“We appreciate the initiative of Canal 7 to familiarize its viewers with the status of the unsettled conflict between Azerbaijan and the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. And while I read with interest some of the insights and comments given by my Azeri colleague to Canal 7, I would like to offer to your viewers the Armenian perspective into this conflict that the international community has been trying to solve for almost two decades now.
“The first fundamental thing one should know about Karabakh is that there is no such thing as an Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. Instead, the conflict broke out when Azerbaijan unleashed its whole military might against the tiny Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region and its entirely civilian population, after the latter had voted in a legally binding referendum for independence. To understand this context and to draw parallels, I suggest you imagine for a second the reaction of Great Britain to the Scottish vote of independence. It is unthinkable to even imagine that the UK would have in one way or another cracked down on Scottish voters, should they have opted for independence. That is exactly what makes countries and nations great. Shortly after Karabakh’s independence vote, Azerbaijan put in motion its giant war machine and began pounding cities and villages, schools and hospitals with cluster munitions and other dreadful weapons causing tens of thousands of deaths among the civilians.
“A bloody war that ensued claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, and mostly in Karabakh, but resulted in a decisive victory of the tiny province of Karabakh against Azerbaijan’s manifold superior forces. After having legally voted for independence, the people of Karabakh have fought for and won their fundamental right for self-determination in what, perhaps, was one of the most emotionally charged and dramatic liberation struggles of the last century – full of heroism, selflessness, and sacrifice.
“For the last 23 years the people of Karabakh have been building their statehood: against formidable odds of blockade, post war devastation, and constant threats from Azerbaijan. And yet, the country that the people of Karabakh have built since the ceasefire has democratic institutions, competitive and transparent election processes, and pluralism of opinions. This is in sharp contrast to Azerbaijan, which, since independence, has consistently embraced the philosophy of oppression and intolerance to become a country with political prisoners, a hereditary authoritarian rule of the Aliyev family, a country described by the human rights watchdogs as the most corrupt and repressive.
“It is true that as a result of the Azeri government’s intransigence and refusal to accept the reality and facts on the ground, the Nagorno Karabakh Republic is not legally recognized by the international community as a sovereign state. Armenia has not de jure recognized the NKR either, because of its commitment to a negotiated settlement with Azerbaijan, although it is not a big secret that Armenia and Karabakh are fully integrated, as a single nation. The country has not been yet recognized, but this does not mean that the recognition process is stalled. Whether you like it or not, the process of NKR’s international recognition is well underway, at the level of popular and parliamentary diplomacy. The latest example is the recognition of Karabakh’s independence by the California State Assembly and the Senate.
“As it is pointed out by my Azeri colleague, the Karabakh conflict is being mediated by three countries: US, Russia and France – co-chairs of the so called Minks Group of the OSCE– the organization mandated by the international community to mediate and foster the peace process. The Armenian and Karabakh sides are committed to a settlement based on mutual compromise. However, this good will is not matched by the Azeri side, which, instead of embracing the peace plan currently on the table, attempts to delegitimize the OSCE Minsk Group, while also trying hard to intimidate the Karabakh side by saber-rattling. Oil-rich Azerbaijan has taken full advantage of the last decade’s unbridled oil price hikes and heavily invested in the buildup of its armed forces, thus hoping to gain the upper hand in the conflict with tiny Karabakh.
“After having torpedoed the latest rounds of peace talks, Azerbaijan incessantly states its frustration and mulls its right to resort to military force in order to achieve a breakthrough in the conflict. This past August, Azerbaijan even launched a series of military offensives against Karabakh – and was once again forced to retreat after having suffered substantial losses and humiliation.
“I could not agree more with my Azeri colleague that people in our region are fed up with the status quo and that the “no war, no peace” situation is in no one’s interest. And in order to achieve a lasting peace our Azeri counterparts should give more consideration to the legitimate interests of the people of Karabakh. The “offer” of a high degree of autonomy within a brutally repressive and racially intolerant Azerbaijan is anything but appealing to the people of Karabakh who have been living in freedom and dignity for the last 23 years.
“It should also be noted that Armenians refer to Karabakh as Artsakh – the original name of the region that has been recorded by the Greek classical historian Strabo. Artsakh has always been one of the cradles of Western/Christian civilization in Asia Minor – with numerous priceless vestiges of early Christian architecture dating back to the first centuries of the Common Era. Nagorno Karabakh is a geographic name introduced in the 1920s by the Bolsheviks to denominate the historic Armenian province of Artsakh, which was forcibly annexed to Soviet Azerbaijan by Joseph Stalin. During the 70 years of Soviet Azeri rule – Azeris being predominantly Shiite Muslims — Artsakh has been subjected to systematic ethnic cleansing and discrimination campaigns. In the wake of Gorbachev’s perestroika, the people of Artsakh stood up for their rights and voted for independence in 1989, in accordance with the laws and procedures set forth by the Soviet Constitution.”