Armenia Azerbaijan

Questions regarding post-conflict normalization process as Azerbaijan regains territory

By | Rachel Brooks

November 9, 2020

Pictured above, a screencapture of an Armenian political scientist’s controversial pro-extremism post highlights the risks to the anticipated post-conflict normalization process. Retrieved from social media, fair use. 

Azerbaijan slowly but surely takes back the lands lost in the First Nagorno-Karabakh post-Soviet conflict. The Second Nagorno-Karabakh conflict moves closer to a potential resolve, many bitter questions remain. The projected victory of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has not come without grave cost. The dust is settling over Barda and Ganja’s rubble yet, even as Azerbaijani forces seize Shusha from Armenian occupation. The debris of the graves in Tartar and the desecration of holy relics still stands as a jarring reminder of the war crimes still to be processed.  

Moving forward, diplomacy between Azerbaijan and Armenia must also address the issue of Armenian diaspora funded extremism. The Armenian nationalistic movement that is radicalized by the idea of Greater Armenia creates an ideological issue for the future. The potential for the regroup, indoctrination, and entrenchment of radical extremists along the reoccupied region comes into play. 

In the recent days of the conflict, extremist groups have been observed in the region, including the presence of the 1980s era ASALA leadership and the presence of far-right extremist group Zouaves Paris, which is a nationalist criminal group out of France. This was confirmed by Akshin Ziyadov, the Head of Probation Service of the Ministry of Justice of Azerbaijan. Ziyadov cited an inquiry by the General Prosecutor’s office into the presence of French national radicals in the region. 

The evidence of the extremist presence in the Nagorno-Karabakh region raises concerns of extremist regrouping and entrenched warfare as the formal conflict era comes to an end. 

The risk of these entrenched groups continues to present an issue to the anticipated diplomatic peace process as these groups receive foreign funding. Foreign funding of the groups has been proven through such as the ANCA of the United States, the Los Angeles-area based Armenia Fund, and from groups external to the west. Haqqin.az reported, citing presidential aide Hikmet Hajiyev as the source, that the Armenian Artsakh campaign is currently receiving funds from Armenian General Benevolent Fund, Armenian Canadian Medical Association of Ontario, Fund for Armenian Relief, Tufenkian Foundation, Armenian Relief Society, and others. 

Human rights lawyer and geopolitical analyst Irina Tsukerman commented on the costs and effects of the Armenian campaign into the Nagorno-Karabakh 2020 era. The international community had many unresolved questions regarding the relationship of the above-stated NGOs to the region and the conflict, whether they had funded the war directly or indirectly. 

“ The funding from various Armenian led diaspora organizations had paid for some of the roads and other infrastructure in Nagorno-Karabakh, but otherwise went to waste. Armenia as a country relies on the remittance system to keep afloat. It has failed to invest in building industry or other means of bringing its economy up and instead spent the generous donations from the diaspora on wars that are now proving ruinous. Its military is poorly equipped and poorly trained; the soldiers have fled from battlefields abandoning their equipment. So where did all the money go? Who benefited from this costly war? The number one beneficiaries are likely the NGOs and activists used to spread propaganda, troll factories, and lobbyists hired to perpetuate the myths of Armenia’s victimhood status,” said Tsukerman. 

The funds spent on Nagorno-Karabakh infrastructure have been backed directly by the Armenia Fund. 

“We help the people of Armenia and Karabakh through humanitarian and infrastructure development,” the Armenia Fund webpage states. Armenia Fund states that it allocates the donations it receives to housing and urban development, roads and highways, rural development and support, water infrastructure, culture and heritage, schools and colleges, agriculture development, public health and medicine, and veterans support. The fund states that it has raised over 100,000 million in U.S. dollars for projects in both Armenia and Karabakh, alleging that Karabakh has the right to self-identification as an Armenian state. 

The fund also states that it undergoes a voluntary audit of its charitable donations every year by Grant Thornton. While Armenia Fund may legally operate within the United States, it attests that its funds directly go to benefit the Republic of Armenia and Artsakh, and Armenia and its subordinate Artsakh do not legally operate in the region. For this reason, funds may not in most cases be traced through criminal laundering, as they pass legitimately from the United States to Armenia, and then are distributed illegitimately. 

Citing the ANCA, Armenia Fund is a United States affiliate of Hayastan All Armenia Fund, the largest nonprofit of Armenia. Trustees of the Hayastan All Armenia Fund include Nikol Pashiyan, the republic’s prime minister, Armen Sarkissian, the republic’s president, Ararat Mirzoyan, the president of the republic’s national assembly, Arayik Harutyunyan, the president of the illegal settlement of Artsakh, Arkadi Ghukasyan, ex-president Ar and overseer of trustees, H.H. Garegin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians, H.H. Aram I, the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, Atom Janjughazyan, the republic’s minister of finance and various government officials. Other trustees were listed as hailing from the U.S., Argentina, Brazil, Syria, France, Switzerland, and Russia.  

The trouble is that Artsakh is not a legally recognized republic and its supposed self-governance is controlled by Armenia financially and with political oversight. Artsakh is not recognized as a legal republic but is within the legal territory of Azerbaijan, recognized by the U.N. As Azerbaijan reclaims the region that Artsakh considers its property, Armenia Fund-backed projects in the area will lose their viability and ability to operate under Armenian oversight. 

Armenia Fund released a statement on November 8 regarding the receipt of donations to Artsakh projects. 

“The people of Armenia and Artsakh are facing an existential threat following the unprovoked aggression from Turkish-backed Azerbaijani forces last month. Now more than ever, the Armenian homeland needs our help.

 

The Armenian community in the United States has quickly responded to the plight of the people of Artsakh. Armenia Fund is the largest Armenian humanitarian organization in the United States serving the needs of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh. And now, our focus is on the more than 90,000 refugees who have been displaced in Artsakh,” stated Armenia Fund. The allegation that Azerbaijani forces are directly backed by the Turkish government has not been proven. 

Armenia Fund likewise stated that it would provide basic winter needs necessary to the “survival” of the people in Artsakh as the winter approaches. 

“The Armenia Fund has raised funds from the community to purchase and deliver basic survival needs to keep them safe by providing temporary shelter, food, and medical care. Every single dollar is being spent for humanitarian purposes only. As this crisis continues, we will ensure the people of Artsakh have access to vital resources for their survival.” 

This statement has been met with suspicion. The irregularity of Armenian forces and forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh region is one reason for scrutiny. Temporary shelters, food, and medical care, classified as humanitarian aid passing through the hands of the Armenian government, is called into question as possible support of the irregular armed forces and citizen soldiers of the region. Currently, Armenia Fund is actively campaigning for medical relief funds.  

The Armenian community of the United States itself has provided news releases that themselves incite the public scrutiny of the Armenia Fund. One was published by the ANCA in 2019, the U.S. Congressional lobby for Armenian expatriate interests in the United States. The Armenia Fund in the U.S. published a news release in response to the arrest of Hayastan All Armenia Fund’s executive director Ara Vardanyan in Yerevan. Vardanyan was arrested for “misusing and misappropriating the funds” of the All-Armenia fund. He was reported to have misused the fund’s credit card for personal expenses. 

In this release, the Armenia Fund states expressly that it uses the Hayastan All Armenia fund as an “implementing agent for its specific humanitarian and infrastructure development projects in Armenia and Artsakh.”

Tsukerman provided a theory for where the rest of the wasted funds from previous campaigns likely leaked. 

“The rest was pilfered by corrupt politicians or went to assorted gangs and groups terrorizing the Azerbaijanis. Where most of it did not go is infrastructure in the occupied territories. If one visits the lands held by Armenia one will see devastation and emptiness; over the past 28 years, nothing was done to create a semblance of a viable local economy.  

The specter of Azerbaijan, therefore, became a convenient scapegoat to excuse away lack of investment into the areas the Armenians took over and induced people from inside the country to move to, in addition to those who had lived there before Armenia had moved in. Armenia ultimately did not wish to take responsibility for the humanitarian crisis it created; therefore it did not recognize the fictional republic of “Artsakh” because then it would be expected to support it financially. “Artsakh” was a money-laundering enterprise aimed at getting humanitarian aid from the US and other Western countries and more money from the gullible diaspora, “said Tsukerman. 

This opinion is supported by the facts of the previous misuse of the fund, proven by the arrest of the state-supported organization’s former executive director. This becomes a prime question of the normalization process between Armenia and Azerbaijan as the war is drawn to a tactical close. Funds delivered directly to the Armenian state, and then dispersed illicitly can hurt the normalization process, funding irregular armed services, and creating a higher risk of entrenchment warfare or the presence of radicalization groups. 

The likelihood of potential radicalization becomes more apparent as Armenian officials and well-respected community leaders call for the muster of these groups. Stepan Danielyan, the Chairman of the Partnership for Democracy Center and an Armenian political scientist, called for a radical effort to retake Artsakh. 

“Artsakh must announce that it will take the latest steps if there is no other way. The Sarsang reservoir will explode, the rivers going to Azerbaijan will poison, burn all the forests, and in extreme cases, the nuclear waste will spread in Artsakh. If Armenians don’t live there, then no one will live in that area anymore.” Danielyan posted to Facebook on November 9, a post that has since been removed from his public feed. 

Danielyan has also posted advice on how to manipulate the Jewish community and Israel into supporting Armenia’s favor and ways that he expected Armenian community members could damage the relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan. 

On November 1, Danielyan made another troubling statement that also infers strongly the willingness of the Armenian community to finance extremism as the war winds to a potential halt. 

“There is no need for a government in Armenia, people create military subdivisions, armed, self-financed, social issues, foreign policy…

If the government, ministries, TIMs do not disturb, the result will be better.

All of this to relax, self-formed groups should be taken to sit in those non-working buildings, and take bonuses to work for the colony and make networks instead of buying them.

Selected and self-sacrificed society and special chosen…:

P.S. Formed groups, keep the connections, we still have things to do.” wrote Danielyan. 

This statement strongly solidifies the rhetoric and risk of Armenian nationalist extremism in the region in the twilight hours of the war.