Turkey and Armenia hold talks in first steps towards normalization

The first face-to-face meeting between the two countries since 2009, welcomed by the EU and US, lasted for 90 minutes. (Turkish Armenian Business Development Council)
The first face-to-face meeting between the two countries since 2009, welcomed by the EU and US, lasted for 90 minutes. (Turkish Armenian Business Development Council)
Short Url
Updated 14 January 2022

Turkey and Armenia hold talks in first steps towards normalization

The first face-to-face meeting between the two countries since 2009, welcomed by the EU and US, lasted for 90 minutes. (Turkish Armenian Business Development Council)
  • Short-term breakthrough from meetings unlikely, foreign policy analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: Special envoys from Turkey and Armenia held their first round of talks in Moscow on Friday in the first steps towards normalization of diplomatic and commercial ties between the two countries.

Armenia will hope that the talks will help it break its regional isolation, while for Turkey they are part of its wider efforts to rebuild trust with its neighbors and reduce the potential risk of conflict.

The first face-to-face meeting between the two countries since 2009 lasted for 90 minutes. Armenia’s special envoy is 31-year-old deputy parliamentary speaker Ruben Rubinyan. Turkey’s representative is its former ambassador to the US Serdar Kilic, a 64-year-old senior diplomat.

The move was welcomed by both the European Union and the US.

According to an official statement from the Turkish side, the special envoys “conducted (talks) in a positive and constructive atmosphere” and “exchanged their preliminary views regarding the normalization process through dialogue between Turkey and Armenia.

“(Both) parties agreed to continue negotiations without preconditions aiming at full normalization. The date and venue of their second meeting will be decided in due time through diplomatic channels,” the statement continued.

Although experts hailed the beginning of talks between the two countries as a promising development, they also remained cautious and acknowledged that there will be no easy breakthrough in the frosty relationship.

Nigar Goksel, Turkey director of the International Crisis Group, told Arab News: “The Turkey-Armenia track and the Armenia-Azerbaijan track are referred to as ‘mutually reinforcing’ by Ankara, which reflects a hope that progress on one will positively feed into the other.

“Azerbaijan has regained the territories around Nagorno-Karabakh, which was the main issue holding back Turkey-Armenia normalization since 1993,” she continued. “However, Azerbaijan wants to see progress towards the opening of a new transit route to Nakhchivan through Armenian territory. The extent to which Azerbaijan’s expectations will bleed into Turkish-Armenian negotiations has yet to be seen.”

Both Baku and Ankara are keen to reopen a land link connecting Azerbaijan with its exclave of Nakhchivan and on to Turkey through Armenia’s Syunik province.

Azerbaijan has also prioritized projects in the Zangezur corridor that will comprise roads and railways across territories in Syunik.

The renovation of rail connections between Armenia and Turkey is expected to bring economic benefits as they could be used by traders from Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia and Iran.

Because of its decades-long isolation, Armenia has been excluded from the key oil and gas pipelines, as well as rail networks, in the South Caucasus.

“Heading into the talks, stakes were high,” Samuel Ramani, a tutor of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford, told Arab News.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993. The two countries reached an agreement in 2009 to establish formal relations, but the peace accord — which was opposed by Azerbaijan — was never ratified.

Ankara announced that it is coordinating the current rapprochement process with its key regional ally Baku, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that Armenia should establish good ties with Azerbaijan if it expects results from the current reconciliation.

“Turkey and Armenia have experienced disruptions to their bilateral relationship since 2009 and a cessation of all but indirect bilateral trade,” Ramani said.

However, Ramani warned, the talks are unlikely to lead to a short-term breakthrough.

“The 1915 massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire — considered as genocide by Armenia — continues to hang over the bilateral relationship, as do ongoing tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which (tend to) flare up but stop short of open conflict. What these talks might provide is a foundation for future, more comprehensive, discussions,” he said.

Yerevan expects that the talks will lead to the consolidation of diplomatic relations, the opening of land borders that have been closed since 1993, and the mutual appointment of ambassadors.

The opening of borders will help the landlocked Armenian economy increase its trade with Turkey, which was valued at $3.8 million in 2021, while Turkish goods will then have a good opportunity with compete with more-expensive Russian imports in Armenia. Armenia lifted its embargo on Turkish imports in December.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently floated the possibility of launching charter flights between Istanbul and Yerevan, which are expected to begin in early February.


UN Security Council in renewed call for Abu Akleh’s killers to be brought to justice

UN Security Council in renewed call for Abu Akleh’s killers to be brought to justice
Updated 15 sec ago

UN Security Council in renewed call for Abu Akleh’s killers to be brought to justice

UN Security Council in renewed call for Abu Akleh’s killers to be brought to justice
  • Council members condemn Israeli violence at slain journalist’s funeral and repeat demands for independent investigation into her death
  • Israel again called on to halt settlement expansion, and rescind Palestinian property demolition and eviction orders

 

NEW YORK: The killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin in the West Bank and the subsequent excessive use of force by Israeli police against mourners at her funeral were again a key focus of a UN Security Council meeting held on Thursday to discuss the latest report on the situation in the Palestinian territories.

Council members condemned Abu Akleh’s killing, and reiterated their calls for an independent and transparent investigation into her death, while Tor Wennesland, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said that “those responsible must be held accountable.”

US permanent representative to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield described Abu Akleh’s “heart-wrenching killing” as a “tragic loss and an affront to press freedoms everywhere.”

She strongly condemned the killing, and called for “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation,” adding: “And upon the conclusion of an investigation, we expect full accountability for those found responsible.”

Thomas-Greenfield said that Abu Akleh’s death was compounded by the violence at her funeral procession.

“We have directly shared our concern with Israel regarding the troubling footage of Israeli police intruding on the procession,” she said.

The US envoy called on all parties to honor Abu Akleh by “redoubling” peace efforts.

Former and current European members of the Security Council also reiterated their call for an investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing and expressed shock at “the violence exercised by the Israeli police toward mourners at her funeral.”

In a joint statement issued after the Security Council meeting, EU members France, Ireland and Estonia, joined by Albania, deplored the decision by the Israeli Higher Planning Council on May 12 to advance plans for the construction of more than 4,000 housing units in the occupied West Bank.

The statement urged Israel to rescind that decision, as well as abandon planned demolitions and evictions, especially in Masafer Yatta area, which alone could result in the forced transfer of 1,200 people.

Condemning all attacks against journalists, Wennesland said that Abu Akleh’s death “brought Palestinians and countless others around the world together in grief and anger, while serving as another reminder of the devastating human cost of this conflict.”

The special coordinator also lamented “the familiar pattern of daily violence, including armed clashes, settlement expansion, evictions, demolitions and seizures of Palestinian structures, as well as a deadly terrorist attack in Israel.”

The daily violence has left 10 Palestinians, including a woman and three children, dead and 346 Palestinians, including 24 children, injured.

Those deaths and injuries at the hands of Israeli security forces occurred during demonstrations, clashes, and search-and-arrest operations, said Wennesland.

He said that Israeli settlers and other civilians have carried out 57 attacks against Palestinians, resulting in one Palestinian child being killed, 24 injuries and damage to Palestinian property.

Meanwhile, four Israeli civilians and one Israeli security personnel were killed and 22 civilians and 20 security personnel injured by Palestinians in shooting and stabbing attacks or clashes involving the throwing of stones or homemade incendiary devices.

Wennesland also called for urgent attention to the Palestinian Authority’s “dire” financial situation, “compounded by the constraints of the occupation, the absence of serious Palestinian reforms and unclear prospects for donor support.”

He said: “Without meaningful policy steps on the part of Israel, bold reforms on the part of the PA and increased donor support, these economic challenges will continue.”
 


Death of US embassy employee in Houthi detention sparks outrage

Death of US embassy employee in Houthi detention sparks outrage
Updated 26 May 2022

Death of US embassy employee in Houthi detention sparks outrage

Death of US embassy employee in Houthi detention sparks outrage
  • The US embassy said that Abdulhameed Al-Ajami, one of its staff members in the Yemeni capital, who was abducted by the Houthis, had died in Houthi detention
  • Al-Ajami was among at least a dozen Yemeni workers at the embassy, and USAID, who were abducted and later forcibly disappeared

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthis have again been criticized for mistreating prisoners after an employee at a US aid organization in Yemen died while being held by the group.

The US embassy in Sanaa said on Thursday that Abdulhameed Al-Ajami, one of its staff members in the Yemeni capital who was abducted by the Houthis late last year, had died in Houthi detention.

In a statement, also calling for the release of the other workers detained by the Houthis, the embassy said: “We grieve for retired USAID (US Agency for International Development) employee Abdulhameed Al-Ajami, who died in Houthi captivity.

“He was an innocent grandfather who should never have died away from his family, a proud Yemeni dedicated to educating Yemeni children.

“We extend our condolences to his loved ones and call on the Houthis to end this injustice and release every single current and former US Embassy employee now.”

Al-Ajami was among at least a dozen Yemeni workers at the embassy and USAID who were abducted and later forcibly disappeared after the militia group raided the embassy’s compound.

Yemeni activists and local media reports said that Al-Ajami was brutally tortured by the Houthis and was denied life-saving mediation, a move that led to his death.

Al-Ajami’s death came as friends of another US embassy abductee, Bassam Al-Mardahi, warned that he could die too, as he was in a critical condition due to torture by his captors.

Yemeni government officials, human rights activists, and former abductees strongly condemned the Houthis for abusing prisoners, stating that the death of Al-Ajami was another clue to the torture methods used by the group against thousands of prisoners.

Yemen’s Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani offered his condolences to Al-Ajami’s family and called for international action to force the Houthis to stop abusing prisoners and release them immediately.

He expressed his strong condemnation of the group’s “psychological and physical torture” of Al-Ajami, treatment, the minister said, that had resulted in his death eight months after being abducted, adding that he had been deprived “of his most basic rights, including medicines.”

The French Embassy in Yemen also denounced the death and asked the Houthis to release the remaining abducted US and UN workers.

In a tweet, the embassy said: “It reiterated its demand for the release of all local employees of the US embassy and the UN who have been arbitrarily detained by the Houthis for several months.”

The Houthis are also still holding two Yemenis working for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sanaa who were abducted in the city in November. The two workers have not been put on trial and the Houthis have prevented them from contacting their families, the UN said.

Similarly, Yemeni human rights activists said that torture was rife inside Houthi prisons and dozens of civilians abducted by the group had died while in detention.

Fuad Al-Mansouri, a Yemeni human rights activist, told Arab News that many detainees inside Houthi prisons may face the same fate as Al-Ajami if the Houthis were not forced to stop abusing prisoners.

“Al-Ajami’s death is a very serious indication of the mistreatment of detainees in the prisons of the Houthi militia. This is not the first incident, and it will not be the last,” Al-Mansouri said.

Amat Al-Salam Al-Hajj, chairwoman of the Abductees’ Mothers Association, an umbrella organization for thousands of female relatives of war prisoners, told Arab News that the Houthis had barred relatives of the detained US embassy employees from speaking to the organization or media, urging the UN Yemen envoy to work on releasing thousands of detainees.

“In Houthi prisons, the dignity of the Yemeni human being is insulted. The file of the abductee is a true humanitarian crisis that must be addressed,” she said.

Abdullah Al-Munifi, a Yemeni journalist and former detainee who was released from a Houthi prison in 2018, told Arab News that he was whipped with electrical cables, hung by his arms, deprived of sleep and toilet facilities, electrocuted, and kept in solitary confinement for months.

“I wish I would die due to torture. Sometimes they make wounds on the body and put salt on them,” Al-Munifi said.


Europe ‘silent’ on ‘deplorable conditions’ for migrants in Libya: NGO chief

Europe ‘silent’ on ‘deplorable conditions’ for migrants in Libya: NGO chief
Updated 26 May 2022

Europe ‘silent’ on ‘deplorable conditions’ for migrants in Libya: NGO chief

Europe ‘silent’ on ‘deplorable conditions’ for migrants in Libya: NGO chief
  • IOM Chief of Mission Federico Soda: ‘On a number of issues in the country, we (the IOM) are the only voice; that’s problematic; what concerns me is kind of the acquiescence’
  • A recent IOM report found that a record 32,425 people were returned to Libya after trying to travel to Europe last year

LONDON: Europe has failed to note and act on the plight of thousands of migrants in Libya who are being held in “deplorable conditions” and often under arbitrary detention, an international NGO chief has said.

Federico Soda, chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration’s presence in Libya, said too little is being done to have an effect on the country’s “environment of arbitrary detention and deplorable conditions” for migrants.

“Most member states are silent on these issues in Libya,” Soda told reporters in Brussels. “On a number of issues in the country, we (the IOM) are the only voice. That’s problematic. What concerns me is kind of the acquiescence.”

He described the attitude prevalent in Europe as: “‘It’s not a problem on our shore, so let’s just keep it there’.”

Soda said the international community should dish out “more condemnation” and demand “more calls for law and order for investigations” into the situation in Libya.

A recent IOM report found that a record 32,425 people were returned to Libya after trying to travel to Europe last year.

The majority were intercepted or rescued from the often unsafe small boats they travel in across the Mediterranean Sea.

Soda said the issue is society-wide, with multiple groups guilty of allowing the crisis to continue.

“It’s not about elected people; I think the whole of the community has a responsibility here, because when societies becomes as polarized as we’ve been on migration issues, I think we all have to look in the mirror and maybe put ourselves in the shoes and the conditions of where these people are coming from,” he added.


Yemen government, Houthis begin Amman talks on ending Taiz siege 

Yemen government, Houthis begin Amman talks on ending Taiz siege 
Updated 26 May 2022

Yemen government, Houthis begin Amman talks on ending Taiz siege 

Yemen government, Houthis begin Amman talks on ending Taiz siege 
  • Desperate civilians hold rallies protesting the Houthi siege, calling for action from international community

AL-MUKALLA: Discussions between the Yemeni government and the Iran-backed Houthis on opening roads in the city of Taiz and other provinces started on Wednesday as thousands gathered in the streets of Taiz to demand an immediate end to the Houthis’ siege. 

Hans Grundberg, the UN’s Yemen envoy, said his office would sponsor the meeting between both sides in the Jordanian capital to discuss opening roads in Taiz and the provinces as part of the two-month truce.

“The meeting between Government of Yemen & Ansar Allah representatives on opening roads in #Taiz & other governorates as per the truce agreement starts today in Amman under the auspices of the UN Envoy for #Yemen,” Grundberg tweeted, using the official name of the Houthis.

The Yemeni government delegation said they held a meeting with Grundberg shortly after landing in Amman, adding that they might engage in direct talks with the Houthis over the coming days. 

“We would be pushing for opening roads to pre-war time and resuming the flow of water and power supplies to the city,” Ali Al-Ajar, a member of the government delegation, told Arab News by telephone from Amman. 

The truce, which came into effect on April 2 and is the longest since the beginning of the war, called for a pause in fighting on all fronts, resuming flights from Sanaa airport, allowing fuel ships to enter Hodeidah port and forming a joint committee to discuss opening roads in Taiz, Abyan, Al-Bayda, Marib and the other provinces. 

The meeting was delayed many times as the Houthis refused to name their representatives, despite constant demands from international mediators. 

Meanwhile, hundreds of citizens rallied in the streets of Taiz on Wednesday to demand international action to force the Houthis to end their siege on the city. 

The protesters carried posters and slogans demanding action from Yemeni negotiators in Amman, the UN Yemen envoy and the international community in ending the siege that has cut off the city from the rest of the country. 

“The complete lifting of the siege is an inalienable human right,” read one of the posters. 

This week, people in Taiz challenged the Houthi siege by arranging rallies near the heavily mined checkpoints on the edges of the city, drawing attention to their suffering under the siege. These rallies are rare and reflect the desperation felt by the people living under siege.

During the past seven years, the Houthis have blocked the city’s main entrances and roads that link it with Sanaa, Hodeidah and Aden. The Iran-backed terrorists have planted landmines and deployed snipers in the surrounding areas after failing to seize control of the city’s downtown due to resistance from government troops. 

The siege has pushed thousands of people into famine as the Houthis prevent aid and vital goods from reaching the city, forcing people into using dangerous mountain roads. 

Mohammed Al-Mekhlafi, a Yemeni political analyst, criticized the international community for not mounting enough pressure on the Houthis to lift the siege on Taiz as they did with the Yemeni government and the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen over Sanaa airport and Hodeidah port. 

“The UN and the international community did not use serious and active pressure on the Houthis to open humanitarian corridors in Taiz. The Houthis got many concessions concerning Sanaa airport and Hodeidah seaport without offering anything in return,” Al-Mekhlafi told Arab News.

The Houthis, who usually deny that they are laying a siege on Taiz, said on Tuesday that they closed some roads in Taiz to protect people from clashes. 

“The procedures in Taiz were imposed following military necessities to preserve the lives of citizens,” said Abdul Malik Al-Ajri, a Houthi negotiator, according to the Houthi media. He said the movement has not discussed the truce extension with the UN. 


Slain IRGC officer headed assassination unit: Report

Slain IRGC officer headed assassination unit: Report
No one has taken responsibility for Khodaei’s death. (File/AFP)
Updated 26 May 2022

Slain IRGC officer headed assassination unit: Report

Slain IRGC officer headed assassination unit: Report
  • Hassan Sayyad Khodaei planned kidnappings, killings for Quds Force Unit 840: WSJ
  • Targets included Israeli diplomat, American general, French intellectual

LONDON: An Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer killed outside his home in Tehran on Sunday is thought to have been responsible for the group’s assassination unit, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper reported that Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei planned kidnappings and killings for Quds Force Unit 840, including recent failed plots against an Israeli diplomat, an American general and a French intellectual.  

Some of those the WSJ cited questioned whether any of the operations planned by Khodaei had been successful, noting that he was also tied to a foiled plot to murder an Israeli businessman in Cyprus last year, which led to the arrest of an Azerbaijani national.

No one has taken responsibility for Khodaei’s death, but Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi appeared to blame the US when he referred to the role of the “global arrogance” — a term applied to America — in the killing during a televised statement.

“I have no doubt that revenge for the pure blood of this martyr on the hands of the criminals is inevitable,” he added.

Israel warned that it would respond to acts of Iranian aggression abroad inside Iran, the WSJ reported.