Spring 2001 (9.1)
Can It Be Done?
by Yoko Hirose
Ms. Yoko Hirose (Master
of Law), a graduate student in the University of Tokyo's doctoral
program, was among the first four recipients of a newly established
grant - the Akino Memorial Research Project on Central Asia from
the United Nations University (UNU) in Japan.
In May 1994,
a ceasefire was signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. But each
year, hundreds of casualties still result.
The first fellowships were awarded in 1999. This past year (February
2000 to March 2001), Yoko lived in Baku conducting research on
the topic of "The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: In Search of
a Peaceful Settlement of Ethnic Conflict in the Former USSR".
In April 2001, she returned to Tokyo for her new responsibilities
as Research Fellow for the Japan Society for the Promotion of
Science, Graduate School of Law and Politics at the University
of Tokyo. Here Yoko shares her insights into the conflict between
Azerbaijan and Armenia and what she thinks are the prospects
for reaching a peace settlement.
This past year, I have been living in Baku and conducting research
about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It's been so valuable to
interview scholars, journalists, politicians, diplomats, refugees
and students about their opinions related to the conflict, from
both the Azerbaijani and Armenian sides.
The Azerbaijani explanation of the conflict is basically as follows:
They consider Nagorno-Karabakh as part of their motherland, the
birthplace of brilliant artists, poets and composers. Now it
has fallen prey to Armenian nationalism; many Azerbaijanis have
been killed but the remainder have been driven out of the region
- their homeland. They consider their ancestors to be Caucasian
Albanians, who were the aboriginal inhabitants of the region.
Azerbaijanis say that historical documents prove that Armenians
were transplanted en masse to the region quite recently - only
2.5 to 3 centuries ago.
Azerbaijanis believe Armenians have no legitimate right to insist
on independence or in uniting Nagorno-Karabakh directly to Armenia
itself. However, Azerbaijanis are willing to allow some autonomy,
especially in the use of the Armenian language - not only officially,
educationally and culturally - but also in mass media.
Azerbaijanis told me that they used to get along well with Armenians
as neighbors. Proof of that reality is the considerable number
of couples who intermarried (usually Azerbaijani men with Armenian
women). But then this problem of land acquisition began to erupt
just as the Soviet Union was collapsing (late 1980s). Of course,
roots go back to the early decades of this century, even before
the Soviets took power. Many Azerbaijanis told me how Armenians
who had been living in Azerbaijan had suddenly disappeared without
even saying goodbye [1988-1991], even those who had been their
closest friends. Even now, many Azerbaijanis cannot comprehend
how attitudes changed so quickly and became so hostile.
Another important factor that duly affects the developments related
to war and its peaceful resolution center on the events that
took place in Sumgayit. Mystery and rumors still shroud the events
that took place there on February 28-29 in 1988, when 26 Armenians
were killed (along with 6 Azerbaijanis and 1 Lezgin), according
to the official count.
However, this doesn't stop the Armenians from using the outbreak
of violence in Sumgayit as their rationale for attacking and
seizing Nagorno-Karabakh. However, the Azerbaijanis posit that
the Sumgayit incidents were masterminded and instigated, not
by Azerbaijanis, but in a well-calculated plan carried out by
the KGB and Armenian terrorists.
While the KGB involvement will never be possible to prove, the
Armenian involvement is known - as the Armenian perpetrator and
murderer has actually been named - Grigoryan. They also believe
that President Gorbachev turned a blind eye or even helped to
facilitate the turmoil. More important from the Azerbaijani point
of view is that these events were triggered and clearly linked
to the murder of two Azeri youth (Bakhtiyar Uliyev, 16, and Ali
Hajiyev, 23) by Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh on February 24,
1988-assasinations that preceded the Sumgayit tragedy.
Regardless of how or why the attacks started in Sumgayit, Azerbaijanis
insist that most of them did not participate in these unfortunate
events, and that many of them even protected Armenians instead.
Had they not done so, they say that the Armenian casualties would
have been much higher. Azerbaijanis are angered that Armenians
use this situation as propaganda (often referring to it as "pogroms"
or "genocide") to rationalize and gain international
sympathy for their attacks on Nagorno-Karabakh.
Many people in Baku said that they don't hate Armenians as people;
they want to build good relations with them, if possible. However,
they disagree with the actions of the Armenian government in
general. They strongly believe that Nagorno-Karabakh belongs
to Azerbaijan and should remain so. Many adamantly oppose making
any concessions to gain peace.
Azerbaijani refugees (of whom there are nearly a million) are
much more emotional and unrelenting toward Armenians. They say
that even though they had not shown any prejudice against Armenians
before the conflict began, Armenians took their motherland away
by driving them out and killing them. They believe that Armenians
were motivated chiefly by selfish interests.
The Azerbaijani refugees insist that they should be allowed to
return to their villages and towns in Nagorno-Karabakh and the
outlying regions that presently are still under Armenian military
occupation. They visualize international peacekeeping forces
being stationed to guard what could potentially be a very volatile
If such a peace plan were to be agreed upon, Azerbaijanis say
that they would allow Armenians to use Lachin as a corridor to
link the isolated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh directly to Armenia.
Fast or Slow
The Azerbaijani newspaper Zerkalo recently conducted a poll of
nearly 5,000 Azerbaijanis, asking if they thought a peace settlement
would be reached within five years: 61 percent agreed, 38 percent
disagreed. But my own research would indicate that most Azerbaijanis
are not optimistic about a quick solution. Many people say that
it will be impossible to reach a settlement soon, because the
memories of the Armenian invasion are still too painful and fresh.
Too many people have been killed, pushed off the land and still
nearly 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory is under occupation.
That's the Azerbaijani perspective. But I was eager to find out
first-hand how the Armenians felt about the situation, so in
the last two weeks of January 2001, I traveled to Armenia.
My journey was via Georgia, where I found that the youth are
really proud of their country and have extremely negative feelings
toward Russia and Armenia. They feel that Russia has treated
Georgia very badly, especially in regard to the visa regime that
has recently been imposed, the Russian military bases that are
still operating in their country despite promises of closure
and Russia's support for separatist regions of Abhazia and Ossetia
The youth say that they won't yield to pressure from Russia and
are ready for fight for their motherland. For them, the problems
of Abhazia and Ossetia, both of which are at a stalemate right
now, are extremely serious situations.
Georgians fear a second Karabakh on their territory and are concerned
that Armenia might use military force to claim pockets of land
where Armenians comprise the majority-just as they did in Azerbaijan.
Georgians also have very strong feelings against Armenians. For
example, when I brought Armenian cognac to a dinner hosted by
my Georgian friends, most of the guests wouldn't drink it because
it had been produced by "the enemy". The Georgians
are sympathetic with Azerbaijanis and hope that the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict will be settled peacefully.
Then I traveled on to Yerevan, where I stayed in a dormitory
at the University of Yerevan and talked with many Armenian youth.
I was shocked by the hateful attitudes that I found in Armenia.
From childhood, they are taught to hate Azerbaijanis and Turks
(these two nations are the same in their minds). I found Armenians
to be very narrow-minded, nationalistic and unwilling to make
compromises. I am so sorry, I came across no exceptions.
They told me that there is no need for a settlement, because
Nagorno-Karabakh (and even Nakhchivan) should belong to them.
I asked them, "If Nagorno-Karabakh should be yours, then
what about the six surrounding regions of Azerbaijan that are
still being held as a buffer zone by Armenian military forces?"
They replied that those regions should also belong to them since
they won the war.
I found that many of them despised ex-president Ter-Petrossyan,
describing him as "weak-kneed" because he had tried
to find a way to compromise and enter into peaceful relations
with Azerbaijan. Many held the current president Kocharian in
high esteem because he is from Karabakh and has very strong feelings
against Azerbaijan. When I tried to introduce the Azerbaijani
perspective, they got very angry and insisted that I had been
cheated and tried to explain the truth that they believed.
It is very regrettable situation. I think that it will be very
difficult for peaceful relationships to develop in the Caucasus
for a long time. It may even take a century to settle this conflict,
because the ill feelings run so deep on both sides. In Japan,
our older generations still have very intense feelings against
the United States because of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki in 1945. Japanese youth, on the other hand, appreciate
and like the United States and are eager to study English.
In the Caucasus, it is the youth who will have to make peace
and develop this area. I know it will really be difficult, but
I hope and expect that it will eventually happen. Also, I'm convinced
that another factor is essential if peace is to be established
in the region. The international community must take a neutral
position and earnestly seek to cooperate in its settlement. So
far, this does not seem to have happened, as the major players
(Russia, France and the United States as co-chairs of the Minsk
Group of the OSCE - Organization for the Security and Cooperation
in Europe) generally have expressed a solution that tilts in
favor of Armenia.
(9.1) Spring 2001.
© Azerbaijan International 2001. All rights reserved.
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