Tahir Taghizade Ambassador of Azerbaijan in the UK Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan 4 Kensington Court London W8 5DL
10 September 2020
Your letter of 7 September refers to so many misconceptions that I find it necessary to put some alternative accounts of reality on the record. In particular, I wish to highlight at least four serious concerns:
1. Nagorno Karabakh
It was Stalin who located the ancient Armenian land of Karabakh / Artsakh (with 95 per cent Armenian population) in Azerbaijan as an ‘autonomous region’. Azerbaijan later usurped large swathes of its lowlands and created Nagorno Karabakh as a mountainous enclave detached from Armenia.
Between 1991-94, Azerbaijan initiated a war against the Armenian population living in Nagorno Karabakh – in breach of internationally-recognised conventions – for example, by use of cluster bombs and 400 GRAD missiles a day fired onto the civilian population of Stepanakert. I was there and can testify to the truth of this violation of human rights. I also witnessed the immediate aftermath of the massacre by Azeris at Maragha and saw decapitated civilian bodies and homes still smouldering from the military attack. Further evidence is recorded in ‘Ethnic Cleansing in Progress: War in Nagorno Karabakh’ (Caroline Cox and John Eibner, 1993).
I believe that the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh, who are engaged in a process of their independence on an equivalent legal basis as Azerbaijan in 1991, have sufficient evidence to claim the same right of self-determination justified by Azerbaijan’s attempted ethnic cleansing as the people of Timor Leste, Eritrea and Kosovo who have been awarded self-determination for suffering comparable attempted ethnic cleansing.
Although Shushi was occupied by Azerbaijan for decades as part of the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, it was originally a recognised centre of Armenian culture in the Caucasus, second only to Tbilisi, until thousands of Armenians were massacred in March 1920. The then Archbishop was decapitated and his head was put on display on a pole.
Following a dubious referendum process, and under a deal with Ataturk’s Turkey, Nakhichevan was made an Autonomous Republic in Azerbaijan, with which it had no land connection and was fully attached to Armenia.
Azerbaijan carried out ethnic cleansing of the Armenians historically living in Nakhichevan. The last Armenian village of Aznaberd was evacuated under Azerbaijani pressure in December 1988. Attacks against Armenians continued nearby and I was present when Azeri forces bombed villages and forced civilians to flee for their lives. In its attempts to rewrite the history of the region, Azerbaijan subsequently destroyed many historical Armenian sites and cultural artefacts, including the destruction of tens of thousands of UNESCO-protected ancient stone carvings, which commentators describe as the 21st Century’s most extensive campaign of cultural cleansing.
I believe the Armenians have the right to recover Nakhichevan. Or, perhaps, Azerbaijan would offer an honourable alternative: the right for Nagorno Karabakh to be recognised as Armenian land; and the Armenians to concede Azerbaijan’s occupation of Nakhichevan?
4. Escalation of tensions
Azerbaijan violated a key European convention by pardoning, rewarding and glorifying an Azerbaijani army officer who hacked to death a sleeping Armenian colleague in Hungary in 2004. According to a recent judgment by the European Court of Human Rights, Baku’s actions amounted to the ‘approval’ and ‘endorsement’ of the ‘very serious ethnically-biased crime’.
Over a four-day period in April 2016, Azeri forces launched an offensive into the territories controlled by Armenian forces in Nagorno Karabakh, resulting in many deaths.
In July this year, Azerbaijan deployed artillery batteries close to civilian populations in Tavush, north-eastern Armenia, far north of Nagorno Karabakh, with reports that the Azerbaijani military opened fire in the direction of a face mask production factory, which plays an essential part in the country’s coronavirus response.
There were also reports of an attack against a kindergarten in the village of Aygepar, Tavush. Also in July, pro-war demonstrations were held in Baku, during which thousands of protestors demanded the Azeri Government fully deploy the army, chanting ‘Death to Armenians’, with some even entering the national parliament. There remains significant dismay at Azerbaijan’s established policy of promoting hatred of the Armenians – including the teaching of hatred in schools and proclaiming Armenia as the ‘Number One Enemy’ – as well as recent inflammatory statements from the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry: ‘The Armenian side mustn’t forget that the state-of-the-art missile systems our army has are capable of launching a precision strike on the Metsamor nuclear power plant.’ Such a hostile policy underpins the widespread concern that Azerbaijan is committed to war and cruelty rather than the promotion of cross-border dialogue and a truly just settlement to the aftermath of previous aggression.
I believe that there is an urgent need for all parties to adhere to the basic principles of moral justice and I would be willing to meet to discuss these tragic situations.