply a pre-existing network was still at the disposal of re-recruited ASALA members to the current front. 


A French response to an ASALA reprisal significantly different from 80’s era

In the 1980s era, France was a reluctant collaborator in exposing the problem of Armenian terrorism. This rhetoric is subject to potential portal shift in change as France positions itself to crack down on extremism in all its forms within its nation under crisis. France has recently engaged in a secular conflict with Islamic clerics as France condemned the actions of Islamic extremists and Islamic clerics retaliated with the opinion that this was anti-Islamic in general. 

The French stance against the potential of extremist insurgency at home will likely influence its modern rhetoric against Armenian extremism mobilizing again within its national borders, or within areas of the Middle East where both France and Armenia have a pronounced influence.