Tomorrow marks exactly one year since the start of the Four Day War between Azerbaijani and Armenian military forces in Azerbaijan’s Nagorniy-Karabakh region. Although the fight was short-lived, the clash resulted in the deaths of hundreds, sparked fears of a proxy war between Turkey and Russia, and put the entire region on edge once again.
Considered some of the worst fighting the area has seen since the implementation of a Russian-brokered ceasefire in 1994, the two sides clashed from April 1 through April 4 as Azerbaijani forces sought to regain control of territories the international community recognizes as belonging to Azerbaijan, but those in which Armenia refuses to stop meddling.
On Friday, April 1 Azerbaijan’s Armed Forces came under fire from large caliber artillery and grenade launchers, prompting them to respond. As a result of the Four Day, or “April” War, Azerbaijan retook two strategic hills, a village, and a total of about 2,000 hectares (approximately 5,000 acres) of land.
But Azerbaijan asserting full control over its country cannot, and should not, be done piecemeal.
Fighting between the two sides is, unfortunately, nothing new. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed, the region was already embroiled in conflict, which escalated into full-scale war by 1992. Roughly 30,000 people died, more than 600,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis from Karabakh and surrounding areas were forced to flee, and Azerbaijan lost up to 25 percent of its territory. In addition, roughly 200,000 Azerbaijanis were forced to flee their homes in Armenia as a result of the conflict.
This is, clearly, no small matter. While groups like the Organization of American States were quick to condemn Azerbaijan’s actions, Armenia continues to thumb its nose not only at Azerbaijan but the international community.
“Every time there is a move forward, Armenia tries to undermine it,” Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the U.S. Elin Suleymanov said in an interview with the Washington Times shortly after the war.
The UN’s Security Council tabled four resolutions on the Nagorniy-Karabakh conflict between April 30 and November 12, 1993. Each addressed successive territorial encroachments by Armenia into Azerbaijani lands, and called for Armenia to withdrawal its troops from them.
Despite all four resolutions passing unanimously, occupation and provocation by Armenia has not stopped.
The people of Nagorniy-Karabakh live under a daily threat of war - a threat that could be eliminated completely if and when Armenia decides it will no longer provoke conflicts with a country and free-standing army that seeks only to protect its borders and territorial integrity.
To avoid another clash, all sides must observe the 1994 ceasefire and make a good faith effort to respect the peaceful settlement process as outlined by the OSCE Minsk Group. The United States, France and Russia are actively supporting a peaceful resolution to what is 25-year old conflict, and no side should take this international support for granted.
Unfortunately, Armenia is doing just that.
Armenia needs to recognize a reality the rest of the world has accepted but it fails to: Nagorniy-Karabakh, and the additional nine percent of Azerbaijani lands surrounding it where Armenian forces have positioned themselves, lie fully within Azerbaijan’s borders. Not respecting a sovereign country’s internationally recognized borders is a non-starter for any peace deal.
Only then can the government in Baku begin to make investments in infrastructure and development, and ensure that the people of the region have a standard of living commensurate with that only Azerbaijan can provide to what is a small and landlocked region in the South Caucasus.
For its part, Azerbaijan can make a good faith effort and commitment to the Armenian people of the Nagorniy-Karabakh region to ensure their safety and security as hundreds of thousands of ethnic Azerbaijanis return home. Until the Armenian state invaded in 1993, these two populations lived side-by-side peacefully, reflecting Azerbaijan’s inclusive, multiethnic, and tolerant nature – traits that to this day remain at the core of Azerbaijan’s strategic importance.
A constitutionally secular country with a Muslim majority population, Azerbaijan is populated with diversity even in its own neighborhood. Jews have inhabited the region since the first millennium AD, along with Christians, to this day living side-by-side peacefully with Muslims.
Ethnic Armenians living in the Nagorniy-Karabakh region present no exception to Azerbaijanis’ inclusive spirit and collective psyche. Like other minority groups, they too are welcomed and are an integral part of Azerbaijan’s national identity. But Armenia must stop laying claim to them and the region they inhabit, and allow all groups inside Azerbaijan to live in peace and free from conflicts like that it provoked one year ago.