Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is an unresolved dispute for the last 30 years. Peaceful resolution of this conflict in our immediate neighbourhood is of utmost importance to Turkey.
Since 1993, 20 per cent of the territory of Azerbaijan has been under Armenian occupation. More than one million Azerbaijanis have been displaced from their homes in their motherland, becoming internally displaced persons.
This is the main cause of this bilateral conflict and the biggest obstacle to peace and stability in the region.
Despite the efforts of Armenian circles to cast skepticism regarding the Azerbaijan’s ownership of Nagorno-Karabakh, 4 UN Security Council resolutions from 1993 and many UN General Assembly resolutions which call for “the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of occupying Armenian forces”, unambiguously point out the real aggressor in this conflict.
Armenia has been disregarding the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly Resolutions as well as OSCE decisions so as to preserve the status quo and consolidate its occupation, while sabotaging negotiations under the auspices of the Minsk Group and its three Co-Chairs. Minsk Group was established to encourage a negotiated solution by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE’s predecessor).
By doing so, Armenia makes a mockery of international law and the rules-based international system.
The course of recent events in Nagorno-Karabakh
On 27 September 2020, early Sunday morning, Armenian Armed forces started an intense shelling of Azerbaijan’s defense positions and civillian settlements with large calliber artillery and rockets in blatant violation of the ceasefire, as well as international law, along the line of contact in Nagorno Karabakh.
As the Armenian leadership becomes more aggressive, they continue to bomb Azeri civillians while trying to divert attention away from its illegal occupation and to portray Armenia as the victim rather than the culprit.
In fact, this latest attack was the culmination of Armenian provocations, which started in Tovuz on 12 July and continued with frequent breaches of the cease-fire by the Armenian Armed Forces along with the Line of Contact.
It must be noted that Tovuz is 300 km. away from the Line of Contact.
Azerbaijan launched a counter operation to protect its population and restore its territorial integrity by invoking its inherent right of self-defence, enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter.
All the fighting has actually taken place within Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized borders and not a single shot has been fired towards the territory of the Republic of Armenia.
Armenia, on the other hand, has attacked the civilian population and infrastructure well beyond the territory it occupies within Azerbaijan. Armenian occupation forces targeted major Azerbaijani cities like Gence, Mengiçevir, Abşeron, Hızı, Terter, Berde and Beylegan with long-range artillery and rocket fire, killing civilians. By targeting the cities outside the occupied lands of Azerbaijan, Armenia clearly aims to provoke Azerbaijan to retaliate on Armenia. In fact, Armenia attacked the city of Gence right after the humanitarian ceasefire took effect.
Azerbaijan’s leadership, in return, have declared that they will not respond to such Armenian provocations and they will keep their counter-operations confined to the internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan.
Armenia also targets the gas and oil pipelines, threatening the energy security of a wider region including Europe. The recent attacks from Armenia to the Mingechevir dam reservoir and the hydroelectric power plant prove that Armenia does not restrain itself in any way.
The humanitarian aspect of the Armenian aggression
The human rights aspect of the issue is also very important and requires a closer look.
Armenian attacks constitute a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, particularly the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
As of 18 October, Armenia has killed at least 60 Azerbaijani civilians and wounded hundreds.
Armenian occupation has caused profound human suffering, displacing a million Azerbaijanis who are yearning for 30 years to return to their homes, still under Armenian occupation. Those occupied lands are not only limited to Nagorno-Karabakh; Armenia also occupies seven adjacent Azeri rayons (regions).
In addition, Armenia has been altering the demographic composition of the occupied Azerbaijani territories by resettling ethnic Armenians from Syria and Lebanon in Nagorno-Karabakh and the adjacent provinces it occupies.
Turkey’s unwavering support to Azerbaijan
Turkey condemned the Armenian attacks and reiterated its support for Azerbaijan on September 27, when Armenia renewed its armed aggression. This support is not only based on Turkey’s special bonds with Azerbaijan, but also stems from the fact that Azerbaijan stands on the side of international law.
Remaining equidistant to both sides regardless of who the occupier is not a healthy understanding of impartiality; it rewards the aggressor.
Azerbaijan has the moral and legal high ground in this conflict. Turkey will continue to give strong political and moral support to Azerbaijan. However, Turkey is not a party to this conflict and is not present on the battleground.
We do not want a conflict along our borders. On the otherhand, the peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia needs to be a permanent and fair one, not a temporary band aid. This can only be achieved by ending Armenian occupation on all Azeri territory.
To this end, international community must pressure on Armenia to end its illegal occupation in Azerbaijan, once and for all, in line with the respective UN resolutions.
The writer is the Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey