Right to self-determination the only key to a just solution of the Karabakh conflict: Armenian FM

“Despite the numerous appeals of the three Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and the international community to fully respect the trilateral ceasefire agreements of 1994 and 1995, Azerbaijan has continued their violations,” Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said, speaking at the University of Helsinki. The full text of the speech is provided below:

Professor Kivinen,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I want to thank Aleksanteri Institute and the University of Helsinki for hosting me here and providing an opportunity to discuss the recent developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The bottom-line of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the realization of people’s right to self-determination, one of the core principles of international law. For decades that right has been obstructed by annexation, ethnic-cleansing, massacres and military aggression. Nevertheless, as history has proven on several occasions, it is impossible to ignore the choice of a people for self-determination.

Being unable to solve the issue by military means Azerbaijan had to sign, with Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, in May 1994 ceasefire agreement, in July 1994 agreement on the reinforcement of ceasefire, and in February 1995 agreement on the consolidation of ceasefire, which have no time limitations. During the following years negotiations were held by the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs. By the way, one of the first Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group was Finland (in this process were involved such prominent Finnish diplomats as Heikki Talvitie and Rene Nyberg). In this framework numerous rounds of negotiations were held on the levels of Presidents, Foreign Ministers which however, have not yielded results due to the continuous rejection of the Co-Chairs’ proposals by Azerbaijan. The essence of the negotiations has been, on the one hand, the necessity of finding a political settlement of the issue, on the other hand, consolidation of the ceasefire regime on the Line of Contact between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan and on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Since the beginning of April Azerbaijan has unleashed large scale aggressive military operation along the entire Line of Contact with Nagorno-Karabakh, which targeted also civilian infrastructures and settlements and which left several hundreds of killed and wounded.

In more than 20 years of fragile ceasefire regime this became an unprecedented destabilization with the use of heavy weaponry, tanks, rockets, artillery, aviation. The continuous acquisition of offensive armaments, the feeding of its society with bellicose warmongering and the spread of hate-speech against Armenians by Baku sooner or later could not but result in such a situation. This is something that we had warned all our international partners during the past several years.

Azerbaijan has been blaming the Armenians as well as the international community, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, represented by the USA, Russia and France, for lack of progress in the negotiations. To such baseless accusations one could ask some rhetorical counter-arguments. Who is rejecting to accept the proposals of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs as a basis for negotiations? Who is opposing all confidence building measures – starting with preparing societies for peaceful solution to the creation of ceasefire violations’ investigation mechanism? Who is blaming the Co-Chair countries, including by calling them “provocateurs” and accusing them in “Islamophobia”? Who is permanently attempting to shift the negotiations of Nagorno-Karabakh issue to other formats, to structures which do not have any international mandate to deal with the resolution of the conflict and which have never resolved any conflict previously? There is one answer to these questions – Azerbaijan.

Thus, Azerbaijan is doing everything possible to fail any progress in the negotiation process, simultaneous to purchasing unprecedented amounts of offensive weaponry and then declaring that it has a right to use force as it does not see any perspectives in the negotiations. To put it simply, Azerbaijan has failed in the negotiations and is trying to find success via military option, where it has failed as well.

Use or threat of use of force has been time and again condemned by the international community. Our neighbor has gone further, pursuing extremely dangerous policy of forcing its own will through the adoption of mass terror.

During the four day war we witnessed also the exceptional brutality of Azerbaijani armed forces against the civilian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. Using “Grad” multiple rocket launchers Azerbaijan shelled schools in Nagorno-Karabakh which caused death and injuries amongst the schoolchildren. In one of the villages in Karabakh three elderly persons, including a 92 year old woman, were brutally tortured, mutilated, their ears were cut and then they were killed. Three captive soldiers of the Nagorno-Karabakh armed forces were beheaded by Azerbaijani armed forces in ISIL style, which were subsequently demonstrated in the towns and villages and publicized through social networks. Moreover, when as a result of the mediation of the Red Cross, the bodies of Armenian soldiers were returned, it was undeniable that all of them had been mutilated after being killed. The shelling of Nagorno-Karabakh civilian areas is continuing to this day.

These are gross violations of the international humanitarian law. For years Armenophobia has gotten wider dissemination in Azerbaijan on the state level. This is not a secret to anyone. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in its report on Azerbaijan alerted with deep concern about the “constant and negative official and media discourse concerning the Republic of Armenia” and recommended the Azerbaijani authorities to “adopt an appropriate response to all cases of discrimination and hate speech against Armenians”.

The cultivation of hatred towards Armenians in Azerbaijan leads to the most horrible crimes, including crimes against humanity. The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh as well as other parts of Azerbaijan more than two decades ago already experienced forced deportation and massacres. Almost a decade ago the Azerbaijani armed forces used all their capacity to attack one of the fewest remaining Armenian monuments in Azerbaijan – the Medieval cemetery in Jugha. Several thousands of medieval cross-stones, dating from the 9th to the 16th centuries, were bulldozed under the Azerbaijani government’s watchful eyes and this area was turned into a military ground in a government sanctioned operation. The 16th International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) General Assembly resolution regretfully stated with regard to this vandalism: “this heritage that once enjoyed its worthy place among the treasures of the world’s heritage can no longer be transmitted today to future generations.” Our numerous calls for sending international fact-finding missions to Nakhijevan, as well as attempts by a number of international organizations and countries have been rejected by the Azerbaijani side.

Dear friends,

In parallel to launching large-scale military operations, Azerbaijan pursues another goal as well. An attempt has been made to declare that the 1994-1995 ceasefire agreements have ceased their effect. These trilateral ceasefire agreements signed by Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia have no time limitations. Moreover the July 1994 agreement on the reinforcement of ceasefire requires the sides to “maintain the ceasefire regime until signing of the big political agreement”. These agreements have been continuously supported by appropriate decisions and statements of OSCE.

The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs have already expressed their position to Azerbaijan, underlining again and again that the 1994 and 1995 agreements, whose terms do not expire, as before, make up the foundation of the cessation of hostilities in the conflict zone. The Co-Chairs called on to strictly adhere to the above-mentioned agreements and not to permit their violation.

The adventurism of Azerbaijan has immensely harmed the negotiations and has been seriously impeding the peace process. Today our efforts, together with the Co-Chairs, are aimed at overcoming of the consequences created due to the aggression unleashed by Azerbaijan. Without tangible consolidation of ceasefire regime the negotiation process will become hostage to Azerbaijani blackmailing. In that context the international community, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, as well as the OSCE Chairmanship have emphasized that it is necessary to have the mechanism of investigation of ceasefire violations. Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have always welcomed these proposals.

Azerbaijan not only rejects its implementation, but on the highest level publicly assesses the ceasefire consolidation measures as a “strange and ridiculous proposal”. In fact there are leaders in the 21st century who can consider measures aimed at preventing the loss of human lives as something strange and ridiculous. This displays the genuine attitude of the authorities in Baku towards human lives, including their own citizens.

The other proposal of which is being continuously undermined is about enhancing the capacities and the team of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman in Office, which Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have supported, but about which, again, Baku not only does not want to hear at all, but is doing everything to reduce their capacities having in mind to ban their activities, as it was done with the OSCE office in Baku. Moreover, Baku started to block the OSCE monitors from conducting of observation missions on the Line of Contact between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh.

The essence of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, about which I started my talk, was and remains the right of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to freely and securely determine their future.

Nagorno-Karabakh has never been a part of independent Azerbaijan, it was annexed to the Soviet Azerbaijan by Stalin. Moreover, Azerbaijan has for decades carried out a policy of ethnic cleansing towards Nagorno-Karabakh, menacing the physical security of the Nagorno-Karabakh people, then unleashing an open aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh using mercenaries closely linked to the international terrorist organizations.

Despite the numerous appeals of the three Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and the international community to fully respect the trilateral ceasefire agreements of 1994 and 1995, Azerbaijan has continued their violations, concentrating heavy weaponry and military forces along the entire Line of Contact, further increasing its warmongering and launching a provocative propaganda campaign on international arena trying to accuse the Armenian side in exactly what it is itself doing, thus preparing ground for new military attacks which can have far-reaching negative consequences for the whole region. It is high time for the international community to take concrete steps in order to bring Azerbaijan to order.

In these conditions, the right to self-determination is not just what the people of Nagorno-Karabakh rightly aspire, but it is the only key to a just solution of this conflict.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The large-scale military offensive this April has been a serious blow to the negotiation process and to more than two decades-long efforts of the Minsk Group Co-Chairs. Now immense efforts are needed to restore the negotiation environment.

Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have proven their commitment to an exclusively peaceful, negotiated settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Unfortunately Azerbaijan has acted against such a solution. In order to avoid a new war in the region all of the efforts of the international community should be directed to enforce an exclusively peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

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