Artsakh after the war: an interview with Armine Aleksanyan

by Giuliano Bifolchi

The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict changed the geopolitical status in the South Caucasus. For decades regional experts and analysts have classified the Nagorno-Karabakh as a ‘frozen conflict’ until the last September when Armenian and Azerbaijani forces fought a 44 days war which caused civilian casualties, internally displaced persons, refugees, and prisoners of war.

After many years of war rhetoric, Baku Government accomplished its already announced mission of military conquering the territories of Artsakh. ASRIE Analytica met the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Artsakh, Armine Aleksanyan, to discuss the geopolitical and humanitarian consequences of the conflict from the perspective of the Stepanakert Government and prospect of foreign policy.

Italy has not officially recognized the Republic of Artsakh, but we know that Italians has shown their interests in your country. Could you tell us more about the Italian – Artsakh relations?

“Even though Italy and the Republic of Artsakh do not have official diplomatic relations the Italians have always been interested in our country and involved in promoting the peace process. I should mention that recently the Italian city of San Vito dei Normanni passed a resolution to recognize Artsakh and this is a sign of how the Italian public opinion is interested in our land.

A particular attention to Artsakh started after the April War of 2016 because this event pushed several Italian journalists and bloggers to visit our country. This trend was also confirmed during the recent conflict considering that different Italian journalists were on the ground reporting what was happening and the atrocities that our population experienced due to the Azerbaijani military action.

Besides, several Italian artists and sculptors have visited our land (particularly during the Sushi symposiums which occurs every two years) and have donated their sculptures which now are disseminated in different cities to beautify Artsakh and also strengthen the bond between our people and the Italians.”.

After the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev announced huge investments in the recently conquered territory and declared that Baku Government wants to create an environment where Armenians and Azeri can live together in peace. What do you think about this statement? Furthermore, what is the current situation of prisoner of wars (POWs), internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees?

There are no Armenians who live in Azerbaijani conquered territory because that is just impossible. Those who had no time to escape before Azeri forces entered the village or city, were brutally killed or taken hostage. There are a number of videos on the Telegram and Youtube spread by Azeri soldiers where they proudly show how they torture hostages or behead them. It is impossible or unthinkable that the people from Artsakh can live in those territories considering the brutality and war crimes that the Armenians experienced during the conflict because of Azerbaijani misconduct and aggression. Speaking honestly, the situation of Armenian POWs, IDPs, and refugees can be classified as a complete nightmare or disaster and Aliyev’s words can be ascribed as a ridiculous propaganda.

The Human Rights Watch has recently released a report which underlined that Azerbaijani forces abused POWs from the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. According to the HRW report, the Azerbaijani soldiers committed war crimes such as torturing Armenian soldiers disrespecting the Geneva conventions. Baku military forces used heavy artillery and drones against houses, hospitals, and schools. There are video shared on Azerbaijani Telegram channels showing scenes in which Azerbaijani officers abused Armenian POWs. Moreover, there is a long list of missing Armenian soldiers who were under Azerbaijani custody.

Until now Baku has released only 69 POWs and civilians. What concerns us is Ilham Aliyev’s recent statement which announced that the Azerbaijani government has returned all the POWs to Armenia even though Baku is still holding around 200 people accusing them of being suspected terrorists.

If we really want to discuss terrorism in the region, we must mention those mercenaries and soldiers that Ankara paid 2000 dollars to fight in the ranks of the Azerbaijani army against our soldiers and people. The Secret Services of a number of countries ,including the OSCE Co-chairs- Russia, US and France have attested evidence  that Azerbaijan, with Turkey’s assistance, used Syrian fighters in its military operation in the recent conflict. Since Ankara recruited, transported and used these fighters in the conflict zone supporting Baku military strategy, it is possible to state that Azerbaijan relied on mercenary according to the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries.

How is it possible to talk about the regional peace process if our POWs cannot return home and in the recent conflict Baku and Ankara used mercenaries to pursue their dream of creating a Pan-Turkic state? I would like to attract your attention to the recent Ilham Aliyev’s nationalistic rhetoric based on Armenophobia and the promotion of Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism. Besides, during the recent Summit of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States, Ilham Aliyev continued to fuel anti-Armenian sentiments not only within Azerbaijan but also in the societies of Turkic-speaking and Muslim countries.

We can interpret the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as another attempt of Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey and international terrorists to conduct large-scale military aggression against the Republic of Artsakh to accomplish Ankara-Baku’s expansionist aspirations.This expansion caused thousands of deaths and the displacement of tens of thousands of people.

What Baku and Ankara are promoting is only propaganda because our people belong to this land since ancient times. We do not have to prove to the world our cultural and historical heritage because this is a clear fact to everyone. The tortures and war atrocities that Azerbaijan committed during the war and Baku’s statements have as the final goal to convince the public opinion that there were no Armenians in this land. Unfortunately, there is a part of the world that is believing in the Azerbaijani lies and the proof is that in the 21st century Azerbaijan had the possibility to military attack our land to conquer it and to this days continues to demolish any symbol and trace of our presence here.

They are trying to eliminate our historical and cultural past destroying our churches and monuments and the world seems indifferent to what is happening here. Everyone should be aware of this because what is now happening to our people and land might be replicated in the future in other parts of the world considering that the international community closed its eyes and Baku leadership did not pay for the slaughters and the human rights violation committed.

We need that the international community understand how serious the situation in our country and the catastrophic consequences generated by the Azerbaijani aggression is. Currently, the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) is the only international organization that is operating in our region providing first aid and support to civilians. This means that for the future of Artsakh and the entire humanity more international organizations should be involved in our local dynamics not only to provide their help and assistance but also to witness and document war crimes and human rights abuses”.

Russia and Turkey played a fundamental role in the South Caucasus and recent conflict. Considering that Ankara has never recognized the Armenian Genocide and has always supported Azerbaijan showing its hostile behaviour toward Artsakh while Moscow has always been close to the Armenians, how are Russia and Turkey influencing the regional geopolitical game?

“Russia is one of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group together with the United States and France and has been highly involved in the regional peace process. Also, Moscow promoted the ceasefire agreement signed in November 2020 between Armenian and Azerbaijan which put an end to the atrocities of the war. In fact, the Russian peacekeepers are now deployed in the region to guarantee the peace process and security for the Armenian people who live in Artsakh.

On the other hand, there is Turkey, a country that has always wanted to eliminate the Armenians since the Armenian Genocide. We can say that Ankara wants to finish what started at the beginning of the last century and at the same time the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan strives to promote the national ideology of establishing a pan-Turkic state together with Azerbaijan. Since the 1990s Turkey has backed Azerbaijan in enforcing a blockade on Artsakh and Armenia and in the recent conflict, as I mentioned before, Ankara has hugely military supported Baku sending its troops and mercenaries camouflaged with Azerbaijani uniforms with the final goal of destroying our land and people.

After the recent conflict, we have heard a lot of statements by Baku and Ankara leadership on how they would like to rebuild the region and improve the local socio-economic development but we can evaluate these words as only propaganda to attract foreign attention and investments because the final goal which Turkey and Azerbaijan are seeking to achieve is the complete annihilation of the Armenian people, and you can hear them openly talk about it.”.

Public opinion was really surprised to discover that Israel militarily supported Azerbaijan selling weapons (the famous drones) though Armenian and Jewish people share a common fate related to the past century genocides. How was it possible?

“Believe me, the Israeli support to Azerbaijan was a surprise also for the Armenian people because we have always considered the Jewish community as a friend. Speaking honestly, I do not believe that the public opinion in Israel supported what the Government and the military industry did in favour of Baku.

I would like to stress that our land and people have a lot in common with Israel: we faced 20th-century genocides and we strived for our independence and land. Moreover, the Armenian Diaspora in Israel and general in the Middle East is an essential and vital part of the local society. This means that strong cooperation and partnership between Artsakh and Middle Eastern countries is possible and desirable although some political and industrial circles are more interested in the lucrative side of the conflict.”.

If we look at the future of the country, are there any kind of investment opportunities that might improve the socio-economic development?

“Before the conflict, our country had economic stability and offered many opportunities to foreign entrepreneurs who wanted to enter our market. The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has unfortunately changed our land because several infrastructures were destroyed by the Azerbaijani military forces.

If the international community will recognize the independence of Artsakh our market and economy will have many benefits and more businessmen might visit us and discover all the economic opportunities. Until now agriculture and tourism were among the main sectors which had attracted foreigners in Artsakh but there are other emerging sectors such as IT which can attract the attention of foreign entrepreneurs.

What is fundamental for our people now is to recover from the conflict while our Government is working towards reviving and rehabilitating the country after the war,  working towards security and recognition. The socio-economic development of our society is part of this process and we look forwrd to bringig bsck normalcy and certainty so that Artsakh can stand strong again!.”.