Azerbaijan International

Spring 2002 (10.1)
Page 9

Readers' Forum
Shusha Is Key

Despite all the meetings that have been carried out by the Minsk Group of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and the private sessions that have been held between the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia in regard to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, 10 years after the conflict began, there is still no resolution in sight.

It's obvious that a successful conclusion will demand painful compromises on the part of both countries. A so-called "winner's peace", favoring Armenia's continued occupation of the territory that Azerbaijan considers its own, will inevitably lead to the renewal of hostilities in the future.

From the Azerbaijani perspective, one of the most crucial issues relates to the status of Shusha. This region, made up of the town of Shusha and 10 surrounding villages, was militarily occupied on May 8, 1992 by regular Armenian armed forces, and the Azeri population was forced to flee for their lives.

According to the latest census that was carried out in 1989 during the Soviet period, the entire population of the Shusha region was 23,156. Of these, 21,234 were Azerbaijanis (92 percent) and 1,620 were Armenians (7 percent). However, since the Armenian occupation, not a single Azerbaijani lives in the Shusha region today.

Shusha holds deep symbolic meaning for Azerbaijanis as it is a historical reminder of Azerbaijani statehood. The region embodies Azerbaijan's independent past and is viewed as one of Azerbaijan's major ancient scientific and cultural centers. Children grow up on stories about how Shusha was a center of Azerbaijani resistance to foreign occupation and domination.

While borders and populations have constantly shifted in the Caucasus, Shusha has remained a center of Azerbaijani settlement and political organization during various periods of history, starting with the ancient Caucasian Albania (Arran) period, the Khanate of Karabakh, the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic (1918-1920), the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic (1920-1991), and as part of the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan when it gained its independence (since 1991).

Shusha is especially held dear because many musicians, writers and intellectuals originated from there, including Uzeyir Hajibeyov (Founder of Azerbaijani National Opera); Bul-Bul (Founder of Azerbaijani vocal opera); Jabbar Garyaghdioghlu (Azerbaijani Mugham Art virtuoso); singer Rashid Behbudov; musicians Ashraf Abbasov, Suleyman Alasgarov, Fikrat Amirov, Farhad Badalbeyli, Seyid and Khan Shushinski, writers Abdurrahim bey Hagverdiyev, Mirmohsum Navvab, and Najaf bey Vazirov; poetess Khurshud banu Natavan; and many other cultural figures.

Since the majority of the Azerbaijani population of the disputed Nagorno-Karabagh region originates from the town of Shusha and surrounding villages of Malybeyli, Gushchular, Khalfali, Turshsu, Shirlan, Imamgulular, Zarishli, Khanligpeye, Geybali and Goytala, many Azerbaijanis view the return of Shusha as being only fair.

While the Republic of Azerbaijan has declared its readiness to accept mutual compromises and mutual recognition of needs and rights, many people in Azerbaijan are convinced that no settlement is possible without the restoration of Azerbaijani sovereignty over the Shusha region. In addition, they believe that the Azerbaijani people evicted from Nagorno-Karabagh, including the people from the Shusha region, should be given the right of return and provided with the same security guarantees that will be provided for the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabagh.

Elchin Amirbeyov, a member of Azerbaijan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, serves as Counselor on Political Affairs at the Mission of the Republic of Azerbaijan to NATO. This is an edited and abridged version of a brief prepared for Harvard's Caspian Studies Program in December 2001. The views expressed are Mr. Amirbeyov's own and do not represent an official statement or document of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Azerbaijan.


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