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News
Iran seizes Israel-linked container ship in the Gulf of Hormuz

Iran seizes Israel-linked container ship in the Gulf of Hormuz

Amid heightened tension in the Middle East, and an expectation of some sort of Iranian attack on Israel, it was announced on Saturday (13 April) that Iranian Revolutionary Guards naval units had seized an Israeli linked container ship in the Straits of Hormuz. “A container ship named ‘MCS Aries’ was seized by the Sepah (Guards) Navy Special Forces by carrying out a heliborne operation,” IRNA, the Iranian state news agency reported, adding that the operation took place “near the Strait of Hormuz” and “this ship has now been directed toward the territorial waters” of Iran. Several media sources have aired a video that shows commandos raiding a ship near the Strait of Hormuz by helicopter. The video showed the attack earlier reported by the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations. It described the vessel as being “seized by regional authorities” in the Gulf of Oman off the Emirati port city of Fujairah, without elaborating. The vessel involved is likely the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries, a container ship associated with London-based Zodiac Maritime. Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. Zodiac declined to comment and referred questions to MSC, which did not immediately respond. The MSC Aries had been last located off Dubai heading toward the Strait of Hormuz on Friday. The ship had turned off its tracking data, which has been common for Israeli-affiliated ships moving through the region. Regional media reported that 20 Filipinos were on board the ship.
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News
US sees Iran moving military equipment including drones and cruise missiles

US sees Iran moving military equipment including drones and cruise missiles

The US has observed Iran moving military equipment, including drones and cruise missiles, around the country, signalling that it may be preparing to attack Israeli targets from within its own territory, two intelligence officials told CNN reporters. However, it is not clear whether Iran is preparing to strike from its soil as part of an initial attack, or whether it is posturing to try to deter Israel or the US from a possible counterstrike on its territory.  One of the intelligence officials said the US had observed Iran preparing as many as 100 cruise missiles.
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Opinion
Opinion: Historical versus real Armenia - Pashinyan's push for a new narrative

Opinion: Historical versus real Armenia - Pashinyan's push for a new narrative

Nikol Pashinyan is a populist. Whether on the domestic or international scene, it is difficult to consider him a statesman. Populism defines his words and permeates his actions. But in comparison with those leaders before him, he is also a rarity in Armenia’s post-independence history – he is a democratically elected leader.Nikol Pashinyan is a populist. Whether on the domestic or international scene, it is difficult to consider him a statesman. Populism defines his words and permeates his actions. But in comparison with those leaders before him, he is also a rarity in Armenia’s post-independence history – he is a democratically elected leader. Perhaps, if populism arguably contributed to the last war and the loss of Karabakh it could also be used to usher in a new era of peace and regional integration, coincidentally relegating nationalist narratives and mythologies of old to the annuls of history. It will also prove instrumental to maintaining Pashinyan's rule. In 2013 he already used the slogan of “Real Armenia” but at that time to rally for an Armenia without Serzh Sargsyan. In 2018 it succeeded.
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News
The carbon footprint created in the first 60 days of the war in Gaza alone surpassed the annual emissions of 20 small countries, according to a recent study

The carbon footprint created in the first 60 days of the war in Gaza alone surpassed the annual emissions of 20 small countries, according to a recent study

Whilst attention is at the moment rightly focused on the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza resulting from the Israeli assault on the territory ongoing since October, the heavy price for the environment is now also becoming obvious. Wars cause lasting damage to the environment in the form of emissions, pollutants, and the destruction of habitats. The war in Gaza has been no exception. Since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, the Gaza Strip has come under intense Israeli bombardment, pulverizing buildings, demolishing sanitation services, lacing the earth with explosive remnants, and leaving the air thick with smoke and powdered concrete. Experts say the conflict has contributed to increased air and water pollution and the degradation of ecosystems, according to a report carried by the leading Gulf English language newspaper, Arab News. According to a study conducted by Queen Mary University of London, Lancaster University, and the Climate and Community Project, the carbon footprint created in the first 60 days of the war in Gaza alone surpassed the annual emissions of 20 small countries. Published by the Social Science Research Network on Jan. 9, the paper, titled “A multitemporal snapshot of greenhouse gas emissions from the Israel-Gaza conflict,” found the impact of the war was comparable to burning at least 150,000 tonnes of coal. Much of this was generated by Israeli fighter jets during bombing raids and by armored vehicles used in the ground invasion. Other contributors were the US military, flying supplies to Israel. Less than 1 percent of the emissions were caused by Hamas rockets.  Responding to the study’s findings, Rana Hajirasouli, founder and CEO of The Surpluss, a Dubai-based global climate tech platform, told Arab News, that “this does not include indirect emissions such as energy-intensive production of military equipment, infrastructure construction, and post-conflict reconstruction efforts.” 

Focus on Central Asia

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Commentary
Kyrgyz film, Kyz Ala Kachuu, wins Busan International Film Festival award, shedding light on the still deeply entrenched practice of bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz film, Kyz Ala Kachuu, wins Busan International Film Festival award, shedding light on the still deeply entrenched practice of bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan

Kyz Ala Kachuu is an obvious and unapologetic form of protest by Mirlan Abdykaylkov against the archaic and violating nature of the bride kidnapping traditions in Kyrgyzstan, writes Silvan Lochteken in this commentary for commonspace.eu. Its success at the Busan International Film Festival not only brings the international spotlight on the controversial practice, but reignites the contested debate on bride kidnapping that has polarized the Kyrgyz public for decades.
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Monday Commentary
Monday Commentary: Why Central Asia matters

Monday Commentary: Why Central Asia matters

Very often, Central Asia is referred to as Russia’s back yard, even though today the region feels more like China’s front garden. But whilst the two “inseparable” friends, compete for influence and resources, the five Central Asian countries have set on a course to integrate themselves in global processes, break out of their geographic - and more importantly their geo-political constraints - and deliver better for their people. In this week's Monday Commentary on commonspace.eu, Dennis Sammut says that the Central Asian states have been reaching out to the EU and the US, whilst domestically some of them have embarked on deep reforms considered all but unimaginable until recently. The visit of European Council president Charles Michel to the region on 27-28 October marked a high point in a new phase in the relationship between the EU and Central Asia. In Kazakhstan, Michel not only met the Kazakh leadership, but also held a summit with the five Central Asian leaders in Astana, before travelling to Uzbekistan. For both the Central Asians and for the EU this is a watershed moment, and the beginning of a long journey. Europe’s approach to Central Asia needs to be respectful, both to the five countries themselves, and to their existing partners. Arrogance, even of the intellectual kind will simply backfire. But respect does not mean meekness. As a heavyweight in international relations, even if for the moment its economic weight dwarfs its political weight, the EU needs to approach Central Asia neither as a supplicant, nor as a benefactor, but simply as a reliable partner. Furthermore, this partnership needs to be diverse, multi-tiered and nuanced. It must take in relations with citizens, where Europe has much to offer both in terms of being a model, but also in terms of what it can share in areas such as education, innovation, youth welfare, women’s rights and diversity.
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Event
South Caucasus Youth Peace Summer School held successfully in Georgia from 21-31 August

South Caucasus Youth Peace Summer School held successfully in Georgia from 21-31 August

The first South Caucasus Youth Peace Summer School (SCYPSS) was held successfully in Kachreti, Georgia from 21-31 August 2023. Thirty young participants aged between 21 and 29, ten each from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia participated in the Summer School. At the end of the Summer School participants also attended the South Caucasus Regional Dialogue Forum. The School and the Forum were organised by LINKS Europe, with the support of the European Union and the Government of Norway.
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News
Landmine Free South Caucasus: message on the occasion of the International Day for Mine Awareness

Landmine Free South Caucasus: message on the occasion of the International Day for Mine Awareness

4 April is marked each year as the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action by the United Nations and countries, organisations and communities across the world. This year, the theme is “Mine action cannot wait”. This is a particularly poignant theme in the South Caucasus where the problem of landmines is acute and the region is now identified as being amongst the ones with the highest contamination of landmines in the world. The campaign Landmine Free South Caucasus joins the international community to mark this year’s International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. In particular, we raise our voice with that of the rest of the international community in saying that “Mine action cannot wait”. Since 2018, the campaign Landmine Free South Caucasus has worked with partners in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to raise awareness on the issue of landmines across the region, to highlight the good work being done by deminers at considerable personal risk, and to focus on the impact of landmines on victims and their communities.
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Event
Armenian and Azerbaijani experts discuss process of confidence-building with EU officials in Brussels

Armenian and Azerbaijani experts discuss process of confidence-building with EU officials in Brussels

The Joint Armenian-Azerbaijani Liaison Group on Confidence-building measures in support of lasting peace in the South Caucasus (JOLIG) met in Brussels on 1 – 2 February 2023. Armenian and Azerbaijani experts that form part of the Group discussed recent developments in the South Caucasus, developments in the process of normalising Armenia-Azerbaijan relations and establishing peace in the region, and how confidence-building measures can help overcome present and future problems and challenges. On 1 February, the Group had a substantive meeting with the European Union Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Toivo Klaar, who reiterated the continued and ongoing commitment of the European Union in support of peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The group asked EUSR Toivo Klaar to convey their appreciation to European Council President Charles Michel for his continuing efforts to mediate between the two sides. The Group expressed its willingness to contribute with tangible actions and initiatives towards on-going European Union peace efforts in the region.
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Event
Joint Armenian-Azerbaijani expert group on confidence-building measures agrees to intensify efforts

Joint Armenian-Azerbaijani expert group on confidence-building measures agrees to intensify efforts

The Joint Armenian-Azerbaijani Liaison Group on Confidence-building measures in support of lasting peace in the South Caucasus (JOLIG), made up of 11 Armenian and Azerbaijani independent experts and opinion-shapers, met in Kachreti, Georgia on 27 and 28 June 2022 to review its activity, and agree on a strategy as to how its work on confidence-building measures can contribute to efforts aimed at bringing lasting peace in the South Caucasus. Participants discussed ongoing efforts aimed at establishing the right conditions for the normalisation of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan being undertaken by the governments of the two countries with the support of international players. They called on the leadership of the two countries to remain focused and committed to this mission. The group emphasised its belief that confidence-building measures are necessary to be implemented in the current state of Armenia-Azerbaijan relations, and were indispensable as the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan seek peaceful solutions to long lasting disputes and controversies between them.

Focus on Yemen

Focus on the South Caucasus

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Commentary
Commentary: The four Cs that will characterise Armenia-Azerbaijan relations for the next decade

Commentary: The four Cs that will characterise Armenia-Azerbaijan relations for the next decade

Armenia and Azerbaijan have practically been in a state of war with each other ever since they emerged as independent countries following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Over the last three years they have been negotiating, sometimes with the help of others, sometimes on their own, to end the cycle of violence and usher in a new era of peace. So far they have failed to agree on the text of a peace agreement, but it is likely that eventually they will, possibly quite soon. However, even in the absence of a formal peace agreement Armenia-Azerbaijan relations are changing, and will continue to change to become much more nuanced than has been the case so far. A relationship that has so far been based on confrontation and containment is making way for one based on contact and co-operation. The process is unlikely to be very quick, or simple and easy. At least for another decade Armenia-Azerbaijan relations will continue to be a mix of all four elements: confrontation, containment, contact and co-operation. Managing this mix will be the challenge facing the leadership in the two countries. The international community must be ready to support this process tangibly and speedily.
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Interview
Stepan Grigoryan: "The current Armenian government really wants peace"

Stepan Grigoryan: "The current Armenian government really wants peace"

Dr Stepan Grigoryan, the Chairman of the Board of the Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation, is a respected analyst and opinion-shaper in Yerevan who has over many years been a moderate voice in what has often been a toxic inter-Armenian debate on the prospects for peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan and in the wider region. He spoke to commonspace.eu in Tbilisi on 22 October 2022 about the current state of the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process, recent events surrounding it, and prospects for the future. Speaking about the current political situation in Armenia Stepan Grigoryan said "We have a strong civil society, active NGOs and active experts, and they act like pillars of independence in Armenia. And this civil society also criticises Nikol Pashinyan, but they are trying to help him. Yes, I myself am sometimes not happy with what Nikol Pashinyan is doing, but I try to help him with my advice, with my publications, with my speeches. So in Armenia one should not only look at the political field - which is polarised - but civil society too. We shouldn’t think that we have an ideal government, they have made many mistakes, but they really want peace."
LINKS Europe

commonspace.eu  is an activity of LINKS Europe, an independent foundation based in The Hague, The Netherlands. We focus on issues related to European peace and security, Europe's neighbouring regions, including Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia; North Africa and the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. LINKS Europe is committed to contribute to a better future by increasing understanding of complex foreign policy issues, by promoting dialogue and confidence-building as tools for helping to resolve conflict, and by engaging citizens in the process of building peace and security on the basis of solidarity and mutual respect. Through commonspace.eu we aim to provide insights and analysis on different topics in our area of interest, and a platform for diverse opinions.

Read or download the 2022 Annual Review of LINKS Europe work, and our work programme for 2023 here