Thursday

6th Oct 2022

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • 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 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.

Exclusive

Azerbaijan ambassador to EU shared anti-George Floyd post

Azerbaijan ambassador to EU Fuad Isgandarov shared a virulent rant against George Floyd. Asked why, Isgandarov told this website he doesn't recall the message and forgot how he had responded to it.

Column

The Iranian regime's expiration date

This 'headscarf revolution' is about women's rights and human rights in general, plus police brutality. Moreover, it is a leaderless revolution that is not driven by a leader or a group, but erupted spontaneously.

News in Brief

  1. Thousands of Hungarian students and teachers protest
  2. Swedish MEP cuts hair mid-speech to support Iran women
  3. Danish general election called for 1 November
  4. Slovenia legalises gay marriage, adoption
  5. Russia's stand-in EU ambassador reprimanded on Ukraine
  6. France warns over incoming eighth Covid wave
  7. EU adds Anguilla, Bahamas and Turks and Caicos to tax-haven blacklist
  8. Czechs warn joint-nationality citizens in Russia on mobilisation

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  2. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  4. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  5. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”

Latest News

  1. Four weeks to COP27 — key issues and challenges
  2. EU wants to see US list on Russia financing of politicians
  3. Putin's twin aim: to break Ukraine and West's consensus
  4. Putin's diamond firm off the hook in EU sanctions
  5. The Iranian regime's expiration date
  6. Let's end Bulgaria and Romania's 11-year Schengen purgatory
  7. EU debates new pandemic-type loans to deal with crisis
  8. MEPs condemn EU Commission 'leniency' on Hungary

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us