OPINION - Armenian propaganda in Karabakh
For civilians, Azerbaijan is keeping door open for integration. For those wanting to leave for Armenia, various forms of support, including health care, food, and fuel, continue to be provided
- The author is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Politics at the University of York with a focus on Central Asian politics.
While internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, a significant portion of the Nagorno-Karabakh region was under Armenian occupation from 1992 to 2020. The second Karabakh war, which began with Armenian attacks on Sept. 27, 2020, and lasted for 44 days, ended with a major success for the Azerbaijani army. While Yerevan accepted defeat, a new process began in South Caucasus following the agreement signed that Nov. 10 between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, breaking the 28-year-old status quo. However, tensions in the region did not subside, and Armenian forces in Karabakh continued their systematic attacks on the Azerbaijani army and people.
Amid the failure to implement clauses such as the disarmament of Karabakh and escalating tensions in the region, Azerbaijan announced on Sept. 19 that it had initiated an anti-terrorism operation in Karabakh. The Azerbaijani government called on Armenian forces in the region to surrender and put an end to the “illegitimate regime,” prioritizing a civilian-sensitive approach to restore constitutional order, and they successfully conducted the operation. The Armenian forces in Karabakh accepted a cease-fire and laid down their arms 24 hours after the military operation began. Azerbaijani authorities stressed that civilians in Karabakh were not the target, while the Armenian lobby and international media raised unfounded allegations of "ethnic cleansing" in the region.
Following Azerbaijan's operation in Karabakh, many countries and international institutions made statements about the process. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for unconditional security and freedom of movement for civilians, as well as unimpeded humanitarian aid delivery to the region. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the parties involved to respect human rights. Germany emphasized the need for the prompt deployment of independent international observers to the region. Russia stated that its 2,000 peacekeeping troops in the area would help maintain stability. European Parliament Special Representative for Azerbaijan Zeljana Zovko reiterated the importance of respecting the rights of ethnic Armenians. Meanwhile, many media outlets, including the BBC, shared unsubstantiated reports about the situation of civilians in the region.
Situation of Armenian civilians
Contrary to the claims of international organizations, the Azerbaijani government has stated that, following the operation, it will guarantee the rights of Armenians in Karabakh and integrate the region into Azerbaijan. It has been repeatedly emphasized that the Armenians in the region are equal citizens of the country. However, the separatist administration in Karabakh announced that all Armenians in the region will be transported to Armenia. The Armenians residing in Karabakh have expressed their desire not to live under Azerbaijan's rule. In fact, while it is estimated that around 110,000 Armenians live in the region, it has been reported that over 40,000 have left. Footage of hundreds of vehicle convoys moving from the “capital,” Khankendi, to Armenia via the southern Lachin corridor has been covered in the media.
Pashinyan has also said they are ready to welcome Armenians coming from Karabakh. While acknowledging that humanitarian aid has started reaching the region, Pashinyan claimed that Armenians still face the threat of ethnic cleansing. Nevertheless, he assessed that for now, the civilian population is not directly under immediate danger. However, following the start of the operation, Armenia asked the UN to send a mission to observe the rights of Armenians in Karabakh and argued that their presence was under threat. The Azerbaijani government vehemently denied these allegations while increasing its aid efforts for Armenian civilians.
At this point, the Armenian side is well aware that there won't be any issues for women and children despite the propaganda. Therefore, they emphasize that the real concern lies with men who bear arms or have fought against Azerbaijan. However, Azerbaijani officials have announced plans for a form of amnesty, promising not to prosecute militants who lay down their weapons. The key difference here is that this amnesty will not cover those who committed crimes during the first Karabakh war (1994). In fact, it is claimed that Azerbaijan has a list of war criminals from that conflict, and as a result, strict ID checks are being done on Armenians wanting to leave the region.
The international community remained largely silent in the face of the atrocities suffered by Azerbaijani Turks during the first Karabakh war, particularly the civilian massacre in Khojaly in February 1992. The war criminals responsible for these acts were not brought to justice. Azerbaijan's stance on this matter revolves around the prosecution of war criminals, which is why this amnesty process does not include them. For the civilian population, Azerbaijan is keeping the door open for integration for those who wish to stay in Karabakh. For those wanting to leave for Armenia, various forms of support, including health care, food, and fuel, continue to be provided. Therefore, after 30 years, international law has prevailed, and Azerbaijan has regained sovereignty in Karabakh. Forms of propaganda contrary to the facts, however, will only harm the peace process.
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