"Baku does not recognize Armenia’s territory": opinion on the "West Azerbaijan" narrative

Dec 27 2023
  • JAMnews
  • Yerevan

Opinion on the “West Azerbaijan” narrative

“Baku insists as an imperative that the return of Azerbaijanis to Armenia be included in the text of the peace agreement,” says political scientist Suren Surenyants.

The Milli Majlis of Azerbaijan adopted a statement of representatives of the so-called “community of Western Azerbaijan” which says that Azerbaijanis should be given the right to return to their “historical homeland,” meaning the territory of Armenia.

Surenyants claims that this topic has been on the agenda of negotiations for a long time. According to him, this is a disputed point of the peace agreement on which the parties cannot agree at the moment. The political analyst believes that Armenia has already made concessions on all other issues.

  • “By providing a corridor, Armenia can request a road to the Black Sea.” Opinion
  • “A deal between Washington and Baku”. On the joint statement of Armenia and Azerbaijan
  • Armenia-Azerbaijan peace agreement: Opinion from Yerevan

Baku has been actively voicing the “West Azerbaijan” narrative since December 2022. On his birthday, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met with representatives of the “West Azerbaijan” community and promised that they would “return to the homeland of their ancestors”.

On December 11, the Azerbaijani Parliament organized a forum-exhibition “Each of us is a Western Azerbaijani” in Nakhchivan.

The “ancestral homeland” refers to the entire territory of present-day Armenia. The posters from numerous events and conferences organized on this topic over the past year, on which a map of the whole of Armenia is shown, also testify to this.

In Azerbaijan they talk about “restoration of historical justice”. The myth that it was Azerbaijanis who inhabited “Iravan” (i.e. Yerevan) and then their number decreased when “nomadic Armenians migrated from India” is very popular.

As part of this elaborate campaign, Baku recently adopted another decision, according to which the passports of Azerbaijani citizens will include the “historical toponyms” of their birthplaces, i.e. the Azerbaijani names of settlements in the Republic of Armenia.

Representatives of the “Community of Western Azerbaijan” in Milli Majlis issued a statement saying that “Azerbaijanis have lived on the territory of the present-day Republic of Armenia for centuries”.

The authors refer to “historical documents and maps” which allegedly prove that the majority of the population of the Republic of Armenia were Azerbaijanis. It is claimed that the absolute majority of toponyms also “belong to the people of Azerbaijan.”

“Unfortunately, as a result of ethnic cleansing carried out in stages over 150 years, particularly in 1905-1906, 1918-1921, 1948-1953 and 1987-1991, there are no Azerbaijanis left in Armenia. […]

Recognizing the rights of Western Azerbaijanis to return to their ancestral homeland in what is now Armenia is one of the most important tools for building trust between Azerbaijan and Armenia. This will be an important step towards achieving real peace between the two states and creating an environment of coexistence in the region,” the authors of the document state.

In the context of the demands put forward, the statement also says that “there are no more obstacles left to the conclusion of a peace treaty with Armenia”.

“It’s just that our government is hiding this fact from us. Remember when Blinken and Lavrov talked about the need to protect the rights of national minorities? If these issues were not discussed, why would they use this term?

Azerbaijan has already managed to successfully resolve two contentious issues. One of them is the issue of Artsakh. The second is the issue of delimitation. We hear hints that Armenia is ready to agree with Baku and separate the peace agreement from the issue of border delimitation.

Gradually, they are trying to impose solutions to the other two issues – the return of refugees and the so-called corridor. In this case, there will really be no obstacles to signing a peace agreement, as Armenia, in fact, will accept all the demands of Azerbaijan.

This is how all capitulations happen. One side imposes all the conditions on the other, the weaker side agrees and the document is quietly signed.

The main problem is that Baku does not recognize the territory of the Republic of Armenia, so they want to separate the delimitation from the peace process. In this case, it is simply unclear what the peace process is about.”

“The Republic of Armenia should take a principled position and say that it will not sign any documents until the map on which the delimitation will take place and the principles on which the delimitation will take place are clarified.

In Pashinyan’s language, if your “cadastral certificate for the territory” is not recognized by another state, what are the negotiations around and what do you agree to? In that case, it turns out that the agreement is not about peace, but about a roadmap for unconditional surrender.”

“When Pashinyan said in his last interview that we should not raise the issue of the return of Artsakh residents to their homeland so that Azerbaijanis would not raise this issue, I said that he was busy manipulating. It is clear that in fact it is Azerbaijan that is raising this issue of the return of refugees.

Pashinyan is trying to neutralize this problem by making a gesture that we will not raise the issue of Artsakh refugees’ return to their homeland, expecting that Baku will also refuse this demand. But, as you see, Azerbaijan does not refuse.

In fact, Armenia has made concessions on all issues, and the issue of refugee return remains the main point of disagreement.”

In an interview with Public TV, Pashinyan talked about the rights of Karabakh Armenians and Baku’s precondition: “What does Azerbaijan say? It says, you want the return [to their homes] of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, their rights, security, etc., no problem, let’s also fix in the peace treaty the rights of Azerbaijanis who left the Republic of Armenia.”

He noted that in such a case the Armenian side could also talk about the rights of Armenians who fled Baku, Nakhichevan and Sumgait, which, according to him, would become “a resource for a new clash”.

“In Azerbaijan, they know that the Karabakh Armenians will not return because they no longer trust any guarantees – neither Russian nor international. And in a turbulent world, there will be no guarantees in the near future that will give the Artsakh people a sense of security.

This initiative of Baku about “Western Azerbaijan” should be seen in another context. They do not recognize the territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia and are trying to achieve their goals in a soft way. Remember when Aliyev said that we will return not in tanks, but in cars?

They are trying to create hotbeds of tension within Armenia itself in order to realize or legitimize new aggressive intentions. At least, they are trying to get new concessions from Armenia with their aggressive policy – be it territorial concessions, return of refugees or something else. If these plans become reality, the tension will no longer be on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, but inside the country.”

“It is very difficult to talk about public demand in Azerbaijan, it is a purely authoritarian country. Public sentiment is very relative.

We have no credible alternative sources to understand what Azerbaijani society thinks. There is a state policy, which is imposed on society by propaganda and harsher methods. And in the end it becomes ‘public’ opinion.”

“Azerbaijanis used to live in Armenia, this is not news. If there had been no conflict, perhaps a certain number of Azerbaijanis would still be living here. But the Azerbaijani authorities present this as legitimization of territorial claims. This is what I do not accept.

The government of Soviet Armenia in 1989 behaved very decently, paid them compensation for their property and they left Armenia without being subjected to mass murder or ethnic cleansing.

Due to the incompetent policy of the current government, we are faced with a problem when the political rights of Karabakh Armenians are equated with the problem of Azerbaijani refugees. This is when the problem of Azerbaijanis who left the Republic of Armenia should have been settled, for example, with the problem of forcibly displaced Armenians from Baku, Sumgait, Ganja.

When Azerbaijan publishes “historical facts” about the number of Azerbaijanis who lived in the Republic of Armenia, it would be good for them to publish the demographic picture in Baku in 1913, when Russians outnumbered them and Armenians were almost as numerous.”