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Response: How historical claims and revisionism aggravate the deadlock in the resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

The title of the recently published piece by Anzhela Mnatsakanyan attempted to find out why Nagorno-Karabakh conflict matters. Nevertheless, throughout the text the question brought up by the author remains unanswered and the containing arguments are irrelevant, puzzled and incapable to resolve the question.

April 24, 2020 - Fuad Chiragov - Articles and Commentary

Photo: Adam Jones (CC) commons.wikimedia.org

Editor’s note: This article was submitted as a response to the recently published article titled “Why Nagorno-Karabakh matters”. We are publishing this response in its entirety in the spirit of debate and to allow readers to gain another perspective on this issue.

The introductory remarks of the author on hardships of presenting the results of the final negotiation and how the leaders in both Armenia and Azerbaijan have become trapped by their own rhetoric make someone to think that the author will go beyond from the myth creation, idealization of historical events, justification and repetition of the narratives of one-side. Since what really matters about the conflict is that the conflict of the two states has drained the economic potential, human resources, welfare of people, past and present and unfortunately the future of the region. In this difficult times for the whole world, an expert who writes on the conflict should avoid the meaningless disputes and stop playing blame game that further aggravate the deadlock. In order to help the leaders and public to get out of the deadlock of the current status quo in the conflict, one should be careful about a danger of revisionist claims based upon ambiguous historical arguments. An expert who claims to be honest, impartial and has empathy for the opposite side as well should not approach to historical facts selectively, distort or misinterpret them to justify the position of one side at all cost.

First of all, Ms. Mnatsakanyan attempts to justify the position of Armenia by making ambiguous historical assertions on Karabakh and other parts of Azerbaijan that obviously have nothing in common with neither history nor contemporary international law. The short list or chronology of historical events in the piece that intends to bring readers who are not expert in the details of all events of that period to the certain conclusions blatantly omits other very important facts that tell completely different story from the conclusions brought up by the author. For example, the author somehow forgets to put in the chronology the fact that on August 26, 1919, the Assembly of Armenians of Karabakh and the government of the First Republic of Azerbaijan signed an agreement according to which the former recognized itself within the jurisdiction and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. After skipping this important fact, the author jumps to the decision of the Assembly of Armenians of Karabakh of April 23rd 1920, again forgetting to mention the fact, exactly when and why Armenians breached the agreement of August 26, 1919. The 23rd April, 1920 was just five days before when the Communist Red Army occupied Azerbaijan and put an end to the First Republic on April 28, 1920. At that time Armenians that were allied with the Red Army started aggression against Azerbaijan and managed to divert significant part of the troops from the North to the West that might have been put against the Red Army. Back then this alignment with the Red Army and aggression against Azerbaijan helped the Communists to occupy Azerbaijan easily. Later, the author refers the decision of the occupation regime of the Communists dated to November 30, 1920 on recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh, Zanghezour and Nakhichevan as an integral part of Soviet Armenia. And again the author forgets to mention that this decision was made on the first most brutal period of the occupation regime as a reward for alignment that enabled the Red Army to easily occupy Azerbaijan. Later realizing that this decision was not adequate with local demography and might endanger the control over the region, the Communists had to make some adjustments to their previous decision: Karabakh remained within Azerbaijan and Zanghezour transferred to Armenia. Therefore, the author’s argument that Nagorno-Karabakh was not part of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan during its existence in 1918-1920 is baseless and doesn’t stand any kind of criticism.

Shortly, this kind of historical review and debate do not contribute to dialogue between societies and peace-making efforts, on the contrary they carry a danger of revisionist claims based upon historical arguments. The history of the South Caucasus witnessed many tragic conflicts and territorial claims, and it was not only the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia; Armenia also had war with Georgia over territorial disputes, therefore one-sided approach to the history might undermine international law and security, and lead to negative precedents.

On the other hand and more importantly, as it has been stated many times previously “whatever the truth of Armenia’s historical assertions they cannot affect the legal position as it existed during the critical period leading up to and including the independence of Azerbaijan nor the legal position after such independence, otherwise the international community would be faced with scores of revisionist claims based upon historical arguments”.

Armenia occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts that have nothing to do with Nagorno-Karabakh. These are part of the internationally recognized territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan. These territories were captured and held by Armenia, whether directly by its own forces or indirectly by forces forming part of the so-called local authorities in “Nagorno-Karabakh”. Unrecognized by any state as such, even by Armenia, the so-called local authorities in “Nagorno-Karabakh ”  is supported by Armenia remains essentially under its direction and control. This fact also is affirmed in the documents of numerous international institutions as well as by Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in its judgment on the reciprocal case Chiragov and Others v. Armenia on June 16, 2015. The four UN Security Council Resolutions also call complete and unconditional withdrawal of the occupying forces involved from the occupied districts of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Having said all these, it is impossible from both legal and historical perspective to justify the status of occupied territories as “independent legal entity” or “an independent political unit” and as such was arbitrarily placed in during Soviet times as Ms. Mnatsakanyan argues. It is not secret for anyone that the Nagorno-Karabakh entity is a creature made up by Armenia and all attempts to argue the opposite and to tout the regime in Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent party are nothing more than the manipulation of legal and historical facts on the ground, and a distraction from substantial negotiations.

On the other hand, in accordance with the universally recognized international legal doctrine uti possidetis juris, the former union republics of the USSR are recognized as new independent states within borders previously existing within the federations. In other words, the administrative borders of the former Azerbaijan SSR were the exact borders within which the UN recognized Azerbaijan in March 1992 and accepted it to this universal organization as a full-fledged member. The uti possidetis principle clearly defines that Azerbaijan had declared its independence within the borders set by the Soviet laws before the declaration of independence.

Modern states in international affairs are supposed to respect international law and its fundamental principle of territorial integrity, regardless the dominant and popular perception of historical narratives in their societies about territories and boundaries as well as their justness. It is the most important foundation and historical lesson of international security after the World War II and the fall of Nazism. There are plenty of dissatisfactions about current status, territories, boundaries, real or self-inflicted traumas, imagined and subjective past, and greatness in all states. And if all countries start pursue these imaginations and revisionism in their policies, the whole world order would be endangered.

Modern states should also pursue the more inclusive policies toward different ethnicities, religions and cultures, civil nationalism and multiculturalism, abstaining from narrow ethno-centrist, pan-nationalist and supremacist ideologies like Pan-Armenianism. Unfortunately, Ms. Mnatsakanyan in her piece attempts to justify all plight and sufferings of up to 1.2 million IDPs from Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding districts and refugees from Armenia. Azerbaijan now has one of the highest numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) per capita in the world as result of Armenian aggression.

The ethnic composition of the South Caucasus once used to be very mosaic, people of different ethnicities and faith used to live side by side for centuries. However, Armenia with its ethnic policies and intolerance toward others in the past century gradually managed to become one of the most mono ethnic countries in the world. Today, 97% of the people living in Armenia are Armenians. This is what Pan-Armenian idea is in practice. Pan-Armenianism which is an official ideology of Armenian statehood, do not contend only Nagorno-Karabakh and other territories of Azerbaijan, but also the territories of other neighboring countries.

In recent years, the rise of the right-wing political parties and ideologies worldwide has become a source of concern with a potential to shake all international system. Yet this is not a new phenomenon in the South Caucasus. The central motto of Pan-Armenianism is a popular expression “from sea to sea Armenia” (Armenian: ծովից ծով Հայաստան, tsovits tsov Hayastan, from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea) – the territories that according to Armenians the King Tigranes II could capture for a very short time in ancient times Before Christ. In contrast to Armenia, multiculturalism is an official policy and ideology in Azerbaijan, which far much more ethnically and religiously diverse. The multiculturalism and tolerance historically that is inherent in the life of Azerbaijanis, today became an integral feature of everyday life of each citizen of the Azerbaijani state, irrespective of national identity, language and religion. During Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan, representatives of all ethnic and religious minorities such as Jews, Talishs, Lezgins, Avars, Kurds, Russians and others volunteered to fight for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, many of them fell and became National Heroes of Azerbaijan. As it was stated numerous times by all officials, Azerbaijan is also ready to embrace its Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh region, to provide the right of self-determination within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan along with its Azerbaijani and other inhabitants.

Fuad Chiragov is the head of department at the Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center) in Baku.

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