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Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers meet in Berlin as German diplomacy emerges out of the shadows to save the day for Europe

Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers meet in Berlin as German diplomacy emerges out of the shadows to save the day for Europe

German diplomacy has been in the South Caucasus from the day after the three countries declared their independence in 1991. Germany was the first country to set up embassies in the region, but generally German diplomacy has been low-key – preferring to let others, namely France, and later the EU, to do the heavy lifting when it came to issues like supporting the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process. This has changed recently. After the untimely intervention of French president Emanuel Macron in the process that was led by EU Council president Charles Michel in 2022, and given Azerbaijan’s refusal to negotiate in this framework because of what it claims is French bias towards Armenia, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in 2022 reluctantly persuaded to engage with the process directly, and join the Macron-Michel tandem. Nothing at first seemed to have come out of that, and German diplomacy got overshadowed by some missteps in Paris and Brussels, not to mention some awkward phrases of its own foreign minister when she visited the region last year. But it seems that behind the scenes, German diplomacy persisted. Earlier in February Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, travelled to Munich to attend the annual security conference, and on the margins had a long-awaited meeting, bilaterally and later with Chancellor Scholz. At the meeting concrete decisions were taken on follow-up, and thanks to the usual German efficiency the foreign ministers of the two countries were in Berlin on Wednesday (28 February) for detailed talks about the peace treaty. Most of the discussions were in the bilateral format, but there was also a meeting of the Ministers with their German counterpart. The talks continue today. It is the latest episode in a long saga, but not an insignificant one. Germany is a political and economic heavyweight, and its direct involvement may just be what is needed to get the ongoing negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan across the line. At a time when other elements of European diplomacy appear not to be so effective the German intervention is also seen as saving the day for Europe, that needs to remain present and visible in the region.
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The prospect of  more Israeli atrocities in Gaza during Ramadan unsettles moderate Arab and Muslim states

The prospect of more Israeli atrocities in Gaza during Ramadan unsettles moderate Arab and Muslim states

With Ramadan fast approaching – likely to start on 10 March –  and with Israeli prime minister Benyamin Natanyahu  repeatedly threatening to launch a direct assault on Rafah, a last haven where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are now taking shelter in the most difficult situations imaginable, moderate Arab governments, especially those who have established relations with Israel, and others who were considering doing so, find themselves under huge pressure from their domestic public opinion. Having just vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease fire in Gaza, the United States, acutely aware of the fragility of the situation, is now desperately pushing for a cease fire during Ramadan. Already, nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza since October, many of them women and children. A direct assault on Rafah is likely to result in many more fatalities. The prospect of a Palestinian bloodbath during Ramadan is considerably unsettling Arab governments, who whilst not often  directly influenced by the views of their populations, cannot ignore them either when feelings are running high. Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims, but it is also an occasion for social gatherings. Families and friends come together, and in the long nights when the fast is broken they share views on those things that matter to them. Gaza will no doubt this year be a leading topic, as people remember that whilst they break the fast with big meals and delicacies, in Gaza, the Palestinians are starving. Western countries, whose reputations in the Arab and Muslim worlds have been greatly damaged by their position on Gaza, are now frantically trying to avoid this by pushing for a ceasefire during Ramadan.
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Turkey to take over Somalia's naval defence for a decade

Turkey to take over Somalia's naval defence for a decade

The Somali cabinet formally approved a defence and economic cooperation agreement with Turkey on Wednesday, authorising Ankara to build, train and equip the Somali navy and reportedly defend its territorial waters amid tensions with Ethiopia. The agreement strengthens Turkish political and military position in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea region amid increasing concerns about security in the strategic waterway. Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre described the agreement at the cabinet meeting as a “historic” one that would become a “legacy” for the Somali nation in the long run.  “This agreement will put an end to the fear of terrorism, pirates, illegal fishing, poisoning, abuse and threats from abroad,” he said, according to the local reports. A Turkish defence official declined to comment, saying that the contents of the agreement would be public simultaneously as it is ratified by the Turkish parliament and the president. “We cannot reveal the details as it has a long way to be ratified,” the official added.  The Turkish Navy already operates off the shore of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden under a UN mission to combat piracy and armed robbery since 2009. 
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Anger across the Muslim world and the Global South as US vetoes Gaza cease fire resolution for the 4th time

Anger across the Muslim world and the Global South as US vetoes Gaza cease fire resolution for the 4th time

Commentators and opinion shapers across the Muslim world and the global south on Wednesday (21 February) were unanimous in their condemnation of the American veto of an Algerian resolution in the UN Security Council which called for an immediate cease fire in Gaza. Many commentators in Western countries were similarly appalled after for the fourth time since the start of the war in Gaza, the US on Tuesday vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in the embattled territory. It said such a resolution would interfere with ongoing, “sensitive” negotiations, led by Washington, that are attempting to broker an end to the hostilities. Thirteen of the 15 council members voted in favor of the resolution, which was drafted by Algeria. The UK abstained. In addition to the call for an immediate ceasefire, the Arab-backed draft resolution did also demand the immediate release of all hostages. It also rejected the forced displacement of Palestinian civilians, called for the unrestricted flow of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, and reiterated council demands that both Israel and Hamas “scrupulously comply” with the rules of international law, especially in relation to the protection of civilians. It also condemned “all acts of terrorism,” without explicitly naming either side.
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Opinion
Opinion: Azerbaijan is not de-coupling from the West

Opinion: Azerbaijan is not de-coupling from the West

Over the past two years, since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Azerbaijan’s foreign and security policies have drawn varying interpretations from experts and political observers. "The delicate balancing act pursued by Baku between competing global powers while safeguarding the country’s national interests and restoring its territorial integrity has appeared as an intriguing case for the studies of international relations", writes Vasif Husseynov in this op-ed for commonspace.eu. "Amidst the evolving dynamics of regional geopolitics, Azerbaijan’s recent engagements with Western counterparts underscore its unwavering commitment to maintaining robust relations with the West. Despite the complexities of navigating relations with neighboring powers, Azerbaijan remains steadfast in its pursuit of multilateral or, as better known in the Azerbaijani  discourse, balanced approach in foreign policy", he argues.
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5th European Union-Central Asia meeting on Afghanistan held in Bishkek

5th European Union-Central Asia meeting on Afghanistan held in Bishkek

The fifth European Union-Central Asia meeting focusing on Afghanistan took place in Bishkek on 14 February. Discussions centred around the situation in Afghanistan, with particular emphasis placed on finding effective ways to interact with the country’s de facto government. Participants praised the recent United Nations (UN) report on Afghanistan and endorsed UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s initiative to establish the position of UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan. Roza Otunbayeva, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, also attended the meeting.  The European Union was represented by the EU Special Representative for Central Asia, Terhi Hakkala.