Contending of Azerbaijan, one of the today’s developed countries of the world with the problem of refugees and internally displaced persons is regretful
Head of the Department of the Council of Europe on Political Affairs, Alexander Gessel visited Dovlatqachqincom
THE BACKGROUND OF ARMENIA – AZERBAIJAN, AND GARABAKH CONFLICT
During the late 20th century the socio-political processes in former Soviet Union were accompanied with conflicts in some of the republics that were subjects of Soviet Empire. The peaceful Azerbaijanis who resided in the territories of Republic of Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh and its adjacent districts of the Republic of Azerbaijan, suffered the most from these events. Territorial claims of Armenia to Azerbaijan’s Nagorno Karabakh resulted in destruction of hundreds of residential areas, deaths of thousands of people, and about 1 million civilian populations fleeing from their homelands. The roots of the tragedy of people displaced from Azerbaijani lands that were occupied by the armed forces of Armenia, reach into the depths of the history.
Although these lands, considered to be the ancient parts and culturally rich areas of Azerbaijan, had become battlefields for bloody wars time after time, their actual tragedy began in late 18th – early 19th century.
Aiming at the conquest of Caucasus, the Tsarist Russia launched war operations against Iran over the territories of Azerbaijan. As the result, all khanates of the Northern Azerbaijan were occupied by the Russian Empire. In accordance with the Turkmenchay Treaty between the Tsarist Russia and Iran, signed on 10 February 1828, the Northern Azerbaijan was annexed to Russian Empire, while the Southern Azerbaijan was included into Iran.
During the war of 1826-1828, eighteen thousand Armenian families were moved from Iran and Southern Azerbaijani territories to South Caucasus. During the next two years, 40 thousand Armenians from Iran and 84 thousand Armenians from Turkey were moved to Elizavetpol and Erivan Governorates.
Encouraged by the special protection of the Russian Tsar, the Armenians had quickly forced out the local Azerbaijanis through arms and violence.
Thus, by the early 20th century, demographic situation in the region had changed drastically.
Soon after settling in new dwelling areas, Armenians became enthralled with the idea of “Greater Armenia from Sea to Sea”. After establishment of the “Dashnaktsutyun” organization in Tiflis in 1890, Armenian nationalists launched mass killings operations against Azerbaijani civilians throughout Caucasus. The massacres of 1905-1907 were particularly gory. In those years thousands of Azerbaijanis were murdered in Zangezur, Karabakh and other areas.
Once the Transcaucasian Sejm was abolished on 27 May 1918, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia proclaimed their independence.
It was the time when the victors of world war were busy drawing new borderlines in the region. While acknowledging the significance of the presence of independent Caucasus republics for stopping the spread of bolshevism, Western powers declared that they would recognize the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic only if Erivan was conceded to the Armenians as their capital. In order to protect its fledgling independence and to obtain the recognition of world countries, Azerbaijan was forced to compromise.
And it became the tragedy of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis residing in Erivan and nearby areas.
During the two massacres in Transcaucasus in 1905-1907 and 1918-1920, Armenians murdered and forced to flee approximately 2 million Azerbaijanis.
Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was occupied in 1920 through military aggression of the Bolshevik Russia. Having suffered heavy defeats in the war against Turkey, the Dashnak Armenia soon fell under the Soviet rule too.
In 1920 the Soviet Russia transferred Azerbaijan’s Zangezur district as a gift to the jurisdiction of then smaller Armenia. In 1923, in alignment with Armenian interests, the Autonomous Republic of Nagorno Karabakh was established within Azerbaijan SSR.
After the Second World War ended, in November 1945 the Government of USSR decreed, based on the appeal of the Armenian authorities, to relocate Armenians residing abroad into the territory of Soviet Armenia. During 1946-48, 100 thousand ethnic Armenians were accepted and accommodated in Armenia.
Claiming to face difficulties with the accommodation of Armenians from abroad, the Government of Armenia appealed to Joseph Stalin, requesting to dislocate the Azerbaijani population of Armenia into Azerbaijan SSR. In accordance with the Decree No 4083 of the Council of Ministers of USSR, adopted on 27 December 1947, 144,654 Azerbaijanis were forcefully displaced during 1948-1953.
Upon Mikhail Gorbachev’s ascent to power in 1985, the Armenians and pro-Armenian forces quickly moved into action and started implementing their plans based on their long-aspired dream of “Greater Armenia.” After the Armenian nationalists obtained Mikhail Gorbachev’s consent during his visit to France in 1986, the only obstacle remaining on their path was the first deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers of USSR and the only Azerbaijani member of the Central Committee of the Soviet Union Communist Party – Mr. Heydar Aliyev. Knowing Heydar Aliyev’s firm and uncompromising position on this issue, even from the times of his service as the First Secretary of the Central Committee of Azerbaijan Communist Party, the Armenian separatists and their protectors in Kremlin managed to remove him from office in 1987.
The transfer of the headquarters of Dashnaktsutyun Party – the main author and inspirer of the “Greater Armenia from Sea to Sea” idea – from Paris to Yerevan contributed to the utter aggravation of regional situation.
After the events of Sumgait in February 1988, instigated with the help of State Security Committee of USSR and the Armenians themselves, more than 250 thousand Azerbaijanis residing in Armenia were forced to leave their native lands due to threats and terror of Armenian nationalists. In the process of ethnic cleansing operations, 216 persons were killed, with 57 women and 23 children among them.
Thus, as the result of ethnic cleansing policy of Armenian nationalists since 1905, overall 1.5 million Azerbaijanis have been displaced and Armenia has become a monoethnic state.
Upon completion of ethnic cleansing operations in Armenia, the Armenian nationalists mobilized all their efforts on Nagorno Karabakh, and, jointly with the local Armenian separatists, made Azerbaijani territories the main target of their terrorist actions.
As of summer 1991, the battles on Nagorno Karabakh soil became an open warfare. The collapse of USSR provided a new stimulus for the wide-scale military operations of Armenian military units, by now functioning as a well-organized army, in territories of Nagorno Karabakh.
In 1992, on the night from February 25 to 26, under the leadership of the chief of “Nagorno Karabakh separatists” HQ Arkadi Tomasian, Minister of Defense Serge Sarkisian (currently the President of Armenia), former leader of Armenia Robert Kocharian and other Armenian commanders and with the help of the 366th motorized rifle regiment of former USSR located in Khankendi, the Armenian military forces committed the crime of genocide against the Azerbaijanis and Ahiska Turks residing in Khojaly city.
During the Khojaly massacre 613 civilian residents, including 63 children, 106 women and 70 elderly persons were brutally killed, simply because they were Azerbaijanis. Their heads were chopped off, eyeballs removed, and pregnant women were pierced with bayonets. 487 persons were maimed, 1275 residents were taken as hostages and brutally tortured. As of today, the fate of 150 hostages, including 68 women and 26 children, is still unknown.
During 1991-1993 the Armenian forces have occupied the 20% of Azerbaijani lands – the territories of Nagorno Karabakh and its adjacent 7 districts, as well as 27 settlements of districts adjacent to Armenia. Up to 700 thousand Azerbaijanis live as IDPs in their own country, 20 thousand were martyred, 50 thousand persons became disabled, 200 thousand persons suffered various physical injuries, and 4853 persons are missing in action or hostages.
As the result of military aggression, bulk part of Azerbaijan’s fruitful lands have been occupied. The national economy suffered approximately over 300 billion USD in damages… All the property left behind by the fleeing residents has been pillaged by the Armenians.
Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs who were displaced from their homelands were forced to find new homes in more than 1600 compact settlements in 62 cities and districts of republic, living in 12 tent camps, 3 settlements comprising of cargo carriages on railways, 16 “Finnish” style settlements, dormitories, half-finished construction sites, dugouts and other facilities with difficult and unbearable conditions.
Azerbaijan also sheltered up to 50 thousand Ahiska Turks displaced from Central Asia in 1990, and around 11 thousand persons with “refugee” status, including Russian citizens with Chechen origins and others from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Palestine.
Returning to power in 1993 to address the consequences of such humanitarian emergencies, Heydar Aliyev considered the solution of problem on state level to be very important, aside from the help of international institutions.
One of the main objectives in establishing the State Oil Fund based on the decree of our National Leader Heydar Aliyev, dated 29 December 1999, was to ensure the transparency of Azerbaijan’s income from hydrocarbon resources and use these profits to improve the living conditions of socially vulnerable population of Azerbaijan, including refugees and IDPs.
As the result of Heydar Aliyev’s policies, the first income of Azerbaijani oil in international markets were first channeled to the social protection and improvement of living conditions for refugees and IDPs.
Mr. Ilham Aliyev, the follower of Great Leader Heydar Aliyev’s policies, had declared in his Presidential electoral speech that if the people bestow their trust in him, if they support him, he would make sure there were no more tent camps remaining after 5 years. The President kept his promise and made sure the last of the remaining tent camps was abolished by December 2007. Thus, using the resources allocated by the State Oil Fund, 89 new settlements were constructed, complete with social and technical infrastructure, with residential apartments covering the total area of 2.8 million sq.m, improving the housing conditions for 46 thousand families and 230 thousand refugees and IDPs. The leaders of influential organizations visiting Azerbaijan have highly regarded Azerbaijan’s efforts and collaboration with international humanitarian organizations in this area.
Today, 42 international and 45 local humanitarian organizations provide different assistance services for refugees, IDPs and other vulnerable populations of Azerbaijan.
Out of these international humanitarian organizations, 10 represent UN agencies, 14 are US-based and 14 are European institutions, and 11 are from Eastern countries.
Their transparent and independent operations are coordinated from one center. According to the President Ilham Aliyev, if it were not for their operations in early 1990s, the humanitarian disaster would have had much more painful consequences.
During his visit to our country, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees H.E. Antonio Guterres noted: “What the President of Azerbaijan Republic has done for all the refugees and IDPs, as well as for international organizations in the country, is an example of excellence for many other countries facing similar problems. Our collaboration with the Government of Azerbaijan is at high standards.”
As the estimable result of the purposeful policies carried out by the President of Azerbaijan Republic, on 26 April 2012 Azerbaijan was elected as the full-fledged member of another respectable international agency – the Executive Committee of UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Azerbaijan Republic joined the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol in December 1992, and subsequently established legal framework in full compliance with the international norms on refugees and IDPs.
95 decrees and orders have been signed by the President, long-term State Programs were approved, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted 357 decisions and orders, and Milli Majlis (the National Parliament) adopted 33 laws in relevant areas.
The infrastructure in Azerbaijan’s occupied 20% territories has been totally destroyed. Contrary to the stipulations of the 1949 Geneva Convention, ethnic Armenians have been relocated from abroad to reside among local residents. Field Evaluation Mission of OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs, which also included the representatives of UN High Commissioner on Refugees, have observed such cases during their visit to the occupied Nagorno Karabakh and adjacent 7 districts in October 2010.
Although the four resolution of UN Security Council, as well as the decisions adopted by NATO, PACE, OIC and other organizations have confirmed the legal basis for territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, Armenia still disregards each one of them. Neither international organizations, nor other circles otherwise talking non-stop about human rights seem to notice this injustice.
The reason is clear... It is because today’s leaders of Republic of Armenia were the same persons instigating separatism in Nagorno Karabakh and participants of ruthless crimes against peaceful Azerbaijani civilians. Non-constructive position of these persons, who came to power through the tragedy of hundred thousands of innocent people, have placed in difficult position not only the Azerbaijani refugees, but also the citizens of Armenian Republic. Today Armenia is excluded from all regional projects. The population lives in hunger and extreme poverty. Although Armenian diaspora organizations tried to sell this conflict to the world as a religious confrontation, when looking at the list of countries who support them openly or covertly, or who cooperate with them closely, it is evident that their claim is utter non-sense.
Today the Government of Azerbaijan is doing everything possible to address the immediate needs of IDPs. Activities are implemented to ensure their employment and social coverage in areas of temporary residence. However, the world needs to know that the only solution of the problems of these Azerbaijanis is their return to homelands. It is the right of every human. The Government of Azerbaijan will continue its efforts to accomplish this goal, at whatever cost.
Copyright © 2008
STATE COMMITTEE ON
REFUGEES AND IDPS ISSUES
OF THE REPUBLIC OF AZERBAIJAN
The address of committee: Baku, Tbilisi Ave., 129
Tel/fax: (99412) 430 09 21, 430 09 25