At a time when the provisions of the Russian-brokered trilateral statement signed on November 10, 2020, ending the 30-years Azerbaijan-Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, must be implemented, what are the expectations of Azerbaijan from Armenia and region states and what are the priorities of foreign policy of Azerbaijan currently? Simultaneously, it should also be emphasized that despite Azerbaijan’s offer of peace, the rearmament of Armenia, which is accompanied by continuing firing on Azerbaijani positions and provocations on the border of two countries, is a major obstacle to peace and security in the South Caucasus. In this regard, the detailed interviews of the President of Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev to the local and international media outlets provide ample opportunity to answer to all these questions.
Firstly, militarization of Armenia is unacceptable. In this regard, Russia Defense Minister Shoigu’s statement that the process of sending Russian weapons to Armenia has begun is completely contrary to Russia’s mediation mission. Even if Armenia has been provided with billions of dollars worth of free weapons for 30 years and will continue to do so, the balance of power will not change. Azerbaijan expects all countries in the region to increase their efforts for contributing to peace taking into account Russia’s special role in the region and in this matter.
Azerbaijan offers peace to Armenia, but this does not mean that Armenia may continue its provocations. In case that Armenia does not agree with peace and want a war, Azerbaijan is ready for it in every way. As noted by the President Aliyev Turkey’s defense industry is developing day by day, and Azerbaijan will benefit from it. Despite this strong argument, Azerbaijan does not want a war. This should be understood by both Armenia and those who mislead Armenia by supplying its army with modern weapons and promise to do so in the future. If Armenia is ready to recognize the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, which is also recognized by the world community, and if the delimitation and demarcation of borders between two countries starts, and in the end peace agreement is signed, that will open a window of development for Armenia and for the entire region.
Besides, Azerbaijan is expanding its cooperation platforms not only in terms of the defense industry, but also the country has been using a trilateral framework to collaborate with important partners more regularly in past few years. On 15 June, 2020 a “Shusha Declaration on allied relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Turkey” was signed and on July 27, the parliamentary speakers of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan signed the “Baku Declaration,” a strategic partnership treaty that established a new framework for political collaboration between the three countries. The three parties are also careful to emphasize that this is a platform for peace, not an alignment against any other state or set of states.
During the interview to the CNN Turk TV channel Mr. President Aliyev not coincidially called the Armenians living in the territory controlled by the Russian peacekeeping mission “lost Azerbaijani citizens” stressing the importance of their integration into Azerbaijani society. Thus, the head of state emphasizes that these people are citizens of Azerbaijan, and the country that will be responsible for them as a state is not any other state, but Azerbaijan. If 54% of Armenians voted for the defeated government in the June 20 elections in Armenia, it means that the Armenian people themselves have come to terms with the current reality. The provocations committed by Armenia, creating the impression that there is tension on the border and in the region are conscious and purposeful steps taken by Armenia to ensure the direct interests of revanshist circles in country and foreign circles outside by inciting these actions.
After this interview and calling those Armenians in such a way by the President of Azerbaijan, a group of Armenians living in Khankendi approached the entrance to Shusha with the participation of Russian peacekeepers, expressed readiness to receive Azerbaijani citizenship and asked the Azerbaijani government for being employed. According to MP of Azerbaijan, chairman of the Motherland Party Fazail Agamali, if ordinary Armenians living in Karabakh sincerely want to be integrated into Azerbaijani society, it should be approached positively. “We can’t push them. Many ordinary Armenians living in Karabakh, especially the older generation, want to be integrated into Azerbaijani society. They have no other choice. If they want to live in a normal, civilized, developing society, they will undoubtedly accept Azerbaijani citizenship. Comprehensive work should be done in this direction.” But MP also emphasized that there are certain forces that do not want them to be integrated into Azerbaijani society, and put various pressures on them.
According to MP of Azerbaijan, member of Parliamentary Committee on Defense, Security and Corruption Arzu Nagiyev, all of Nikol Pashinyan’s statements are aimed at returning to the region the Minsk Group and especially France. MP considers that in Yerevan, returning the talks mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group to the agenda, they seem to hint that the Russian peacekeepers are not thoroughly fulfilling their function. Then the question arises: What is the standing of Azerbaijan regarding returning the talks mediated by the OSCE Minsk Group to the agenda?
“The United States calls for a return to substantive negotiations as soon as possible under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to achieve a long-term political solution to the conflict,” the US Department of State said in its statement. A similar call was made by French President Emmanuel Macron in a recent telephone conversation with Pashinyan. Azerbaijan does not refuse to cooperate with the OSCE Minsk Group, however, in order to resume negotiations under its auspices, it must submit concrete proposals taking into account the new realities in the region that have developed after the war, and these proposals must relate to the issues of post-conflict settlement, in particular, the achievement of a comprehensive peace agreement based on mutual recognition of the territorial integrity of countries and borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The president of Azerbaijan firmly emphasized that there is no concept of “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”. There is no “status” issue as there is no “Nagorno-Karabakh”. “Baku expects that the OSCE Minsk Group will present its proposals on the further establishment of a peaceful life in the region,” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said.
Moreover, if there is a desire to move towards peace, it is clear that it is necessary to restore dialogue at all venues, both diplomatically and at the level of civil society. Then it means that the OSCE Minsk Group should be interested in the contribution of cessation of hostilities between these countries and two nations. During these years the issue that worried the Azerbaijani society and rightly caused dissatisfaction was that if Armenia had been sanctioned on time, and the Minsk Group co-chairs – three of the world’s most powerful countries – had used 5% of their power to persuade or force Armenia to evacuate its occupation forces, the war would not have occurred. As a result, blame for the war lies not only with Armenia, but also with those who were unable or unwilling to force Armenia comply with international law. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev rightly reiterated these issues on August 24 during a meeting with the newly appointed UN Resident Coordinator in our country, Vladanka Andreeva. “The Minsk Group did not say a word to Armenia. Illegal settlement was carried out not only in Shusha, but also in Jabrayil, Zangilan, Kalbajar, Gubadli and Lachin. The Azerbaijanis had become a defenseless community in their own homeland”.
Despite the fact that dated November 10, 2020 tripartite agreement openly declared completed ceasefire and termination of all hostilities in the area of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Prime Minister Pashinyan said he was ready to meet with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and that the deepening of hostility and confrontation in the region is unacceptable either Armenian side violating the ceasefire periodically subjects to fire the positions of the Azerbaijan Army in the several directions or purposefully resort to provocations to aggravate the situation. Moreover, Armenia is spreading false information about the alleged firing of units of the Azerbaijani Army in several directions, the presence of wounded among the Azerbaijani servicemen. Also, Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan called the report of the Armenian Ombudsman on the deliberate burning of pastures in the border areas by Azerbaijani servicemen as a lie and slander, emphasizing that was another information provocation by Armenia.
When it comes to the mission and responsibilities of Russian peacekeeping forces it is also openly shown in trilateral agreement that the peacekeeping forces of the Russian Federation shall be deployed concurrently with the withdrawal of the Armenian troops. However, the total evacuation of the Armenian military forces from Azerbaijani territory, where Russian peacekeeping forces are stationed temporarily, was not guaranteed. Moreover, they set up new posts near Mukhtarkend and Shushakend, as well as in the territories to the east of the administrative boundaries of the Kalbajar and Lachin regions of Azerbaijan. In the press release of the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan it is openly said that the Russian Federation’s peacekeeping forces must put a halt to the installation of Armenian armed forces in the Republic of Azerbaijan, where they are temporarily stationed.
It becomes clear that Pashinyan regime is at least not sincere in negotiating or not independent in decision-making. If that was the case, Armenia would stop the provocations, would not try to interpret the tripartite statement in an unconscious way, and would come to direct talks. Azerbaijani side demonstrates a constructive position in accordance with the post-war reality. Armenia must put an end to dictating the interests of some circles. Armenia’s future prospects, integration and development in the region as a whole depend on the establishment of normal relations with neighboring countries. The Armenian side should finally understand that aggression has no perspective. As President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated: “The liberation of Karabakh has created conditions for long-term peace in the region. If Armenia uses this opportunity, then we will take the necessary steps.”
The statement from the Presidential Administration of Turkey that the relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey are strengthening day by day and all projects between the two countries are aimed at the development of the region is very important. It should be in the interests of all parties to open communications, to establish the Zangazur corridor, to restore all trade relations, that is, to ensure peace in the South Caucasus after a long break. Because the Zangazur corridor will also allow Armenia to connect with both Iran and Russia by rail. This is an opportunity for Armenia. As noted by Mr Aliyev: “For the full operation of the Zangazur corridor, there must be both a railway and a highway.” Armenia will be able to develop the relations that never had before.
In addition to the political and military aspects of the issue which was analyzed above, there are also humanitarian and cultural aspects. Contrary to all the principles of international law and humanism, during the thirty years of Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani territories, many cultural and religious monuments and places have been destroyed, and some have become barns.
Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan openly declared that Armenia is liable for war crimes such as the ruination and misappropriation of Azerbaijan’s historical, cultural, and religious legacy, as well as the unlawful removal of Azerbaijan’s cultural riches. The size of intentional obliteration, submitted by Armenia in these grounds, have been noted thoroughly by worldwide community, including the authority agents of states, free media offices, simultaneously non-legislative associations, and so on after Azerbaijan liberated its areas from occupation. According to the former ISESCO Director General Abdul Aziz bin Osman Al-Tuwaijri, UNESCO, being responsible for the protection of cultural heritage around the world is requested to demonstrate a fair position, to take responsibility for the protection of cultural and religious heritage sites, as well as to refute the fraud and distortions spread by the Armenian leadership. Ilham Aliyev also voiced this issue while receiving Vladanka Andreeva, newly appointed UN Resident Coordinator in Azerbaijan. The President stated that during occupation Azerbaijan invited UNESCO to the region to get acquainted with the damage caused to Azerbaijan’s historical monuments in these areas, but UNESCO refused. After the end of the war, on the contrary, UNESCO said it wanted to come to the region. As Armenia protesting again, the mission is delayed now. The authorities of this country clearly understand that the mission will record the crimes committed by them and they will be held accountable as Armenia destroyed more than 60 mosques and the only Orthodox church in Karabakh and by keeping pigs in mosques insulted people’s religious beliefs. Thus, the responsibility for the war falls not only on Armenia, but also on those who turn a blind eye to its policy of aggression and looting.
As a result of the insidious policy against the Azerbaijani people, the creation of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region, the division of Zangazur and the deportation of Azerbaijanis from the region after the Soviet government’s annexation of Zangazur to Armenia purposefully in 1920 are known to the whole world. Now there is a new reality in the region. According to this reality the decree was signed by the President of Azerbaijan on July 7, 2021 and currently there are Karabakh and East Zangazur economic regions in the territory of Azerbaijan. The country put together a unique plan and is rapidly carrying out construction and landscaping work at its expense. Demining work must be carried out and is currently underway. Armenia does not give Azerbaijan maps of mines, and the accuracy of the maps provided at the latest stage is only 25 percent. Here, again, Armenia is acting insincerely.
Azerbaijan is rapidly restoring the lands liberated from occupation. Moreover, as after the occupation of Shusha, Vagif’s mausoleum, like all historical and cultural monuments of Azerbaijan, was destroyed by Armenians, Azerbaijan is restoring its rich cultural heritage as well. As Shusha carries a deeply emotional importance for Azerbaijanis and throughout centuries was seen as the “cradle” of Azerbaijani culture, 30 August 2021 was a very significant day in the history of Azerbaijan. The country celebrated the opening of the Vagif Poetry Days which was organized by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation in the native city of the poet for the first time after the liberation of Shusha from occupation. Next year, Azerbaijan will celebrate the 270th anniversary of Shusha, which was founded by Panahali khan, Azerbaijani statesman in 1752. Shusha residents are looking forward to returning to their native lands.
*Shabnam Hasanova, Political Analyst, Ph.D. candidate in Political Science, Baku, Azerbaijan