WAC: Complementary part of Azerbaijan-Armenia reconciliation (ANALYTICS)
Türkiye based DailySabah has published an article about the ongoing peace talks series between Azerbaijan and Armenia entitled "Complementary part of Azerbaijan-Armenia reconciliation".
News.az presents the article
The sixth meeting within the framework of the ongoing peace talks series between Azerbaijan and Armenia was held in Brussels between European Council President Charles Michel, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. Michel explained the issues discussed by the leaders during the meeting. According to the Azerbaijani press, the issue of the return of Azerbaijanis who were expelled from their native land in Armenia was discussed during the Brussels meeting. Although forgotten for years, this issue was brought up again by Azerbaijan after liberating its lands from occupation in 2020. In the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis living in Armenia were expelled from their lands four times. Three of these expulsions took place after the war between the two nations, and one was Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's decision.
The Azerbaijanis who were deported from Armenia in August 2022 and who define themselves as Western Azerbaijanis have now established a community. Aliyev, who attended the opening of the community’s building on Dec. 24, 2022, said that Western Azerbaijanis’ rights must be restored, and they must be able to return to their native lands. In parliamentary hearings on March 4, 2023, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan Khalaf Khalafov said that the return of Azerbaijanis should be one of the components of the peace agenda between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
After the Azerbaijani lands were liberated from the occupation in the 44-Day War in 2020, the Azerbaijan Refugee Society (ARS), which was founded by people fleeing from the occupied territories, was dissolved and, on Aug. 3, 2022, became the Western Azerbaijan Community (WAC). On Jan. 26, 2023, the WAC adopted a "Concept of Return," that is, “The concept (of) ensuring (the) peaceful, safe and dignified return of Azerbaijanis expelled from nowadays Armenia.” According to this concept’s general goals, the objectives of the community are: obtaining a legally binding international agreement with an appropriate verification and guarantee mechanism ensuring the voluntary return of Azerbaijanis expelled from the territory of nowadays Armenia to their homeland in safety and dignity; securing the return process with appropriate security, humanitarian, socioeconomic and assistance programs; the establishment of international monitoring, accountability, security, intervention, and other necessary activities to prevent renewed expulsion of, discrimination against and harm to the returned population; and ensuring sustainable rehabilitation and reintegration of returnees through the implementation of reconstruction and reconciliation measures under international supervision.
After this concept was announced, the goal was to promote it internationally. On Feb. 22, 2023, the concept document was sent to the U.N. Security Council, the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council. The WAC addressed a letter to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay and called on the organization to send a fact-finding mission to Armenia to assess the state of Azerbaijani cultural heritage there. Then, on June 18, 2023, the WAC hosted a meeting with a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Azerbaijan. In short, after the "Concept of Return" was announced, the community succeeded within three months in bringing their own issues to the agenda of international organizations and drawing the attention of the Armenian side.
Armenian officials, who remained silent about the fate of Azerbaijanis expelled from Armenia for many years, had to react when the WAC "Concept of Return" began to circulate in U.N. committees. The Permanent Representative of Armenia to the U.N. sent a letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and accused Azerbaijan of pursuing an expansionist policy toward Armenia.
Pashinian's baseless claim
During a visit to Germany on March 2, 2023, Pashinian spoke with the German Council on Foreign Relations (GCFR) and claimed that the Western Azerbaijan initiative means that Armenia does not have its own sovereign territory and that the entire territory of Armenia is referred to as "so-called Western Azerbaijan." The next day, the WAC issued a statement rejecting Pashinian’s claim. Then, on March 12, 2023, the WAC issued a letter to the Armenian premier that called on him to begin a dialogue on the issue of return. The letter highlighted that the rights of Azerbaijanis in the process of return should be ensured within the framework of an appropriate international mechanism. Pashinian refused the request of Western Azerbaijanis to return and said that Armenia’s archives are full of details of compensation paid to these people, but he didn't show any documents as proof.
While Pashinian rejected the possibility of the return of Azerbaijanis, Aliyev stated on March 16, 2023, that: “The state of Azerbaijan will guarantee the individual rights and security of the Armenian residents living in Karabakh. Armenia must guarantee the rights and security of the WAC based on the principle of reciprocity.”
On March 17, 2023, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia issued a statement that evaluated Aliyev’s statement as a territorial demand against Armenia. Responding to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia on March 17, 2023, the WAC again rejected these claims, emphasizing that, “Our demands for a peaceful return to our homes should not be misinterpreted or misrepresented as being detrimental to the territorial integrity or sovereignty of Armenia.” The WAC further stated that this is not an issue of territory, it is a human rights issue.
EU backs right of return
While this debate between Armenia, Azerbaijan and the WAC continued, on April 12, 2023, a group of Western Azerbaijani women sent an appeal to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to support the safe and dignified return of Azerbaijanis to their homes. According to Azerbaijani media, the EU unequivocally affirmed its support for the right of return of all affected populations and acknowledged the significance of this issue within the broader peace process.
To sum up, while the Armenian government demands rights and security for the Armenians living in Azerbaijan within the framework of the international mechanism, it does not want to recognize the right of return of the Azerbaijanis expelled from Armenia. Despite the Armenian side trying to present the demand for the return of Azerbaijanis as an expansionist policy, the WAC maintains that returning back is a human rights issue.
Since the Second Karabakh War, President Aliyev has repeatedly stated that the Azerbaijani state and constitution guarantee the rights and security of Armenians living in Karabakh, but a similar statement has not been made by Pashinian about the Azerbaijanis who want to return to their homelands. To set an example and achieve the normalization of Azerbaijan-Armenia relations, the Armenian side can demand rights and security for Armenians living in Karabakh while also ensuring the right of return and security for Azerbaijanis who formerly lived in Armenia.