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European Court confirms violation of Azerbaijani refugees’ rights under Armenian occupation

17 June 2015 17:59 (UTC+04:00)
European Court confirms violation of Azerbaijani refugees’ rights under Armenian occupation

By Sara Rajabova

The European Court of Human Rights has reaffirmed Armenia’s responsibility in the occupation of Azerbaijani territories.

The ECHR Grand Chamber announced its judgment (Merits) on the case of Chiragov and others v. Armenia (Application no. 13216/05) on June 16, the Azerbaijani foreign ministry said.

The case originated as an application against Armenia lodged with the Court on April 6, 2005 by six Azerbaijani nationals forcibly displaced from Azerbaijan’s occupied Lachin region during the Armenian aggression.

The court ruled in favor of the applicants, recognizing Armenia’s continuing violations of a number of their rights under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, namely, those relating to the protection of property (Article 1 of Protocol No. 1), the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8 of the Convention) and the right to an effective remedy (Article 13 of the Convention).

The plaintiffs are Elkhan Chiragov, Adishirin Chiragov, Ramiz Gebrayilov, Akif Hasanov, Fekhreddin Pashayev and Qaraca Gabrayilov. Barring Hasanov, all plaintiffs now live in Baku. The case deals with complaints by Azerbaijani IDPs, who were forced to flee their homes in Lachin on May 17, 1992. Up to now, the Armenian authorities have not provided them with compensation for the loss of property.

The court’s decision on the lawsuit showed that Armenia bears full international responsibility for its initial and continuing aggression against Azerbaijan and military occupation of its internationally recognized territory (Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding areas), expulsion of hundreds of thousands of the Azerbaijani citizens from the occupied territories, and the denial of their right to return to their homes and access to their property in those areas.

There are currently more than one thousand individual applications pending before the Court which were lodged by persons displaced during the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

In the applicants’ case, the Court confirmed that Armenia exercised effective control over Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories and thus had jurisdiction over the Lachin region, according to the ECHR.

Lachin, which was populated predominantly by Azerbaijanis and Kurds, was seized by the Armenian armed forces on May 17, 1992. More than 300 military men and civilians were killed or went missing during the occupation of Lachin. Moreover, 103 people were wounded or disabled.18 Azerbaijani children were killed, 225 were injured and 31 lost both of their parents.

The occupation of this region caused considerable damage to Azerbaijan's economy. The losses incurred as a result of the Armenian occupation are estimated at $7 billion.

The Court considered that there was no justification for denying the applicants access to their property without providing them with compensation.

“The fact that peace negotiations were ongoing did not free the government from the duty to take other measures. What was called for was a property claims mechanism which would be easily accessible to allow the applicants and others in their situation to have their property rights restored and to obtain compensation,” according to the ECHR.

Armenia once again attempted to mislead the international community and distort the root causes and essence of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said.

In the course of the Court’s proceedings Armenia submitted that its jurisdiction did not extend to the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories and that it did not and could not have effective control of or exercise any public power on those territories.

It also claimed that it had not participated in the military conflict in question and had not taken part in the seizure of the Lachin region and in any later military actions, as well as it did not have any military presence in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories.

In response to these and other allegations submitted by Armenia, the Court noted in particular that the war had started with calls for the incorporation of Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia and specifically referred in that regard to a joint resolution on the “reunification” adopted in December 1989 by the Supreme Soviet of the Armenian SSR and the Nagorno-Karabakh regional council.

The Court established that the citizens of Azerbaijan were forced to leave Lachin as a result of a military attack on the region in May 1992, stressing that Nagorno-Karabakh, Lachin, and the other surrounding territories are now under occupation.

It went on to say that the international law of belligerent occupation, as laid down in the relevant provisions of the 1907 Hague Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land and the 1949 Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, applies to a given situation.

Furthermore, having examined the evidence presented, the Court confirmed that Armenia, through its military presence and the provision of military equipment and expertise, has been significantly involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from an early date.

Consequently, Armenia is under the obligation, in the first place, to put an end to the occupation of the territories of Azerbaijan and to withdraw immediately, completely, and unconditionally its armed forces from these territories, according to the ministry.

The ministry, however, stressed that the implementation of that obligation, which would necessitate conditions for the return of Azerbaijani internally displaced persons, can in no way be considered or introduced as a compromise and, a fortiori, used as a bargaining chip in the conflict settlement process.

A key element of state responsibility, and one particularly significant for present purposes, is the obligation to cease violations, to offer appropriate assurances and guarantees that they will not recur and to provide full reparation for injury, according to the ministry.

The ministry said a solution to the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is possible only within Azerbaijan's internationally recognized borders, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

It stressed that Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity has never been and will never be the subject of negotiations, adding that based on this position, Azerbaijan remains committed to the process of conflict settlement.

The ministry went on to note that the sooner Armenia accepts this reality, the quicker the conflict will be solved and the region’s countries and people will benefit from cooperation and economic development.

Armenia occupied over 20 percent of Azerbaijan's internationally recognized territory, including Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions, after laying territorial claims against its South Caucasus neighbor that caused a brutal war in the early 1990s. Long-standing efforts by US, Russian and French mediators have been largely fruitless so far.

The UN Security Council has adopted four resolutions on Armenia's withdrawal from Azerbaijani territory, but they have not been enforced to this day.

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Sara Rajabova is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @SaraRajabova

Follow us on Twitter @AzerNewsAz

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