On 28 September, the separatist regime illegally created by Armenia in the territories of Azerbaijan in early 1990s, and which presented itself as the “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”, declared its dissolution by the end of 2023. Azerbaijan has quickly restored its sovereignty over the area that remained under the joint control of the separatists and Russia’s peacekeeping contingent following the 44-day war in 2020. This has been undoubtedly a major development not only for Azerbaijan but also for the entire South Caucasus. Many people both in the region and beyond agree that Baku and Yerevan are now much closer to a peace treaty as the crux of their decades-long conflict no longer exists.
It is important that the Armenian government shares this view and realizes the present opportunities for a real breakthrough. For instance, the speaker of the Armenian parliament Alen Simonian told Armenian public television on September 25 that “We are very close and have a historic opportunity to sign a peace agreement”. “Endless war is not beneficial for anyone”, he asserted.
The calls for a peace agreement have been voiced also by the Azerbaijani side. “The experience of restoring our territorial integrity is a very unique phenomenon. We have put an end to the conflict”, stated President Ilham Aliyev in early October. “Today we can enter the era of peace in the South Caucasus”, he emphasized. President Aliyev had earlier rejected the fearmongering claims about Azerbaijan’s plans to invade the territory of the south part of Armenia. “Had we harbored such intentions, we wouldn’t have ceased military operations on September 20”, he said on September 29, in reference to the 19-20 military operations of Azerbaijan against the separatist regime. He reaffirmed Azerbaijan’s recognition of Armenia’s territorial integrity.
Undoubtedly, one main component in the peace negotiations will be related to the rights and security of the Armenian population of the Karabakh region. Azerbaijan has already started a wide range of measures to ensure the reintegration of these people into Azerbaijani society, as well as to encourage those who left the region to return and obtain the Azerbaijani passport.
Baku supports the calls for the transformation of this region into a home of a multi-ethnic community. The freedom of religion and protection of cultural and religious monuments for Karabakh Armenians will be guaranteed, the Administration of the Azerbaijani President declared on 2 October. The assessment of the United Nations mission to Karabakh has also demonstrated Azerbaijan’s humanist approach to the Armenian population of Karabakh. None of the international institutions dealing with this process reported any instances of maltreatment, coercion or harassment against the Armenians in Karabakh by the Azerbaijani side.
Baku is determined to pursue the reintegration process in a transparent and all-inclusive manner with, respect to and understanding of the concerns and interests of the Armenian community of the Karabakh region.
However, Azerbaijan is concerned that most of the international observers as well as international institutions and big states continue to maintain a one-sided approach vis-à-vis the peace process. In particular, it is unacceptable that the calls for the return of the Azerbaijani refugees to the territories of the Republic of Armenia are consistently disregarded in the international agenda.
It is important to remember that more than 250 thousand Azerbaijanis were forcibly expelled from their homes in Armenia in late 1980s. Against the backdrop of the war Armenia launched against Azerbaijan in 1990s and occupation of up to 20 percent of Azerbaijani territories the case of the Azerbaijanis deported from Armenia tended to be treated as of secondary issue by most international actors.
Baku began to express its position more prominently following the conclusion of the Second Karabakh War, especially in the context of negotiations for a peace treaty with Armenia. Unfortunately, some Armenians incorrectly perceive this as an attempt by Azerbaijan to assert territorial claims over Armenian lands. The Azerbaijani government has been explicit in clarifying that the issue concerning Azerbaijani refugees is not a matter of territorial conflict between Baku and Yerevan. Azerbaijan does not seek to exert control over the areas where Azerbaijanis will resettle. Baku, nevertheless, believes that the Azerbaijani people should have the same right to return to their homes in Armenia as the Armenians of the Karabakh region.
The conflict of more than three decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union has imparted a number of lessons for the conflicting parties to learn. One major lesson is certainly related with the fact that no solutions will be sustainable unless they are all-inclusive with consideration of concerns and interests of all parties involved. The upcoming peace talks between Baku and Yerevan should therefore strive to produce solutions to effectively deal with the problems of the Armenian community of the Karabakh region as well as the Azerbaijani community of the Republic of Armenia. Armenia and Azerbaijan need a comprehensive peace treaty to put an end to their disputes and open a new peaceful chapter in their relations.
source: Dr Vasif Huseynov, is a Senior Advisor at the Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center) and Adjunct Lecturer at Khazar University in Baku, Azerbaijan.
photo: Refugees leaving Karabakh (picture courtesy of BBC)
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