Wednesday

29th Mar 2017

Interview

Armenia-Azerbaijan war: Through the looking glass

  • Baku: Azerbaijan's image as an oriental dictatorship harms its credibility on Nagorno-Karabakh (Photo: Sonke Henning)

Azerbaijan has called for peace talks with Armenia, but the two sides cannot agree on even basic facts.

Rovshan Rzayev, an Azerbaijani MP, told EUobserver in a recent interview that he wanted to rebuild links with Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Rzayev: "Armenians suffered, we suffered. They had losses, we had losses" (Photo: mfa.gov.az)

“I’d like to invite leaders of the Armenian community in Nagorno-Karabakh to hold a dialogue with us in the Azerbaijani community. We’re ready for discussion. We’re ready for peace,” he said.

“This [dialogue] could be in Nagorno-Karabakh, in Tbilisi, in any European city, or in Moscow,” he said.

He spoke shortly before Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev called for a resumption of formal peace negotiations on Wednesday (15 March).

“The negotiations should resume as soon as possible … We want this conflict to end. We want peace in the region, allowing Azerbaijani refugees to return to their homeland,” Aliyev said on his Facebook page while on a visit to France.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has lasted for almost 30 years and if it escalated it could turn into a regional war involving Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

Rzayev said one reason why fighting was on hold was balance of force.

He said Azerbaijan’s army was “many times” stronger than Armenia’s, but that Armenia had ballistic missiles that could hit Baku and an Azerbaijan-EU oil pipeline.

He also said international diplomacy was keeping hostilities on hold.

“There are forces that do not allow us to do this [attack Nagorno-Karabakh] because they [Armenians] have a very strong lobby in Russia, in France, and in the United States”, he said.

France, Russia, and the US co-chair the so-called Minsk group that mediates in the conflict and contain large Armenian diasporas.

“Their [Armenians’] support from outside is much higher”, Rzayev said.

Through the looking glass

The conflict began in 1988 when Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh district in Soviet Azerbaijan tried to join Armenia.

A subsequent war claimed over 20,000 lives with atrocities on both sides.

Full hostilities ended in 1994, but Armenia still occupies Nagorno-Karabakh and the two sides exchange fire almost every day.

They rarely talk and their accounts of current and past events are as opposed as stepping through a mirror.

Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh recently told EUobserver that Azerbaijan attacked it last April and that Azerbaijani special forces murdered Armenian civilians.

But Rzayev said the Armenians started it by shelling Azerbaijani villages and that allegations of civilian murders were “a fabrication”.

There are no foreign monitors to see who is telling the truth and the competing stories go back to the origin of the conflict.

Armenian authorities told EUobserver that Azerbaijani forces killed their own civilians in the town of Khojali in 1992 and blamed it on them.

Rzayev said Khojali was an Armenian “act of genocide”.

EUobserver recently spoke to an Armenian refugee in Nagorno-Karabakh who fled a pogrom in Baku in 1988.

Rzayev said Armenians in the Soviet elite organised the anti-Armenian pogroms and blamed them on Azerbaijan. “This was a pretext to start the occupation policy [of Nagorno-Karabakh],” he said.

Propaganda

The information war is important for both sides’ diplomacy.

Azerbaijan’s EU embassy proposed the interview with Rzayev as a “right to reply” to EUobserver stories quoting the Armenian refugee and other sources.

The 55-year old Azeri MP recalled an official visit in 2009 to Shusha, the town in Nagorno-Karabakh where he was born. He became animated and raised his voice when he said how he felt.

“I had a terrible pain in my heart because I knew I’d be leaving very soon … It was killing me. I swear to god it was killing me,” he said.

He said he saw a mosque that had been “destroyed”. He added that when his delegation flew by helicopter over a valley in occupied territory he saw 18th-century Azeri mausoleums that had been “completely destroyed”.

The MP worked as a lawyer in Baku during the 1990s war, but he said his father had seen Armenia's actions with his own eyes. He also cited reports by US and Russian NGOs Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Memorial that corroborated Azerbaijan's account of Khojali.

Rzayev said he knew from his own work in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg that allegations about Azerbaijani bribery there were an Armenian smear campaign.

“I will tell you the truth. I have never lied. I will not lie,” he said.

Credibility

Azerbaijan's image as an oriental dictatorship harms its international credibility on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Aliyev recently changed the constitution so that he could appoint his wife as vice-president. NGOs, including HRW, have also criticised his “vicious crackdown” on political opponents and his jailing of human rights defenders, journalists, and bloggers.

Rzayev said he was “independent” and “neutral” as an MP. He said Aliyev was “dedicated to the protection of human rights” and justified the jailing of one prominent journalist for “tax evasion”.

The Armenian authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh also accused Azerbaijan of broadcasting anti-Armenian hate speech in state media.

But Rzayev said he and Aliyev were men of peace. “Armenians suffered, we suffered. They had losses, we had losses,” he said.

“We'll never forget this history. I'll never forget it, but despite the facts we have to look to the future. We have to work together to find a way out of the current situation,” he said.

This interview is the sixth in a series of stories by EUobserver on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The first part of the series looked at the lives and views of Armenians in the region. One was about a referendum to create a Republic of Artsakh in Nagorno-Karabakh. A second one looked at the origins of the conflict. A third one looked at the situation on the line of contact. A fourth one was a news update. The fifth one was an interview with Artsakh's chief diplomat.

Feature

Armenia-Azerbaijan war: line of contact

“Frontline coffee is the best coffee in the world”, an Armenian soldier told EUobserver, with morale a key asset in the conflict.

Interview

The Armenia-Azerbaijan war: a refugee's story

The lynching of a woman in the Soviet Union in 1988 gives insight into why reconciliation remains so hard in the 30-year long war on Europe's eastern fringe.

Interview

Let's not lecture Trump, says top German MP

Europeans need to propose "projects of common interest" to the US president to preserve "Western unity" on Russia, Norbert Roettgen, the chair of Bundestag's foreign affairs committee said.

Analysis

Lukashenka: End of an era?

The political spring in Belarus ended just as the actual season began, but greater changes loom after 23 years of dictatorship.

News in Brief

  1. UK delivered its Article 50 letter to the EU
  2. Support for Germany's anti-EU party fading
  3. Turkish intelligence not welcome in Germany
  4. US senate approves Montenegro’s Nato bid
  5. Scottish MPs give go ahead to seek referendum
  6. Uber pulls out of Denmark over new taxi-regulation
  7. EU court validates sanctions on Russia's Rosneft
  8. Luxembourg to team up with Ireland in Apple tax appeal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The Idealist QuarterlyCan Progressive Stories Survive Our Post-Truth Era? After-Work Discussion on 6 April
  2. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  3. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  4. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  5. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  6. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  7. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  8. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  9. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  10. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  12. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  2. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers25 Nordic Bioeconomy Cases for Sustainable Change
  4. European Free AllianceSupporting Artur Mas: Democracy and Freedom Cannot Be Convicted
  5. UNICEFSyria Conflict 6 Years On: Children's Suffering at Its Worst
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsDomestic Violence in Tajikistan: Time to Right the Wrongs
  7. European Trust SummitCorporate Strategy and Public Affairs in a Low-Trust World - Conference 31 May
  8. Malta EU 2017Agreement Reached to Involve Consumers in Financial Services Policymaking
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cities Gather Against Violent Extremism & Introduce Nordic Safe Cities
  10. World VisionFears and Dreams of Syria's Children and Their Peers Around the World
  11. Malta EU 2017Maltese Presidency and EP Agree on Visa Liberalisation for Ukraine
  12. Mission of China to the EUEU Window Chinese Government Academic Scholarship 2017/18 - Apply Now