Nagorno-Karabakh: A part of Azerbaijan
Long-boiling tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan flared again on April 2nd, 2016, with dozens of soldiers and civilians from both sides killed in the fighting.
The theatre was centred in Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azerbaijani region occupied by Armenian forces. Nagorno-Karabakh, apart from several other districts beyond the region, has been controlled by ethnic Armenian separatists since a war that ended in 1994. Although cross-border violence has continued to be a usual phenomenon since the 1994 truce and despite it, annually claiming dozens of lives on both sides, the recent clashes have been the most severe escalation which have almost transformed into full-scale warfare.
The Armenian and pro-Armenian media have ignited mass hysteria regarding Azerbaijan’s military operation and labelled it Azerbaijan’s attempt to break the peace in the region.
If you ever “Google” Nagorno-Karabakh’s map, you’ll see that Azerbaijan was actually striving to regain control over the region inside its internationally recognised borders. That region became separated from the mainland in the 1990s, when the Armenian separatist movement backed by external forces claimed independence. This conflict was accompanied by brutal warfare (when Armenian troops committed the Khojali massacre against Azeris, one of the most tragic events in contemporary world history) and ethnic cleansing (the entire Azerbaijani population of the occupied provinces, consisting of about one million people, were forced to leave their homes).
Similar scenarios were simultaneously or later played out in other post-Soviet countries such as Moldova (Transnistria), Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and most recently Ukraine (Donbas). A group of people citing ethnic problems and receiving external aid separated regions from the control of their central governments. Independence proclaimed in those regions virtually made them black holes across the post-Soviet space as they could never secure international recognition.
The same situation has been occurring in Azerbaijan even longer. For over 20 years Armenian separatists have been claiming to have an independent state in Nagorno-Karabakh. Yet this independent state is nothing but an imitation of statehood; Nagorno-Karabakh so strongly depends on the Republic of Armenia politically, economically and militarily that it operates merely as one of its provinces.
Therefore, amid the Armenian hysteria regarding the murdered Armenian soldiers in Nagorno-Karabakh, we should reformulate more correct questions: did the Azerbaijani army cross another state’s internationally recognised border? What do Armenian soldiers do in Nagorno-Karabakh – inside Azerbaijan’s internationally recognised territory? Even the Azerbaijani president warned that Armenian soldiers should leave Azerbaijani lands unless they wanted to die there. Would any country in the world, including the conflict’s mediators, such as the United States, Russia or France, ever tolerate the occupation of their own territories? Would they fight the invaders back or let international mediators solve relevant conflicts?
The map and borders of Azerbaijan, like those of other countries, were recognised and reconfirmed by the UN upon Azerbaijan’s admission into the organisation in 1992. The Republic of Armenia itself accepted other countries’ territorial integrity, including that of Azerbaijan, when being admitted into the United Nations in 1992. Furthermore, four UN Security Council resolutions (822, 853, 874, 884), as well as documents and resolutions adopted by many other international organisations have recognised Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and demanded the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces from its occupied territories.
Respected organisations’ resolutions have always been ignored by Armenia and remain unfulfilled up to this day. Azerbaijan has repeatedly brought to the international community’s attention that the illegal presence of Armenian armed forces in its occupied territories further provokes the situation’s escalation and poses a threat to regional peace and stability. Therefore, it is not quite understandable how Armenia, itself breaking international law and ignoring international resolutions, demand that the international community prevent Azerbaijan from reinstating its territorial integrity.
Any military operations of the Azerbaijani army, including the recent one or possible ones in the future, would be nothing but a justified attempt to repair its broken territorial integrity. Desperate calls by different countries and organisations to stop the operation are signs of double standards. Russia, which bombed Chechens when they stood for independence and did not let a new country arise within Russia, tries to broker peace in the region at the expense of territorial loss for Azerbaijan. Or didn’t the international community protest against separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine and express support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity?
The Armenian side’s goal is clear: to preserve the status quo, to extend endless negotiation processes and to have the world community get used to the idea and situation of Nagorno-Karabakh being under Armenian control.
To put everything into more understandable language, imagine a neighbour of yours occupying one of three rooms in your apartment. You cannot kick that person out because other neighbours interfere and, as intermediaries, demand you find a compromise with the occupier (sic) and possibly give him that room.
In order to achieve some progress within this conflict’s settlement, the Armenian armed forces must withdraw from Azerbaijan’s occupied territories, and Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty within its internationally recognised borders must be secured.
The military occupation of one territory by another country is not acceptable in the 21st century. Nor is the international community’s tolerance of this situation acceptable either. This status quo prevents development processes in the South Caucasus and poses a great threat to Eastern Europe’s entire security system.
The international community must finally have its say, demand Armenia stop the occupation of Azerbaijani territories and even consider sanctions against the former. It already imposed sanctions on Russia when the Kremlin broke Ukraine’s territorial integrity and kept supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.
International mediators have stepped up again, allegedly to help. But there is little hope they will ever be truly interested in solving this problem. However, Armenia’s and the intermediaries’ further attempts to maintain the Nagorno-Karabakh situation frozen will fail. The thaw has already begun.
The views expressed in this op-ed do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors.
Rusif Huseynov is a Baku-based independent researcher. He holds a bachelor degree of international relations at Baku State University and was recently admitted to SAIS, Johns Hopkins University.