Lasting peace cannot be built at the expense of humanitarian tragedies (OPINION)

by Vasif Huseynov

Ethnic cleansing – a humanitarian crime that Armenia often accuses Azerbaijan of. According to the Armenian government, Azerbaijan intends to expel Armenians from the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and populate the region only with Azerbaijanis. This is contradicted by the fact that Azerbaijan refused to attack civilian population in this region during the 44 Day War and did not force them out, although it had all the military capabilities to do it. Quite the contrary, Azerbaijan has offered citizenship to the Armenian residents of the region and all the rights and privileges attached to it. There are already Azerbaijani citizens of ethnic Armenian origin living peacefully in the territory of Azerbajan. This is, unfortunately, not how Armenia treated its residents of ethnic Azerbaijani origin who had historically lived in the territories of modern Armenia.

Thousands of Azerbaijanis were subjected to mass murders and massacres and periodically expelled by Armenia from their native historical lands by force. After the first wave of deportations in the early twentieth century, in 1948-1953 approximately 150 thousand Azerbaijanis were massively deported from the territory of modern Armenia. These deportations were accompanied by mass murders and other humanitarian tragedies as these people objected to their forced expulsion from their ancestorial settlements. Another wave of deportations happened prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1988-1991. Pursuing racist policies and hatred against the Azerbaijani residents, the governments of Armenia sought to force them all out and established a monoethnic country.  More than 200 thousand of Azerbaijanis were deported from the present-day Armenia in those years. Their properties were plundered and looted, the cultural heritage was ruined, the religious monuments and mosques with historical significance were desecrated, the cemeteries of ethnic Azerbaijanis were demolished, graves were destroyed and desecrated. Thus, the leaders of the post-Soviet Armenia built the present-day statehood of their country through the ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis from its territories and proudly declared that Tseghakron (Armenian racism), a fascist doctrine of Nazis Garegin Nzdeh, constituted the ideological basis of their statehood.

Armenia committed ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijanis also in the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and surrounding territories of Azerbaijan that were occupied by Armenia in the early 1990s. More than 700 thousand of Azerbaijanis, including my family, were victims of this ethnic cleansing and forcefully expelled from their homes. 613 innocent people were massacred in one night in Khojaly alone. We, the residents of the Kalbajar district, were given just 10 hours to leave the region and were threatened with death if we refused to obey their order. A massacre was committed in April 1993 by the Armed Forces of Armenia in Bashlibel village of Kalbajar against the local Azerbaijanis who refused to leave their motherlands.

The 44 Day War restored historical justice to some extent. Azerbaijan liberated its territories occupied during the First Karabakh War. Today the country is carrying out extensive rehabilitation and reconstruction projects to rebuild the towns and cities which were razed to the ground under the Armenian occupation. The Azerbaijanis who lived for up to thirty years as internally displaced persons (IDPs) will soon have the chance to return to their homelands.

For peace and reconciliation in the region, the right of Azerbaijani people deported from the territory of present-day Armenia to return to their homes should be also restored. The two countries can establish a mechanism, towards this end, to carry out this process and include a relevant clause in a future peace agreement. It is important for the Armenian government to note that the ideologies like Tseghakron and the policies of ethnic cleansing and occupation have not given any good to the region or to Armenia itself.  They need to note it down that lasting peace and prosperity cannot be built at the expense of humanitarian tragedies.

Vasif Huseynov, head of department at the Baku-based Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center), especially for News.Az 

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