In a sudden and strikingly efficient military offensive launched on 19th September, Azerbaijan asserted a decisive victory over the Republic of Artsakh, an ethnically Armenian-majority autonomous enclave located within its borders. The campaign, which came after a protracted blockade of the vital Lachin Corridor, supplying Artsakh, was notably swift, culminating on 20th September when Artsakh President Samvel Shahramanyan conceded, agreeing to peace on Azerbaijan’s terms.

The geopolitical aftershocks of Azerbaijan’s triumph, enabled by a seemingly minimal exertion, will reverberate through the South Caucasus for the foreseeable future. Notably, tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians, propelled by fears of ethnic cleansing, have fled Artsakh, contributing to a burgeoning humanitarian crisis that stands in stark contrast to the disbanding of the Artsakh Defence Army and the planned dissolution of the separatist government by year-end.

Turkey’s solid support for Azerbaijan’s campaign aligns not only with its established alliance but also accords with a broader strategic vision for the region. Turkey has ardently backed Azerbaijan’s intention to construct the Zangezur Corridor, anticipated to forge stronger cultural and economic ties by granting Azerbaijan unimpeded access to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and further linking Azerbaijan to eastern Turkey.

Meanwhile, Russia’s decision to abstain from military intervention, despite maintaining a 2,000-strong peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh, reveals a complex web of geopolitical relationships and ambitions. Frustrations with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s leadership and potential prospects for enhancing its partnership with Azerbaijan underpinned Moscow’s restrained approach, facilitating the ceasefire that handed Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan, despite existing ties to Armenia.

Iran, despite its ongoing tensions with Azerbaijan, stemming from its alleged pro-Armenian stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and Azerbaijan’s security collaboration with Israel, has navigated a cautious middle-ground approach to Azerbaijan’s reintegration of Nagorno-Karabakh. Notably, amidst Iran’s expression of concern over the humanitarian plight of ethnic Armenians, Turkey has asserted that Iran has moderated its opposition to the Zangezur Corridor project.

For Western powers, moral dilemmas unfold as potential actions, or lack thereof, are scrutinised on the international stage. Despite strong admonitions and the clear expression of concern over human rights abuses, concrete interventions, such as sanctions, appear improbable given Europe’s energy dependencies on Azerbaijan. The lack of consistent policy in response to the crisis is evident, with NATO and the European Union seemingly lacking tangible leverage to decisively influence the ongoing situation.

The humanitarian crisis emanating from the conflict cannot be understated. With over 65,000 refugees, representing over one-third of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population, seeking sanctuary in Armenia by 28th September, Armenia faces both humanitarian and political turmoil. Prime Minister Pashinyan, now contending with the comprehensive management of refugee inflow amidst mounting criticism, seeks humanitarian assistance from the international community, the delivery and sufficiency of which remain to be seen.

In contrast, Azerbaijan’s assured victory in Nagorno-Karabakh, achieved with unexpected ease, consolidates its position in the region but potentially sets the stage for intricate geopolitical manoeuvring and conflict in the South Caucasus for years ahead.

While Turkey’s ambitions seem somewhat realised through Azerbaijan’s triumph, Russia, Iran, and Western powers are compelled to navigate through a newly altered geopolitical landscape, balancing strategic interests against ethical considerations and international perceptions.

The legacy of Prime Minister Pashinyan, forever marred by the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh, hinges precariously upon his handling of the resettlement and care of displaced ethnic Armenians, establishing a stage where international relations, humanitarian obligations, and domestic politics are inextricably entwined.

The complex unfolding of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict thereby raises questions about international intervention, humanitarian obligations, and the future stability of the South Caucasus, with global eyes watching, awaiting the subsequent moves of regional and international players in this high-stakes geopolitical arena.

Image credit: AZE Media

Note: This article provides a general overview and may not cover all aspects of the complex situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. Furthermore, events might have evolved beyond the information available at the time of writing, given the fast-changing nature of geopolitical events.

In the shadow of continued instability in Yemen, a potential breakthrough has been reported by the local authorities, with the identification of a suspect in the murder of Moayad Hameidi, the World Food Programme (WFP) representative based in Taiz. Hameidi, a key figure of the Rome-based UN food agency’s work in Yemen, was tragically gunned down last Friday in the neighbouring city of Turbah.

The suspect has allegedly resided in Taiz since 2017 after leaving Aden in the wake of security operations against Al Qaeda militants. The identity of the official who revealed this information remains confidential, and they were unable to confirm whether the suspect has connections to any Islamist groups.

Aden has served as the base for Yemen’s internationally recognised government since Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, seized control of the capital Sanaa in 2014. The conflict escalated further in 2015 with the intervention of a Saudi-led coalition supporting the embattled government.

Taiz, controlled by the government, faces a blockade from surrounding Houthi-controlled areas. The chaos of the war in Yemen has provided fertile ground for extremist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS loyalists. A considerable security effort has been made by the Saudi-led coalition, backed by US and UAE forces, to suppress these radical elements.

An arrest warrant for the suspect has been issued, as confirmed by an Interior Ministry telegram obtained by AFP. The violence has diminished over the past year, yet sporadic attacks continue to disrupt the fragile peace.

The late Moayad Hameidi, a Jordanian national, had been a stalwart of the WFP for 18 years, serving not only in Yemen, but also in Sudan, Syria, and Iraq. His sudden death triggered profound sadness within the agency, with WFP’s Yemen country director, Richard Ragan, declaring any loss of life in humanitarian service as an “unacceptable tragedy.”

The global community has also responded, with Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy for Yemen, expressing condolences to Hameidi’s family, friends, and colleagues, while mourning alongside the humanitarian community in Yemen.

The UAE’s Minister of State for International Co-operation, Reem Al Hashimy, condemned the murder emphatically, highlighting the targeting of humanitarian aid staff as a “flagrant violation of all international treaties that ensure their protection.”

US special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, also denounced Hameidi’s killing and extended his deepest sympathies to Hameidi’s family and the WFP team.

This tragic event echoes the 2018 killing of Lebanese aid worker Hanna Lahoud, a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose murderers are yet to be found. Hameidi’s death serves as a harsh reminder of the significant dangers faced by humanitarian workers in conflict-ridden zones like Yemen.

China is heightening its presence in the Middle East, demonstrating a renewed interest in assisting the resolution as a mediator in Yemen’s ongoing crisis. An increased focus on diplomatic engagement underpins China’s strategy, highlighting its emergent importance in regional affairs.

On Friday, 7 July, the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, met with Zhai Jun, China’s Special Envoy for the Middle East. The officials engaged in discussions regarding “ways to strengthen international support for mediation,” a measure currently led by the UN in a bid to end the war that has ravaged Yemen. While this diplomatic dialogue didn’t produce any immediate, substantial announcements, it underscored China’s rising role in the Middle East, extending to the complex Yemen issue.

China’s approach has so far remained relatively subdued, limiting itself to diplomatic meetings such as this, and the welcoming of Yemen’s President in Beijing last December. Despite the absence of explicit declarations or the orchestration of highly publicised summits, it is apparent that Chinese diplomacy is quietly, but increasingly, becoming a force in the Middle East.

China has considerable potential to influence the situation in Yemen. Prior to the war, it was the country’s second-largest trading partner. In 2021, its imports from Yemen still reached $411 million, primarily in oil and copper. Though Beijing officially maintains no relations with the non-state armed groups in the country, it is unlikely that such a high level of trade could be sustained solely with the exiled government. This suggests that China may be engaging commercially with various Yemeni factions.

Beijing is also playing a strategic geopolitical card. Anticipating a US disengagement from the region, China has increased its investment and involvement. It has notably sponsored the Saudi-Iran reconciliation and strengthened its ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are the main sponsors of the conflicting groups in Yemen. These connections place China in a strong position to act as a mediator in Yemen, underscoring its ever-growing influence in the Middle East.

Image Credit: AFP – JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD

As the significant festival of Eid Al Adha approaches, communities in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region face a steep obstacle. Escalating livestock prices, propelled by rampant inflation, are placing the central tradition of animal sacrifice under strain.

Eid Al Adha, often referred to as the Festival of Sacrifice, is a key commemoration for Muslims worldwide. It recalls the Quranic tale of the Prophet Ibrahim being commanded by God to sacrifice his son, Ismail – a supreme test of faith, which culminated in the angel Gabriel replacing Ismail with a ram at the final moment.

This ritual sacrifice of livestock, typically sheep, goats, and cows, traditionally takes place before the Eid Al Adha prayer. However, amid skyrocketing prices and inflation, this custom is becoming increasingly taxing.

For Baghdad resident Akeel Hameed, a previous business owner who succumbed to bankruptcy following widespread pro-reform protests and the Covid-19 pandemic, the price surge is palpable. “I, along with everyone else, enjoy making a sacrifice on this occasion, but year on year, it becomes increasingly challenging due to spiralling prices,” he said.

Inflation has seen the cost of most goods surge by at least 50% since the close of 2020 in a nation where the poverty rate stands at 31.7% among its population of 40 million. The meat prices, having risen by no less than 20% on last year’s, are adding further strain to the budgets of those wanting to participate in the age-old tradition.

Community initiatives, such as a local mosque in Mr Hameed’s neighbourhood, are offering more affordable alternatives. These community-led projects collect around 25,000 Iraqi dinars, equivalent to approximately $17, from each resident, allowing the tradition to continue collectively. “This joint approach lessens individual financial stress and promotes a sense of unity and community spirit,” Mr Hameed said.

The ripple effects of inflation are also impacting Eid remittances, with many Muslim individuals, particularly those in Western nations, opting to send money home for the sacrifice to be made on their behalf. The type and size of the sacrificial animal is dictated by each household’s financial status, and many find it cheaper to have the act performed in their home countries.

Naeem Ali, a Pakistani expatriate living in Jeddah, notes the variability in the market: “Depending on their financial circumstances, people buy smaller or larger sacrificial animals. Everyone will distribute and consume according to their abilities and means. It’s costly for us to purchase here, so we send money back home for it.”

Despite the difficulties, many continue to uphold the tradition, with some choosing to utilise official government resources such as the Saudi Adahi portal. Salma Hashem, a Saudi citizen, shared: “I trust the government’s portal, and honestly, it is the most straightforward and quickest transaction. This ensures our funds go to the right place, and meals are distributed by the government too.”

As Muslims worldwide navigate the challenges of maintaining cherished traditions amidst economic pressure, the spirit of unity and sacrifice that characterises Eid Al Adha continues to resonate, even in difficult times.

Image Credit: Rumman Amin on Unsplash

Monday night saw a powerful earthquake strike Turkey, leading to concerns about the possibility of a tsunami affecting various regions in the Mediterranean, including the Balearics. However, the situation has since changed and all tsunami alerts have been lifted by Italy and other regions.

Manuel Regueiro, the President of the Illustrious Association of Geologists (ICOG), initially warned of the potential for a tsunami in the wake of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The quake released energy similar to the explosion of 1.2 million tonnes of trinitrotoluene (TNT) and took place on the southern edge of the Anatolian Plate, a tectonic subplate of the Eurasian Plate.

According to Regueiro, the Eurasian Plate has two major sets of transform faults, with the latest quake being aligned with Cyprus. However, after thorough assessments, it has been concluded that a tsunami in Turkey is unlikely. The earthquake was recorded at a depth of about 7 km by Turkish seismographic services and slightly deeper, about 10 km, by US teams, located about 600 km east of Ankara.

While the recent earthquake in Turkey was indeed powerful, there is no longer any cause for concern regarding a potential tsunami. This is due to the swift actions of various authorities and organizations, who were able to assess the situation and provide accurate updates to the public.

Aftershocks in Turkey

However, aftershocks will continue to shake the area as local faults adjust to such a huge tremor, and scientists say that aftershocks could continue for days, months and even years to come. There is even a possibility, albeit small that an aftershock could be bigger than the original quake itself. Aftershocks are smaller earthquakes that occur after a main shock and are a result of the Earth’s crust adjusting to the changes brought on by the main shock. Although the exact time frame and magnitude of aftershocks cannot be predicted, they are generally considered to be a normal part of the earthquake cycle. Scientists study aftershocks to better understand the behaviour of earthquakes and to help prepare for future earthquakes.