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Cultural dialogue is the key to sustain the peace

Dating back to the early 1990s the armed aggression by Armenia against Azerbaijan has resulted in occupation of almost one fifth of the territory of Azerbaijan. The occupation was accompanied by massive ethnic cleansing of approximately 1 million Azerbaijanis from these territories and commission of other serious crimes – writes writes Mezahir Efendiyev, a Member of Millli Majlis of the Republic of Azerbaijan

On November 10, all news heads wrote: “After six weeks of fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a cease-fire agreement was signed between the two conflicting sides. Azerbaijan won a huge victory”.

However, the real victory was to end the 30-year-long occupation of Armenia and liberated Azerbaijan’s territory. The Republic of Azerbaijan finally steadily and inexorably liberated its homeland from foreign occupation and restored sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

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The cease-fire agreement came shortly after the liberation of Shusha, the historical, second-largest city in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, by the Azerbaijani armed forces, and the deal took effect on Tuesday at 1 p.m. local time. There was no way out for Armenia but to accept the defeat, as Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian pointed out. The Armenian government, therefore, admitted to defeat and officially ended the conflict.

In 1993 the UN Security Council adopted resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884, condemning the use of force against Azerbaijan and occupation of its territories and reaffirming the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the inviolability of its internationally recognized borders. In those resolutions, the Security Council reaffirmed that the Nagorno-Karabakh region is inalienable part of Azerbaijan and called for immediate, full and unconditional withdrawal of the occupying forces from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Other international organizations adopted a similar position however for many years Armenia has been ignoring this position of the international community.

Instead, in 2019 the Minister of Defense of Armenia had promulgated a new aggressive military doctrine “new war for new territories”.

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Moreover, the Minsk Group, the activities of which have become known as the Minsk Process, spearheaded the OSCE’s efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It was co-chaired by France, the Russian Federation, and the United States. However, the OSCE’s peace effort in Nagorno-Karabakh was outdated and unhelpful. The way for real reconciliation and reconstruction is dead. For 30 years, the Minsk Group failed to produce results; the recent victory by Azerbaijani military forces—ending Armenia’s occupation—leaves it with nothing left to do.

This definitely allows to us to claim the victory as another historic importance of Azerbaijan, realizing 4 resolution on Karabakh Conflict all alone. That is, the 30-year occupation of the Azerbaijani lands and wait for justice ended by the first day of December 2020.

The peace deal, which was declared by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has historic importance and amounts to the capitulation of Armenia.

During 44 days of active military operations, the armed forces of Armenia committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, such as deliberate targeting of densely populated residential areas, including those located far away from the conflict zone with ballistic missiles, use of prohibited weapons, like cluster munitions and phosphorus bombs, which constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. As a result of direct and indiscriminate attacks carried out by the armed forces of Armenia between 27 September and 9 November 2020, 101 Azerbaijani civilians, including 12 children were killed, 423 civilians were wounded. Serious damage was inflicted upon civilian infrastructure, public and private property.

The 27 years illegal occupation of the territories of Azerbaijan by Armenian has also resulted in destruction of religious objects, museums, theatres, churches, schools, ancient caves, and even private homes which we have preserved for centuries. Cities, such as Agdam, Gubadli, Fizuli, Zangelan, Jabrail have been turned into Hiroshima-style ruins. Agricultural lands have been turned into mine fields now. Massive looting to the forests by Armenians is also taking place which results with “eco-terrorism”. Azerbaijani historical caves and excavation cites have been ruined.

 After all, the dirty claim by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan “Artsakh is Armenia, and that’s it,” finally showed up as a dirty lie. After the victory, not only Azerbaijani army, but all world has witnessed how the rich and most prosperous regions of Karabakh, territory claimed by Armenia, were destroyed by Armenia. By together Azerbaijani government representatives, international press and diplomats from more than 40 embassies, located in Baku have revealed evidence of this horrible “war crime”.

Armenian occupation was not only in the territory of Karabakh, but all neighborhoud regions of Azerbaijan, in which full environment and people suffered for years. Thus, after Suqovuşan was liberated from the Azerbaijani army on Oct. 3, 2020, the Terter River, which had been without water for nearly 30 years, started to flow once again, giving life to the region.

Despite all efforts of Azerbaijan towards strengthening peace and stability in the South Caucasus to establish a new format of regional cooperation beneficial for all countries in the region, Armenia has not fulfilled its obligations arising from the international humanitarian law and the trilateral statement.

Of particular concern is Armenia’s refusal to submit the maps of mined areas (formularies) in the recently liberated territories to the Azerbaijani side as stipulated under the customary international humanitarian law. As such, United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) highlights the evidence that mine action enables post-conflict reconstruction, sustaining peace and sustainable development, while emphasizing that recent conflict trends and diminished resources present new challenges, including limited data and the shortage of the economic and public-health resources needed to respond.

Expect this refusal, Azerbaijan has been started mining search, scanning, and clearing works in the region after the liberation. After the cleaning efforts that will take around two and half years, the region will be opened for resettlement. Terter, which was declared a “military zone” until May 2021, will also gain a “civilian” status after Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev’s expedition to the region. Most countries, including Turkey and international organizations also contribute and take active role to the resettlement efforts of the region.

In the last visit of the president of the European Council, Mr. Charles Michel, he mentioned: “one third of EU member states consider Azerbaijan a strategic partner. I think it is a very big achievement of our government.” Thus, this shows the willingness of EU member states to resolve most of the still remaining issues on the table. This was also a promise that EU will play a very important role for a broad regional cooperation.

Today, Azerbaijan re-build the Karabakh. A restoration period is now setting in. Large-scale construction work is to be carried out. Of course, both Azerbaijani companies and invited companies from countries that are friendly to us takes active part in this work.  The restoration is as innovative as possible including solar energy panels, electricity, and wind power plants which will be installed within the scope of a smart city project. Hospitals, schools, and hotels will be built in addition to the renovation of a ruined main road.

For Azerbaijan, the another most important gain is the liberation of Shusha, known as pearl and the cultural center of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Thus, immediately after victory, President Aliyev showcased it as “Cultural Capital” of the entire region. It was “massacred” and illegally “captured” by Armenia on May 8, 1992.  

During all these “painful” years, it has been “symbol” of “human resistance”, “purity”, “dignity”, “cultural diversity” and “peaceful struggle”.

The post-war plans of Azerbaijan attach a special importance to the restoration of the cultural and religious monuments destroyed and desecrated under Armenian control. Azerbaijan was outraged by the images of the historical mosques in the Karabakh region which had been turned into pigsties over the last three decades.

There is also a popular disillusionment with the international mediators from France, the United States and Russia who previously conducted fact-finding missions in those regions but never raised the issue of the situation of those religious monuments

However, as a multi-faith country, Azerbaijan plans to restore not only the Muslim monuments but also those belonging to Christianity and other religions in the liberated territories.

UNESCO and other international organizations are invited by Azerbaijan both to assess the material damage inflicted by Armenia on the recently liberated territories and also to take part in the restoration of the cultural heritage. However, unfortunately, the invitations failed and as Mr.President mentioned we waited UNESCO for 30 years. This comes against the background of disinformation campaigns claiming that the Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh will endanger the Christian heritage in the region.

After all works done it hopes that its natural beauty, museums, castles, roads, resorts, community centers, libraries, centers of learning, science and arts will be restored not only in Shusha, but all Karabakh. The cities will be again in the hearts of people and tourists alike in the days to come because cultural is eternal and conspiracy, conflict and contradiction is always short lived. These cities will again open their arms for all visitors and turn centers for culture and multiculturalism. 

After so many years, Vagif’s Poetry Days and Khari Bulbul Music Festival hold in Shusha city, the voices of music in the mountains of Karabakh proved all the world, the importance of art, culture, and peace for our motherland.

Today, A Year Passed Over “44 Days of Victory”. Considering the most recent developments in the region, it is obvious that Azerbaijan is the victor, and this victory created the new realities. Armenia will now have to accept the new realities on the ground, which reflect the legal and legitimate claims of Azerbaijan. Thus, the only way to sustain the peace and security is to normalization and rapprochement to the cooperation opportunities in the ground.

The author Mezahir Efendiyev is a Member of Millli Majlis of the Republic of Azerbaijan

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