Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: Human Rights Perspective
By Muhammad Asif Noor
Editor-in-Chief, The Diplomatic Insight Magazine, Pakistan
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the Caucasian region has been simmering for decades with continuation of human rights violations by Armenian forces. Most international reports have pointed out the war crimes made by Armenia in the region including violations of the Geneva Conventions by holding hostage and killings of war prisoners. The displacement of people is also posing a threat to the political and strategic environment of the region.
According to one report, around 250,000 Azerbaijani refugees took refuge in Azerbaijan due to fear of ethnic cleansing and killings by Armenians at the time of ceasefire in 1994.
Based on regional and international political norms, such kinds of violence are unacceptable because they are targeting directly the lives of civilians.
The policy of genocide used by Armenian forces from 1988 to 1989 has killed thousands of innocent people. They were either displaced from their lands or subjected to worst kind of human rights violations. The conflict needs a just solution and the victims are pinning hope to the involved parties and international community to put an end to their sufferings.
The conflict dates back to the times of Russian Empire stretching its boarders around the region, for its ever increasing access to the shores of Persian Gulf. Russia began to take advantage of Armenia for its own interest since eighteenth century. It is also believed that the conflict is rooted in the aggressive policies aimed at expanding the territory of Armenia by force.
The policy of aggression has led to violations of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The hostilities of Armenia gained momentum in late 1991 and early 1992 when the massacre of Khojaly took place paving the way for a regional war. More than 800 civilians including women and children were slaughtered by Armenian forces. This sparked international outrage.
Human Rights Watch called it "the largest massacre of the conflict". The victims were killed for being Azerbaijanis. Thousands of people of Khojaly were mercilessly killed or displaced. The Armenian aggression spread far beyond the administrative boundaries of the region to the rest of Azerbaijan. Between May 1992 and May 1994, six districts of Azerbaijan were occupied - about 20 percent of the territory of Azerbaijan. Reports say, almost 700 populated centers were destroyed. Over 1 million people were displaced. The conflict further escalated after the independence of Azerbaijan and Armenia. By the end of 1993, the conflict left thousands more dead and displaced. Finally a ceasefire was reached in May 1994 by Russian mediation.
Since then, Azerbaijan has called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict to put an end to the plight of victims. One of the main conditions to resolve the conflict is providing a safe heaven for refugees by creating some "buffer zones". According to reports, houses and fields of Azerbaijanis who fled their lands have been burnt or mined by the Armenians. In this circumstance, the refugees may seek revenge for their sufferings. This may lead to further violence in the region. Experts say to remove the current deep distrust Armenia must compensate the displaced for their sufferings.
There were various initiatives put forward by the international and regional powers for a peaceful and just solution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. One of them was setting up of the Minsk Group which was initiated by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to encourage a peaceful and negotiated resolution to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh back in 1992.
The main objectives of the group included providing an appropriate framework for conflict resolution by assuring the negotiation process, convincing the two sides to stop armed conflicts to pave the way for a Minsk conference and promoting the peace process by deploying OSCE multinational peacekeeping forces in the region.
The Minsk Group is headed by a co-chairmanship consisting of France, Russia and the United States. Furthermore, it also includes representatives from Belarus, Germany, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Turkey as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan is pessimistic about the Minsk group for its some good reasons. It says there is a large number of Armenians living in the the U.S., Russia and France who are putting considerable pressures on the group to derail the peace process. It also says, the group does not put enough pressure on Armenia to return Nagorno-Karabakh territory to Azerbaijan and is trying to delay the negotiations indefinitely.
The peace process initiated by the Minsk group has been a failure so far. Armenia is not willing to withdraw its troops from Azerbaijan's territory until Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as an independent region. Azerbaijan insists on its territorial integrity and calls for complete withdrawal of Armenian troops before any talks on the eventual status of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The statement has led to further human sufferings in the region.
The president of Azerbaijan stated that Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is the greatest threat to peace and stability in the region. The OSCE, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the OIC and other international organizations have signed documents in support of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. But Armenia ignores the documents. Hence the conflict has not been resolved so far.
Most foreign players have positioned themselves between these extreme viewpoints. The roles of Russia, United States, France, Turkey and Iran to resolve the conflict have only worsened it. However, there is still hope that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict can be resolved peacefully, based on international laws and within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.