One of the world’s long-standing conflicts, widely considered the remnant of the legacy of the USSR, came into the spotlight on Sunday when Russian and Azerbaijani officials and experts met in Jojug Marjanli, the village located in Jabrayil – Azerbaijan’s southwestern district occupied by Armenia together with six other districts and Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Though Jabrayil is not still liberated, Jojug Marjanli has been thriving since 2016 when the Azerbaijani armed forces retook the strategic hill, which overlooks the village. International community believes Armenia should give back all territories belonging to Azerbaijan.
Dmitry Saveliev, the Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee on Security and Anti-corruption, said Armenia should relinquish its hold on Azerbaijani land that was captured during a war in the early 1990s and shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
“Karabakh and seven [surrounding] regions should be liberated and returned to Azerbaijan without any additional stipulations,” Azerbaijan’s Trend news agency quoted Saveliev as saying, referring to Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven adjacent districts that are kept under occupation by Armenia since the early 1990s.
The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has threatened peace and stability in the South Caucasus region since the late 1980s when Yerevan launched an ethnic cleansing campaign against Azerbaijanis living in Armenia.
In 1991, a military campaign against Azerbaijan was launched by Armenia following the fall of the Soviet Union and lasted until 1994, ultimately resulting in Armenia occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territories – the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts. The war claimed the lives of over 20,000 Azerbaijanis, while one million more were internally displaced and 4,000 went missing.
In 1994, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) launched the Minsk Group. Co-chaired by representatives of the U.S., Russia and France, the group is charged with finding a peaceful, unarmed solution to the conflict. While it means well, the arrangement has resulted in over two decades of gridlock, much to the consternation and disappointment of leaders in Azerbaijan. Some say the group is ineffective and blame it for the ongoing occupation of Azerbaijani territories.
“Russia’s position must be active in the OSCE Minsk Group for an early settlement of the conflict,” Saveliev said while addressing Sunday’s conference.
The one-day event, held in Jojug Marjanli, has brought together Russia’s some of the influential politicians and experts, including deputy speaker of the State Duma, Vladislav Kalkhidov, a parliamentarian representing the ruling “United Russia” party, Alexei Ezubov, as well as Alexander Dugin, who leads the International Eurasian Movement, and many others.
One of the attendees, Yevgeny Bakhrevsky, a political scientist, and the head of the Moscow-based “Heritage” Institute, believes that more than one million of Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs should return home.
“For the South Caucasus, it is normal when different ethnic and religious communities peacefully coexist with each other, and from this point of view, it is necessary to return Azerbaijani refugees to their native towns and villages,” he told in an interview with Haqqin.az news agency.
Azerbaijan has one of the highest ratios of IDPs per person in the world, as nearly 1.2 million out of the country’s population of ten million are IDPs and refugees.
Though the full-scale war ended when a ceasefire agreement was inked in 1994, violations along the frontline are not uncommon. In 2010, 2012 and 2014, a series of skirmishes between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out; the largest major flare-up since the full-scale war in the early 90s ended took place from April 1-5, 2016 following Armenian shelling of Azerbaijani villages.
As a result of these more recent clashes, later dubbed the April War, or Four Day War, Azerbaijan retook about 2,000 hectares (approximately 5,000 acres) of its land, including a village, and two strategic hills.
The village of Jojug Marjanli, which hosted the conference on Sunday, laid in ruins roughly one year ago, but after Azerbaijan’s army retook Leletepe hill, which overlooks the village, it was rebuilt. Reconstruction consisted of building 50 new houses in an area of 3,850 square meters; a secondary school that now serves 96 students; a mosque; a hydro-meteorological station; gas and power lines; and pipelines for potable water. The reconstruction served as a pilot project, described by the central government in Baku as part of a “great return” program to restore and rehabilitate remaining lands that are under Armenian occupation.
“It is symbolic that we are holding this meeting in Karabakh,” said Alexander Dugin, a Russian philosopher, political analyst, and strategist.
“This once again emphasizes that Azerbaijan is a strategic partner of Russia. From a legal point of view, Karabakh is the territory of Azerbaijan,” Dugin said. “Russia regards Karabakh as the territory of Azerbaijan . . . in accordance with international law.”