Karabakh: Peace is long overdue

In 2020, as a result of the second Karabakh war,  Azerbaijan liberated its territories from the occupation and immediately began the extraordinary task of rebuilding.
August 19, 2023
City of Aghdam in Azerbaijan. Once home to 30,000 Azerbaijanis. Razed to the ground during the years of occupation by Armenia. Photo by Stepan Lohr/Wikimedia Commons/ Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

As a survivor of the Khojaly massacre, I have often said that the only thing worse than what I went through is to witness the denial of my experience, and the tragic experience of thousands of my friends, relatives and fellow citizens. Thankfully, in these times, the horrific tragedy I endured is universally recognized and the denial of it is universally condemned. 

Across 30 years of violent occupation, Armenia left a most unforgettable mark on Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region; including the ethnic cleansing and utter destruction of 900 Azerbaijani villages and 7 cities; altogether over 10,000 sq km of territory. Generations of Azerbaijanis from occupied territories, nearly 1 million people, have spent decades as internally displaced people (IDPs) while their hometowns were literally plundered & obliterated under Armenian occupation. 20,000 Azerbaijanis did not survive the brutal invasions of the early 1990s; including murdered women, children and the elderly. When Armenia invaded Karabakh, nothing was sacred and nobody was spared. 

In 2020, as a result of the second Karabakh war,  Azerbaijan liberated its territories from the occupation and immediately began the extraordinary task of rebuilding. The degree of devastation, across what was once the most beautiful region in the country, is nothing short of overwhelming. Since liberating Karabakh, Azerbaijan has already invested nearly 7 billion dollars toward reconstructing many of the destroyed cities and villages, all decimated under occupation. 

Azerbaijan’s proactive reconstruction is for the sake of the forcibly displaced, to honor and facilitate their right of return to their ancestral lands. Since 2020, over 1,000 Azerbaijani refugees have returned home; 10,000 more are projected to return before 2024.  

Horrifically, there are over 1 million landmines Armenian forces planted and scattered across the occupied territories during 30 years and during their withdrawal in 2020. Azerbaijan has been removing these precarious deathtraps since 2020, and has been doing it all alone, without much international assistance. These landmines, which have killed or seriously injured over 300 Azerbaijanis since the end of the 2020 war, present an enormous challenge for rebuilding the liberated areas and bringing back the forcibly displaced.

While Azerbaijan focuses on reconstruction, Armenia has spent the last 2.5 years since the war ended on efforts to disrupt and undermine the recovery and the long overdue peace they agreed to. Armenia has been misusing the Lachin Road, which connects Karabakh to Armenia, to smuggle in more landmines, weaponry, soldiers, and for other illegal activities. In order to end these illegal activities, which endanger peace and stability in the region, Azerbaijan was compelled to establish a checkpoint on its state border with Armenia on April 23, 2023. Nearly. 2,000 Armenians safely used this checkpoint to travel to and from Armenia till June 15, when Armenia fired at Azerbaijani border guards, seriously injuring one of them. Since then the checkpoint has been open for medical evacuations. Overall, more than 700 Armenian patients have been transferred by ICRC to Armenia via the Lachin Road since last December.

Azerbaijan has offered a much shorter road via the city of Aghdam to deliver all supplies to Karabakh Armenians. Regrettably, the Armenian side has installed concrete barriers on this road to prevent such deliveries. 

The refusal to utilize Aghdam, and the hoaxful, public accusations against Azerbaijan regarding a so-called blockade into Karabakh, further demonstrate Armenia’s priorities. Rather than abide by international law, and allow the transfer of aid to the Armenians of Karabakh, the Armenian side and its lobby groups in the West are spending millions on media campaigns and politicians decrying a “blockade”. The goal is to gain international sympathy toward the full opening of the Lachin Road without any control, and continue smuggling arms, soldiers and landmines into Azerbaijan’s sovereign territories. 

With so many challenges on the table, I am proud of my homeland for doing everything possible to make Karabakh a safe home for everyone, including ethnic Armenians.

I feel deeply privileged to witness the restoration of Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region to its stunning and thriving history and beauty, and to know that my own daughter and generations to come can live in peace and prosperity in our ancestral homeland. I’m hopeful that these efforts to demoralize and destroy our sovereignty and safety will end; that the nationalist and diaspora movements perpetuating violence and spending millions to resuscitate a lost and unlawful war, will change course, and choose peace. I believe the world will see through the games, and take a stand against the misuse of public trust, and demand Armenia truly engage in the peace process with Azerbaijan for the sake of reconciliation between our two people. Despite the bloody wars and conflict, I am certain Azerbaijanis and Armenians can once again live peacefully together. It’s time to make it a reality

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