ISSN 2330-717X

Azerbaijan’s Ethnic Minorities Overwhelmingly Back Baku’s Opposition To Any Special Status For Armenians In Karabakh – OpEd

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Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has made very clear that any special status for Nagorno-Karabakh is unacceptable, a position overwhelmingly supported not only by the more than 90 percent of the population of Azerbaijan who are ethnic Azerbaijanis but also by the remainder who are members of various groups.

As Aliyev put it this week, when Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan complained that the tripartite declaration hadn’t discussed a special status for Karabakh and Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that in his view that was a subject for future negotiations, any special arrangement for ethnic Armenians was something Baku would not agree to.

“We have restored our territorial integrity, we have driven out the occupiers from the occupied territories, and we will not permit the establishment of a second Armenian state. There can’t be any talk of that. There is a single Azerbaijani state. There is a multi-national, multi-confessional, progressive Azerbaijani state,” Aliyev said.

In that state, he continued, “all citizens of Azerbaijan including representatives of all peoples and religions live normally and in conditions of good neighborliness and peace. The Armenian people will live the same way. We have no problems with the Armenian people,” he declared three days ago.

Many Azerbaijanis take an even tougher line. One, who blogs under the screen name “The Wind from Apsheron,” says that by definition “the Armenians of Karabakh do not deserve [special] status within Azerbaijan” (kavkaz-uzel.eu/blogs/83772/posts/45919). Such an arrangement would be completely unjust and unjustified.

“Ethnic Russians, Lezgins, Georgians, Jews, Avars, Tsakhurs, Talysh, Khynalygtsy, Kurds and others who fought for the liberation of Karabakh do not have national status and live alongside others.” In such a situation, how could “the Karabakh Armenians, who massively fought on the side of Armenia for the disintegration of Azerbaijan receive special rights?”

One might have expected the ethnic minorities of Azerbaijan to have more understanding and even sympathy for Armenian aspirations, but in fact, Rustam Dhzalilov and Faik Medzhid, two Kavkaz-Uzel news agency journalists, say, they are often as hostile to the idea of Armenian autonomy as any Azerbaijani nationalist (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/356700/).

Giving Armenians what Baku has not given others would be “an absurd decision” that “could have consequences for the future of Azerbaijan,” the blogger says.

The 15,000 Tsakhurs of Azerbaijan wouldn’t oppose having national autonomy, Rafael Aliyev, who heads the Tsakhur national autonomy in Moscow, but he says they don’t have all that many problems with the way things are now in Azerbaijan. They would like more attention to their language and better roads so that they could visit the 15,000 Tsakhurs in Daghestan.

He said that Baku had perhaps not done enough for the Tsarkhurs in recent years because of the challenge Armenian occupation presented to the state, but now that the occupation is at an end, it can do more, a view that suggests the Azerbaijani government may face more demands from other groups in the future – another reason not to give Armenians autonomy.

The Talysh who number 112,000 in Azerbaijan according to Baku but 2.5 million according to Talysh activities do need both cultural and administrative autonomy, Adil Nasirov, the head of the Moscow-based group “Support for the Development of the Culture of the Talysh” in the Russian Federation.

But Rafig Dzhalilov, the head of the Talysh Cultural Center in Azerbaijan, says that his nation can achieve all its goals within the current Azerbaijani constitution, although he too expects that after the end of the war with Armenia, Baku will be able to do more in humanitarian areas.

The Talysh are well-represented in the Azerbaijani political, business and cultural establishment, Dzhalilov says. Indeed, the head of the Administration of Muslims of the Caucasus, Sheikh uil-Islam Allakhshukyur Pashazade is himself a Talysh. All Talysh support the unity of Azerbaijan and they have proved this by fighting against the occupation.

The 12,000 Ingiloy, who are often called Georgian Muslims and are viewed as Muslim Georgians in Georgia, need far more than existing arrangements if they are to flourish, Rostom Shapiashvili, head of the Volgograd-based Ereti Ingiloy social-political movement which believes that Azerbaijan should become a federal state with ethnically-based republics.

Azerbaijan’s 200,000 Lezgins have sometimes been a thorn in the side of Baku and Moscow has even sought to use them as leverage against the Azerbaijani government (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/10/new-lezgin-head-of-daghestan-may-help.html). But at present they are not seeking autonomy but simply more linguistic and cultural opportunities.

The Lezgins are an integral people of Azerbaijan, and they have proved that by fighting against the Armenian occupation most recently in heroic actions around Shusha, their community leaders say.

The 120,000 ethnic Russians of Azerbaijan are another ethnic minority, but Mikhail Zabelin, who heads the Russian Community of Azerbaijan, says that they are fully integrated and fully committed to the unitary Azerbaijani state. He adds that Baku doesn’t even have a special organ for ethnic minorities and thinks that that is the most appropriate way of dealing with them.

 And finally in the list the two Kavkaz-Uzel journalists gave – there are in fact more but most are very small – are the Mountain Jews, who number somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000. They are enthusiastic backers of the unitary Azerbaijani state,  Milikh Yevdayev, head of the Community of Mountain Jews in Baku, says.

“Azerbaijan is one of the few Muslim countries where Jews feel themselves to be completely secure. We have lived many centuries in Azerbaijan. In Azerbaijan are all conditions for the preservation of religion and language. And in Azerbaijan we can completely make use of all the rights of citizens as guaranteed in the Constitution.”

The country has nine synagogues, a Jewish college, five Jewish schools and three Jewish kindergartens. The Mountain Jews live in many places but the center of their communal life is Krasnaya Sloboda in northern Azerbaijan.

According to Yevdayev, “Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh should have the very same rights other peoples do but neither they nor anyone else should have special privileges.”

Paul Goble

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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