By Yusif Babanly
If you tune in to any international news network nowadays, you will notice that along with hot debates around the stand-off on the Korean peninsula, the ongoing conflict in Mali makes up a bulk of news updates. With one of the UN Security Council members and G8 powers behind its back and a coalition force of determined African militaries on its sidelines, the Malian army is intent to restore its territorial integrity. The conflict in Mali and how the situation has been unfolding for the past three months is a perfect example of international law at work ensured by wise actions of world powers. However, this particular case is also a bitter example of how double standards are practiced by the very same powers vis-à-vis other countries. To understand the application of double standards, one must first get a preview of the current conflict in Mali.
Mali, a West African country with a size of France and Germany combined, stretches from its urbanized south to the dry Sub-Saharan deserts in the north. Free from the French colonization by 1960, Mali has gone through decades of tumultuous rule and was thought to have finally become a democratic state with a legitimate government. In the first quarter of 2012, as the relations gradually worsened between the government in Bamako and its military, the latter overthrew the former, instituting a coup d’état. Although the military leadership eventually receded thus effectively reinstating the executive rule of the president, the impact of the political chaos remained enormous. First of all, it facilitated the Tuareg minority in the north of the country to establish its own separatist rule. Secondly, it opened the door to the incoming Islamic radical fighters with trophies from Arab Spring, and specifically from Libya, who crossed the uncontrolled northern border and joined the armed minority to declare their illegitimate separatist government in Azawad. As the violence in northern Mali grew with civilians casualties chiefly underreported, Bamako continued to fight the rebel forces. By the end of 2012 the separatist forces controlled two-third of the country. Ever since the imposition of illegal regime in northern Mali, the chaos erupted as the government-ensured liberties disappeared and harsh forms of Islamist laws were imposed on Malian citizens.
On December 20, the UN Security Council convened to take a decisive step in keeping the international law in order. The powerful gathering unanimously passed a resolution to take a firm action to end the chaotic and tumultuous rule of separatists in northern Mali. At the time of adoption, UN SC Resolution 2085 foresaw deployment of an African multi-national force to Mali for a period of one year to help cease the violence in the uncontrolled by Bamako northern part of the country. At the same time, the resolution imposed regulations requiring the international force to act only after all political moves have been exhausted. The document also stipulated the urge to hold democratic elections and stop the military from meddling in government’s affairs. U.N. peacekeeping officials had stated that the military operations could start in the fall of 2013 while the West African bloc already made a commitment to send 3,300 troops for the mission. The resolution also allowed the joint African force to use “all necessary measures” to end the violence, a language implicitly permitting use of force to end the separatist movement in Mali.
While the Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs Tieman Coulibaly welcomed the UN SC resolution stating that his government appreciated the commitment from “the international community to fight terrorism and organized transnational crime”, the rebel forces came out with the statement of their own – a day after the UN SC resolution passed, the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine and the Tuareg leaders of MNLA (Azawad National Liberation Movement) issued a communiqué on ceasing the hostilities and promising commitment to peace.
In an apparent effort to delay the deployment of international force to Mali’s troubled north, the rebels regrouped and prepared to fight a continuous war. The New Year started with an offensive and occupation of Konna from the northern stronghold of separatist forces. The capture of strategic town of Konna which is on the path to Malian army’s large military base is what stimulated the Operation Serval – a now resolution-backed and immediate French-led military intervention to stop the advance of separatist forces to Bamako. As an ongoing air campaign and ground operations of coalition of French and Malian forces, assisted by UN-mandated Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) multinational force and logistical commitment from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, UK, the United States continue, the unraveling in Mali raises questions about application of double standards. One of these peculiar cases where double standards are applied can be observed in the Republic of Azerbaijan, which found itself in a bitter ethnic and territorial conflict with the neighboring Armenia in 1988.
The conflict grew into an undeclared war by 1992 and lasted through the signing of ceasefire agreement in May of 1994, leaving Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region which makes up 16% of sovereign Azerbaijani territory under military occupation by Armenian forces, thus creating one of the biggest refugee crises in the world. Since the outset of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan had eagerly mobilized all its political efforts to engage the international community in acting to protect international law and order. Unfortunately, the initial calls went in vein and the military chaos imposed by Armenian paramilitary on Azerbaijani town of Khojaly and villages of Dashbulag, Malibeyli and Gushchular, Garadaghly and Aghdaban in 1992, resulted in massacres of innocent civilians. Brutality much worse than stoning women to death or forcing teenage women into marriages, nowadays seen in northern Mali, took place in the Azerbaijani regions under occupation by Armenian forces. In Khojaly alone, Armenian military detachments feasted on live and dead bodies of Azerbaijani civilians, by gauging eyes, burning them alive, raping women in front of their children, slicing their ears, noses and genitals off. The despicable horror was vividly described by international reporters from the site of the massacre. Yet, all that came out of foreign offices of major powers was diplomatically worded statements with no physical effect on the occupying Armenian army. No international force decided to act. No firm ultimatums were given. No coalitions were formed to aid the Azerbaijani civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh and no assistance was provided to the Azerbaijani government to restore its territorial integrity. Hearing nothing but silent reactions, the Armenian war machine occupied seven more districts of Azerbaijan around the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO), ethnically cleansing close to 600 thousand Azerbaijani civilians from their homes. Four resolutions (UN SC 822, 853, 874, 884) back to back condemning the occupation of Azerbaijani territories were issued as a result and continue ringing the bell of justice, but the UN Security Council which passed the very resolutions never proceeded with implementing them.
Upon escalation of the conflict in Mali, several reasons were voiced in international media for which Mali matters and which should justify the international intervention. Examining these reasons and comparing them to the situation within the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should explain why the concern over application of double standards is so loudly pronounced.
The first reason is location. Mali encompasses a vast landlocked territory which has no considerable resources of its own and borders other troublesome countries which also have an insurgency problem. With its vast deserts and caves, the country, and especially its Azawad region, previously under full control of the separatists, may serve as a hub for growing terrorist networks in Africa, which in turn, will certainly affect their operations in Europe or the Middle East. Moreover, as an uncontrolled by a legitimate authority territory, it will become a haven for drug and human trafficking that will destabilize the European continent.
Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, currently under military occupation and with no country recognizing it as legitimate authority resembles Mali’s Azawad region. Just like in Mali, the separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh, aided by the Armenian government, and having ethnically cleansed its Azerbaijani population, established a military-controlled entity, chiefly uncontrolled and unmonitored by any international body. In other words, international law and order does not work there simply because the entity is not recognized as a state. There have been numerous reports on the territory being used for drug trafficking and terrorist training programs such as one involving PKK. Even at the time of Soviet rule in Nagorno-Karabakh and before the conflict escalated into a full-fledged war, Armenian terrorist networks such as Vrezh had trained, supplied and conducted activities in and around former NKAO, thus inflicting serious damage to Azerbaijani transportation and infrastructure. Among its known attacks are Tbilisi-Baku and Tbilisi-Agdam bus bombings on September 16, 1989 and August 10, 1990, respectively, as well as April 30 and July 31, 1991 bombings of Moscow-Baku trains, resulting in multiple deaths of innocent civilians.
The second reason is what the Western media dubbed “exporting Islamic Jihad”. The countries making up the coalition on the ground in Mali today have raised concerns about the apparent possibility of Islamic radicals in an ungoverned entity, exporting radical ideology and extreme interpretation of their beliefs to the foreign nationals of Islamic faith in Western countries. With a sizeable Muslim minority in France, this causes a great deal of discomfort since as a country with close proximity and established links to Africa, France is prone to terrorist attacks more than ever. Case in point, shooting of seven people by an Islamic radical in Toulouse in March of 2012.
Similar concern is caused by the fact that the occupied territory of Nagorno-Karabakh is ungoverned and off the radar of international institutions, thus allowing a free ride for any terrorist and criminal activity with a high potential for its export beyond the territory it emerges from. That includes but is not limited to activities of terrorist organization PKK which reportedly has had access to and stationed its operatives in Armenian-controlled Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Furthermore, Armenian terrorists who have blasted airport offices, bombed trains and shot diplomats have also found safe haven in Karabakh. Their movement in and out of separatist entity is not only uncontrolled but is allowed and encouraged by the Armenian authorities. Just like in case of radical Islamists in Awazad, the Armenian separatists are in position to train, supply and export the militant activity as well as Armenian irredentist ideology from these territories to Turkey, Georgia or any other country in the region.
Third reason for intervention in Mali was the worldwide recognition of Mali’s cultural heritage and danger the ongoing conflict caused to it. The city of Timbuktu alone has been known to the world as the religious educational center which hosted thousands of Islamic documents and books, beautiful tombs and mosques, making it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unwelcomed by the radical Islamic separatists, the valuable collections of medieval Islamic books were acknowledged by Azawad separatists as idolatrous and unfitting to their version of Islam and were subsequently burned. That action by itself has erased a substantial portion of cultural heritage of Mali.
Similarly the city of Shusha, an Azerbaijani citadel and the heart of Azerbaijani cultural heritage with its beautiful historical sites, mosques, landmarks, birthplace of renowned musicians, artists and poets, faced the same fate. Many sites all over the occupied territories are missing libraries, museums, architectural heritage that was prevalent throughout the existence of Azerbaijani people in Karabakh and qualifying to make up the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Almost all signs of Azerbaijani Turkic heritage born in Karabakh have been erased by Armenian junta, transforming it into a visibly mono-ethnic entity as if no Azerbaijani ever lived there. Only the saddened mosques of Yukhari and Ashagi Govhar Agha remaining in ruins tower over Karabakh’s mountains.
Another city, Agdam, once thriving for its cultural diversity and foundations – a home to tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis – is now reduced to a ruble. No signs of architecture, no voice of Mugam heard hundreds of miles away, no azans starting mornings now color this city. It is a recognized ghost town, a sign of psychological damage inflicted to Azerbaijani people by Armenian army.
Fourth reason is the humanitarian crisis. According to UN Refugee Agency, more than 350 thousand people have fled the violence in Mali since the beginning of internal warfare in January 2012. Refugees escaping the guns of radicals settled in neighboring Mauritania, Algeria, Burkina Faso and Niger. Although Africa, ratcheted up with humanitarian crises from the times immemorial, has had far bigger cases of refugee disasters, such as ones in Darfur and Rwanda, the Malian case qualifies for immediate attention as well.
Surpassing Mali, the Republic of Azerbaijan has lived with a far heavier burden. Since the beginning of conflict in 1988, approximately 250 thousand Azerbaijani refugees were deported from Armenia, while during the escalation of the conflict into a full-fledged war in 1992-1994, about 600 thousand Azerbaijani civilians were forced out from their homes in Karabakh by advancing Armenian military, thus turning them into internally displaced persons (IDPs) in their own country. Since the ceasefire, the refugee population has grown substantially, with total refugee population going over one million people. With the conflict unresolved and Armenian refusing to allow the return of civilians to their places of residence, Azerbaijan has become the country with the highest refugee population per capita on earth.
While it is commendable that France, with support from other Western nations, had undertaken a committed journey through Sub-Saharan Africa to ensure the rule of international law, it is appalling to see a complete disregard for the same laws in South Caucasus, although the reasons for international military intervention voiced for Mali are quite prevalent in the case of Azerbaijan as well, even in an exacerbated form. France has co-chaired the OSCE Minsk group since 1997, yet its government has never voiced its firm stance on implementing four resolutions of UN Security Council on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. On contrary, on the eve of the trilateral meeting of presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russian in Kazan in 2011, the former President Sarkozy sent a panegyric letter to President Sargsyan explicitly declaring in it Armenia the “sister of France” – a sign of reassurance that France can care less about UN SC resolutions, demanding withdrawal of Armenian forces and the disregard of the fate of Azerbaijani refugees. When the French-led Operation Serval kicked off in January this year, the newly elected President Hollande stated that Mali “is facing a terrorist aggression in the north” and that “the terrorists must know that France will always be there whenever the rights of a country that strives for freedom and democracy are threatened, not just when its core interests are at stake.”
Fact check. Since the beginning of Armenian “Miatsum”, Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan has been infested by incoming Armenian terrorists who staged attacks against civilian targets and escalated the conflict into a war. Among them is an internationally recognized Armenian terrorist Monte Melkonian, who has fingerprints in Khojaly Massacre and other mass killings in Kelbajar and Khojavend districts. So, where was and is exactly France then? Why isn’t leading a coalition for restoration of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, a country far more important for France where it owns quite a few lucrative contracts. Inaction in regards to ongoing aggression against Azerbaijani sovereignty by France and other leading Security Council members is what keeps the Armenian leadership self-confident and its puppet regime in Khankendi in its saddle. The lack of commitment of the French government to friendship with Azerbaijan is so low that the disrespect to Azerbaijanis is shown at many possible levels. For instance, in February 2013, two Azerbaijani nationals Mirvari Fataliyeva and Vusal Huseynov were unscrupulously beaten by a group Armenian youths in the center of the French Parliament in presence of French parliamentarians. The root cause of the problem is the will of the French politicians to succumb to appetites of the half-million strong Armenian diaspora rather than to anything in alignment to French national interests.
These realities are unfortunately present today, April 2 – the 20th anniversary of occupation of Kelbajar district of Azerbaijan. In 1993, within a few short weeks, the regional center of Kelbajar and 151 villages with population over 83,900 people was ethnically cleansed by Armenian forces, therefore triggering the beginning of the large-scale mass expulsion of Azerbaijani IDPs and creating the most worrisome humanitarian crisis in South Caucasus. The occupation of Kelbajar had a detrimental effect of the psyche of the Azerbaijani people, not least because of brutality imposed on the escaping civilians and appropriation of a large land mass by Armenian military, but, more importantly, by the utter disregard of the international community to this injustice in the following months and to this day.
On April 30th, 1993, twenty eight days after the occupation, UN Security Council passed the Resolution 822, demanding the cessation of hostilities and withdrawal of occupying forces from the district of Kelbajar and reaffirming the principle of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. However, the resolution was left to dust on the shelves in UN Headquarters and twenty years later, we are yet to see the firm resolve of the UN Security Council in implementing the UN SC Resolution 822, and three other that followed in a span of six months in the wake of occupation of six more districts of Azerbaijan. The riddance of faux double standards and unswerving restoration of commitment to international laws and norms awaits the government in Paris. There is room for hope.
Yusif Babanly is the co-founder and board member of the US Azeris Network (USAN)
Source: Eurasia Review