Armenian-Azerbaijan Karabakh conflict – civil viewpoints from Switzerland

"Mr. Eldar R. Ibrahimov (MP, Azerbaijan) speaks October 4, 2014 (photo courtesy of the Swiss Parliament/Fabio Chironi)" by oscepa is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Mariya Khan-Khoyskaya Martignoli

Swiss Azerbaijanis Coordination Council Member

Geneva, Switzerland

Armenian-Azerbaijan Karabakh conflict – civil viewpoints from Switzerland

Image credit: MP From Azerbaijan presents at OSCE Minsk Group, 2014: “Mr. Eldar R. Ibrahimov (MP, Azerbaijan) speaks October 4, 2014 (photo courtesy of the Swiss Parliament/Fabio Chironi)” by oscepa is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Preface

Switzerland and Azerbaijan have been enjoying good political and fruitful economic relations which were only expanding since Switzerland recognized the independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan on 23 December 1991 during the crumbling of the USSR. 

According to the official data taken from the Swiss Federal Council website, Azerbaijan is Switzerland’s main trading partner in the South Caucasus: the Helvetian Confederation mainly exports jewelry, precious stones, watches, security printing products, and pharmaceutical products to Azerbaijan. Switzerland is also a very active business partner in the oil and gas sector, namely in TAP, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline which is a part of the Southern Gas Corridor transporting natural gas to Europe from the Shah Deniz II field in Azerbaijan and of course, SOCAR.

126 Hearbeats Geneva – Zahi Haddad, 2020 – about Mariya KKM is available to read in its entirety here. 

Since 2012, this Azerbaijani state-owned energy company featuring the branding in the Azerbaijani national colors has been playing one of the leading roles in the Swiss energy industry. With some 190 petrol stations all over in Switzerland, being one of the main fuel suppliers of Zurich and Geneva airports, SOCAR made the economic ties between the two countries even closer.  

Since both countries have been deepening these political and economic relations and always discussing the perspectives in bilateral cooperation, it was only natural that Switzerland did not remain silent in the Armenian-Azerbaijan Second Karabakh War. In this discussion, I would like to share from a civil point of view how Swiss media and some well-known Swiss people among whom are politicians, artists, professors, businessmen, human rights and international law experts regarded the Karabakh conflict. 

Early days of the conflict

Since the eruption of the war on September 27, 2020, Switzerland’s message was clear: it expressed concern about the clashes between the two South Caucasian republics and called for peace, preservation of the regional stability and demanded to end the use of force, as per the official press release made by Bern on September 28, 2020.

The Confederation said it fully supported the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group and underlined its readiness to host a meeting at the usual highest level. Swiss media followed this peaceful position, covering the first days of the war in a neutral tone and, most importantly, calling things their names, for example, admitting that the Nagorno-Karabakh region was the territory of Azerbaijan that was supported by the separatist Armenian forces and that the “republic” that was established there was a self-proclaimed one. 

The great tilt and the arrival of the politicians

Things, however, started to change quite drastically. As the war gained traction, some Swiss politicians started to express their concern and as it turned out to be, that concern was very grave. One of the earliest birds that stirred the matter was Mr. Guy Mettan, a prominent Swiss journalist, politician, and the president of the Union des Chambres de Commerce Suisse-Russie & CEI (Union of the Chambers of Commerce Switzerland & CIS countries). In his blog called Planète Bleue featured in Tribune de Genève, a Swiss-French daily newspaper published in Geneva, Mr. Mettan shared with the wide audience his point of view on the conflict in the article named Les dessous de la guerre du Karabagh (The underneath of the Karabakh war).

To call this article outrageously shocking would be an understatement: not only it was full of historical falsifications, including the famous Stalin myth which was “Armenians are fighting for their motherland, whereas Azerbaijanis – for the territory that never belonged to them before Stalin gave it to them in 1921” (the original phrase “Les Arméniens se battent pour leur patrie, les Azéris pour un territoire qui n’a jamais été le leur avant que Staline ne le leur donne en 1921”), but also contained groundless information such as the accusation of jihadists who “did not come to the Caucasus to spend their holidays” (here the author quoted the French President Emmanuel Macron). These propositions were sauced by the mention of the Armenian genocide and, as the cherry on the top, the implication of Turkey. 

This “great” soup of false and baseless propositions did not remain unanswered: The Ambassadress of Azerbaijan to Switzerland Mrs. Hanum Ibrahimova answered this scandalous article calling for the Tribune de Genève and other media to take an impartial role in the Armenian-Azerbaijani Karabakh conflict and while publishing facts, do so that they reflect the reality of the international law. Mr. Mettan published the Ambassadress’s answer on his blog, underlining that he continued to stand by his words.

At the same time, another surprise came from the Swiss politicians: the Geneva Municipal Council (Conseil Municipal de Ville de Genève) concludes and hastily adopts (2-7 October) a resolution named “The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh have right to life and to the self-determination” (Les Arméniens du Haut-Karabakh ont le droit à la vie et à l’autodétermination). This resolution was quite a masterpiece: this time Stalin “gave” Karabakh to Azerbaijan in 1923; the population of Karabakh has followed the Soviet laws to the letter while they proclaimed independence in 1991; the authorities of Karabakh have guaranteed the security and the cultural and economic prosperity for the people there since their independence and so on…

In a few words, Azerbaijan was pictured as a savage, violent beast, and the Azerbaijani President was depicted as its master who needed to be punished. This resolution recognized that the only way for the Armenians to live peacefully in the region was to grant them the right to self-determine and – attention, please – called for the Geneva Conventions that the City of Geneva and Switzerland itself were authors to be implemented in this conflict!

The Municipal Council of Geneva whose primary duty is to take care of the well-being of the city and canton of Geneva goes ahead and condemns a whole nation basing themselves on falsified history, groundless accusations and calls upon the justice of the Geneva Conventions, completely and utterly ignoring the fact that these very Conventions, the international law, the human rights were brutally violated with regards to Azerbaijan in the dawn of this conflict! Doesn’t the City of Geneva have its problems to deal with? Why meddle in the affairs of these faraway territories?

Thus it started. While some of the Swiss media, notably the all-Swiss radio and TV chain RTS managed to cover the topic in quite a neutral manner, the French-Swiss magazines in particularly one of them, Le Temps have done their best to tar Azerbaijan in all kinds of crimes, completely omitting to mention the UN resolutions, the 1 million refugees and IDPs, the Khojaly genocide, the desolation of the 7 regions of Karabakh.

Not a single Swiss media mentioned how the Armenian authorities openly acknowledged their war crimes against the Azerbaijani population (“a few more days and even archaeologists will not be able to find the place of Ganja. Get sober before it is too late” (the “Artsakh President ‘s” spokesman Vahram Poghosyan) or calls to leave “the large cities”, including Ganja “to avoid inevitable loss”. 

Some articles spoke about the missile strikes of Ganja, Terter, Mingatchevir, but always so much more attention was given to the Armenian side of the conflict, even up until calling the names of the places by the names that the Armenians gave to them (“Chouchi” instead of Choucha or Shusha), always “Stepanakert” and never mentioning that the initial name of this city is Khankendi and that it was renamed to the “city of Stepan”, after the Armenian Bolshevik Stepan Shaumian in 1923. Not a single Swiss media ever thought to mention the Khojaly genocide while they were talking about how Armenia came to possess Karabakh in the 90s.  

Literally, twice the RTS channel published an interview where the voice of Azerbaijan was heard directly. One of them was with the Ambassadress Hanum Ibrahimova where she finally could express the Azerbaijani side – the side coinciding with the international law point of view and could be expressed in a few words:

Karabakh is an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan;

Karabakh and the 7 regions were unlawfully occupied by the separatist Armenian forces, the Azerbaijani population was violently expelled from these regions;

UN and the international community reaffirm the inalienable right of the expelled population to return to their homes, reaffirm the continued respect and the support for the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and demand the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. 

Azerbaijan wants justice and peace. But since the justice process has been stalled for 27 years, since the peace talks never reached their conclusions, since Armenian authorities did not stop to provoke Azerbaijan over all these years, and was determined to keep the status-quo over the unlawfully occupied land since things with the UN resolutions and OSCE promises haven’t budged an inch – how else can peace be achieved?

Armenia has been deliberately shelling civilians since the new eruption of the conflict;

Azerbaijan never employed any foreign mercenaries in this war.

Simple, isn’t it, so where is the problem? Why did all Swiss media, as well as international media, do not cede to repeat the same questions and accuse Azerbaijan of the same things time and again? Why when we, the Azerbaijani community, call the Swiss journalists for the dialogue, they refuse to come? Why haven’t 78 out of 80 members of the Geneva Municipal Council answer to a letter from a Swiss citizen honestly asking them why his city council was so suddenly preoccupied with affairs of the distant territories going as far as compiling up a resolution based on false historical facts and contradicting the resolutions of the UN, the supranational organization that Switzerland is part of?

Why did Swiss media and some Swiss politicians openly declared that SOCAR paid the war chest of Karabakh and thus making Switzerland a dark sponsor of this bloody operation – again, a provocative statement based on nothing but dirty allegations, but not a single word on how Vartan Sirmakes, the CEO and the co-founder of the Swiss luxury watch brand Franck Müller illegally exploited the gold mine in the village of Vejnaly in the Zangilan district of Karabakh while it was under the unlawful occupation? Switzerland is the second-largest importer of Armenian products (after Russia), and Sirmakes planned to label this illegally obtained gold as “Armenian precious metals”. Why not make an article about that?

So many questions remain unanswered…

The culmination – the final article of Le Temps and the scandalous petition

On November 17 Le Temps publishes the article named « Les Arméniens du Karabagh en danger: un remède, l’autodétermination » (“The Armenians of Karabakh are in danger: a remedy, the self-determination”) which to the French-speaking Azerbaijani community in Switzerland was the ultimate masterpiece – a compilation of blatant lies, inversed and distorted historical facts, grandiose speeches, unsophisticated proposals, and incessant genocide rhetoric – this time claiming that the people of Karabakh were on the verge of genocide and only the self-determination could save them from the ethnical cleansing and hellish doom of the Azerbaijani power. 

The grand finale of this “splendid” piece of work signed “Collectif” (“Collective”) by the Le Temps team was the call to sign the petition that bears the same name as that famous Geneva R-271 resolution – “The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh have the right to life and self-determination”, and the list of the first signatories of this petition: some Swiss former and active politicians, University of Geneva professor and politician, historians, artists and… experts in human rights and international law, including Vice-President of the Advisory Committee of the UN Human Rights Council!

This petition called for the recognition of the self-proclaimed republic as the only possibility to grant the security and right to life to the people on their “ancestral” land, who fought alone against “thousands of terrorists, mercenaries and the Turkish imperialism for a month and a half”, to impose sanctions against Azerbaijan and immediately deploy humanitarian aid to the population of Karabakh. 

Jaw-dropping, isn’t it?

This petition that gained over 20 thousand signatures was submitted to the Federal Council by a Swiss politician, Adviser to the State, MP of Swiss Parliament Carlo Sommaruga, one of the signatories, who, as per his words, was proud to be part of it. 

The Azerbaijani community and the Embassy of Azerbaijan immediately replied to this article and this petition, writing letters to the prominent signatories, expressing our grave concern and indignation by such accusations and complete violations of the international law, human rights, and neglection of historical facts.

Only one of them answered so far, “graciously” explaining to us that Switzerland is a country where everyone is free to have an opinion, where things are called their names, saying that Azerbaijan failed to gain the territorial integrity because now Russians are in there and that “apples must not be confused with pears”. The end of this message was that from the Swiss point of view, a solution can be found in an internationally moderated dialogue. 

That’s the gist of it. The UN Resolutions, the destiny of the 1 million Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs, crimes of Armenia against Azerbaijani population, the desolation of Karabakh, environmental crimes of the Armenians fleeing the territory, vandalization, and profanation of the whole region, etc… Nothing. Not a single answer to all these points – instead, a useless sermon about apples, pears, freedom of speech, and education in Switzerland. 

It was no longer an impression that the surprisingly big part of the Swiss media and politicians who chose to be involved in this conflict simply avoided any dialogue with Azerbaijan. To us, it was simply as if something as big as the Holocaust was ignored! Such a biased approach was totally unexpected from a country that is the very symbol of neutrality, security, and humanitarian action – the three pillars that Switzerland is so proud of. 

Towards the hope of normalization

During all this time the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Switzerland and the Azerbaijani Community in Switzerland tirelessly continued the joined efforts in promoting justice for Azerbaijan and calling for those three Swiss values that were so desperately needed with regards to this conflict with the first and foremost of them – the neutrality.

We wrote letters, we were active on social media, we did peaceful manifestations in front of the UN Palace, next to the Broken Chair, calling for peace, justice, and impartial regard. And we saw some results of it: some of the Swiss media, including Le Temps, published a couple of articles that for the first time since the beginning of this wrote truths about Karabakh. Finally, things were called their names. Finally, we read: Choucha, a ghost city of Aghdam, Armenian separatists, Karabakh in ruins and land-mines, people having waited for 27 years to return to their homeland, Azerbaijanis that were expulsed from their territories, Khankendi appeared next to the Armenian name of this city, 1 million refugees chased from Karabakh, the 7 regions and Armenia itself. We were so used to the biased approach so when we, at last, could see the uncomplicated truths coming out of these articles, we sighed with relief.

Of course, our battle is not over. The unbiased attitude towards Azerbaijan by the Swiss media has not yet been achieved – it still echoes with the toxic allegations that are spread in this country by the Armenian activists. However, I believe in justice and I surely believe in Swiss values of neutrality, security, and human action. 

I believe that the Swiss government will not fall victim to the false prejudice and erroneous information that has been sweeping across the country since the beginning of the Second Karabakh War. I solemnly believe that Switzerland will remain true to its mission of calling for peace and law instead of supporting those who choose to fuel the fire thus making peace ever more elusive and law ever further broken.  

Justice delayed is justice denied.