On a visit to Brussels, representatives of the Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is occupied by Armenia, have invited Belgian parliamentarians to help arrange and host the first gathering of the two communities for the last 25 years.
Fuad Muradov and Rovshan Rzayev, members of the executive board of the Azerbaijani community of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, held meetings on 5 October with Belgian parliamentarians, including the President of the Flemish Parliament, Jan Peumans.
Speaking to EURACTIV.com, Rzayev said that the main aim of the visit was to voice the concerns of the Azeris of Nagorno-Karabakh and to seek solutions to help unblock a peace process which is largely stalled. Not a single Azeri lives in Nagorno-Karabakh, he explained, and not a single Azeri who originates from the region is able to visit his homeland. Some 75,000 Azeris hail from Nagorno-Karabakh, but all of them live in Baku, and in the 59 regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
“We want to look forward. We don’t want to leave to the new generation a region in the Southern Caucasus which can explode at any time,” he said.
Rzayev said the initiative wanted to give impetus to the talks conducted by the so-called Minsk group.
“These talks, unfortunately, continue for over 23 years, but we haven’t seen any tangible results,” he said. Rzayev added that on a daily basis, there were exchanges of fire at the dividing line, and soldiers were being killed on a near-daily basis on both sides.
He deplored the fact that over the recent ‘April Fools Day’ military offensive, the worst clash since 1994, the Armenian army had used a new tactic, by firing in the direction of the civil population across the dividing line, instead at Azeri forces.
He said that over the last four years, the Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh has tried to establish contact with the Armenian community of the region.
“If we can identify issues of common interest, we could give momentum to the peace process,” he said. As Rzayev explained, efforts so far had failed, including an attempted meeting in Berlin in 2011, when he said the Azeris representatives came at the meeting, but the Armenians didn’t show up.
However, in 2009, an initiative known as of the “Three Ambassadors” succeeded in organising a visit to Nagorno-Karabakh by a delegation of seven representatives of the Azeri community, in which Rzyaev took part.
Asked how they imagined a possible start of the dialogue between the two communities, Rzayev said that what is important is to restore mutual trust. Meetings between representatives of the communities could be a first step, he explained, mentioning such gatherings between young people, doctors, journalists, at “any place in the world”.
“We have asked the President of the Belgian parliament [of the Flemish Parliament Jan Peumans] so that he would take the initiative and seek support so that the Armenian side would also agree about the need to start a dialogue,” he said. A meeting in Brussels could be the first step to help fix Nagorno-Karabakh, he said.
Asked why the official peace process didn’t produce results, Rzayev stated that the Armenian lobbies in the USA, in France and in Russia, was able to influence decision-making in those capitals, and was blocking the peace process in order to perpetuate the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“International lawlessness has overtaken international law,” he lamented.
Rzyaev said every single one of the 75,000 Azeris native to Nagorno-Karabakh wanted to return to their homeland, and rebuild their lives there, no matter how difficult it would be.
Muradov, who chairs the committee of youth and sports of the Azeri community from Nagorno-Karabakh, said that at the recent meeting between MEPs and members of the parliament of Azerbaijan in Baku, the issue of “new formats” of cooperation was also discussed.
Both Rzyaev and Muradov appealed to MEPs to be “more objective” and “more responsible” toward Azerbaijan. A very critical resolution adopted by the European Parliament in 2015 has caused “a serious regress” in relations, as the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Alijev recently said.
“Maybe they [MEPs] have contacts with Armenians who could back our idea,” Rzyaev said.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a landlocked region in the South Caucasus, part of Azerbaijan, governed by the self-proclaimed “Nagorno Karabakh Republic”, which is largely dependent on Armenia. It has an area of 4,400 square kilometres and an estimated population of 140,000.
The struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh escalated after both Armenia and Azerbaijan attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In the post-Soviet power vacuum, military action between Azerbaijan and Armenia was heavily influenced by the Russian military. Full-scale fighting erupted late in the winter of 1992. The Khojaly Massacre of 25-26 February 1992, when at least 161 ethnic Azeris from the town of Khojalj were killed by Armenian, and partly CIS forces, is considered to be the largest massacre in the course of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.