Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence - Sixth Report


Annex 1

UPDATE ON NAGORNO KARABAKH DECEMBER 1998

  Historic Background: Nagorno Karabakh had never been part of Azerbaijan until the autocratic decision made by Josef Stalin to relocate it in the 1920s. Therefore there is no legitimate justification for considering Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.

  This brief paper sets out the reasons why the Armenian people of Karabakh can never again accept the sovereignty of Azerbaijan and why any political solution to the current crisis in the region which imposes acceptance of this sovereignty cannot succeed.

  The impossibility of such acceptance is based on deep-rooted historical experience as well as the tragic events of recent years, in the war which has cost so many lives and such suffering for both Armenians and Azeris.

  For decades, the Armenians of Karabakh have suffered massacres, intimidation, and economic exploitation at the hands of the Azeris. For example:

    —  The town of Shushi, which is generally described as an 'Azeri town', had been a famous centre of Armenian culture until the 1920s, with famous churches and cultural centres, until the Azeris massacred and drove out its Armenian inhabitants.

    —  Many of the Armenians now living in Karabakh have suffered repeated displacement as a result of Azeri pogroms and massacres: walking through towns and villages, one meets many people who describe with profound grief how they are refugees from the massacres of Armenians in Sumgait (1988) or Baku (1990); many fled to Shaumyan region and have had to flee again as their homes fell to Azeri occupation during the recent war.

  There are also a few Armenians still alive who are survivors of the massacres perpetrated by Turkey in 1915, when 1.5 million Armenians perished. Turkey still does not acknowledge the genocide. Its continuing hostility to Armenia, reflected in the blockade and its military support for Azerbaijan in the war, eliminates any confidence the Armenians of Karabakh can have in the role of Turkey as an impartial participant in any mediation process.

  There are, tragically, many Azeris who are also displaced by the tragic events of recent years. But the cause of their displacement has not been repeated massacre and attempted genocide by Armenians. Moreover, Azerbaijan encourages visits by politicians and media to see their suffering and to hear their point of view. It is much more difficult for Karabakh to show how their people are suffering and to give their point of view to the politicians whose decisions may shape their future.

THE RECENT WAR AND ITS AFTERMATH.

  In any war, violations of human rights will be perpetrated by both sides. But there is a systematic asymmetry which has led us to claim that Azerbaijan has been the primary aggressor, for at least 5 reasons:

    1.  It was Azerbaijan, in conjunction with the Soviet 4th Army troops, which undertook systematic, unilateral deportations of Armenians from their villages in 1991, in 'Operation Ring': the brutal policy of systematic eviction of Armenians from their homeland, which has been populated by Armenians for many centuries (as proven by the large number of ancient churches, some as old as 4th century).

    2.  It was Azerbaijan which first used "Grad" multiple missile rocket launchers against civilians: in the January-May 1992, 400 Grad missiles every day rained down on civilians in the capital city Stepanakert, and other towns and villages were subjected to sustained attacks throughout the war, including heavy shelling from towns in Azerbaijan proper (which eventually forced the Armenians of Karabakh reluctantly to occupy those towns, as a buffer zone, to protect their civilians from these sustained attacks —and which led the international community to condemn them as "aggressors").

    3.  Only Azerbaijan has used aerial bombardment of civilian targets, deliberately causing death and injury to women and children.

    4.  Only Azerbaijan has used ground-to-air missiles, detonated to explode over civilian targets. These are an especially brutal weapon, as there is no advance warning, for women and children to take cover; the missile explodes, with its heavy tail fin and razor-sharp shrapnel falling onto civilians, crushing or shredding anyone in the fall-out area.

    5.  Azerbaijan, in conjunction with Turkey, blockaded Armenia and Karabakh and both are still maintaining their blockade of Armenia. After the earthquake in 1988, which caused hundreds of thousands of casualties, Azerbaijan would not allow the passage of even humanitarian aid to the affected areas.

  It was not the Armenians of Karabakh who began military offensives. With a population of only 150,000, compared with Azerbaijan's 7 million, they have had to defend their people and their homeland against virtually impossible odds, which were exacerbated when Turkey supported Azerbaijan with experienced (recently retired) military personnel and weaponry. Azerbaijan also employed several thousand mujahadeen mercenaries in the later stages of the war.

  Successive Azeri Presidents have made public statements of commitment to policies of ethnic cleansing of Armenians from Karabakh: former President Elchibey declared in June 1992 that, if there were still Armenians in Karabakh in October, the people of Azerbaijan could hang him in the central square of Baku. President Alyev has been reported as saying that the only solution to the Karabakh problem is the "elimination" of all Armenians from Karabakh. During the war, there were reversals of military defeats and successes. In May 1991, the Armenians of Karabakh liberated the town of Shushi and opened up a corridor with Armenia through Lachin. They were condemned by the international community for both of these actions. But the corridor would not have been necessary if there had been no blockade, which is itself a violation of human rights and was causing suffering and death of civilians by lack of access for medical supplies and food—and the international community was relatively silent about this blockade. The Karabakhis also had to capture the town of Shushi, for survival, as it stands on a mountainous promontory directly above Stepanakert, and was used as the base from which the sustained bombardment by Grad missiles was daily causing high casualty rates of women and children in Stepanakert and surrounding villages.

  Again, the Karabakhis were condemned for taking this "Azeri" town. But there was no recognition of the fact that this had been an Armenian town, previously taken by Azeris with the massacre of Armenians; or of the fact that it was being now used by Azeris to carry out a policy of sustained attacks by Grad on civilians.

  Subsequently, in June 1992, Azerbaijan, assisted by Turkey, launched a massive offensive and over-ran Armenian towns and villages in Shaumyan as well as taking 40 per cent of Karabakh.

  80,000 Armenian refugees had to flee to Stepanakert, which was already pulverised by sustained Grad attacks and where the people were barely subsisting on rations of 3gms of flour per day and one half of a kg of sugar per month. Major aid organisations such as UNHCR were not present in Karabakh, as they require permission from a sovereign government for access.

  Thus the Armenians of Karabakh have been denied both the aid and advocacy which often accompanies aid, which have been readily available to the Azeri civilians who have suffered from the war.

THE CURRENT SITUATION

  It is noteworthy, that many Azeri refugees are still being kept in harsh conditions in camps in Azerbaijan, and that visitors are often taken to see them. By contrast, Armenia, with larger numbers of homeless people from the earthquake and refugees from the war, and also suffering from the economic hardship created by the continuing blockade, has made a priority of finding accommodation for its homeless and displaced people. Perhaps visitors to Azerbaijan who are taken to visit the long-suffering displaced Azeris in camps might ask what Azerbaijan has done with the money made available for the displaced, and why it has not been as successful as Armenia, which has a much better record of providing for its homeless and people, despite the problems created by earthquake and blockage.

  Current demands by Azerbaijan for the return of Shushi and Lachin to Azeri control cannot be seriously considered by the Armenians of Karabakh and indicate a lack of serious willingness by the Azeris to achieve a positive outcome to negotiations. Both the taking of Shushi and the Lachin corridor by Armenians of Karabakh were essential for their survival. The corridor is a vital lifeline for supplies; and Shushi is their equivalent of the Golan heights. The Karabakh leadership also cannot ignore the Azeri continuing build-up of its armed forces and weaponry. Therefore, the Karabakhis have had to maintain a very strong military force, ready to retaliate effectively in the event of resumption of hostilities by Azerbaijan. The Karabakhi defence has had to develop a retaliatory capacity which can serve as an effective deterrent to any temptation Azerbaijan may have to try once again to seek a "military solution" to the problem of the political status of Karabakh. This deterrence is sufficiently robust to create problems for the international community's massive economic investments in Azerbaijan. Moreover, if further conflict were to break out, and if it appeared possible that Azerbaijan might attempt another genocide or ethnic cleansing of Armenians from Karabakh, Armenia could not stand passively by. If Armenia were to engage, this could trigger a major regional war, which would cause incalculable suffering and destabilise the entire region, militarily, politically and economically.

  It is thus of the utmost importance that the international community does everything possible to prevail on Azerbaijan to desist from further military offensives and to seek a political solution which takes into realistic account the inevitable, deeply-rooted fears of the Armenians of Karabakh, based on direct experience of Azeri repression, which prevents them from being able ever again to accept Azeri sovereignty.


 
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