Azerbaijan will treat ethnic Armenians residing in its occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region the same way as other citizens, spokesperson to the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan Leyla Abdullayeva said amid charges of alleged shelling civilians living in the occupied territories.
“Civilians currently living in Nagorno-Karabakh are citizens of Azerbaijan of Armenian origin,” Abdullayeva told journalists on Monday, according to a report by Voice of America. “Our citizens of Armenian origin residing in our occupied territories will be treated the same way as other citizens of various origins. Tens of thousands of Armenians now live in peace and safety in Azerbaijan,” she added.
Foreign Ministry statement comes amidst a series of allegations against Azerbaijan made by Armenia's government officials who claimed that the Azerbaijani armed forces allegedly fired at civilians of Armenian origin residing in the occupied cities and villages of Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry has repeatedly denied these allegations, accusing Armenia of war crimes committed against Azerbaijani civilians.
Over the past eleven days, civilian settlements in Azerbaijan, including the country's second largest city of Ganja, are being subjected to intensive shelling by Armenia's armed forces dispatched in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region and Armenia. Armenian armed forces have killed 30 civilians in Azerbaijan, including three children, since September 27. As a result of heavy artillery shelling of civilian settlements, at least 144 civilians were injured, while hundreds of facilities and houses damaged, according to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan.
“The attacks on Azerbaijani cities were delivered from the Armenian cities of Goris, Sisian, Vardenis, and Berd,” said Abdullayeva, adding that Azerbaijan only targets military facilities, unlike Armenian armed forces.
She then explained that Azerbaijan’s authorities are now working on documents related to crimes committed by Armenians, including Arayik Harutunyan, the self-proclaimed leader of illegal regime in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Harutunyan ordered to deliver missile strikes on Azerbaijan’s second-largest city on Sunday.
Heavy clashes broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan on September 27 after Armenian armed forces attacked Azerbaijani positions and civilian settlements along the front zone in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. The armed forces of Azerbaijan have so far managed to liberate several settlements, strategic heights, and one city occupied by Armenia in the early 1990s.
Armenia launched a military campaign against Azerbaijan after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The bloody war between the two neighboring countries lasted until 1994 when the ceasefire agreement was signed. As a result, Armenia occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts. The war claimed the lives of over 30,000 Azerbaijanis, while another one million were forcibly expelled from their homes and were resettled in towns across the country.
Prior to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenia's leadership expelled nearly 250,000 Azerbaijanis living in modern-day Armenia. The winter of 1988-1989 saw one of the worst ethnic cleansings of Azerbaijanis committed by Armenia in modern history. Mass deportations resulted in several dozen Azerbaijanis being killed, hundreds more wounded, and pogroms and attacks on Azerbaijani villages in Armenia. December of 1988 became the final stage of expunging Azerbaijanis from modern-day Armenia, a country that became a mono-ethnic state as a result of its policies.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan is home to many nationalities and ethnic groups, including ethnic Armenians. According to various estimates, the number of ethnic Armenians living in Azerbaijan ranges from 20,000 to 30,000, except for Armenians living in the occupied Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.