By Ulviye Filiyeva ERKEC
The Azerbaijani government is seriously concerned about the threat posed by the Armenian government’s refusal to share information about the minefields after winning the 44-day Second Karabakh War.
Emphasizing that this is a serious violation of international humanitarian law, Azerbaijan states that landmines continue to be a major obstacle to peace, security, and cooperation in the region, preventing hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis from returning to their lands and fulfilling their basic duties.
Since the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia signed the tripartite declaration on November 10, 2020, ending all military operations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, 31 Azerbaijani citizens (24 civilians, 7 soldiers) died due to landmines while 86 soldiers and 31 civilians were injured in the liberated lands.
As The Asia Today Editorial Board we interviewed Ahmed Shahidov – the President of Azerbaijan Democracy and Human Rights Institute – to whom we asked our questions on the subject and the policy of the Azerbaijan to return to liberated lands.
Mr. Ahmed Shahidov was born in 1982 in the Gakh region of Azerbaijan. He has been engaging with journalism for many years. To date, his articles have been published on various topics in the local press. In 2002, he became a reporter for the Burç newspaper. In addition, about 300 articles were published in the international newspaper Novoe Russkoe Slovo, published in Russia between 2005-2007.
Since June 2014, he is the chairman of the Azerbaijan Institute for Democracy and Human Rights. He has been working as the coordinator of the Azerbaijani Hostages Information Center since December 2018.
What is the state policy regarding the return of Azerbaijani citizens to the lands liberated from occupation after the Second Karabakh War?
After the 44-day Second Karabakh War, the main task of the Azerbaijani state is to clear the occupied lands from mines. Because during the 30-year Armenian occupation, hundreds of thousands of mines were buried in those areas. The demining of these areas is a principal issue on the agenda. For this purpose, Azerbaijan acquired modern equipments and experienced experts from Turkey and other states. At the same time, mine maps of some regions were also taken from Armenia. Maps of 200,000 mines buried in Aghdam, Fuzuli and Zangilan were obtained. These developments speed up the demining process in those areas.
At the same time, infrastructure is being restored in and around Karabakh. New roads, airports are being built, water, gas, electricity, and other infrastructure works are being conducted.
A general plan of the liberated areas was prepared. According to the plan, all historical, cultural, and religious monuments will be restored, new housing estates and houses will be built. Only then the return of Azerbaijanis to these lands will be ensured. I think this process will take some time and Azerbaijan is aiming to do it as soon as possible.
Will there be regions where Azerbaijanis must live together with Armenians? How do you evaluate the issue of security in the coexistence of two peoples who have been fighting each other for nearly 30 years?
Historically, Azerbaijanis and Armenians lived together in parts of Karabakh. At present, Armenians live in the territory of Azerbaijan, which is under the control of Russian peacekeepers. The Armenian population in this region is around 30-40 thousand and they are the citizens of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The state of Azerbaijan caters equal rights to all citizens living on its territory. We do not have a problem with Armenian identity. Because at the moment, more than 30,000 Armenian citizens live in the capital Baku and other cities, and these people have not been subjected to any ethnic discrimination until now.
In general, Azerbaijan is a multicultural country and today representatives of more than forty nationalities live in Azerbaijan in a fraternity.
Like everyone else, Armenians can live comfortably in Azerbaijan. Every Armenian citizen who accepts the territorial integrity of the Azerbaijan Republic, the inviolability of its borders and independence can live comfortably with us. Armenians who do not accept these will leave these lands voluntarily. What can a person who does not want to live in the same country as we have to do with us?!
As for security issues, I do not see any issues here. Azerbaijan is a peaceful and secular country. Armenians will feel more comfortable here than in Armenia. According to the trilateral agreement of 10 November 2020, Russian peacekeepers were deployed in the region. Russian peacekeepers will also contribute to the establishment of peace and harmony among the people.
How many people do you think would want to go to the place they left 30 years ago in the first place? What opportunities does the government plan to supply them?
Today, all of our refugees from Karabakh and its surroundings want to return to their ancestor’s land. The Azerbaijani state will send everyone back to their homes. Separate incentive conditions will be prepared for them. Because, considering that there will be some consequences of returning to that land after 30 years, a discount will be applied on land, electricity, gas, water and other issues and supplementary salary at the beginning for people.
In addition, substitute salaries and incentives will be supplied for professionals who want to work in these fields. Today every Azerbaijani citizen is ready to go to Karabakh to live and work there. Because Karabakh is a heaven of Azerbaijan and has the most fascinating nature of the South Caucasus region.
Do you think that the Armenian state will pay compensation to these people who have been displaced for 30 years, whose homes have been destroyed, and who have been subjected to genocide, just as the German state paid the Jews?
Certainly. This issue is the main problem facing the Azerbaijani state from the very first day. Immediately after the 44-day war, a state commission was set up upon the instruction of President Ilham Aliyev to calculate the amount of damage inflicted on Azerbaijan. Foreign experts also took part in this study. The material damage caused by the 30-year Armenian occupation to Azerbaijan and our people will be calculated. According to preliminary estimates, this figure is fifty billion dollars. However, the figure is likely to be higher. The figures may change in the future, as the Azerbaijani state does not control Khankendi, Khojaly, Agdere and other regions, and Russian peacekeepers are currently operating in these lands. In the near future, these areas will also be inspected and the final cost of the damage to Azerbaijan will be known.
Azerbaijan is preparing to apply to international courts on this issue and all evidence will be presented to the courts one by one. The goal here is not just financial, we want such occupations not to be repeated in the world and that the perpetrators do not go unpunished. Justice is finally taking its place!