Azerbaijan and Armenia - When conflict clouds COVID-19 judgment: OPINION

The Jerusalem Post has published an article titled “Azerbaijan and Armenia - When conflict clouds COVID-19 judgment.”

News.Az presents the opinion by Paul Miller, president and executive director of the news and public-policy group Haym Salomon Center.

“We are in this together.” In spirit, it is a sentiment that defines the international response to COVID-19. Yet in practice, there are some governments whose fixation on conflict prevents them from embracing a mindset of solidarity.

In response to Israel’s plan to extend sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority (PA) ended its security coordination with Israel and the US But that has not stopped Israel from making “every effort to assist in humanitarian cases” of Palestinians who need emergency medical treatment for coronavirus, according to Israeli Member of Knesset Yifat Shasha-Biton (Likud).

“In the complicated reality we live in, we have a moral duty, as human beings, to save lives,” Shasha-Biton told the Knesset Special Committee on the Novel Coronavirus last week. “Therefore, despite the fact that the [PA] chose the path of ceasing to cooperate with [Israel’s] Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Israel is not turning its back on the residents of the [PA] and continues to provide them with medical treatment in lifesaving cases.”

The PA has adopted precisely the opposite approach, refusing a planeload of medical supplies from the United Arab Emirates because that coronavirus aid shipment was coordinated with Israel.

PA leaders are not the only ones whose judgment and priorities are clouded by conflict during this era. In the earlier stages of the pandemic, Iran rejected assistance from both the US government and the humanitarian NGO Doctors Without Borders. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei floated conspiracy theories that “possibly [American] medicine is a way to spread the virus more” and that the virus “is specifically built for Iran using the genetic data of Iranians which [Americans] have obtained through different means.”

Then there is the curious behavior of Armenia, which opposed Azerbaijan’s initiative to convene a special videoconference session of the UN General Assembly in response to COVID-19. Writing to UN Secretary-General António Guterres on June 18, Armenian Ambassador to the UN Mher Margaryan argued that the world body had already “invested considerable efforts to address the crisis” in the preceding three months of the pandemic.“

While recognizing the need for inclusive space to address emerging challenges in a timely fashion, I want to highlight the critical importance of ensuring that Member States make best use of the existing deliberation platforms and mandated formats available to this end,” Margaryan wrote, citing efforts such as the secretary-general’s policy briefs, two General Assembly resolutions on global solidarity in fighting coronavirus, and the UN Economic and Social Council’s role as a platform for coordinating the global response to COVID-19.

Margaryan pledged Armenia’s commitment to an “efficient, practical and result-oriented response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” His argument falls flat, to say the least. Why should the international community spare any time and resources in efforts to resolve a crisis of historic proportions? What else, exactly, should be atop the UN’s agenda at this moment?

The true impetus for Armenia’s opposition to the UN session is shrouded in what was omitted from Margaryan’s letter — the country’s decades-long conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian-occupied territory which several UN resolutions acknowledge is part of Azerbaijan.Armenia is, after all, the country whose US-based lobby rejects the OSCE Minsk Group’s principles for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This rejectionist attitude mirrors the longstanding pattern of Palestinian intransigence in the peace process with Israel.

For Armenia, opposing the UN session is also indicative of the country’s perplexing array of foreign policy stances. Known for its alliances with rogue and authoritarian regimes, Armenia last year partnered with Russia on Moscow’s military mission in Syria, defying objections from the US In the context of its warm relationship with Tehran, Armenia has a history of helping the Iranians circumvent American and international sanctions.

Additionally, Yerevan last month sought to reassure the mullahs over plans to open an Armenian embassy in Iran’s archenemy state of Israel. Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan stated that Armenia “combines its policies with various partners, its key partners, while also pursuing its own interests and not harming the various developments that affect our national security.” It is telling that the foreign minister’s comments note Armenia’s pursuit of “its own interests,” which is the only plausible explanation for the otherwise-inconsistent policy of attempting to simultaneously deepen bilateral relationships with adversaries like Iran and Israel.

Ultimately, Armenia’s rebuff of a UN session on the response to the pandemic, coupled with Azerbaijan’s initiative to organize that session, should tell the US and Israel everything they need to know about which Eurasian nation is a more suitable ally for these challenging times.


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