INTERVIEW

Date: 5 August 2020

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: perspectives from the Azerbaijani Ambassador

The collapse of the ‘Iron Curtain’ has brought an end to the great Superpowers rivalry, that over the years lead to countless armed conflicts throughout the globe. At the same time the end of the USSR has also led to the emergence of new nation-states built on the grounds of the former Soviet republics, suddenly awaking old animosities and dormant regional conflicts. The most accurate example of this is the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan. To this day, the dispute between the two nations has not been resolved and although for most of the time the conflict remains non-physical, the violence and clashes between the two sides erupt from time to time, leading to the deaths of both soldiers and civilians on both sides. In the recent days the conflict was once again reignited when on July 12th the fighting broke out on the border resulting in the deaths of 20 people.

His Excellency Hasan Hasanov, Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Poland

The Warsaw Institute, in its mission to analyze the current world affairs and to inform our readers about these developments in the most impartial and objective manner, asked the Ambassadors of both Armenia and Azerbaijan in Poland to presents their view points and supporting arguments regarding the recent conflict and the events leading up to it. With that being said we are proud to present to you the interview with HE Hasan Hasanov of Azerbaijan, whereas a previous conversation with HE Samvel Mkrtchian of Armenia can be found here.

Julia Grzybowska, President of the Board of Warsaw Institute: Why has the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia re-ignited in recent days?

HE Hasan Hasanov, Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Poland: Looking at Europe, one can really get the impression that the conflict has suddenly flared up. In fact, the fire has never stopped since 1988. Almost every day, the Armenian armed forces violate the ceasefire in the direction of occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as in various directions of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, firing on Azerbaijani territories and settlements with weapons of various calibers and artillery. Azerbaijan has many martyrs, among them small children and the elderly. There have also been civilian casualties in recent incidents, including the killing of a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair.

The provocation of Armenia, which took place on July 12-16, was not an accidental military clash, but part of Armenia’s aggressive policy against Azerbaijan. The gathering of weapons and ammunition by Armenia in the area recent July 12 skirmish shows that this is not a spontaneous military incident, but an act of aggression carried out according to a pre-arranged plan. It should be noted that Azerbaijan was not interested in any escalation of tension in the direction of Tovuz. Otherwise, two years ago, Azerbaijan would not have replaced the national army in that area with border guards.

In pursuing the latest aggression in the direction of the Tovuz region of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, Armenia pursued the following military and political goals:

1. Targeting by Armenia of international energy and transport infrastructure passing through Azerbaijan, which is important in ensuring the energy security of European countries.

2. To create a new source of tension in the region by the military-political leadership of Armenia, to involve the Collective Security Treaty Organization in the conflict of which Armenia is a member.

3. To divert the attention of the Armenian society from the main problem in order to cover up the failure to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in Armenia and domestic economic problems.

4. To divert international attention from the convening of a special session of the UN General Assembly which was held on the initiative of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan despite Armenia’s open protest.

It is interesting that the Armenian side considers the demands of the Azerbaijani side to liberate our territory as a narrative. These are not narrative but requirements based on international norms. The Azerbaijani side constantly warns its international partners about this, and it is important that the international community take political and diplomatic steps to prevent and limit Armenia’s aggressive policy.

JG: Are the reasons behind the recent altercations similar to the original causes of the 1988 Nagorno-Karabakh war? What was the moot point?

Sometimes Armenia calls the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict a dispute. You should know that it is not a dispute between the two countries, but a war started by Armenia. Both the 1988 and the recent Armenian aggression on Azerbaijani territories have identical content. That is, the essence of the conflict is the territorial claims of the Republic of Armenia against the territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan. In order to realize these territorial claims, Armenia invaded Azerbaijani territories since 1988, as a result of which 20 percent of Azerbaijani territories were occupied by Armenia and up to 1 million Azerbaijanis became refugees and internally displaced persons. The only difference is that in 1988 Armenia wanted to own only the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, then it occupied seven regions of Azerbaijan around Nagorno-Karabakh, and now intends to seize other regions of Azerbaijan.

JG: What is the role of Turkey and Russia in the Caucasus, and how does it affect the recent conflict?

The role of these two countries in the South Caucasus is completely different. Turkey is one of the ordinary members of the OSCE Minsk Group, whose activities are in fact completely frozen. Turkey does not have a military base in any of the South Caucasus countries. Turkey and Azerbaijan are historically related. Turkey makes no military effort except for political statements in support of Azerbaijan to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Turkey has no territorial, political or historical claims against Armenia. In its political statements, Turkey simply demands that Armenia should implement four UN Security Council resolutions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Armenia, on the other hand, continues to make territorial, historical and political claims against Turkey.

Russia is one of the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, which is active and plays a decisive role in the Armenia-Azerbaijani conflict. Russia has a military base in Armenia. According to unofficial reports in the media, that military base is mostly formed from Russian citizens of Armenian origin. Armenia is also a member of the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) together with Russia.

At the same time, Russia is actively involved in the negotiations, and we hope that Moscow will increase its efforts in the process of resolving the conflict based on the principles of international law.

JG: What kind of actions should both countries undertake to fix Baku-Yerevan relations?

The essence of the current negotiations is to establish a long-term peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The method used by the Armenians in these negotiations, in fact, leads to a centuries-old model of confrontation and bloodshed between states and peoples. Azerbaijan proposes to give Nagorno-Karabakh the status of self-government within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. To do this, a large number of Azerbaijanis expelled from Nagorno-Karabakh must return to their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh, and both Azerbaijanis and Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh must be able to freely use their language and culture. At the same time, Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh will have ample opportunities for cultural, economic, scientific and educational ties with Armenia. Azerbaijan will create conditions for the development of Nagorno-Karabakh by providing it with the necessary political and economic care. Thus, this model will benefit Azerbaijanis and Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh equally. Such an approach is based on European principles and values, and since World War II, European countries have respected each other’s territorial integrity and the rights of national minorities.

According to the Armenian approach to the settlement of the conflict, the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is projected to be violated, and the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh is taken from Azerbaijan and declared independence, but in fact is given to Armenia. So far, not only the rights of Azerbaijanis living in Nagorno-Karabakh are not recognized, but even their existence is denied. Armenia artificially calling the Armenian population living in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan “Karabakh people” intends to create a second Armenian state at the expense of the territories of Azerbaijan. Armenia has occupied seven more regions of Azerbaijan in the outskirt of Nagorno-Karabakh. By defining these territories as a buffer zone of Nagorno-Karabakh, in fact, they intend to remain under occupation seven more regions of Azerbaijan at the expense of these territories. Thus, the model proposed by Armenia, in fact, means the occupied territories by Armenia to be added to the other gifts given by Azerbaijan to Armenia free of charge, such as the city of Yerevan and its environs in 1918, and Zangazur province in 1920. It should be noted that in 1923, the Azerbaijani government created a special autonomy for 75,000 Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, at that time, more than 200,000 Azerbaijanis living in Armenia were not only denied autonomy but were expelled from their lands.

JG: Would you like to see the involvement of international organizations in the peace process building?

Since 1992, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, international organizations have been involved in the conflict. The integrity of Azerbaijan’s territory has been repeatedly recognized, and the resolution of the conflict within the framework of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity has been demanded by the UN and its Security Council, General Assembly, the OSCE, the EU, the Council of Europe, NATO and their structures. It is the OSCE Minsk Group co-chaired by Russia, France and the United States, which is directly involved in the resolution process of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Unfortunately, for some reason, the Minsk Group maintains its neutrality which is not based on the resolutions of those organizations. This factor freezes the settlement of the conflict within the international norms.

The essence of the issue is that the resolution of the conflict should be based not on the special position of Azerbaijan or Armenia, but the resolutions and decisions based on international norms adopted by the above mentioned international organizations. Our expectation is that the Minsk Group co-chairs will focus their efforts on overcoming the consequences of the conflict and withdrawing Armenian troops from the occupied Azerbaijani territories in accordance with their mandate. For this purpose, the necessary pressure must be put on Armenia.

JG: Since 2016 both sides reported numerous cyber-attacks on its infrastructure – Do you think that this still remains a danger to Azerbaijan security? Is cybersecurity an important priority for the current government?

The problem of cybersecurity is actually the reality of our time. Azerbaijan constantly suffers from numerous cyber-attacks by the Armenian side. Of course, the state of Azerbaijan is taking appropriate preventive measures in this direction. In Azerbaijan, government agencies responsible for the country’s cybersecurity are operating successfully, despite their new establishment.

JG: Has Azerbaijan been a victim of disinformation campaigns both domestically and abroad? What exactly happened? How to combat this threat?

Yes, it has been and is now. Because, in many cases, the truth about the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict is neither said nor wanted to be heard.

You may wonder where the truth lies between the similar accusations of the two opposing parties. I answer this question that may arise.

The truth is that Azerbaijan has not occupied even an inch of Armenian land. However, Armenia occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory and carried out ethnic cleansing in those territories, namely expelled Azerbaijanis from their lands.

Another truth is that no international organization demands that Azerbaijan liberate the occupied territories of Armenia because there is no such fact. However, the UN Security Council demanded that the Armenian invader troops must be withdrawn from the territory of Azerbaijan without any conditions.

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