President Ilham Aliyev recalled the liberation of the Azerbaijani territories from Armenian occupation three years ago, while noting that the restoration of the country’s territorial integrity was the “main task” of Azerbaijanis.
President Aliyev said that Azerbaijan had suffered from aggression, occupation, and ethnic cleansing, which was an immense tragedy and a vast humanitarian catastrophe for Azerbaijanis.
“But our people demonstrated strong political will. We tried for many years to find a peaceful solution to the conflict and to put an end to the occupation by peaceful means. For 28 years, we were strongly committed to the negotiation process, but unfortunately, we clearly realized that it was not possible to do this by peaceful means. So, we used our right to self-defense,” Aliyev said in his opening speech at the 74th International Astronautical Congress in Baku on Monday.
Ending the Armenian occupation three years ago was the manifestation of Azerbaijan using its right to self-defence, as acknowledged by the United Nations Charter, he said.
President Aliyev added that the Armenia-Azerbaijan war in 2020 was the result of the unproductive mediation efforts by international institutions which had a mandate to fetch a political settlement to the conflict.
He recalled OSCE Minsk Group’s failed mediation, which led to total frustration and disappointment in Azerbaijan.
“We put an end to a conflict which was imposed on us. We protected our dignity. We restored justice and international law. And now, it is time for peace in the Caucasus. This is our agenda. Our agenda is peace in the Caucasus, peace in the region, cooperation and shared benefits,” Aliyev stated.
Armenia and Azerbaijan had long been at odds over the latter's Karabakh (Garabagh) region. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Armenia launched full-blown military aggression against Azerbaijan, marking the longest and deadliest war in the South Caucasus region. The bloody war ended with a ceasefire in 1994 and saw Armenia forcibly 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.
Although the United Nations Security Council adopted four resolutions in 1993 demanding 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.
In the early 1990s, the OSCE Minsk Group assumed the role of mediator in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Diplomats from the US, France, and Russia have served as the Minsk Group’s co-chairs to spearhead international efforts to find a lasting solution to what once was one of the most dangerous regional conflicts. Despite decades-long shuttle diplomacy conducted by the group co-chairs, negotiations remained dead in the water without any breakthrough.
On September 27, 2020, the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict took a violent turn when Armenia’s forces deployed in occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. During counter-attack operations, which lasted 44 days, 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 with the signing of a statement on November 10, 2020, under which Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.
Before the 2020 war, the Minsk Group’s unproductive activity repeatedly triggered a severe backlash from the Azerbaijani authorities. Shortly after the war, President Aliyev said the Group failed to resolve the conflict despite its internationally recognized mandate.
In 2022, President Aliyev said it was time to “say goodbye” to the Minsk Group. In the same year, the US and France rejected to continue cooperation with Moscow within the “troika” format due to the latter’s invasion of Ukraine.
Negotiations for peace
Shortly after the 2020 war, the Azerbaijani authorities voiced readiness and determination to launch negotiations with Armenia that would ultimately bring the long-awaited peace to the region. In March 2022, Baku submitted five basic principles to Yerevan, including mutual territorial integrity recognition and border delimitation activities.
Since the end of the war, there have been a series of high-level meetings between Azerbaijan and Armenia mediated by European, Russian, and American officials.
However, due to Armenia’s territorial claims against Azerbaijan, despite its recognition of the country’s territorial integrity, the peace talks did not lead to any resolutions. The presence of the illegal separatist regime in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and Yerevan’s financial and military support to it blocked the attempts for a breakthrough.
The armed provocations of the Armenian army formations stationed in the Karabakh region, dubbed the “defense forces” of the separatists, against Azerbaijan led to a one-day counter-terrorism measures by Baku from September 19-20. The anti-terror operation disabled almost the entire military infrastructure of the separatist regime. On September 20, they agreed to full disarmament and withdrawal. On September 28, the so-called leadership of the Armenian separatists in the Karabakh region announced self-dissolution of the self-proclaimed and unrecognized "Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh)".
Meanwhile, shortly after the anti-terror measures, Azerbaijani authorities hosted the representatives of Karabakh’s Armenian residents to discuss their reintegration. However, a voluntary exodus of ethnic Armenians ensued after the collapse of the illegal separatist regime. Despite Baku’s calls to stay and reintegrate, as well as pledges to guarantee all fundamental rights, a large portion of the Armenian residents voluntarily left for Armenia.
Currently, employees from the State Migration Service and the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population of Azerbaijan are operating in the Karabakh region to help the ethnic Armenians of the region apply for Azerbaijani citizenship. Baku also launched an online reintegration portal to expedite the process.
The Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders are expected to discuss the peace agenda this week on the sidelines of the European Political Community’s upcoming meeting in Granada, Spain.