DSI statement on the situation in Nagorno Karabakh

DSI observes the developing situation in Nagorno Karabakh with urgent alarm.

Our principles mean that we stand for democracy and human rights, and therefore against mass repression and ethnic cleansing. Unfortunately, as ethnic Armenians are forced to flee their ancestral homeland in Nagorno Karabakh, we are witnessing ethnic cleansing occurring in real time.

Although territorial integrity and state sovereignty are important pillars of the international rules-based order, they are not absolute, must be balanced against the principle of self-determination, and do not supersede basic human rights. Azerbaijan has the right to its internationally recognised borders, but not at the cost of the local ethnic Armenian population’s self-determination and fundamental dignity.

Azerbaijan was right to protest the ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis from Nagorno Karabakh and surrounding regions by Armenian militias in the early 1990s. But it should not compound those horrors by presiding over its own campaign of ethnic cleansing. 

We call on Azerbaijan to do everything in its power to ensure the ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh enjoys full minority rights, self-determination,  and the means to live in peace and dignity. Unfortunately,  the Azerbaijani state has spent decades dehumanising Armenians, and still bans Armenian citizens, or even those with an Armenian surname, from entering the country. It often denies the existence of Armenian heritage and recasts it as its own. Senior Azerbaijani officials continue to press groundless and irredentist claims against undisputed Armenian territory.  To enable Armenians to live as Azerbaijani citizens requires a complete revolution in its attitude towards ethnic-Armenians, Armenian culture, and minority rights more generally.

If Azerbaijan is serious about reintegrating Nagorno Karabakh’s people, it needs to take real policy steps, verified by international organisations on the ground, to ensure the rights of its new citizens. Such policies could include:

– Recognising leading figures within the soon to be abolished Nagorno Karabakh government as a transitional local government under the Azerbaijani state.

– Strong and public repercussions against any Azerbaijani police or military officer shown to have committed crimes against ethnic-Armenian property or persons.

– Leveraging Azerbaijan’s significant oil wealth to grant ethnic-Armenians generous financial incentives to remain in the region.

– Making extreme Armenophobic hate speech punishable by law.

– Granting residents of Nagorno Karabakh the right to dual Azerbaijani and Armenian citizenship

– Enshrining an indefinite right of return for any residents of Nagorno Karabakh who now flees the region.

– Consider granting some level of autonomy to Nagorno Karabakh to ensure the community is adequately represented in political institutions.

– Replacing feckless and geopolitically-oriented Russian forces with an international mission that will truly give residents of Nagorno Karabakh the sense of security they need.

The path to peaceful coexistence is not easy. The absence of genuine democratic institutions in Azerbaijan render this task even more daunting, but also all the more urgent. However, Azerbaijan now has the chance to end the cycle of violence and hatred that has plagued the region for so long. It must take it. If it does not, the international community should consider imposing sanctions and other measures to encourage Baku to respect its human rights obligations under international law.