Renowned Swiss journalist Andre Widmer has just seen his book titled “The Forgotten Conflict”, dedicated to the Armenia-Azerbaijan, Nagorno Karabakh conflict, published. The book is based on materials compiled by the author during his visit to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. It provides underpinned by the facts, comprehensive information on the history of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and its motives, trials and tribulations of Azerbaijanis expelled from their native lands, Khojali genocide, other atrocities committed by the Armenian armed forces in the occupied Azerbaijani territories, illegal settlement policy conducted by the official Yerevan in those areas, and annihilation of our historical, cultural and religious legacy.
The book is especially valuable in conveying the ultimate truth about the Nagorno Karabakh conflict to the international community. Azerbaijani translation of a publication that is certainly to be a fascinating subject for public debate will be presented to our readers in a dedicated series.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, which began in the eighties and culminated in the conclusive disintegration of the union in the early nineties, was a historical turning point. The Iron Curtain dividing western and Eastern Europe fell. And on the territory of the former Soviet Socialist Republics there emerged 15 new nation states. The peaceful transition that we in the West remember, however, does not hold true for every region of the former USSR. Various territorial disputes, smouldering for some time already, now erupted openly.
Such was the case in the 1988 dispute between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region lying within Azerbaijan’s territory. The resulting war lasted from 1992 until 1994 and was fought between Armenian separatists, supported by the Republic of Armenia and scattered units of the Russian army, and the Republic of Azerbaijan. At its conclusion, Nagorno-Karabakh and a further seven districts stood under Armenian occupation. Approximately 30,000 people died. With the conflict came enormous ethnic separation: 586,000 Azerbaijanis were driven out of the occupied territories before and during the war, with another 250,000 expelled from Armenia. Some 296,000 Armenians fled the unoccupied regions of Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh (according to the US Committee for Refugees, 1995).
The Armenian paramilitaries carried out an ethnic cleansing program in Nagorno-Karabakh and neighbouring Azerbaijan provinces. Four UN resolutions have condemned this and demanded that the occupying troops retreat, but as yet the Armenians have not complied with the international community’s request. Under international law, occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven districts of Kalbajar, Lachin, Qubadli, Jabrayil, Zangilan, Agdam and Fizuli – together comprising almost a fifth of the country – are still parts of Azerbaijan. The war crimes committed here have to date never been brought before an international court.
In the districts of Lachin and Kalbajar in particular, whose populations were once more than 90 per cent Azerbaijani, the Armenian occupiers are implementing an active settlement policy. This fundamentally contravenes Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (“The Occupying Force shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”). Even the report from the OSCE mission to the occupied areas in 2005 confirmed that the settlement of Armenians into this region took place only after the ceasefire. Though the districts surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh are designated by the occupiers as buffer zones, the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians’ separatist regime regards these areas as an integral part of its internationally unrecognised “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic”.
This, along with the illegal settlement activities makes the Armenians’ intentions clear: it is to be presented as a fait accompli. Moreover, the occupiers have either renamed localities and regions or left them off maps altogether. During a visit to the demolished city of Agdam in March 2010, I was able to satisfy myself first-hand of a further breach of the Geneva Convention on the part of the Armenians (Article 53: Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited […]). In Agdam, organised looting and the destruction associated with it have been taking place for years. A representative of the occupying regime himself confirmed this looting to me in writing. Should the banished Azerbaijani populace ever return, it would be to find little remaining of its once blooming city.
Almost two decades after the end of armed hostilities, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has faded into obscurity with the general global public. This is the case despite the fact that no peace treaty exists and that every year soldiers and civilians continue to lose their lives, ceasefire agreements notwithstanding. The search for causes and explanations, for clues and opinions, poses considerable difficulty for anyone attempting to investigate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The opposing parties look for faults on the other side. The extreme nationalist sentiment – strongly pronounced on both sides – only serves to deepen the unwavering mindset of each people and entrench the status quo in the search for a solution.
When I first travelled to Nagorno-Karabakh in 2008 I planned on writing not a book, but rather a single report concerning the local situation at the time. A year later, during my research in Azerbaijan – that is to say on the other side of the conflict – a picture began to form before my eyes, of the consequences of the war in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. Further research brought to this picture more shape and definition. It is, however, a picture which no one person can describe in its entirety, as each individual element in this shared fate of war constitutes a story in itself.
Consequently, this book should be seen as a collection of snapshots from an unstable conflict zone. Some of the present reports have appeared in various journals in recent years; these I have expanded and developed in detail after further research, now complemented with previously unpublished information and photos. Up until now, historians and political scientists have dealt extensively with the historical and international legal aspects of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in a number of publications.
This book will, therefore, aside from presenting facts and figures relevant to the conflict, concentrate on bringing the human aspect into focus.
On the research: in spring 2011 at Yerevan airport (Armenia), I was denied a visa and my passport was confiscated, without any explanation. I was put on the earliest possible flight to Moscow and deported from the country. This made further on-site research in Nagorno-Karabakh after 2010 impossible. Queries addressed to the Swiss Embassy in Armenia yielded only the response that I was “persona non grata” there. Nor did the ambassador receive any particulars as to the reasons behind the Armenian foreign ministry’s decision. A renewed attempt at entry in 2012 was also declined. Whether my article published on Agdam, a city destroyed and looted by separatists, was a deciding factor remains unknown. The fact, however, that even an organisation such as the OSCE is forbidden from taking photographs in non-military areas, must make us sit up and take notice. One thing is clear: the Armenian separatists have no interest in allowing visibility of the current situation to the public at large. This situation includes not only renovated Armenian monasteries and churches and a beautiful landscape, but also ruined Azerbaijani villages and cultural institutions, sacked cities, damaged mosques and abandoned districts.
Both sides are the losers in this yet unresolved conflict: the Armenians may have won the military war but because of their isolated position they have no real economic prospects, while the Azerbaijanis lament the occupation of almost 20 per cent of their national territory, the homeland to which their refugees have never been allowed to return.