For more than thirty years Armenia occupied some 20 percent of the internationally recognized sovereign territory of Azerbaijan. Close to a million Azerbaijanis who were living there were forced to flee their homes, becoming internally displaced persons within their own country.
The land won back after a 44-day war in 2020 was one wrought with the unprecedented destruction of the public, private, cultural, and religious heritage of Azerbaijan. Aghdam alone—once one of the largest cities in the region—was obliterated to such an extent it is now known as the “Hiroshima of the Caucasus.” It was as if the occupiers had sought to remove any trace of Azerbaijan whatsoever.
Even though international law, every country in the world, and four separate UN Security Council resolutions recognize Karabakh—the lands in question—as Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory, for three decades Armenian politicians fantasized over the creation of either an independent ethnic Armenian territory or unification with Armenia by annexing those seized lands.
When the current prime minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, came to power in 2018, Azerbaijan expected he might pursue a different path for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. But his statement only a year later that “[Karabakh] is Armenia, and that’s it” ended hopes for the negotiation process. After the 2020 conflict, that statement met with hard reality, and the obligation to admit earlier this year that Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan.
If only peace was so simple. But when it comes to the Armenian leadership talking about peace while playing for time through campaigns of obfuscation is all too familiar. So when this week Armenia, together with the subordinated leadership of the separatist regime in Karabakh, launched the latest international campaign to scupper peace negotiations, it was unsurprising. The raison d’être of this separatist entity is contingent upon prolonging fantasies while avoiding the hard, geopolitical facts.
But the reality on the ground has changed, and Azerbaijan invites representatives of the Armenian residents of her Karabakh region for open and genuine dialogue about reintegration. On multiple occasions Azerbaijan has stated that their rights, security, but also obligations as an ethnic minority in Karabakh will be provided under the Constitution of Azerbaijan. This includes their religious, linguistic, and municipal rights, which are respected.
What is critical now is that any reintegration process must include the demobilization and disarmament of all illegal military groups and the complete withdrawal of elements of the armed forces of Armenia that remain. To halt the flow of arms to such groups—which has continued even as peace talks have proceeded—the Lachin Road which connects Armenia to Khankendi was recently, briefly, closed. Now it is reopened.
Azerbaijan has also offered to supply the region with food and medicine itself, through another additional, shorter road with a much greater daily capacity of over 17,000 vehicles. Both the European Union and the International Committee of the Red Cross have acknowledged this route can be used.
Yet this four-lane rebuilt Aghdam-Khankendi Road has, incomprehensively, been repeatedly refused by the Karabakh separatists, the road was even barricaded with concrete on the order of their leaders. A proposal by Baku to have supplies convoyed by the Red Cross—not Azerbaijan—using the Aghdam-Khankendi Road was rejected. Even proposals just to have a dialogue about it were rejected. The same leadership has, theatrically, even moved trucks to the Azerbaijani border on the Lachin Road checkpoint. Yet they say Armenians in Karabakh are facing ethnic cleansing at the hand of Azerbaijan.
To bolster this false claim their leadership has hired the former, controversial prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, to write a reckless report that alleges Karabakh is under “blockade,” its residents are starving, and claiming “genocide is being committed.”
In Azerbaijan, we are used to hearing such disinformation, but for the international community and particularly the media it is important to see that the use of such emotive, shocking terms is intended to obscure what is really happening from their view.
Claiming they are under threat while engineering a crisis to galvanize the international community’s support is intended to convince the world that Azerbaijanis and Armenians cannot live together, as we once did.
The paradoxical claim Azerbaijan is starving a population that is refusing its food was captured by the so-called leader of separatists, Arayik Harutyunian, who stated “It (Azerbaijan) is using one hand to strangle us and the other hand to feed us.” It should instead be put in the correct legal framing: an administration of occupation is blocking the Azerbaijani government’s provision of food and medicine to an Azerbaijani region. Tellingly, nowhere in the Ocampo report is this mentioned.
Meanwhile, the Armenian residents of Karabakh continue to suffer. Having been reduced to living off handouts from Armenia (itself one of the poorest post-Soviet countries). Economically, the region has been left behind the rest of Azerbaijan, whose GDP is today over 100 times its size at independence from the Soviet Union.
Instead of engaging in campaigns and diplomatic games, Armenia should commit herself to peace negotiations and the normalization of relations between our two countries. Instead, this week’s cynical and ultimately counter-productive attempt to make an appeal to the UN Security Council is another example that runs counter to such a commitment in every way.
Territorial integrity and sovereignty of every and each country is sacrosanct. A selective approach to separatism cannot be acceptable. Verbal statements from the Armenian leadership on supporting Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity should be inked within a peace treaty. Armenia should also finally cease all its territorial claims against Azerbaijan and pull out all elements of its armed forces from Azerbaijan’s territory. There is no other way forward. Azerbaijan has taken the first steps to map out the road to peace. The ball is now in Armenia’s court, with its political leadership.
Source : National Interest