By Aleksandra Krstic
While the new Cold War is taking its momentum, the world community is gradually forgetting other pressing issues; such as human rights, right to labor, human dignity and respect. Of course, the national and international corporations hereby play a major role when comes to respect and observance of social and labor rights. Even at the Geneva-based world standard-setting organization, that of ILO (International Labor Organization), corporation have a strong say.
What is the degree of due diligence deployed by corporations today? Does the corporate world comply with the law and standards of business conduct, transparency of business operations? And – importantly – does the private sector respect standards of international humanitarian law, especially in situations of armed conflicts and the so-called forgotten conflicts? Places where open hostilities have ceased, but yet peace has never really come. Notably, does the corporate world comply with the set of important international standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights or the OECD Guidelines for multinational corporations, to name just a few? Could we go as far as to claim that in some cases the private corporate entities play a decisive role in funding, enabling and facilitating permanent changes in economic, demographic and cultural character of the occupied territories? And if so, does it serve, to say, dual purpose: a corporate gain and a prolongation of the occupation on the given territory?
To understand the gravity of that problem, let us take the example of conditions in the Caucasus – a typical case of the forgotten conflict – region where war stopped, still peace has never arrived.
Armenian companies, as well as foreign (mostly diaspora controlled, such as the Lebanon-based Artsakh Roots Investment; the US-based Tufenkian Foundation; Armenian General Benevolent Union /AGBU/; Cherchian Family Foundation, etc.) businesses play a decisive role in funding, enabling and facilitating permanent changes in economic (including fiscal and monetary), demographic and cultural character of the occupied territories both for private gain and for supporting the prolongation of the occupation of these territories.
Over the past years, the well-orchestrated transfer of Armenian settlers from Armenia and elsewhere into the contested territories (via e.g., Hayastan All-Armenian Fund), including the areas adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh, in particular the districts of Lachyn, Kalbajar, Gubadly, Zangilan, and Jabrayil, have continued with accelerated pace.
To worsen things, fishing of human souls exploits an epic human tragedy of Syria and its people: The shadowy Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) is deceiving Syrian Armenians with an instant-better life promise if they relocate from cities such as Qamishli and Aleppo in Syria to the Caucasus and its occupied territories (e.g., Zangilan, Gubadly and Lachyn districts). Nearly a mass-manipulation replica of the famous call to Bosnian Croatians from Zagreb to settle the former Serb inhabited and ethnically cleansed territories of Croatia. This is of course, a direct criminal meddling into the domestic matters of two sovereign states.
Armenia, directly or via its corporate proxies, continues permanent energy, agriculture, social, residential, and transport infrastructure changes in the occupied territories. This is increased and prioritized to change the demographic character once for good. Of course, that includes the construction of irrigation networks, water-canalization, roads, power-grids, and other vital economic and social facilities. (Several international reports, conducted independently by different FORAs, repeatedly confirmed that property of IDPs has been appropriated; e.g., that empty houses of Azerbaijani internally displaced persons were often dismantled for use as construction materials or that new houses are being built on their lands and properties).
Armenia exercises pervasive control over the entire economic and commercial system in the contested territories, including inbound and outbound trade flows and economic resources. Tacit presence of the international companies is rather interesting: there are hundreds of various types of US-manufactured Caterpillar machines, farm tractors and equipment of US-based John Deere and Germany’s Deutz-Fahr companies, South Korean Hyundai trucks, Belarus MT3-82,3 model farm tractors, as well as other heavy machinery for illegal mining, agriculture, expansion of settlements, and construction of the supporting infrastructure. The true ownership for most of those companies remains unclear as they are often registered offshore in Cyprus, Liechtenstein, and the like.
Often, their funding is channeled through the branches of Armenian banks operating in the occupied territories and conducting international financial transactions via intermediary banks in Russia, EU and elsewhere. Further on, numerous foreign retailers from Ukraine, the US, and EU states (particularly from France, Bulgaria, Hungary, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands), as well as from Australia and UAE, have concluded their supply contracts with Armenian companies. That, of course, makes them complicit with Armenia’s occupation of the territories, drain of resources, expansion of illegal settlements as well as with a violation of fundamental rights of IDPs.
Little wonder since Armenia’s high-ranking officials, including President Sargsyan, PM Abrahamyan and other ministers, routinely visit the occupied territories and inspect production facilities there. To camouflage the illegal nature of production there, Armenian agricultural and liquors export companies (e.g., “Stepanakert Brandy Factory” and “Artsakh Fruit CJSC”) routinely mislabel the products wholly or partially produced or packed in the occupied territories as originating from Armenia, thus misleading governments, international retailers, and consumers.
Agricultural lands in the contested territories along the Araz River (Zangilan and Jabrayil districts, too) have been illegally appropriated and extensively exploited by Armenia. This poses a stress on natural water flows (for consummation, irrigation or opportunity for an illegal electricity generation) and soil (overuse of arable lands and monoculture cropping) – which, in return, alters micro climate and jeopardizes the biota and human existence (e.g. Armenia’s Arm Water Project Company Ltd. in the Araz Valley).
Dismantling of infrastructure (metals, pipes, bricks, and other construction materials) from the ruins of demolished Azerbaijani households and public buildings was previously conducted more sporadic. However, the currently examined cases show that it becomes more organized system of pillage with a clear foreign involvement.
Mining of precious minerals and metals is one of the main enterprises in the occupied territories. For example, the Gyzylbulag underground copper-gold mine (wholly owned subsidiary of Armenia’s Vallex Group CJSC, registered in Liechtenstein), led to its almost complete depletion. A similar example is that of the Demirli open-pit copper and molybdenum mine. In 2014, Gold Star CJSC reportedly started exploitation of gold near the village of Demirli (occupied Zangilan district of Azerbaijan). Since 2007, GPM Gold, a subsidiary of Russia-based GeoProMining Ltd., has been extracting ore in Soyudlu gold mine in the occupied Kalbajar district.
There is illegal traffic in natural resources across the occupied section of the international border between Azerbaijan and Armenia that is controlled by the armed forces of Armenia via Armenia constructed Vardenis-Aghdara highway. The Government of Armenia, via its Energy Ministry, is directly operating. The ore concentrate from Gyzylbulag is transported to Armenia, where it is further processed into gold containing copper and exported to international markets, mainly to Europe. Armenia is also extracting coal from the mine near Chardagly village in the occupied part of the Tartar district to supply the power plant in Yerevan, Armenia.
There is a clear correlation between the business and the political status quo. Hence, it is safe to conclude that the prolonged occupation directly translates into more mineral, agricultural, water resources, and other wealth for the neighboring government and gloomy international business. Demographic engineering is a key here, and is – of course – done by conflicting the fundamental human rights and norms of humanitarian law, including those of IDPs.
In its epilogue, a clandestine population-reshuffle coupled with illegal economic activities on the contested territories produces the notorious “blood diamonds”: socio-political status-quo, demographic inversion, and extension of the armed conflict.
Is there anything larger than a problem of such a huge gravity for the resident population?
Of course, there is. Our silence about it !
Aleksandra Krstic, studied in Belgrade (Political Science) and in Moscow (Plekhanov’s IBS). Currently, she is a post-doctoral researcher at the Kent University in Brussels (Intl. Relations) and a Specialist for the MENA-Balkans frozen and controlled conflicts.