Nagorno-Karabakh issue causes trouble once again
Relations between Azerbaijan and the EU recently reached their lowest point because the latter could not resist the temptation of meddling in Azerbaijani and Armenian affairs. This happened at the same time as Yerevan began reducing its dependence on the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the eastern bloc’s version of NATO.
Last week, it was Azerbaijan’s turn to snub the West, with the country’s Foreign Ministry saying it would not take part in a meeting with Armenia’s foreign minister planned for Monday in Washington because of the “one-sided approach of the US.” It added that senior American officials were unwelcome in Baku.
President Ilham Aliyev last month had a telephone conversation with European Council President Charles Michel that turned slightly sour because Azerbaijan was included, without its consent, in a quadrilateral statement following a summit that was hosted by the EU in Granada, Spain. Aliyev had declined an invitation to attend. A meeting on Azerbaijan without the presence of the Azerbaijani authorities cannot not be expected to produce a tangible result.
A new situation has now arisen because the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities have announced that, as of the end of this year, what the Armenians used to call the Republic of Artsakh will cease to exist. This will raise a number of problems that need to be solved.
The first problem is the transfer of the sovereignty of the provinces. We do not know whether the Karabakh Armenians will raise a question about the delineation of the provincial borders. As the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities have promised to dissolve the Armenians’ so-called state, we may hope that such a question will not arise.
There is another set of problems stemming from the citizenship status of the Karabakh Armenians
The second question is the ownership of the houses and lands that once belonged to the Azerbaijanis. Karabakh Armenians or mainland Armenians moved into these houses after expelling the original Azerbaijani owners. The land ownership certificates of these houses may have been lost if the owner was killed or passed away and they were not handed over to a surviving relative. We have to see whether the land ownership registry is kept properly in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku.
The third issue is the physical damage to these houses. Whether they belonged to an Armenian or an Azerbaijani, the Armenians caused deliberate damage to the houses before they had to leave.
Fourth is a colossal problem. The Armenians placed land mines almost everywhere with the intention of causing damage. Their number is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. Aliyev has estimated that nearly 30 years of work and about $25 billion would be required to safely clear these mines.
There is another set of problems stemming from the citizenship status of the Karabakh Armenians.
The number of Azerbaijanis who were expelled from their homes between 1988 and 1994 is estimated to be about 600,000. Many Karabakh Armenians and mainland Armenians moved into the houses that belonged to the Azerbaijanis who had to leave their houses and lands. After they decided to return to Armenia, they destroyed the houses that they had illegally occupied for years.
The Armenian government promised to give the Karabakh Armenians refugee status. Another alternative was to give them citizenship of Armenia. If they do not have another alternative, they have to settle in Armenia and live and work there. Two weeks ago, the Armenian government offered the Karabakh Armenians two choices: they could either receive temporary protection, effectively as refugees, or seek to adopt Armenian citizenship.
An Armenian draft law promises that citizens of Armenia can acquire political rights and the right to a state pension, but they would not then be able to benefit from the social assistance available to refugees. According to the UN Refugee Convention, anyone that is recognized as a refugee in Armenia will be recognized as such in all signatory countries.
This means that it is more advantageous to remain as a refugee in Armenia rather than become a citizen
An adviser to the Armenian justice minister said that those who have refugee status benefit more in other countries due to specific advantages and stronger guarantees, and that they cannot be expelled from the countries where they have sought refuge. This means that it is more advantageous to remain as a refugee in Armenia rather than become a citizen.
Karabakh Armenians, including children, will be entitled to receive the following allowances from the Armenian government: A one-off payment of 100,000 Armenian dram ($250), 50,000 dram for rent and 40,000 dram for the months of November and December.
The European Commission last month announced that it was increasing its humanitarian funding in Armenia by €1.7 million ($1.85 million), bringing its total for 2023 to more than €12 million.
The Armenian authorities will probably streamline, in due course, the remnants of the present temporary situation.
The Karabakh Armenians are holders of Armenian passports but are not Armenian citizens, meaning they do not benefit from social assistance. There is a special code, “070,” in the passports of the Karabakh Armenians and they do not benefit from political rights. Armenia is promoting refugee status for the Karabakh Armenians and trying to persuade them to acquire it.
It looks like all remaining issues on the Nagorno-Karabakh question will occupy both Azerbaijan and Armenia for several years to come.
- Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. X: @yakis_yasar