Return to Western Azerbaijan taking shape
    The issue got off the ground

    ANALYTICS  12 January 2023 - 13:51

    Murad Abiyev

    The Azerbaijani public has been following with great interest President Ilham Aliyev's interview with local TV channels on urgent issues and in particular his answer to the question on the return of West Azerbaijanis to their homeland. It should be recalled that between 1987 and 1991, more than 200,000 Azerbaijanis were forcibly expelled from the Armenian SSR, which was formed largely on historical Azerbaijani lands. These people have the inalienable right to return to their places of residence.

    Although this burning issue has been raised by the head of our state before, it first took shape two years after the victory in the Patriotic War, at a meeting with intellectuals of West Azerbaijan on December 24 last year. Then, the President said that West Azerbaijan is our historical land, and instructed the community to develop a concept of return.

    Before responding to this question, Ilham Aliyev said: "Of course, talking about the rights of Western Azerbaijanis in a place where there was a problem of Karabakh might have looked like a premature fire."

    The president then hastened to delight us with special news. "My instructions, that is, those given on December 24 are being implemented. A special working group has been set up, and we have started working on a single concept on the basis of all my instructions, as well as proposals coming from the ground." The head of state also noted that "today we have quite rightly brought this topic to the international arena."

    Undoubtedly, the Armenian public has also carefully studied Aliyev's statement. We can advise them to carefully read all the details of the answer, in case their representatives do not take the question quite seriously: "Of course, the Western Azeris must return to their ancestral lands; it is their right; all international conventions recognise this right."

    Certainly, Azerbaijan is strong not only with military commanders and soldiers, but also lawyers and diplomats, and a comprehensive document declaring the rights of return of the Western Azerbaijanis will be submitted to the relevant international bodies in the most perfect form.

    President Aliyev went on to send another message to our neighbours: "And we, as a state of Azerbaijan, must do everything possible to ensure this right. And again I said at the meeting with representatives of the community that we want to implement this peacefully, and I am sure we will achieve this."

    It is very curious whether Armenian analysts have the ability to comprehensively assess the Azerbaijani president's speeches. After all, even before the war in all his speeches, he summed up his theses with the ironclad intention to implement them. How many times has the head of our state talked about his desire to achieve a peaceful resolution to the Karabakh conflict? Given the traumatic experience of 2020, will Armenians be able this time to create a constructive environment for the return of our compatriots to their homeland?

    The President did not fail to emphasise the benefits of a speedy resolution of the issue for Armenia itself, suggesting a vector of paradigm shift and the creation of a new identity: "Today there are no mono-ethnic states in our area, in Eurasia in general, and it would be good for Armenia, as they say, to get rid of this mono-ethnic state stigma. The best and fairest way for this is for Western Azerbaijanis to return to their native lands."

    At the same time, Ilham Aliyev assuaged the material and domestic concerns of the Armenian public: 'The return of deported Azerbaijanis to Western Azerbaijan will not create problems for Armenians, because their return there does not mean the withdrawal of Armenians living there, these villages are empty, and we will certainly use all the opportunities we have'.

    By the way, anticipating Armenia's objections regarding the need to ensure the return of Armenians to Azerbaijani cities (mostly to Baku) in this case, we note that such a symmetric step is incorrect since most of the Armenian population does not have refugee status, since they were not expelled from Azerbaijan, but sold their flats and houses and moved safely ... to Russia and other states.

    The President stressed that all of our programmes are usually implemented: "We never come up with initiatives that cannot be implemented. So we are already working on the programme in this area as well. I am sure that we will reach it and we will restore historical justice".

    Indeed, the restoration of historical justice must not be limited to the resolution of the Karabakh issue, but must involve the whole range of problems created in the South Caucasus by the "Armenian project".

    We are not imperialists. We are not making territorial claims against Armenia. We are talking about the desire and determination to achieve historical justice - the return of people to the land of their historical residence, quite in the spirit of the European understanding of the civilised coexistence of peoples. However, it must be understood that respect for Armenia's sovereignty cannot be taken from the air, it must be based on documents, including acts of delimitation of the state border. If Armenia is in no hurry to recognise the borders of Azerbaijan, then for us the borders of Armenia do not exist either. Of course, the head of state also mentioned this point: " If they are not interested in delimitation, we don't need it either. This means that the border will pass where we believe it should. I am already compelled to use such terms. If the border has not been delimited, then who can say that the border passes here, and not there? I think it should be here. I have reasons to say this – historical, and cartographic reasons. Therefore, this issue should concern them more than us."

    Yes, it is in the interests of Armenians themselves to reconsider many things. Much of Armenian society has been in the brazen belief that it alone can set the political agenda in the region. It must realise that it will have to answer not only for the occupation of Karabakh but also for the expulsion of the original inhabitants of Western Azerbaijan. This issue in its turn rests on the problem of Armenia's choice: either to reformat its vision of Armenian statehood, getting rid of unhealthy fantasies of national exclusivity and territorial claims, or to go for further confrontation with its neighbours, the results of which will prove to be most disastrous for it.

    In addition, I would like to note what enormous moral significance this event has for Azerbaijanis. A tectonic shift in the perception of the refugee problem has occurred. If previously our compatriots, expelled from Soviet Armenia, were perceived as refugees from a foreign country, now our vocabulary has firmly adopted the Western Azerbaijan toponym, and these people are not just refugees, but our compatriots, expelled from their historic homeland, even if it is located within the borders of another state. Such a change of vision helps us better assess the scale of settlement and state-building of the Azerbaijani Turkic ethnos.


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