After a year of skirmishes and angry rhetoric in the Nagorno-Karabakh territorial conflict, Armenia and Azerbaijan have released a hopeful joint statement, committing to ”resolve all controversial questions in a peaceful manner.”
One can’t help but wonder whether the power of the white powder of Sochi, the Russian resort of the 2014 Winter Olympics, has engendered positivity that has lacked in previous meetings. According to media reports, Azerbaijani president Aliyev joined the host, Russian president Medvedev, in skiing while Armenian president enjoyed snowmobiling. Not that either of the South Caucasus presidents need more partying, but partaking in joint recreational activities is seemingly a good way forward.
The environmentally praiseworthy move may prove politically dangerous. While a likely coincidence, the name-sharing of the two parks could increase the already sky-scraping atmosphere of mutual distrust and information wars. But the incident also has potential to help Armenia and Azerbaijan – technically at war over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and locked in so-far-unsuccessful negotiations – to acknowledge some of their overlapping history.
History is hotly (and hostilely) contested in Armenia and Azerbaijan, with both trying to delegitimize each others’ national claims. Azerbaijan, for instance, outright distorts Christian Armenia’s ancient roots in the region – often deliberately destroying distinct Armenian monuments (and later denying their previous existence in the first place) to support its absurd case.
Armenia, in turn, exclusively (and religiously) insists that the idea of “Azerbaijan” is a mere construction of 1918 when a Persian toponym (the northern part of Iran) was applied to a newly-established Muslim Turkic country in the Caucasus. While accurate, Armenia’s argument ignores Azerbaijan’s diverse ethnic composition which is not completely limited to colonizing Turkic tribes from the other side of the Caspian but also includes some native peoples who, on their turn, share blood with Armenians. This explains why native Armenians and largely-settler Azerbaijans are genetically more related than either would want to admit.
Instead of emphasizing commonalities, which hasn’t been limited t conflict, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been each demanding exclusive rights to geographic names. The name of the new sanctuaries in both countries, Zangezur, for instance, is the name of the mountain range that separates southernmost Armenia’s Syunik region – often called Zangezur itself – from Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave. Instead of considering history-sharing, both Armenia and Azerbaijan regard Zangezur and Nakhichevan (and neighboring Nagorno-Karabakh) their exclusive historic lands.
The history dispute is a headache. But it may contain the key to solving the conflict. The Western and Russian negotiators of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict deliberately overlook (and wrongly so) the delicate issue of history and cultural protection. Instead, they should work toward an honest and straightforward address of historical disputes. If indeed a coincidence, the two Zangezur sanctuaries should remind Armenia and Azerbaijan (and the dithering negotiators) that “power sharing” – in this case the coequal right to using common historical names – maybe the road to sustainable peace.
Would a “sister” program between the Zangezur reserve in Armenia and the one in Azerbaijan help bring some change?
“Who controls the past controls the future;” party slogan states in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, “Who controls the present controls the past.”
While hopes are high that – despite a hostile history – Armenia and Turkey will establish diplomatic relations and that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan may finally be solved, the problem of how to deal with the official Turkish/Azerbaijani factory of history is not being addressed.
Djulfa, Nakhichevan: the worst documented case of history fabrication; Azerbaijani soldiers destroying the largest Armenian medieval cemetery in the world (December 2005) – the site is now a military rifle range
It’s not merely Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s denial of the Armenian Genocide that makes the reconciliation quite difficult, to say the least, but also the official Turkish thesis, with its roots in the Young Turkish movement (that carried out the Armenian Genocide) and formalized by Ataturk, that Turks/Azeris are indigenous to their current homelands and that Armenians, in the best case, are unwelcome immigrants.
While the Turkish fabrication of history can be dismissed as an issue of “internal consumption” – meaning a convenient myth to boost Turkish/Azeri pride in their respective countries (with the dangerous slogan “Happy is the man who can say I am Turk”) – the implications of flip-flopping history are right there in the middle of the current developments in the region. Here is a most recent case.
Turkey’s ceremonial president Abdullah Gul is currently visiting Nakhichevan (or Nakhchivan as Azerbaijan prefers), the region of Azerbaijan which it got from the communist regime in Moscow as another gift at the expense of giving out Armenian lands. Moreover, a treaty that Soviet Armenia was forced to sign from Moscow made Turkey the “guarantor” of Nakhichevan in the 1920s.
Gul is visiting Nakhichevan with other heads of “Turkic-speaking countries” (most of them in Central Asia) to talk about common issues. Sounds like a normal political event, and nothing to protest about, especially since Armenia has no official claims toward Nakhichevan. But read the rest.
As there are no Armenians left in Nakhichevan (thanks to a Soviet Azerbaijani policy of nonviolent ethnic cleansing which attracted little attention at the time) and not a trace of the rich Armenian heritage (the most precious of which, the Djulfa cemetery, was reduced to dust by Azeri soldiers in December 2005 – see the videotape), Armenia has no claims to Nakhichevan and perhaps rightly so. Yet, apparently, the history factory in Nakhichevan is still cooking.
While Armenia restraints itself from claiming its indigenous lands, and particularly Nakhichevan, taken away from it without its consent, Turkey and Azerbaijan must discontinue their unhealthy fabrications of history. Instead…
Putting the “native” side aside for a moment, the distortion of not just basic history but of linguistics is sickening. Save for the disputed proposal that Nakhichevan comes from the Persian phrase Naqsh-e-Jahan (image of the world), every other explanation of the name of the region has to do with Armenians (see Wikipedia for the several versions), let alone that the word itself has two Armenian parts to it: Nakh (before or first) and ichevan (landing, sanctuary) – referring to Noah’s coming out of the Ark from (another holy Armenian symbol) Mount Ararat – next to Nakhichevan now on Turkish territory.
Ironically, and as almost always in history fabrication, the Azeri/Turkish distortion of “Nakhichevan” is inconsistent. According to an official Azerbaijani news website, there are discussions in Nakhichevan that admit that the word has to do something with Noah (of course after saying that it had to do with a mythical Turkish tribe that lived there thousands of years ago): “The Turkic tribes of nakhch were once considered as having given the name to it. Other sources connect Nakhichevan with the prophet Noah himself, as his name sounds as nukh in Turkic.” Moreover, as an official Nakhichevani publication reads, “There is no other territory on the earth so rich with place-names connected with Noah as Nakhichevan. According to popular belief, Noah is buried in southern part of Nakhichevan, and his sister is buried in the northwest of the city.” Hold on. Did you notice that the language uses (at least its official English translation) the Armenian taboo name of the region: Nakhichevan (as opposed to Turkified Nakchivan)? Maybe there is hope, but not really. Azerbaijan still denies that it didn’t destroy the Djulfa cemetery because, well, it didn’t exist in the first place.
A skeptic would ask what the fuss is about. The answer is that Nakhichevan’s distortion is not the first. The sacred Armenian places of Ani, Van, and Akhtamar in Turkey all have official Turkish explanations to their meanings, while those places existed for hundreds – if not thousands – of more years before Turks colonized the homeland of the Armenians.
More importantly, the changing of toponyms is not done to meet the social demands of Turks/Azeris and in order to make it easier for the locals to pronounce geographic names. Distortion is done to rewrite history in order to control the future. But it’s not the right thing to do. And both Turkey and Azerbaijan embarrass themselves when it comes to legal discussions.
Immediately prior to voting for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007, for example, the Turkish delegation at the United Nations made it clear that its “yes” vote was cast with the understanding that there were no indigenous peoples on Turkey’s territory. If there were indigenous peoples on the territory, the Turkish representative stated, then the declaration didn’t challenge states’ territorial integrity. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, abstained from voting.
The reservation on the UN document came from both countries who claim that there are the indigenous heirs of the lands they occupy and that their main enemy, Armenians (and also Kurds) are not only indigenous but are recent immigrants.
One version of Azerbaijan’s ridiculous inidigenousness claim is written on the website of one Azerbaijani Embassy: “The ancient states of Azerbaijan, which maintained political, economic and cultural ties with Sumer and Akkad and formed part of the wider civilization of Mesopotamia, were governed by dynasties of Turkic descent. The Turkophone peoples that have inhabited the area of Azerbaijan since ancient times were fire-worshippers and adherents of one of the world’s oldest religions – Zoroastrianism.”
Armenians (and to a large extent the Kurds, Assyrians and Pontiac Greeks) have their share of fault in the debate. Constantly repeating their indigenousness in what is now Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenians have helped create the defensive Turkish/Azeri attitude that they, and not Armenians or others, are the indigenous peoples of the land. But when it comes to fabricating history of their own, there is little blame for Armenia.
As Armenia struggles to defend the victory it won over the Karabakh conflict, most Armenians use the Turko-Persian name for Nagorno-Karabakh (Karabakh meaning black garden, Kara – black in Turkish and bagh – garden in Farsi). While some Armenian nationalists prefer using the indigenous name of the region, Artsakh, many others indirectly admit that diverse history of Nagorno-Karabakh by keeping its Turkified name.
While Turkey ad Azerbaijan must come to terms with history, Armenia must accept that Turks and Azeris are there to stay. All the nations in the region have equal rights to existence, but not so at the unhealthy price of fabricating history.
Armenian diaspora’s idealist opposition to Turkey-Armenian negotiations is understandable, but an outright rejection of the dialogue process is a missed opportunity to introduce ideas and strategies that would empower Armenia.
One of world’s ancient nations and one of its youngest states, Armenia celebrated its 18th anniversary as an independent republic on September 21, 2009.
No country in history has persisted so much invasion, persecution, and genocide.
No country has continuously existed for so long as Armenia has.
And even though today’s Armenia is small, weak and has a declining population of already less than three million, today’s Armenia is one of the best times Armenia has had in thousands of years. Today is Armenia’s gift, and that gift must be used wisely.
Already a young adult, Armenia lives in a world with little room for mistakes. It must democratize, stabilize and normalize its relations with its historic foes to survive in times when today’s errors will be hard to erase tomorrow. As bad as Armenia may seem today, it has the opportunity to invest in a great future.
As the new Armenia is celebrating its entrance to adulthood, its ongoing negotiations with Turkey are in the center of international attention. There have been many articles and discussions on a subject which divides a lot of people, who I will “divide” into two camps – pragmatists and idealists.
Armenia’s current administration, and perhaps most of the citizens in the Republic, wants to normalize relations with Turkey for economic reasons. These are the pragmatists, for who Armenia is the only permanent address they have known, and who want to have a normal social life. I understand this group well. This is the group that is Armenian every second of their life. This is the group that wants to change, improve Armenia and is willing to take the risks. This is the group that ultimately takes all the risks.
I also understand the second group – the idealists. These are the diasporans for whom the Armenian genocide is the centerpiece of Armenian identity. The diaspora would never exist in the first place if there was no genocide. Diaspora’s opposition to the Turkish-Armenian ‘normalization,’ thus, is natural. These are the people that won’t forget how Turkish governments repeatedly lied to Armenians, and how the most trusted of those, the CUP, ended up carrying out the Armenian genocide. These are also the Armenians for who genocide awareness is often the road to staying Armenian. Diasporans have to fight day and night to keep the Armenian identity – unlike the Armenians in Armenia, who – no matter what they do – are Armenians every second.
I understand both groups. I love both sides. I am a son of the genocide itself and a son of the young and small Armenia living in the Diaspora. But when it comes to making a choice for Armenia’s future, I have to be a realist.
The reality is that Armenia’s population, at its best, will stay 3 million for the next decades. Turkey’s 71 million population and Azerbaijan’s 8 million will keep growing, coupled with the rise of ethnic Turkic Azeris in northern Iran. Unless Armenia finds a language with these inconvenient neighbors, it could face the danger of a final genocide.
Finding a common language, to be clear, has nothing to do with forgetting the Armenian genocide. The pragmatists, taking a market-ly speaking neoliberal approach, think that free trade will bring dialogue, and dialogue will bring genocide recognition. The idealists, on the other hand, say that genocide recognition should come first. As noble as the latter sounds, the former seems to make most sense. “Once the border opens,” Turkish historian Taner Akcam told me a few years ago, “Armenians and Turks will find out that they have more things in common than they thought: they have the same daily problems, and none have horns.” He surely belongs in the pragmatist camp, not only in the Armenian but also in the Turkish sense.
Is it bad to be an idealist? Not at all. But the idealist opposition to the “Armenian-Turkish protocols” needs to be a constructive one. Instead of outright rejecting any normalization efforts between Armenia and Turkey, the diaspora idealists must infuse specific and stated strategies that the pragmatists have been unable to include in the negotiations:
Demand Turkish neutralization in the Nagorno-Karabakh process
Demand the US government to force Turkey to declare itself a neutral side in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
Demand Turkey that by 2015 all monuments honoring the perpetrators of the Armenian genocide have separate plaques added describing the crimes they committed during WWI
While the latter is the only point that deals with the genocide, the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh is the most realpolitik task and requires immediate attention. The idealists, overoccupied with genocide recognition, have long neglected the question of Nagorno-Karabakh – the indigenous Armenian region claimed by Azerbaijan.
Turkey remains the biggest obstacle in reaching peace in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that will guarantee the security of the region’s indigenous population. If Turkey wants to normalize its relations with Armenia, it must stop being pro-Azerbaijani when it comes to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It must declare itself neutral in the conflict and say that it will honor any decision reached between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
This is the chance for the idealists to make a difference in the normalization process. It’s time to tell Turkey that for Armenians to choose the pragmatist approach – open border first, dialogue second and reconciliation third – Turkey must become objective in the Nagorno-Karabakh process.
Just came across to an interesting research on the Islamic fighters, recruited by Azerbaijan, during the Nagorno-Karabakh war with Christian Armenia in the early 1990s.
Speaking of the number of the Islamic fighters, researcher Micael Taarnby writes:
Whatever the true number of Mujahedin, even the most conservative estimate of around 1,000 represents a considerable influx of foreign fighters. Unlike the parallel situations in Bosnia or Chechnya where individuals or smaller groups of foreign fighters made their way into the theatre of war, the scale of operations in Nagorno-Karabakh required a very different logistical setup, complete with a sizeable airlift capacity. The foreign Mujahedin were flown in on chartered civilian aircraft and this considerable traffic resulted in the joking reference to an unknown company called Afghan Airlines.
Ironically, according to the author, the Afghan fighters had more respect for their Christian Armenian enemies than for their Muslim Azeri bosses:
In spite of the official Azeri position that Afghan Mujahedin did not exist, such individuals were easily spotted in tea-shops in Baku because of their tribal dress and full beards. Apparently discipline broke down occasionally, even requiring young Azeri conscripts to be moved to other sectors of the front to avoid their killing by the Mujahedin. Insubordination became a problem, probably because of two characteristics specific to Afghan Mujahedin: fearlessness and the concept of loyalty. Apparently they cared little for their Azeri relations, who were considered inadequate paymasters and poor soldiers but also, and perhaps even worse, as only nominally Muslim. They did, however, respect their adversaries, the local Armenian Karabakhis, who had an intimate knowledge of the terrain and the ability to exploit this advantage on a tactical level. Often the Mujahedin would find themselves outmanoeuvred or fired at from multiple directions, not even knowing where the enemy was placed.
Speaking about particular involvemenet of the Afghan fighters, the author writes:
Many atrocities were committed during the conflict, including decapitations and the ritual mutilation of civilians, although it is not known what role the Mujahedin played in this respect. However, their presence at the frontline and the style of fighting reminiscent of the Afghan theatre increase the possibility of their involvement. Eyewitness reports have confirmed that villagers had had their heads sawn off by advancing Azeri troops, although no unit identification was presented.
Where did the fighters go after the war? Mostly to Chechnya, since Shamil Basayev – the Chechen Islamist fighter – was himself fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.
And when Aliyev was asked optimistically if Davos 2009 might be the first step toward establishing formal diplomatic ties between Baku and Yerevan, Azerbaijan’s president rejected the suggestion.
Aliyev said his country does not have relations with Armenia because of the “continued occupation of our territory by Armenian armed forces,” though negotiations continue.
“But unfortunately, as Prime Minister Erdogan said, for the last 17 years these negotiations did not lead to a resolution of the conflict. It did not lead to a peace agreement and it did not lead to the liberation of Azerbaijani territory — the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan,” Aliyev said.
“Under these circumstances, of course, we cannot talk about any kind of cooperation — whether it is energy or transportation. And [as long as] our lands are under occupation, this cooperation is not possible.”
Taken together, the January 29 events at Davos demonstrate more than just the failure of the forum to bring together uneasy adversaries. The angry exchange between Peres and Erdogan shows that public debate between government leaders at Davos also can damage bilateral relations between two countries considered allies.
And Aliyev’s outburst suggests his country is ready to adopt the tone set by its regional mentor, Ankara.
Actually, Aliyev was the first one to set an angry tone, not Erdogan.
Five months after the war with Russia over South Ossetia, Georgian authorities have reportedly arrested two members of its Armenian minority on suspicion of espionage and forming an armed gang. Underrepresented in the local government of a region where they make up the majority, some Armenian demands for autonomy of Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti region (map) are once again being heard.
On January 22, 2009 the special forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia detained Grigor Minasyan, the director of the Akhaltskha Armenian Youth Center of Samtskhe-Javakheti Region of Georgia and Sargis Hakobjanyan, the chairman of “Charles Aznavour” charitable organization. They were charged with “preparation of crime”, according to Article 18 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, and “formation or leading of a paramilitary unit” (Part 1 of Article 223) and “espionage” (Part 1 of Article 314).
The announcement also reads:
The «Yerkir» Union considers these arrests as a deliberate provocation by the Georgian authorities, aimed at deterioration of the situation in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region and worsening the Armenian-Georgian relations…Only a democratic Georgia, respecting its ethnic diversity, can avoid further disruption and guarantee the sustainable development of the country.
While XUSSR NEWSreminds of earlier arrests of ethnic Armenians in Georgia, there is little information in the conventional media about the new development and limited discussion in the blogosphere.
[Think-tank] Mitq [...] continues to play the nationalist card by warning of a second Armenian Genocide [in Georgia]. The same news site carries a report quoting a former Armenian Ambassador who not only lays claim to the region, but potentially risks encouraging a new armed conflict.
And as Armenian nationalists openly boast that “after Karabakh, Javakhk is next,” more diplomatic initiatives and sensitive handling by both Yerevan and Tbilisi seems more necessary than ever.
The blog, nonetheless, acknowledges problems in the region and especially with Council of Europe demands to repatriate Meskhetian Turks deported from the region by Stalin in 1944. Other bloggers in Armenia staged a mock funeral in 2008 outside the Georgian Embassy in protest at an ongoing dispute over church property in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
As an indication of some concerns that Armenians have about the level of cultural rights in Georgia, smbatgogyan [AM] has detailed an Armenian textbook published in Georgia with countless typos and grammatical errors.
Գնացել էի գյուղ, որը գտնվում է Վրաստանում` Ջավախքում: Այնտեղ արդեն մի-քանի տարի է, ինչ դպրոցներում փորձում են վերացնել հայերենը: Սակայն նրանց մոտ ոչինչ չստացվեց` ծնողները հրաժարվեցին իրենց երեխաներին քիմիա, աշխարհագրություն և համաշխարհային պատմություն սովորեցնել վրացերենով: …Վրաստանի կրթության նախարարությունը սկսել է հայերեն լեզվով դասագրքեր տպել Վրաստանի հայկական դպրոցների համար և պարտադրում է ուսանել այդ գրքերով: Ահա այդ գրքերից մեկը…:
…I went to a village in Georgia’s Javakhk [region]. [The Georgian authorities] have been trying to eliminate the Armenian language at schools there. But they were unsuccessful: parents refused to let their children learn chemistry, geography and world history in Georgian…. Georgia’s ministry of education has started to print textbooks in Armenian and requires to use them at school [as opposed to textbooks published in Armenia]. Here is one of those books…
The blog posts the cover of a mathematics textbook for second-grade students with the large title containing two typos in the word “mathematics.”
Interestingly, an earlier post dealt with translating textbooks into minority languages in Georgia. Writing for TOL Chalkboard, Swiss-Armenian journalist and regional analyst Vicken Cheterian detailed the project.
When we [...] carried out bilingual education studies in Georgia [...] we wondered how the images of minorities were reflected in the pages of Georgian history textbooks[...].
Their report [...] found something startling: Armenians and Azeris in Georgia were by and large absent from Georgian history books. When they were noted, it was in a negative sense.
A workshop held in November  [...] concluded that the Georgian Education Ministry is moving forward in its efforts to change the way history is taught. At the event [...] Georgian educators presented their ongoing project to develop new textbooks with the aim of giving more space to minorities in the official version of history presented to youngsters from majority and minority linguistic communities.
These new texts should begin appearing soon in Armenian and Azeri schools, and be in use in all history classes in Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo-Kartli by 2011.
[...]Georgian history teachers and authors are moving from a position of negation of ethnic minorities to one of recognition. But important obstacles remain in the path toward an integrated narrative of history in which minorities move from being the “other” coexisting with “us” into being part of society.
…[I]n a turbulent political climate following the catastrophic August war [with Russia], Georgian education authorities and many educators continue to press for change.
Will the process of “change” include enough Armenians and Azeris so that relations, let alone words, are not lost in translation?
Three years after a cemetery dating back to the 9th Century was deliberately destroyed in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan, bloggers recall an ancient culture annihilated and condemn the world for closing its eyes to what many consider to be an official attempt to rewrite history.
Today is the commemoration of the 3rd anniversary of Djulfa’s destruction. …This [is] not only a crime against Armenian culture, but against our collective cultural heritage as humankind. Don’t let it go unnoticed.
Between 10-16 December 2005 over a hundred uniformed men were videotaped destroying the Djulfa cemetery using sledgehammers, cranes, and trucks. The video was taken from across the border in Iran.
Азербайджанские власти на протяжении всего советского периода старались уничтожить этот некрополь, поскольку для них он был всего лишь свидетельством о том, что именно армяне были хозяевами этой территории на протяжении веков, вопреки тому, что говорилось в азербайджанских советских мифах о собственной “древности”… Это кладбище, вполне достойное названия чуда, было даже не внесено в реестр архитектурных памятников Азербайджана… После распада СССР, во время карабахского конфликта, продолжалось разорение кладбища, и, наконец, оно было окончательно уничтожено….
The Azeri authorities throughout all Soviet period tried to destroy this necropolis as for them it was only a testament that Armenians were owners of this territory throughout centuries in spite of Azerbaijan’s Soviet myths about own “antiquity”… This cemetery, quite worthy to be called a wonder, was not even placed on the register of architectural monuments of Azerbaijan… After USSR’s collapse, during the Karabakh conflict, the cemetery’s demolition continued, and, at last, definitively destroyed….
آنان از سنگ قبر ارامنه هم نگذشته اند و با تخریب دوازده هزار قبر با سنگ قبر هایی منحصر به فرد که متعلق به چند قرن پیش بوده و جزئی از میراث فرهنگی ارامنه به حساب می آمد، هیچ اثری از ارمنی نشین بودن آنجا، بجا نگذاشته اند.
[After acquiring Nakhichevan, Azeris] did not even tolerate Armenian gravestones. They destroyed twelve thousand Armenian graves. These unique gravestones with several centuries’ history were part of Armenian cultural heritage. However, through destruction of these gravestones, [Azeris] destroyed all signs indicating the existence of Armenians in that land. [translated by Loosineh M.]
iArarat, remembers Djulfa by discussing Robert Bevan’s The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War, a book that was “part of a class I teach at a Texas university on nationalism and ethno-political conflicts.”
While reading Bevan’s book I was inevitably reminded of the destruction of the medieval Armenian cemetery in Jugha, presently in Azerbaijan. Azeri soldiers at the command of their superiors without as much as blinking an eye would embark at destroying and erasing the last vestige of the Armenian civilization in that territory as if the Armenians had never as much as existed there, as if Armenians had never as much as created anything, something to celebrate their faith and commemorate their dead…
Adding insult to injury, earlier this month Baku, Azerbaijan hosted a little-noticed two-day conference of Council of Europe culture ministers to discuss “Intercultural dialogue as the basis for peace and sustainable development in Europe and its neighboring regions.” In his opening remarks to the attendees Azeri president Ilham Aliyev, astonishingly claimed:
“Azerbaijan has rich history and the cultural monuments here are duly preserved, and a lot is being done in this direction…”
[T]he Armenian Ministry of Culture failed to deliver a message by boycotting the conference. They either should have properly boycotted the conference by making an appropriate statement explaining the reasons for non-participation, or they should have participated there to raise the all important issues of destruction of Armenian cultural heritage in Azerbaijan, as well as protecting and restoring the multinational cultural heritage in all three South Caucasus countries [Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan].
old-dilettante [RU], says that Djulfa’s destruction was the last stage of Azerbaijan’s attempt to eradicate Nakhichevan’s Armenian heritage. Commenting on a post about churches in Georgia, she writes:
Теперь там не найдется ни одной армянской церкви, несмотря на фотографии и книги, изданные всего ничего – лет 20 тому назад. Все церкви уничтожены. Все могилы. Все хачкары.
И кто через 20 лет скажет, что там вообще жили армяне? … А ведь мой дед был “местным жителем”.
…Now, not a single Armenian church will be found [in Nakhichevan] despite of photographs, some as recent as 20-years-old. All churches are annihilated. All cemeteries. All khatchkars.
And who will say in 20 years that Armenians ever lived there? … It wasn’t that long ago that my own grandfather was a “local” there.
In Baku Armenian cemeteries with less historical but more immediate sentimental value to many (including my family whose three generations made their home in Baku for nearly a century) were paved over for roads or new construction. That does not justify the disrespect they were afforded but makes some remote sense.
In the case of Jugha khachkars stood in the middle of nowhere and were simply crushed, dismembered, thrown into the river. They were targeted and wiped out as the last remaining Armenian outpost.
Sarcastically, the journalist-blogger considers how other Armenian monuments on Azerbaijani territory could be protected.
Now I am thinking, perhaps Armenians should disassemble the remaining Azeri mosques and gravestones on their territory and exchange them for the khachkars and other Armenian heritage items of value?
Certainly some of the Azeri items have cultural value for Armenia and I would rather not see them go. But what other options are there?
Reacting to a comment on his above-mentioned post, Ivan Kondratiev [RU] also says that if Azerbaijanis wanted to cleanse their territory of Armenian heritage, they could have at least given the monuments to Armenia even if such a transfer would amount to acknowledging Djulfa’s Armenian history.
[T]here is reason to be optimistic that [Barack Obama's] foreign policy team will… have a very different response to the ongoing stonewalling by the Azeris than [current US Secretary of State] Rice’s utter disinterest [about Djulfa's destruction], which is rooted in the Bush administration’s pro-Azerbaijani, pro-Turkey foreign policy.
In addition to secretary of state nominee Hillary Clinton [...] prospective U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has a particular interest in genocide and is an advocate of military action to stop mass killings, rather than ineffective “dialogue” as slaughters continue apace. And Harvard professor Samantha Power, author of “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” (2002), has been quietly advising Obama behind the scenes [...].
Given that past is prologue, with these women’s combined emphasis on championing human rights and genocide prevention, it will not be easy for the Obama administration to ignore or overlook the genocide that preceeded – and encouraged – all others in the 20th and 21st centuries, or the ongoing “cultural genocides” in Azerbaijan and Turkey against the archeological remains of a once-thriving, centuries-old Armenian population that is no more.
More photographs of the cemetery, before and after its destruction, are available at www.djulfa.com.
I just came across to imprisoned Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev’s case on the European Court for Human Rights website. Fatullayev was initially imprisoned for challenging Azerbaijan’s official version of the Khojalu massacre (by Armenians) during the Nagorno-Karabakh war in the 1990s. Below is the full facts as summarized by the court:
09 September 2008
Application no. 40984/07
by Eynulla FATULLAYEV
lodged on 10 September 2007
STATEMENT OF FACTS
The applicant, Mr Eynulla Fatullayev, is an Azerbaijani national who was born in 1976 and lives in Baku. He is represented before the Court by Mr I. Ashurov, a lawyer practising in Baku.
The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicant, may be summarised as follows.
The applicant was the founder and chief editor of the newspapers Realny Azerbaijan (“Реальный Азербайджан”), published in the Russian language, and Gündəlik Azərbaycan, published in the Azerbaijani language. The newspapers were widely known for often publishing articles harshly criticising the Government and various public officials.
Prior to the events complained of in this application, on 26 September 2006 the applicant had already been convicted for defamation and conditionally sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. He had also been sued for defamation in a number of civil proceedings.
In 2007 two sets of criminal proceedings were brought against the applicant in connection with, inter alia, two articles published by him in Realny Azerbaijan.
A. “Karabakh Diary”
In 2005 the applicant visited, as a journalist, the area of Nagorno-Karabakh and other territories controlled by the Armenian forces. There he met with, among others, some officials of the self-proclaimed unrecognised “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”. In the aftermath of this visit, in April 2005 the applicant published an article called “Karabakh Diary” (Russian: “Карабахский дневник”) in Realny Azerbaijan.
One of the topics discussed in “Karabakh Diary” concerned the Khojaly massacre of 26 February 1992. Discussing this topic, the applicant made certain statements which could be construed as differing from the commonly accepted version of the Khojaly events, according to which hundreds of Azerbaijani civilians had been killed by the Armenian armed forces during their assault on the town of Khojaly in the course of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Specifically, the article contained the following passages (translated from Russian):
“For the sake of fairness I will admit that several years ago I met the refugees from Khojaly, temporarily settled in Naftalan, who openly confessed to me that, on the eve of the large-scale offensive of the Russian and Armenian troops on Khojaly, the town had been encircled [by those troops]. And already several days prior to the attack, the Armenians had been continuously warning the population about the planned operation through loudspeakers and proposing that the civilians abandon the town and escape from the encirclement through a humanitarian corridor along the Kar-Kar River. According to the Khojaly refugees’ own words, they had used this corridor and, indeed, the Armenian soldiers positioned behind the corridor had not opened fire on them. Some soldiers from the battalions of the NFA [the National Front of Azerbaijan, a political party], for some reason, had led a part of the [refugees] in the direction of the village of Nakhichevanik, which during that period had been under control of the Armenians’ Askeran battalion. …
When I was in Askeran [in Nagorno Karabakh], I spoke to the deputy head of the administration of Askeran Slavik Arushanyan and compared his recollection of the events with that of the Khojaly inhabitants who came under fire from the Azerbaijani side. I asked S. Arushanyan to show me the corridor which the Khojaly inhabitants had used [to abandon the town]. Having familiarised myself with the geographical area, I can say, fully convinced, that the conjectures that there had been no Armenian corridor are groundless. The corridor indeed existed, otherwise the Khojaly inhabitants, fully surrounded [by the enemy troops] and isolated from the outside world, would not have been able to force their way out and escape the encirclement. However, having crossed the area behind the Kar-Kar River, the row of refugees was separated and, for some reason, a part of [them] headed in the direction of Nakhichevanik. It appears that the NFA battalions strived not for the liberation of the Khojaly civilians but for more bloodshed on their way to overthrow A. Mutalibov [the first President of Azerbaijan] …”
On 23 February 2007 Ms T. Chaladze, the Head of the Centre for Protection of Refugees and Displaced Persons, lodged a civil action against the applicant with the Yasamal District Court. She claimed that the applicant “has, for a long period of time, insulted the honour and dignity of the victims of the Khojaly Tragedy, persons killed during those tragic events and their relatives, as well as veterans of the Karabakh War, soldiers of the Azerbaijani National Army and the entire Azerbaijani people”. She alleged that that the applicant did so by making the above-mentioned statements in his article “Karabakh Diary” as well as by making, in 2006 and 2007, similar insulting statements on the interactive forum of the website called AzeriTriColor. These internet forum postings, the authorship of which Ms Chaladze attributed to the applicant, contained the following statements:
“I have visited this town [Naftalan] where I have spoken to hundreds (I repeat, hundreds) of refugees who insisted that there had been a corridor and that they had remained alive owing to this corridor … But a part of the Khojaly inhabitants had been fired upon by our own [troops] … not by [some] mysterious [shooters], but by provocateurs from the NFA battalions … [The corpses] had been mutilated by our own [soldiers] …”
In his submissions to the court, the applicant argued that the forum postings at the AzeriTriColor website had not been written by him and denied making these statements. He also argued that, in “Karabakh Diary”, he had merely written about the information given to him by persons that he had interviewed.
On 6 April 2007 the Yasamal District Court, presided by Judge I. Ismayilov, upheld Ms Chaladze’s claim and ordered the applicant to pay compensation in the amount of 20,000 New Azerbaijani manats (approximately 16,000 euros).
Thereafter, a group of former soldiers and other persons who had been involved in the Khojaly events, represented by Ms Chaladze, filed a criminal complaint against the applicant with the Yasamal District Court, under the procedure of private prosecution. They asked that the applicant be convicted for defamation and false accusation of Azerbaijani soldiers of having committed an especially grave crime.
At a preliminary hearing held on 9 April 2007, the applicant filed an objection against the entire composition of the Yasamal District Court. He claimed that all of the judges of this court had been appointed to their positions in September 2000 for a fixed five-year term and that their term of office had expired in 2005. He therefore argued that such a composition of the court could not be considered as a “tribunal established by law”. This objection was dismissed.
The hearing of the criminal case took place on 20 April 2007 and was presided over by Judge I. Ismayilov.
In his oral submissions to the court, the applicant pleaded his innocence. In particular, he denied making the statements on the forum of the AzeriTriColor website and maintained that those statements had been made by someone else who had used his name for this purpose.
The court heard a linguistic expert, who gave an opinion on the applicant’s statements, and a number of witnesses, who testified about the Khojaly events. The court also found that the internet forum of the AzeriTriColor website, in essence, replaced the internet forum of the Realny Azerbaijan website, which had become defunct in 2006, and that the statements posted on that forum under the screen name “Eynulla Fatullayev” had indeed been made by the applicant himself. Lastly, the court found that, through his statements made in “Karabakh Diary” and his internet forum postings, the applicant had given a heavily distorted account of the historical events in Khojaly and had deliberately disseminated false information which damaged the reputation of the plaintiffs and accused them of committing grave crimes which they had not committed. The court convicted the applicant under Articles 147.1 (defamation) and 147.2 (defamation by way of accusing a person of having committed a grave crime) of the Criminal Code and sentenced him to two years and six months’ imprisonment.
The applicant was arrested in the courtroom and taken to the Investigative Isolator No. 1 on the same day (20 April 2007). Until 23 April 2007, his lawyer was not allowed to visit him as he was required to obtain a court’s permission to do so.
On 6 June 2007 the Court of Appeal upheld the Yasamal District Court’s judgment of 20 April 2007.
On 21 August 2007 the Supreme Court dismissed the applicant’s cassation appeal and upheld the lower courts’ judgments.
B. “The Aliyevs Go to War”
In the meantime, on 30 March 2007, Realny Azerbaijan published an article called “The Aliyevs Go to War” (Russian: “Алиевы идут на войну”). The article was written by the applicant but published under the pseudonym “Rovshan Bagirov”. This analytical article was devoted to possible consequences of Azerbaijan’s support of a recent “anti-Iranian” resolution of the UN Security Council, which had called for economic sanctions against that country. The article referred to the current Azerbaijani government as “the Aliyev clan” and “the governing tribe” and expressed a view that the latter sought US support of President Ilham Aliyev’s “remaining in power” in Azerbaijan in exchange for Azerbaijan’s support of the US “aggression” against Iran.
The article continued as follows (translated from Russian):
“It is also known that, immediately after the UN [Security Council] had voted for this resolution, [the authorities] in Teheran began to seriously prepare for the beginning of the “anti-Iranian operation”. For several years, military headquarters of the Islamic regime had been developing plans for repulsing the American aggression and counter-striking the US and their allies in the region. After 24 March 2007 Azerbaijan, having openly supported the anti-Iranian operation, must prepare for a lengthy and dreadful war which will result in large-scale destruction and loss of human life. According to the information from the sources close to official Paris, the Iranian General Staff has already developed its military plans concerning Azerbaijan in case Baku takes part in the aggression against Iran. Thus, the Iranian long-range military air force, thousands of insane kamikaze terrorists from the IRGC [the Islamic Revolution’s Guardian Corps] and hundreds of Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 missiles will strike the following main targets on the territory of Azerbaijan …”
The article continued with a long and detailed list of such targets, which included, inter alia, active oil platforms on the shelf of the Caspian Sea, the Sangachal Oil Terminal and other oil plants and terminals, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, the building of the Presidential Administration, the building of the US Embassy in Azerbaijan, buildings of various ministries, the Baku seaport and airport, a number of large business centres accommodating offices of major foreign companies doing business in Azerbaijan, etc.
Further, the article continued to elaborate on the issue of possible unrest, in case of a conflict with Iran, in the southern regions of Azerbaijan populated by the Talysh ethnic minority who are ethnically and linguistically close to the Persians. Among other things, the article appeared to imply that the current ruling elite, a large number of whom allegedly come from the region of Nakhchivan, engaged in regional nepotism by appointing people from Nakhchivan to government posts in southern areas of the country, including the Lenkoran region. In particular, the article stated:
“Thus, the Talysh have long been expressing their discontent with the fact that [the central authorities] always appoint to the administrative positions in Lenkoran persons hailing from Nakhchivan who are alien to the mentality and problems of the region. … The level of unemployment in the region is terribly high, drug abuse is flourishing, every morning hundreds of unemployed Talysh cluster together at the “slave” [that is, cheap labour] market in Baku. Is this not a powder keg?”
On 16 May 2007 the investigation department of the Ministry of National Security (“the MNS”) commenced a criminal investigation in connection with this publication under Article 214.1 of the Criminal Code (terrorism or threat of terrorism).
On 22 May 2007 the investigation authorities conducted searches in the applicant’s apartment and in the office of the Realny Azerbaijan and Gündəlik Azərbaycan newspapers. They found and seized certain photographs and computer discs from the applicant’s apartment and twenty computer hard drives from the newspaper’s office.
On 26 May 2007, pursuant to a decision of the Sabail District Court, the applicant was transferred to the MNS detention facility.
On 31 May 2007 the Chief Prosecutor made a statement to the press, noting that the article published in Realny Azerbaijan, founded by the applicant, contained information which constituted a threat of terrorism and that a criminal investigation had been instituted in this connection by the MNS.
On 3 July 2007, by a decision of an MNS investigator, the applicant was formally charged with committing the crimes of threat of terrorism (Article 214.1 of the Criminal Code) and inciting ethnic hostility (Article 283.2.2 of the Criminal Code).
On the same day, 3 July 2007, pursuant to a request by the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, the Sabail District Court ordered the applicant’s detention on remand for a period of three months in connection with this criminal case. The court’s decision reiterated the charges against the applicant and justified the necessity of the applicant’s detention as follows:
“Eynulla Emin oglu Fatullayev, if he remains at large, may escape the investigation and trial and hinder the determination of the objective truth in [this criminal] case.
Due to the above considerations, the prosecutor’s request to select the preventive measure of detention on remand in respect of Eynulla Emin oglu Fatullayev is well-founded and must be granted.”
The applicant appealed. On 11 July 2007 the Court of Appeal upheld the Sabail District Court’s decision.
On 4 September 2007 the applicant was also charged with tax evasion under Article 213.2 of the Criminal Code due to the alleged failure to duly declare taxes on his personal earnings as a newspaper editor.
During the trial, among other evidence, the prosecution produced evidence showing that in May 2007 the full electronic version of “The Aliyevs Go to War” had been forwarded by e-mail to offices of a number of foreign and local companies in Baku. A number of employees of these companies testified that, after reading the article, they had felt disturbed, anxious and frightened. On 30 October 2007 the Assize Court found the applicant guilty on all charges and convicted him of threat of terrorism (eight years’ imprisonment), inciting ethnic hostility (three years’ imprisonment) and tax evasion (four months’ imprisonment). Partial merger of these sentences resulted in a sentence of eight years and four months’ imprisonment. Lastly, the court partially merged this sentence with the applicant’s sentence of two years and six months’ imprisonment imposed on him in the previous criminal case, which resulted in a total sentence of eight years and six months’ imprisonment.
On 16 January 2008 the Court of Appeal upheld the Assize Court’s judgment of 30 October 2007.
On 3 June 2008 the Supreme Court upheld the lower courts’ judgments.
1. The applicant complained under Article 3 of the Convention about the conditions of his detention in the Investigative Isolator No. 1 and the MNS detention facility. In particular, he complained that he had not been allowed to receive newspapers and magazines, had been handcuffed and searched every time when taken out of his cell, had not been allowed personal visits, and had been held in a single cell of 8 square meters which had been badly ventilated and in which the electric light had been switched on throughout the day and night.
2. The applicant complained under Article 5 §§ 1 (c), 3 and 4 of the Convention about the detention order of 3 July 2007. In particular, he complained that there had been no reasonable suspicion that he had committed a crime and that the domestic courts had failed to give sufficient reasons for his detention on remand.
3. The applicant complained, relying on Articles 6 § 1 and 13 of the Convention, that:
(a) the court of first instance in the first set of criminal proceedings had not constituted a “tribunal established by law” because the terms of office of its judges had expired in 2005;
(b) that the domestic courts in both sets of criminal proceedings, and in particular the court of first instance in the first set of criminal proceedings, had not been independent and impartial; and
(c) that he had been deprived of his right to have a fair determination of the criminal charges against him and right to an effective domestic remedy.
4. The applicant complained under Article 6 § 2 of the Convention that his presumption of innocence had been violated by the fact that on 31 May 2007, before the trial in the second criminal case, the Chief Prosecutor had made a public statement accusing him of having committed a serious crime, as well as by the fact that, during the trial, he had always been brought to the courtroom in handcuffs and placed in a metal cage during the hearings.
5. The applicant complained under Article 6 § 3 of the Convention that, despite having been transferred to the MNS detention facility on 26 May 2008 due to investigation-related reasons in the second set of criminal proceedings, he had not been informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him until 3 July 2008.
6. The applicant complained under Article 7 of the Convention that the acts for which he had been convicted did not constitute a criminal offence.
7. The applicant complained under Article 8 of the Convention that the searched conducted on 22 May 2007 in his apartment and the newspaper’s office had violated his right to respect for his home.
8. The applicant complained under Article 10 of the Convention that his convictions in both sets of criminal proceedings had violated his right to freedom of expression.
QUESTIONS TO THE PARTIES
1. Did the applicant have fair hearings in the determination of the criminal charges against him in both sets of criminal proceedings, in accordance with Article 6 § 1 of the Convention? Moreover:
(a) Could the court which heard the applicant’s first criminal case be considered as a “tribunal established by law”, as required by Article 6 § 1 of the Convention? Had the term of office of the presiding judge expired before the trial commenced and, if so, did he have competence to participate in the trial?
(b) Was the court which dealt with the applicant’s first case independent and impartial, as required by Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, given that the applicant’s criminal trial was presided over by the same judge who had previously examined the civil claim against the applicant relating to the same subject matter?
2. Was the presumption of innocence, guaranteed by Article 6 § 2 of the Convention, respected in the present case? In particular, was the Chief Prosecutor bound to respect the presumption of innocence when making his statement to the press on 31 May 2007?
3. In connection with each of the applicant’s criminal convictions, has there been an interference with the applicant’s freedom of expression, in particular his right to impart information and ideas, within the meaning of Article 10 § 1 of the Convention? If so, was that interference necessary in terms of Article 10 § 2?
4. The parties are requested to submit, inter alia: (a) a full copy of the applicant’s article entitled “Karabakh Diary”, as published in Realny Azerbaijan; (b) a copy of the Yasamal District Court’s judgment of 6 April 2007 concerning the civil claim against the applicant; (c) copies of all the evidence, as contained in the case file of the criminal proceedings, which was examined by the Yasamal District Court during the trial for the purpose of establishing the applicant’s authorship of statements posted on the forum of the AzeriTriColor website; and (d) copies of all appeals and any objections filed by the applicant during both criminal trials, including a copy of his objection to the participation of the judges of the Yasamal District Court in the first set of criminal proceedings.
FATULLAYEV v. AZERBAIJAN – STATEMENT OF FACTS AND QUESTIONS
FATULLAYEV v. AZERBAIJAN – STATEMENT OF FACTS AND QUESTIONS
While I have been silent on the recent developments of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, it doesn’t mean I have not been following the news. My silence reflects a complicated mixture of cautious optimism, confusion, excitement, fear, cynicism, and a busy schedule (which includes observing the US presidential elections). We live in historic and unpredictable times. These unknown globalized waves can translate into almost anything in Nagorno-Karabakh – from long-term solutions to further conflict.
Internationally, Obama’s election, Georgia’s unsuccessful bid for South Ossetia, Turkey’s continuous struggle to join the European Union, and international – particularly US and Russian – interest in the South Caucasus have contributed to the recent developments in the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process, which was vocalized in a set of principles that Azerbaijan and Armenia signed in Moscow in early November 2008. One can only hope that Armenian and Azeri leaders will make tough choices and negotiate for a solution. Locally, both countries have a great chance to make the piece.
For those of you who don’t know, Nagorno-Karabakh is an indigenous Armenian region (called Artsakh by locals) within the country of Azerbaijan. This small territory declared its independence from Soviet Azerbaijan in 1991, less than seventy years after USSR chief Joseph Stalin gave Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. The conflict escalated into a war between Armenia/Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, killing thousands of people and leaving many more homeless.
Today, Nagorno-Karabakh is an internationally unrecognized republic with a common border with mother Armenia. Nationalist sentiment is at peak high in Azerbaijan where most people see Armenians as invaders and aggressors. The sentiment was reflected in December 2005, when a contingent of Azerbaijan’s army reduced the largest medieval Armenian cemetery – Djulfa – to dust. (Official Azerbaijan until this day denies the destruction, even though it was videotaped.) While most Armenians are nowadays much less antagonistic against Azerbaijan, during the war, in 1992, armed Armenian groups massacred a few hundred Azeri civilians when fighting in Khojalu, although both official Armenia and some Azeri sources question some of the facts of the tragedy: particularly suggesting that Azeri forces deliberately banned Khojalu’s residents to leave through a humanitarian corridor the Armenian army had left for civilians. Furthermore, Armenians claim that the conflict itself started in Azerbaijan when mobs attacked hundreds of Armenian citizens, killing several dozen, in their homes in Sumgayit in 1988 while the Police stood by. Azeris claim that there were riots against their kin in southern Armenia at the same time.
Armenian and Azeri Attitudes:
In short, both Armenia and Azerbaijan see themselves as the victim and the enemy as the aggressor in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. And while abuses by both sides have been almost always symmetrical in the conflict, official Azerbaijan – until recently – has been using both verbal threats and disproportional acts of destruction. Threats have included official statements by Azerbaijan’s president to win Nagorno-Karabakh back by any price, including by war, and predictions by a senior Azeri military chief that Armenia will not exist in several years. Disproportional acts of destruction by Azerbaijan have included total elimination of all ancient indigenous Armenian monuments on its territory, especially in the exclave of Nakhichevan (another region granted to Azerbaijan by Stalin). This is not only inconsistent with Azerbaijan’s self-promotion as “the world’s most tolerant country,” but is also an act of cultural genocide (what I call “genocidal vandalism” in my honors thesis) which in no way contributes to the peace process.
Armenia’s diplomacy in the conflict has been more moderate, which may be a reflection of the following: Armenia’s victory in the early 1990s war, oil-rich Azerbaijan’s military boom, and limited open international support for Armenia in the conflict. Moderate diplomacy, nonetheless, hasn’t resulted in worldwide condemnation against Azerbaijan for blockading Armenia (although until George W. Bush, the United States didn’t give military aid to Azerbaijan). And in general, the world has been very careful not to take sides in the conflict (neither in the case of the Khojalu massacre by Armenians nor in the recent case of Djulfa’s destruction by Azeris): an approach which is difficult to determine as productive or not.
Ideal Solutions and Militant Positions:
One reason why it has been difficult to defend one position or another has been the polarized Armenian and Azerbaijani demands, a “normal” situation in every conflict.
Azerbaijan wants to return its borders to pre-1991, entirely reversing what the bloody war did before the 1994 cease fire. It says that Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will be Azerbaijan’s citizens, but that they will never have the right or the option to succeed from Azerbaijan. In short, the legal concept of “territorial integrity” has been the supreme law and the sacred doctrine in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has about a million refugees who live in horrible conditions. Azerbaijan hopes that all these people will return to their homes, now under Armenian control. Armenians say and an Amnesty International report agreed last year, that Azerbaijan is deliberately ignoring its refugees and making their lives even miserable in order to gain international support.
Armenia says that Nagorno-Karabakh’s return to Azeri control would mean giving 150,000 Armenian lives into captivity. If Azerbaijan reduces unarmed ancient Armenian graves to dust, what will it do with live Armenians? Many, if not most, Armenians insist on also keeping the seven regions around Nagorno-Karabakh that Armenian forces gained control of during the war. While not many Armenians lived on these lands during the war, there are hundreds of ancient monuments that Armenians see as proof for their historic claim to the land. Some Azeris criticize Armenians for capitalizing on history and, thus, denying Azeri inhabitants the right to return to their homes. Some Armenians respond that Azerbaijan is trying to capitalize on rewriting history, and denying indigenous Armenians their right to self-determination.
On surface, Azerbaijan doesn’t agree to any solution that will let Nagorno-Karabakh be separate from it. In the same way, many Armenians consider the possibility of giving much of the seven surrounding territories back to Azerbaijan a loss. Neither party considers all the damage that has happened – and will continue to happen – to people in both countries because of the unresolved conflict. Nationalism has overridden cost-benefit analysis (with a human rights perspective) or mutual respect for the rights of the other.
Undemocratic regimes in both Armenia and Azerbaijan have perhaps contributed to the conflict. Wars unite populations, and perhaps the conflict has worked well for both Azeri and Armenian political elites. A few months ago, a former Azerbaijani serviceman (now studying in the United States) told me that Azerbaijan’s economic elite is using nationalism to hold power in the country. While Azerbaijan’s economy is booming due to oil exports, ordinary people are not experiencing change in their lives. Hatred against Armenia, some Azeris say, is the perfect tool for Azerbaijan’s rich class to distract the majority’s attention. And in Armenia, between 1992 and 1994, people would die from hunger and economic desperation. While the government was blaming everything on the war, several government-protected families were illegally becoming superrich. According to widespread claims, independent Armenia’s regime (both Levon-Ter Petrosyan’s and Kocharyan’s) elites stole billions of dollars from the people of Armenia through neoliberal privatizations of several industries and by other means.
Time for Change?
But even undemocratic regimes can solve problems, especially when their hegemony and reputation is at stake. In the last few months, there have been interesting developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. First, Azerbaijan’s ally and Armenia’s historic enemy Turkey demonstrated diplomatic will to cooperate with Armenia. Turkey’s president Abdullah Gul accepted his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan’s invitation to watch a soccer match between both countries in September 2008. The historic event, deemed as “football diplomacy,” was followed by recent meetings brokered by Moscow between Armenia and Azerbaijan where, for the first time, leaders of both countries seemed to be pleased. More surprisingly, Turkey has been reducing its pro-Azerbaijan rhetoric while trying to become a mediator between its two South Caucasus neighbors.
Many Armenians, who are usually skeptical in international relations given their experience of genocide, are discouraged with the recent development. Skeptics see Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan, who came to power following a bloodshed during the March 2008 post-election protests, as trading his own presidency for a solution unbeneficial for Armenia. Turkey’s involvement in the process is less encouraging for the residents of Armenia, a country that Turkey has been blockading since the Karabakh conflict.
While Turkey may not be a friend of Armenia, it sure has its interest in helping the Nagorno-Karabakh process. Turkey is under enormous pressure to open the border with Armenia (which Turkey thinks will help persuade US president-elect Barack Obama to back off from his pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide). It will be very hard to open the border, though, without solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Thus, by helping to broker a deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkey’s current regime would silence the United States (and also its own ultranationalist deep state), have better prospects for joining the European Union, and make a claim to sort things out in the region (Turkey has surely expressed interest in brokering a deal between the United States and Iran, and unsuccessfully tried the same with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).
Azerbaijan may be more interested in solving the problem now than in the past. Authoritarian leader Ilham Aliyev, the son of Azerbaijan’s former, now deceased, president Heydar Aliyev, just won a second (and final term) with the opposition boycotting the election (and giving him a perfect argument for a democratic victory). Not having to worry about reelection, Aliyev may be more interested in toning down his militant rhetoric. More importantly, the recent Georgian-Russian escalation over South Ossetia has likely demonstrated to Azerbaijan that war is not as good of a choice as Azerbaijan thought it might be. After all, Georgia not only didn’t win South Ossetia back, its attempt to get international sympathy faded away, if not being replaced with anger and distrust toward Tbilisi. Furthermore, the United States may want to partner with Azerbaijan even further more, especially in the case of an escalation with Iran, if it solves its problem with Armenia.
Armenia may be more inclined to change not only due to alleged pressure against president Sargsyan, but also due to the fact that an open border with Turkey will be a great asset for Armenia (Turkey thinks it may not be able to afford the border without a Karabakh solution). Furthermore, in two years, there won’t be many 18-year-olds in Armenia to qualify as soldiers. That’s because 1992-1994 are Armenia’s “dark and cold days,” when few families had children. So if there is to be war in the next four years, Armenia will have few bodies to fight.
A fight between Armenia and Azerbaijan, nonetheless, is not desired (at least at this time) by any of the superpowers, especially by the United States. Back in July, when I met with the acting US Ambassador to Armenia, I heard extremely nice remarks about president Serzh Sargysan’s offer of watching football match with his Turkish counterpart. The United States is seeking stability, especially with the mess that the Iraq war has created. Russia is also interested in stability between Armenia (a strong ally) and Azerbaijan (an ally), especially since Moscow’s interest in the Baku oil. Thus, internationally speaking, prospects for a peaceful Karabakh deal are possible, if not real.
Both sides need to accept that no solution is going to be perfect for either side. I don’t want to suggest what the solution should or will be, but it is clear what the solution cannot be. Azerbaijan cannot recover all the territories that it had before 1991; Armenia cannot retain all the territories that it gained after 1991. This is not a simple cliché, but a psychology that Azerbaijani and Armenian governments must start embedding in their populations. Any solution, though, would be a hard-sell both in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The governments in both countries might want to employ the same tactic they have used for a long time – information wars. Instead of dehumanizing the enemy this time, Armenian and Azeri TV channels (both are government-controlled to a large degree) should broadcast stories that rehumanize their neighbors. This strategy hardly needs to be called ‘affirmative propaganda,’ because there are so many true stories of mutual help and respect that can help in bringing change. One thing that is clear is that a peaceful solution at this time would be great for Armenia, Azerbaijan, their neighbors and the world.