By Paul Goble
The situation in the South Caucasus has become even more fraught now that Gafar Chahmagli, an ethnic Azerbaijani whose ancestor come from what is now Armenia and who specializes on Armenian affairs at the University of Kayseri, has declared the formation of the Republic of Western Azerbaijan in exile.
The new organization seeks to reclaim for descendants of its earlier Azerbaijani population much of the territory now occupied by the Republic of Armenia, an action Chahmagli says is both right and just and has long been discussed by Azerbaijanis whose ancestors were forced to leave their homeland (turan.az/ext/news/2020/5/free/politics%20news/en/123959.htm).
“History shows how right we are to take this step,” Chahmagli says. “Our state has always been in Western Azerbaijan, which for centuries has been our permanent homeland. Out state has never allowed national and religious discrimination there. The Irevan [Yerevan] Khanate, one of the heirs to Azerbaijani statehood, is not a distant memory.”
“Russia put an end to our statehood by occupying Irevan,” he continues. “Despite the fact that Irevan was transferred to Armenia in 1918 with some concessions, the Armenians rejected these concessions and did not give Zangezur autonomy and later occupied Karabakh.” Armenia expanded, and Azerbaijanis were expelled from there between 1918 and 1953.
According to the Turkish professor, “the main goal of the Republic of Western Azerbaijan (Irevan), which is dominated by the intelligentsia is to return all historical lands, including Yerevan, Zangebasar, Goichu, Zangezur, Gyumri, Drlayza and all remaining historical lands within the borders of modern Armenia.”
The group plans to have elections and to set up a National Council of the West Azerbaijan Republic in exile to press its claims.
The Azerbaijani blog, “The Wind from Apsheron,” says that “this is important international news” and that the formation of such exile organizations and governments can play a major role in achieving the goals they proclaim, although the blog concedes that things don’t always work out that way (kavkaz-uzel.eu/blogs/83772/posts/43137).
The blog insists that “there is nothing bade in this initiative, and if affairs are correctly carried out, if the Azerbaijan republic supports them and defends the interests of the Republic of Iravan, then in the foreseeable future, under incredible conditions and perhaps even blood, those who have been driven out can become a real power of a genuinely liberated Azerbaijani land.”
Many Azerbaijanis regularly point out that much of the land now within the borders of Armenia was populated by Azerbaijanis – even President Ilham Aliiyev has made that observation — just as many Armenians routinely observe that many of the residents of Baku at the same period were Armenians.
But this is one of the first steps to move beyond words to some kind of action, although its most likely consequence is not the achievement of the goals Chahmagli has announced but rather deepened suspicions and a hardening of attitudes among Armenians about Azerbaijani and in this case in particular Turkish intentions.