Complex challenges hamper Azerbaijani efforts to reintegrate Karabakh Armenians amid post-war reconstruction
Efforts by Azerbaijan to reintegrate the Armenian population in Karabakh into the country are being hindered by the illegal regime affiliated with Armenia and Yerevan, escalating tensions in the region.
Azerbaijan, which liberated territories under occupation for nearly 30 years with a victory in the second Karabakh War, is working on reconstruction and development of the region while making efforts to normalize relations with Armenia and reintegration of the Armenian population in Karabakh into Azerbaijan.
After the war, Azerbaijan wasted no time and initiated efforts to transform the previously neglected lands during the occupation into a region with “smart cities” and “smart villages,” airports, roads, and began cultivating agricultural areas.
The Azerbaijani government is also swiftly continuing activities for the “Great Return” process of migrants to their ancestral homeland, which has led to the first migrations to Zangilan, Lachin and Fuzuli provinces.
Azerbaijan is mainly financing the reconstruction and development activities in liberated areas and continues efforts to establish peace with Armenia for the future peace and prosperity of the region.
Azerbaijan proposed signing a peace agreement with Armenia based on conditions that recognize each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and refrain from making territorial claims, which Armenia also accepted.
Thus, a process is expected to result in a peace deal mediated by Russia, the US, and the EU.
During the process, working groups at the level of deputy prime ministers were established to determine the border between the two countries and open transportation routes, with the participation of the Russian delegation in meetings.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan held meetings under the initiatives of Russian President Vladimir Putin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and EU Council President Charles Michel in the post-war process.
While some agreements were reached, progress has not been made on certain issues.
Pashinyan’s recognition of Karabakh as Azerbaijani territory was significant
Detailed information about issues agreed upon and not agreed has not been shared with the public.
But the mutual recognition of each other’s territories by Aliyev and Pashinyan was a significant development in the process.
Pashinyan became the first Armenian head of state to confirm that Karabakh is Azerbaijani territory when he said: “We recognize Azerbaijan’s 86,600 square kilometers (33,434 square miles) of territorial integrity.”
Despite criticism from opposition figures in his country and so-called leaders of the Armenian population in Karabakh, Pashinyan responded to the criticisms by saying: “I made this decision for Armenia’s sovereignty over its 29,800 square kilometers of land.”
In the early stages of negotiations, Yerevan attempted to dictate independence or autonomy conditions for the Armenian population in Karabakh.
But the rhetoric shifted with top officials, including Pashinyan, saying the Karabakh issue is not about Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity but about the rights and security of Armenians living there.
At the current stage, Armenia acknowledges that Karabakh is Azerbaijani territory but proposes the establishment of an international mechanism for the security and rights of the Armenian population there.
Azerbaijan, on the other hand, firmly maintains that it will not allow the involvement of third parties on its territory, will not grant special status to Karabakh Armenians and insists they are Azerbaijani citizens entitled to the same rights as other citizens.
Aliyev frequently emphasizes in statements that Azerbaijan will ensure the security and rights of Karabakh Armenians and they should choose Azerbaijani citizenship or leave the country.
Azerbaijan seeks to dissolve so-called regime in Karabakh
While negotiations continued at intervals, Azerbaijan’s establishment of a checkpoint on the Armenian border in an attempt to prevent illegal military and other activities on the Lachin-Hankendi road on April 23, and the negative response of the so-called regime in Karabakh to Baku’s integration efforts have recently escalated tensions in the region.
Baku accuses Armenia of obstructing its efforts to reintegrate the Armenian population in Karabakh into Azerbaijan, while Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of creating a “humanitarian crisis” in the region.
The process in which both sides accuse each other of military build-up and escalating tensions unfolded as follows: Azerbaijan established a checkpoint on the Armenian border on April 23 to prevent the illegal use of the Lachin-Hankendi road for military and other purposes.
Armenia referred the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), but the Court unanimously rejected Armenia’s claims that “border checkpoint is illegal” in its decision dated June 6.
After the establishment of border checkpoint in Lachin, the road used by Armenians living in Karabakh to travel between Armenia and Karabakh continued to be used without restrictions.
Crossings from Armenia to Karabakh and vice versa continued under customs and border rules.
But the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) observed the transportation of smuggled goods with its vehicles and shots were fired on June 15 at border guards from Armenia, leading Azerbaijan to take precautions.
Azerbaijan, while allowing civilian travel on the Lachin road, does not permit the passage of heavy vehicles on the route.
Armenia, using the road’s closure as a pretext, claimed the Armenian population in Karabakh is “facing a humanitarian crisis” and sent aid trucks to the border.
Azerbaijan said it would not allow shipments to its territory without its knowledge and did not allow the trucks to pass.
The trucks have been waiting at the border for more than a month and the Baku administration proposed the Aghdam-Hankendi road for shipments to the Armenian population in Karabakh.
The Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society sent two aid trucks with 40 tons of flour for Armenians living in Karabakh, but the vehicles have been waiting at the checkpoint on the Aghdam-Hankendi road controlled by Russian forces for more than two weeks because the so-called regime in Karabakh did not accept them. After a two-day delay, the truck sent from Russia was allowed to pass on the Aghdam-Hankendi road.
Azerbaijan invited representatives of the Armenian population in Karabakh to Baku and other cities in Azerbaijan to discuss reintegration, but the meetings were obstructed by the so-called regime with various excuses.
The security and rights of the Armenian population in Karabakh are provided by Russian forces, according to a trilateral statement signed by Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia on Nov. 10, 2020. If Armenia or Azerbaijan do not want to extend the term of Russian forces, it will expire Nov.10, 2025.
Azerbaijan insists on dissolving the so-called regime and applying Azerbaijani laws in the region as soon as possible.
All the events and mutual accusations give the impression that tensions are rising. While the parties accuse each other of military buildup on the border and posts related to military movements are being shared on social media.
The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense announced that planned exercises and training were conducted throughout the army.