Voices for the future of the Caucasus | International

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Relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan face their “moment of truth” after Baku has regained control of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, lost more than 30 years ago. The two countries must decide whether to feed an ancestral enmity or reach a compromise, painful in the case of Armenia, that will open up new possibilities for the development of a large territory entrenched between Asia and Europe.

This journalist spoke separately with two respected experts, Guergui Derluguián, a professor at New York University in Abu Dhabi, and Leila Alíeva, head of the Russian and Eastern European Studies program at the School of Global and Regional Studies at the University of Oxford.

Azerbaijani President Iljam Aliyev has officially committed to respecting the rights of Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh. Will he keep his promise?

“Aliyev will respect the rights of Armenians to the extent that he respects the rights of his own citizens and as much as Saddam Hussein respected them in Iraq,” says Derluguian. Azerbaijan, which was an advanced republic since the beginning of the 20th century, “is now a typical Middle Eastern dictatorship,” he continues. “Armenians residing in Nagorno Karabakh can consider themselves lucky if they manage to leave there with their things,” she adds. “Baku may try to preserve small Armenian communities to display them like in a zoo, so that they can be seen to be tolerant,” she says.

Alieva is more optimistic: “The Nagorno Karabakh conflict was used to justify repression and centralization in Azerbaijan. Resolving it can lead to a political opening. I believe that Aliyev will respect the basic rights of Armenians and that he is aware of the serious consequences of not doing so. So far, his interventions [de Aliyev] were aimed at convincing the international community that it was carrying out a legitimate fight against military formations [armenias]and not against civilians. Now, she has said that she is going to create conditions for Armenians who want to stay and her words generate hope,” says the expert.

Asked what her attitude would be if she herself were a resident of Nagorno-Karabakh, Alíeva admits that “she would flee.” “She would be scared,” she explains, “and not because of Aliyev,” “but because of the fear accumulated throughout the previous history of this conflict, when there were much more dramatic exoduses of refugees and displaced people from these areas with much more violent results.” [que ahora]”.

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“Tragic and unacceptable exodus”

In his opinion, “the current exodus, while tragic and unacceptable, is peaceful and well organized, although people fear revenge due to the previous and bloody history of the conflict.”

Derluguian and Alieva agree that the Russian peacekeepers' days in Azerbaijan are numbered, as the reason for their presence there has disappeared. Another thing is how the Russians can manage to stay in the region. According to Derluguian, “the peacekeepers had instructions to help the Azerbaijanis and watched impassively as they created checkpoints in the Lashin corridor.”

The expert compares the lukewarm attitude of the Russians towards the Armenian community in Nagorno-Karabakh with their quick reaction in 2008, when the Kremlin sent its tanks to protect the South Ossetian secessionists from Georgia's attempt to subdue them. Alieva highlights the contrast in the reactions of “Western countries that for decades assumed the Armenian arguments and ignored the Azerbaijani ones.” In the late 1980s, Armenians forced Azerbaijanis living in Nagorno-Karabakh to flee, and that exodus is part of a chain of ethnic cleansing for which both sides were responsible.

“People in Azerbaijan are seen as subject to a very discriminatory approach. All Azerbaijanis were expelled from Armenia and the Azerbaijani side sees an asymmetry and discrimination in the perception of reality, not only on the part of Armenia, but also on the part of the international community,” says Alieva.

For the expert, we are facing the end of the “colonial policy” practiced by Russia and the West in the countries of the Caucasus. The West has acted within the framework of this colonial logic, by not reacting equally to the violation of rights and norms when they affected Azerbaijanis or when they affected Armenians, he says.

This “unequal treatment has meant that the reputation and influence of the EU and the US have greatly diminished (in Azerbaijan)” and that “Azerbaijani society has concluded that the West is racist and xenophobic towards it for being Muslim and for speaking Turkish.” ”says Alieva.

“The EU and the US must seriously reconsider their policy because they were insignificantly involved in the (Nagorno Karabakh) conflict.” “In general, frozen conflicts have been very dangerous for security and, as has been seen in Ukraine, they can become a global threat,” warns the expert.

“Free yourself from Moscow”

“In the decolonization we are witnessing, both sides (Armenia and Azerbaijan) are trying to get rid of Russia in their own style and understand that Nagorno-Karabakh is still an instrument of Russia to keep both sides under control,” Alieva says.

Derluguian considers it “evident” that Russia is trying to oust the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinián. “They would have to be idiots not to do it and they express it openly,” he points out. “If pro-Russian forces in Armenia overthrew Pashinyan, Russia could stay there, but how can a Russian military base function in a country with Armenia's geographical conditions? Can Russia supply its base in Armenia through the territory of Georgia? It is a useless basis, he says. “Russia has already lost the Caucasus,” the professor concludes.

Derluguian is skeptical about the possibility of the West helping Armenia militarily and considers it “logical” that “Turkey and Azerbaijan are now attempting a coup against Armenia.” “And they will have to annihilate Armenia because otherwise there will be revenge. “This is the East, we have to kill them all, because otherwise there will be a war ten years later.”

For her part, Alieva does not believe that the president of Azerbaijan, whatever his rhetoric, is trying to conquer internationally recognized Armenian territory. ”Azerbaijan's military action (in Nagorno Karabakh) has been a response to the inaction of the international community to enforce compliance with the norms of international law,” she explains.

“Despite four UN resolutions, for more than 25 years, the international community calmly accepted that 20% of Azerbaijan's territory was occupied after ethnic cleansing (of Azerbaijanis expelled by the Armenians),” says the scholar.

The legitimacy of Aliyev's claims to Zanguezur (the Armenian area through which a transport corridor from Turkey to Baku should pass), are actually based on equal rights and not on the concept of our historical land. “It is about the right of the parties to have communication routes.”

If the Lashin corridor (linking Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia) is legitimate, so is the one that Azerbaijan needs so that the residents of Nakhchivan (Azerbaijani enclave) can leave isolation and connect with the main territory of Azerbaijan,” Alieva clarifies. .

In his opinion, Azerbaijan and Türkiye are interested in collaborating with Armenia. Derluguián, on the other hand, believes that “Turkey, Iran and China are waging war against the West and the West does not understand it. Turkey just has to wait for the Westerners to exterminate each other,” he says.

Nikol Pashinián, “is trying to change the security paradigm that is at the root of the conflict and that was based on the reunification of historical lands,” says Alieva. Instead of the “reunification of historical lands,” she aspires to “an independent Armenia interested in having peaceful relations with its neighbors,” the expert explains.

“Armenia is the stage for a confrontation. It is vulnerable and can be attacked from anywhere,” says Derluguián.

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