Why Lebanese-Armenians feel the pull of the Nagorno-Karabakh war

Why Lebanese-Armenians feel the pull of the Nagorno-Karabakh war
The head of a Red Cross mission called for an end to indiscriminate shelling in the conflict amid mounting civilian deaths. (AFP)
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Updated 04 November 2020

Why Lebanese-Armenians feel the pull of the Nagorno-Karabakh war

Why Lebanese-Armenians feel the pull of the Nagorno-Karabakh war
  • Descendants of the Ottoman genocide are volunteering to fight as Armenia and Azerbaijan remain locked in deadly conflict
  • For many members of the Armenian diaspora, the war is about more than just territory: it is an assault on their ethnic identity

BEIRUT: Kevork Hadjian was a much loved opera singer, famous for his mesmerizing voice and the allure he lent to patriotic Armenian anthems. Born and raised in southern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, the ethnic Armenian lived for a time in Kuwait before moving to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, with his family in 2004.

An ardent patriot, Hadjian held a special place in his heart for Artsakh, the ancient Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh. He fought there briefly in 2016 in what became known as the Four-Day War.

So when Azerbaijan targeted the breakaway region’s capital Stepanakert on Sept. 27, the singer again volunteered to fight for its independence. Just over a week later, on Oct. 6, he was killed on the front line. He was 49.

Hadjian is among the more recognizable casualties of the recent fighting. Their deaths have become something of a rallying cry for young Armenian-Lebanese tempted to follow in their footsteps.

Lebanon is home to a significant Armenian diaspora, descendants of the 1.5 million ethnic Armenians who escaped the genocide 100 years ago — a crime that Turkey to this day refuses to acknowledge.

But the passage of time has failed to quiet Armenian nationalist fervor, stoked anew by the war in the South Caucasus. “Armenians have already seen genocide,” Ishkhan Y, a Lebanon-born Armenian, told Arab News in Beirut. “This is history repeating itself in Artsakh. As Armenians of the diaspora, we are very concerned and upset by what is going on in Artsakh.”

Lebanon is home to a significant Armenian diaspora. (AFP)

Whispers around Beirut and social-media chatter tell of ethnic Armenians who have left Lebanon to join the war, like many others in the wider diaspora. In Bourj Hammoud, the Armenian district of Beirut, many walls are graffitied with slogans criticizing both Turkey and Azerbaijan.

The same is happening in Hadjian’s birthplace in the Bekaa Valley, where villagers say young men are leaving for Nagorno-Karabakh. “There were no calls from the Armenian government or from a political party for them to go,” one villager, who did not want to be named, told Arab News. “They left because they felt it was their duty to go and fight.”

Fighting erupted in late September between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenians in the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, reigniting the decades-old dispute. Turkey is widely accused of encouraging Azerbaijan to launch the latest offensive, and has sent weapons and funding to support Baku’s war effort.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region with a population of around 150,000, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but is claimed and governed by the ethnic Armenians who live there. A diplomatic solution to end the dispute has evaded the warring parties since the 1994 ceasefire.

As the former Soviet republics accuse one another of launching unprovoked attacks, towns and villages have since been indiscriminately shelled, some with banned cluster munitions, according to the rights watchdog Amnesty International. Entire buildings have been reduced to rubble, forcing thousands of civilians from their homes.

Two ceasefire deals have failed to hold — the first brokered by Russia on Oct. 10 and another by the US on Oct. 18. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, held separate meetings with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Washington on Oct. 22, taking over from Moscow’s earlier attempts at establishing a dialogue.

According to a statement from the Armenian Ministry of Defense on Oct. 27, Azerbaijani forces shelled Armenian border guards near the country’s southeast frontier with Iran, expanding the conflict into Armenia proper.

Presenting Baku’s side of the conflict in an oped in Arab News on Oct.2, Ramil Imranov, an Azerbaijani diplomat, wrote: “Armenia keeps trying to legalize the consequences of the war and raise the international prestige of the separatist regime established by Armenia in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. By constantly violating the cease-fire achieved in 1994, Armenia tries to consolidate the existing status-quo.”

A member of the Armenian diaspora, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “Like all Armenians, we as Lebanese-Armenians believe the only solution in the end is a peaceful solution.” But for many Armenians, the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is about more than the territory itself: It is part of a wider assault on the essence of Armenian identity.

“Whether it is Turkey or Azerbaijan, both states have a tradition of historical revisionism towards Armenians,” he said. “Turkey does so with the Armenian genocide and Azerbaijan has done so regarding the history of Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Since the 1960s, Azerbaijani authorities have relayed a revisionist history of the Armenian people, claiming that everything related to Armenian history on Azerbaijani land is actually related to the Caucasian Albanians,” he said.

“The same historical revisionism extends to the Azeris’ idea of Armenia and its territories, all of which they believe belong to Azerbaijan. Azeris deny our rightful place in history.”

Many Armenians claim Ankara has a neo-Ottoman agenda and is working hand in glove with Azerbaijan to exterminate them, pointing to the televised remarks in July by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “We will continue to fulfill the mission our grandfathers have carried out for centuries in the Caucasus.”

Armenian-Lebanese artist Manuella Guiragossian, whose grandmother survived the genocide, believes Turkish government policies are infused with anti-Armenian sentiments.

“If you can imagine what they did to my grandparents during the genocide, you can also imagine what they will do to an entire Armenian population today,” she said. “Turkey’s objective is to do what they did during the Ottoman Empire and take more land and unite Azerbaijan and Turkey and totally remove Armenia from the map.”

Ankara and Baku have both denied accusations that mercenaries from Turkish-controlled parts of Syria and Libya are involved in the conflict, but reports of Syrian casualties of the Nagorno-Karabakh war are trickling in from multiple sources.

Some members of the Armenians diaspora want the international community to take the Nagorno-Karabakh situation far more seriously. American socialite Kim Kardashian West, who is of Armenian descent, has donated $1 million to the California-based Armenia Fund to support the humanitarian effort.

“Even if the whole planet does not support the Armenians, you have a massive number of Armenians rising up all over the world right now, from Los Angeles to Boston and London and Paris,” said Guiragossian.

For Armenian-Lebanese like Ishkhan, the only way to stop the fighting is through international pressure. “Peace and safety can only be guaranteed through the recognition of a free, independent Artsakh by the international community,” he said.

“Armenians have to be able to live freely, safely and securely. Children must be able to go to school, mothers should not cry over their lost sons and husbands because of an insane war, supported by Turkey’s ambitions, financial means and military technology and fueled by their allies.”

Until then, many young Lebanon-born Armenians rightly or wrongly are convinced their best option is to follow the example of volunteers like Hadjian.

“We have no choice but to fight for our land and our country,” said Ishkhan. “We must win this war.”

Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor

Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference

Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference
Updated 16 June 2021

Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference

Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference
BEIRUT: The Lebanese army is in desperate need of donor assistance to survive one of the world’s worst financial crashes, it said Wednesday ahead of a UN-backed fundraising conference.
Unlike previous donor conferences designed to provide training, weapons or equipment, the virtual meeting France hosts Thursday aims to offer the kind of humanitarian assistance usually reserved for countries grappling with conflict or natural disaster.
“We are in need of food parcels, health care assistance, and support with soldiers’ pay,” a military source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“The devaluation of the Lebanese pound is affecting soldiers and they are in need of support. Their salaries are not enough any more.”
Lebanon’s economic crisis, which the World Bank has labelled as one of the world’s worst since the 1850s, has eaten away at soldiers’ pay and slashed the military’s budget for maintenance and equipment, further threatening the country’s stability.
Already in July 2020, the army said it scrapped meat from the meals it gives for soldiers on duty, due to rising food prices.
“We are doing the impossible to ease the suffering and the economic woes of our soldiers,” army chief Joseph Aoun said in a speech on Tuesday.
“We are forced to turn to allied states to secure aid, and I am ready to go to the end of the world to procure assistance so that the army can stay on its feet.”
Thursday’s conference will see participation from Lebanon’s International Support Group, which includes Gulf states, European countries, the US, Russia and China.
It follows a visit by Aoun last month to Paris,where he warned that the army could face even darker days without emergency support.
“The Lebanese army is going through a major crisis, which could get worse due to the deteriorating economic and social situation in Lebanon, which may worsen when subsidies are lifted,” he said.
He was referring to a government plan to scrap subsidies on essential goods such as fuel, food and flour to shore up dwindling foreign currency reserves.
The army has been relying heavily on food donations from allied states since last summer’s monster port explosion in Beirut that killed more than 200 people and damaged swathes of the capital.
France, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey are among the army’s main food donors.
Iraq and Spain have offered medical assistance.
The United States remains the biggest financial backer of the Lebanese military.
It has bumped up funding for the army by $15 million for this year to $120 million.

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack
Updated 16 June 2021

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack
  • Palestinian health ministry said the soldiers responded with fire toward the assailant and neutralized her

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian woman was shot dead in the West Bank on Wednesday after attempting to ram Israeli soldiers with her car and attack them with a knife, the army and Palestinian health ministry said.
The Israeli army said “an assailant arrived in her car and attempted to ram into a number of IDF soldiers” near Hizma, south of Ramallah, before she “exited her vehicle with a knife drawn.”
“The soldiers responded with fire toward the assailant and neutralized her,” it said, with the Palestinian health ministry pronouncing her dead.

US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks

 US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks
Updated 16 June 2021

US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks

 US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks
  • Tim Lenderking will aim to reach a “comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire” in Yemen
  • He has visited the region six times since being appointed by Biden

DUBAI: US President Joe Biden’s special envoy for Yemen will meet with Saudi officials this week in the latest round of diplomatic talks to resolve the years-long war, the State Department said Tuesday.

Tim Lenderking, who has visited the region six times since being appointed by Biden, will aim to reach a “comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire” in Yemen.

In a statement, the State Department said that “Lenderking will travel to Saudi Arabia on June 15-17 where he will meet with senior officials from the Governments of the Republic of Yemen and Saudi Arabia, as well as UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. Throughout the trip, Special Envoy Lenderking will discuss the latest efforts to achieve a comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire, which is the only way to bring Yemenis the relief they so urgently need,” the statement added.

Since Biden took office, the US administration has increased mediation efforts between both countries while easing sanctions on the Iran-backed Houthis. Despite his efforts, the Houthis have maintained their attacks on Saudi Arabia, undermining peace talks.

On Sunday, a Houthi explosive drone destroyed part of a school in the kingdom’s southwestern region of Asir.

“The United States also recognizes Saudi Arabia’s efforts to advance implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, which is essential to stability, security, and prosperity in the south of Yemen,” Washington said.
“Additionally, Special Envoy Lenderking will continue to press for the free flow of essential commodities and humanitarian aid into and throughout Yemen.”

Reformist drops out of Iran election on last day of campaign

Reformist drops out of Iran election on last day of campaign
Updated 16 June 2021

Reformist drops out of Iran election on last day of campaign

Reformist drops out of Iran election on last day of campaign
  • Mohsen Mehralizadeh resigned in a letter to Iran’s Interior Ministry
  • Mehralizadeh’s departure likely will boost former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati
TEHRAN: The only reformist candidate in Iran’s upcoming presidential election dropped out of the race Wednesday on the last day of campaigning, state media reported, likely trying to boost the chances of a moderate candidate.
Mohsen Mehralizadeh, 64, resigned in a letter to Iran’s Interior Ministry, which runs elections in the Islamic Republic, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. Such dropouts are common in Iranian presidential elections in order to boost the chances of similar candidates.
Mehralizadeh’s departure likely will boost former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati, who has been running as a moderate and as a stand-in for President Hassan Rouhani, who is term limited from running again.
Hemmati on Wednesday said that he would select Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to join his administration as either his vice president or foreign minister, embracing the top diplomat who was an architect of Tehran’s now-tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
“The economic development of Iran is not possible without strong diplomatic engagement abroad,” Hemmati wrote on Twitter to explain his choice of Zarif. “My administration is after the removal of sanctions and use of foreign policy to achieve political development.”
The move appeared aimed at consolidating the pro-reform vote just ahead of the poll. Zarif, among the best-known political figures in the Rouhani administration, has come under fire from the political establishment in recent weeks after the leak of a contentious audiotape in which he offered a blunt appraisal of power struggles in the Islamic Republic.
There was no immediate word from Zarif on Hemmati’s announcement, but the minister has previously indicated a willingness to join the incoming administration.
Mehralizadeh’s withdrawal Wednesday leaves six candidates in the race. Polling and analysts indicate Hemmati lags behind the country’s hard-line judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, the campaign’s front-runner long cultivated by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Other hard-line candidates may drop out Wednesday to lend their support to Raisi.
Mehralizadeh served as governor in two Iranian provinces, as the vice president in charge of physical education under reformist President Mohammad Khatami and as a deputy in the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which runs the country’s civilian nuclear program. He came in last place in Iran’s 2005 election, but found himself barred from running in 2015.
Within Iran, candidates exist on a political spectrum that broadly includes hard-liners who want to expand Iran’s nuclear program and confront the world, moderates who hold onto the status quo and reformists who want to change the theocracy from within.
Although a range of prominent reformists and key Rouhani allies registered to run for president, Iran’s clerical vetting body allowed just several low-profile candidates, mostly hard-liners, to run against Raisi. Owing in part to the disqualifications as well as the raging coronavirus pandemic, voter apathy runs deep. The state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has most recently projected a 42 percent turnout from the country’s 59 million eligible voters, which would be a historic low amid mounting calls for a boycott.
In his weekly Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Rouhani urged the public to vote, state TV reported.
“It does not do us any good if the election is cold, lacks people, and its ballots are sparsely populated,” said Rouhani.

Iraqi FM in talks with Kuwait to develop joint cooperation 

Iraqi FM in talks with Kuwait to develop joint cooperation 
Updated 16 June 2021

Iraqi FM in talks with Kuwait to develop joint cooperation 

Iraqi FM in talks with Kuwait to develop joint cooperation 

DUBAI: Iraq’s Foreign Minister Fouad Hussein held talks on Tuesday with his Kuwaiti counterpart to develop joint cooperation between the two former-warring states.
Hussein met with Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah on the sidelines of the consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers held in Doha, the Iraqi News Agency (INA) reported.
“The two sides discussed a number of issues related to bilateral relations in light of the steady growth that these relations are witnessing,” the agency added. 
Hussein indicated, according to the statement, Baghdad's keenness to continue working to advance their relations and develop them at all levels.