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Azerbaijan Stops Cooperation with PACE amid “Racist Atmosphere”

By Ilham Karimli January 26, 2024

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Azerbaijani delegation cited a series of concerns, including a lack of impartiality and fairness in the PACE approach to Azerbaijan. / Courtesy

The delegation of Azerbaijan said it was suspending cooperation with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) following recent developments that led to deteriorating relations.

Azerbaijani delegation announced its decision on Wednesday following an initiative to annul the credentials of the country’s delegation depriving them of a right to vote until 2025.

“In the face of current unbearable atmosphere of racism, Azerbaijanophobia and Islamophobia in the PACE, the delegation of Azerbaijan decides to cease its engagement with and presence at the PACE until further notice,” the Azerbaijani delegation’s statement said.

The delegation cited a series of concerns, including a lack of impartiality and fairness in the PACE approach to Azerbaijan. They also expressed frustration over the PACE's handling of issues related to the former Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, which caused significant loss of life and displacement of people in Azerbaijan.

The delegation stated that “when Azerbaijan acceded to the Council of Europe in 2001, it was with the genuine hope and expectation that this organization designed to defend the human rights and the rule of law, would help Azerbaijan to restore the rights of hundreds of thousands Azerbaijanis violated as a result of the military aggression and the occupation of a part of its internationally recognized territories by Armenia.”

“During 19 years, from 2001 to 2020, the PACE failed to hold the aggressor state Armenia accountable for its actions contradicting the core values and principles of the Council of Europe. It concerns in particular the blatant disregard for the human rights of the Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs subjected to ethnic cleansing,” the delegation’s statement read, adding that during this period they were told that the PACE was not a right format to discuss conflict-related issues.

“After Azerbaijan’s historic victory over the aggression, the occupation and the violent separatism, and the restoration of its territorial integrity and sovereignty, we face an orchestrated smear campaign to denigrate Azerbaijan, and cast shadow on its achievement to restore the justice denied for so long to the people of Azerbaijan .… Now, the same PACE and the same MPs say quite the opposite and don’t miss any opportunity to attack Azerbaijan.”

The delegation also considered the PACE initiative to challenge its credentials a deliberate and unacceptable attempt to unduly interfere with the ongoing electoral process and to undermine the functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan.

Former Karabakh conflict & forcible displacement of Azerbaijanis

The violation of the rights of Azerbaijanis unnoticed by the PACE stemmed from their forced displacement from Azerbaijan's Karabakh region and surrounding districts during a war in the early 1990s. In the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union was in its twilight, Armenia decided to take advantage of the geopolitical situation.

Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Armenia launched a military campaign against Azerbaijan. The bloody war lasted until a ceasefire was reached in 1994 and saw Armenia occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories. Over 30,000 Azerbaijanis were killed, nearly 4,000 went missing, and one million were expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign conducted by Armenia.

In 1993, the United Nations Security Council adopted four resolutions to demand the immediate withdrawal of the occupying forces from Azerbaijani lands and the return of internally displaced Azerbaijanis to their ancestral lands. Armenia failed to comply with all four legally binding documents.

On September 27, 2020, the decades-old conflict between the two countries spiraled after Armenia’s forces deployed in occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. During counter-attack operations, Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from a nearly 30-year-long illegal Armenian occupation. The war ended in a tripartite statement signed on November 10, 2020, by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Under the statement, Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.

Shortly after the war, the Azerbaijani government launched major infrastructure projects to restore and reconstruct war-torn lands for facilitating the Great Return – the relocation of IDPs.

The completion of the ongoing first-stage of the Great Return Program by late 2026 will allow 34,500 families or 140,000 people back to the liberated territories in the Karabakh and East Zangezur regions, where 34,500 apartments and private houses will be built.

The presence of the illegal Armenian separatist regime and armed formations in Azerbaijani territories, with their persistent ceasefire violations, has been a significant obstacle to Azerbaijan's efforts towards reconstruction and peace. Despite numerous warnings and appeals for their withdrawal from Azerbaijani territory, they have consistently challenged Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and sovereignty through violent provocations, including acts of terrorism.

On September 19, 2023, Azerbaijan launched local anti-terror measures to disable Armenian army forces and military infrastructure in the Karabakh region. The operation came on the heels of the intensifying Armenian attacks on the Azerbaijani positions and a fatal mine incident in the Khojavand district. By the time of the cessation of conflict on September 20, the Azerbaijani troops disabled the entire military infrastructure of the separatists. The Armenian military formations agreed to full disarmament by laying down arms, handing over the military hardware, and withdrawing from their battle positions and military outposts.

On September 28, the illegal Armenian separatist regime in the Karabakh region announced its self-dissolution. On October 15, President Ilham Aliyev hoisted the state flag in the city of Khankendi in Karabakh region.

Reintegration of Armenian residents

The voluntary exodus of Armenian residents from the Karabakh region began after the Azerbaijani military conducted one-day anti-terror measures, and it came despite Baku’s calls to stay and reintegrate. The Azerbaijani government ordered the State Migration Service to register the region’s ethnic Armenian residents to ensure their sustainable reintegration into the Azerbaijani society in line with the laws and Constitution of Azerbaijan.

Shortly after the anti-terror measures, Baku resumed the negotiations with the representatives of Karabakh’s Armenian residents in three separate meetings, submitting reintegration plans and additional programs to provide necessary humanitarian assistance.

A special government portal was launched to facilitate the reintegration process. Moreover, tens of tons of humanitarian aid – containing food, hygiene products, beddings, and medicaments – was supplied to the Karabakh Armenians by the Azerbaijani government.

However, the ethnic Armenians in the Karabakh region did not reciprocate to Baku’s calls, opting for a voluntary relocation to neighboring Armenia.