Is Peace Finally Coming to Nagorno-Karabakh?

Social media images, fair use.

By | Ibrahim Mammadov 

October 28, 2020

Above, retrieved from social media, fair use. Peace will not come without great pain. This image is from a series of photos that appear on social media at the funeral of the second-grade aged girl who was killed in Barda airstrikes October 27. 

For the past 27 years, Azerbaijanis around the world have woken up to this state of events in their country: 20 percent of its territory is controlled by the military of a self-declared Armenian statethe cultural heritage of Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh and the 7 provinces surrounding it has been deteriorating and under incessant vandalism, and 800,000 people from that territory are forced to live as IDPs in other regions of Azerbaijan, not being allowed to enter the cities and villages where they were born and raised. Many of those refugees have even identified the houses where they used to live listed on Airbnb, and have since then started a petition to urge AirBnB to stop promoting listings of dwellings that were acquired as a result of armed home invasions and forceful expulsions of Azerbaijanis by Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. This request, much like many of Azerbaijan’s pleas to the international community to do something about the forceful removal of Azerbaijanis and attacks against its historical monuments and cities, have gone unheard. After 27 years of sporadic fighting in the area, the situation has devolved into an all-out war.

In the last 27 years, the self-proclaimed state formed by Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and now renamed Artsakh has not gotten any closer to international recognition (in fact, even Armenia itself does not officially recognize it). Because four U.N. resolutions deem the occupation of Azerbaijani territory by Armenian separatists illegal, there is virtually no interaction with any other country besides Armenia. Thus, the current status quo, where Azerbaijan and Artsakh are continually fighting at the border meanwhile the international community sits at the sidelines and “condemns” the illegal occupation, is the best that the separatist state is going to get. But what is the alternative that has been offered by Azerbaijan’s government for the past three decades? 

Azerbaijan’s government has unwaveringly stated its determination to ensure that Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, just like the nearly dozen other ethnic minorities that live in Azerbaijan, receive Azerbaijani citizenship and all of the rights that are available to Azerbaijani citizens. Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh would have a degree of autonomy within the Republic of Azerbaijan, much like they did before the war, and have media and education available in the Armenian language, as was the case prior and as is the case for all ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan that have requested to have such accommodations.

So a degree of autonomy, protection of religious rights (as was always the case), and preservation and promotion of their culture: what else does this population of 140,000 Armenians need? Complete independence is not an option, because the United Nations has deemed Artsakh an illegitimate state and its territory as an inseparable part of Azerbaijan. The second best thing is autonomy, which Azerbaijan is willing to give, under the condition that Azerbaijanis are allowed back into their homes. So it seems that the only difference between the status quo, that Armenians have been fighting bitterly to preserve, and Azerbaijan’s alternative, is whether Azerbaijanis are allowed to live in Nagorno-Karabakh. Is that what this was all about?

Many Armenians state that they are afraid that their safety will not be provided once Azerbaijan regains formal control of the territory and Azerbaijanis are allowed back into the region, but that notion seems entirely unfounded.

Azerbaijani military personnel have already encountered Armenian civilians from Nagorno-Karabakh for the last month when they reconquered over a hundred and sixty villages and four cities, and the interaction between Azerbaijani servicemen and Armenian residents have so far been cordial and respectful. The notion that Azerbaijanis are there to “exact revenge” and commit bloody murders against Armenian civilians seems to stem more from a feeling of guilt because Armenians living there today dread seeing the faces of the people that they had forced out of their homes thirty years prior, many of whom are probably still alive. It is also worth noting that the repeated bombing of Azerbaijani cities, such as Ganja and Barda, in the face of an inevitable Armenian military capitulation, has only been making the prospects of reconciliation between the two nations more and more difficult. 

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has reiterated in an interview that he is guaranteeing the safety of Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh once they cease putting up a military resistance, considers them rightful citizens of Azerbaijan, and hopes that Azerbaijanis and Armenians will be able to live in peace in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, as they had lived before the start of the conflict in the late 1980s.

Here is a direct quote by the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev: 

“I have spoken on this matter many times previously, and I have always said that we view Armenians living in the Nagorno-Karabakh region as our citizens, and hope that after the resolution of the conflict, and after the occupation [of Azerbaijan]is put to an end, the Azerbaijani and Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh should live together, as was the case throughout many years.” 

The situation, frankly, should fill the international community with optimism, because after 30 years, this debilitating conflict is finally coming to an end. Only one question remains: will Armenians continue to resort to bombing Azerbaijan’s shopping malls and apartment complexes, and breed animosity among Azerbaijan’s population, at a time when the governments should be thinking about re-integrating Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh back into Azerbaijan’s society?