After the collapse of the USSR, the struggle for independence among the countries within the Union accelerated. One of the main points of the struggle for independence was the countries of the South Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia). Although these countries declared their independence in 1991, ethnic and territorial conflicts remained in the region. One of these conflicts was the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The clashes that started in 1988 with the independence aspirations of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians turned into a 6-year large-scale war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The war, known in history as the First Karabakh War, ended with the ceasefire signed in 1994 as a result of Armenia’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and 6 surrounding regions. During the war, Nagorno-Karabakh was recognized by the international community within the framework of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Despite this, with the support of Armenia, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh declared the “Artsakh” Republic on December 10, 1991, which is not officially recognized by any state.
After the signing of the ceasefire, negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan began with the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group. However, mediation by the OSCE or other organizations and states did not lead to a concrete result for 30 years. During the negotiations, the ceasefire was broken several times and both sides suffered losses. Before the Second Karabakh War, the fiercest of these battles took place on April 2-5, 2016. Although these battles were stopped with the mediation of Russia, Azerbaijan was able to take control of a small part of the occupied territories.
After the April 2016 battles, the most violent battles took place in July 2020 in Tovuz region, located on the border of Azerbaijan and Armenia. The main difference between these battles and the April battles was that this time the clash did not take place in Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding regions, but directly on the Azerbaijan-Armenia border. Azerbaijan’s loss of 1 major general and 1 colonel as a result of Tovuz battles created a serious resonance in the Azerbaijani society. On the night of July 14 to July 15, 2020, tens of thousands of people gathered in front of the Parliament of Azerbaijan and demanded war. This was the first large-scale rally related to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan after many years.
According to the statement of the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan on September 27, 2020, at around 06:00 on September 27, as a result of large-scale sabotage by the Armenian Armed Forces along the front, the Azerbaijani side lost civilians and military personnel, and as a result, it started counter-attack operations along the entire front. The 44-day war ended on November 10 with a declaration signed with the mediation of Russia. As a result, Azerbaijan took control over Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, Shusha, Aghdam, Kalbajar, Lachin regions from occupation, and Russian peacekeepers were deployed in the region.
After the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, announced that the conflict has already ended and the post-conflict period has already begun. In the post-conflict period, the main priorities of Azerbaijan were the reconstruction of the occupied territories, the return of refugees and internally displaced persons to these regions, the delimitation and demarcation of borders, the conclusion of a peace treaty with Armenia, the opening of the Zangezur corridor, and the integration of Karabakh Armenians. After the war, the President of Azerbaijan declared that there could be no talk of any status, but that they recognize Karabakh Armenians as citizens of Azerbaijan. At the same time, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, Jeyhun Bayramov, expressed interest in the re-integration of ethnic Armenians into Azerbaijan. However, how possible is integration in relations where there has been no contact for more than 30 years, where both sides live in hatred and enmity, where there have been two wars and where thousands of people have lost their lives?!
Integration or re-integration
In a broad sense, integration is used in the sense of the integration of a social group within the framework of common values and norms. There is no specific agreed definition in academic circles regarding the concept of integration. Integration can be both a process and an objective for an ethnic group. Although the concept of integration is mainly used in conjunction with migration, it also frequently comes up in post-conflict or multi-ethnic states.
The word “assimilation” is often used when talking about integration, especially with regard to ethnic minorities. The main difference between integration and assimilation in the everyday sense is that an ethnic group can maintain its identity in private and public spaces. Integration is the adaptation of an ethnic group to society in the post-conflict period. The duty of the state here is to preserve the culture, value system, belief system, language, and unity of this ethnic group.
As we mentioned, after the war, Azerbaijani officials use the word re-integration more often, the reason for this is to emphasize that the Karabakh Armenians lived within the Azerbaijan SSR before the First Karabakh War (during the USSR) and that they were citizens of Azerbaijan.
It is debatable whether the Armenians of Karabakh agree with the words integration and reintegration.
Concerns of Azerbaijani citizens about integration of Karabakh Armenians
After the Second Karabakh War, different positions can be observed among Azerbaijani citizens regarding coexistence with Armenians and the integration of Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijan. According to one group, coexistence with Armenians or the integration of Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijani society will lead to new wars in the future.
According to the other group, coexistence with Armenians and integration of Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijani society is necessary for the complete resolution of the conflict. However, there are serious problems that need to be solved right now. For the integration of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijan, the main concerns observed in the Azerbaijani society and the problems encountered can be grouped as follows:
The family of Azerbaijani economist Farid Mehralizade became refugees from Fuzuli district, which was occupied during the first Karabakh war. According to Farid, currently the biggest threat to coexistence and integration is militarism among Karabakh Armenians. According to him, after the Second World War, there are still armed groups among Karabakh Armenians, and this may endanger coexistence in the future and lead to a new ethnic conflict. At the same time, according to Farid, the current political situation in Azerbaijan and the political situation in Armenia create serious obstacles to dialogue. Besides, according to Farid’s observations, there is serious fake news about Azerbaijan in the Armenian press. Farid says that his family had good relations with the Armenians living in Fuzuli before the war, but he remembers that the hardships his family experienced during the war and when they were refugees made them hate them. Despite all this, Farid is optimistic about coexistence, in his opinion, the establishment of initial economic relations between Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijanis can create conditions for effective dialogue and integration in the future. Farid believes that the development of relations between Croats and Bosniaks in Mostar can be a good example for us. According to Mehralizadeh, integration with Azerbaijan can bring serious economic benefits to Karabakh Armenians, and Azerbaijan can use the Sarsang reservoir to create an alternative solution to the water problem.
Currently, work is going on in this direction. Thus, in August 2022, the representatives of the Azerbaijan Amelioration and Water Farm OJSC met with the Karabakh Armenians regarding the Sarsang reservoir, inspected the reservoir, and reached preliminary agreements for the joint use of the reservoir and the continuation of these meetings in the future.
Even before the first Karabakh war started, ethnic hatred between the two countries was seriously increasing from the time when the USSR began to weaken. The 2 wars that took place in the intervening 30 years brought this hatred between the nations to the highest level. Currently, this hatred is one of the main obstacles facing the peace process and integration. Another interviewee Huseyn Muradov stated that the main problem facing coexistence is hatred and mistrust of peoples towards each other. Huseyn’s family lived in the territory of Armenia before the conflict, Huseyn says that he remembers the times when his family lived together and the city where they lived with fond memories. According to Huseyn, especially in the schools of both countries, hatred that begins with primary education forms a serious opinion about the other side in students. Huseyn is currently studying at a university in Baku, and he says that he observes this hatred in many of his friends. However, in his opinion, there is serious potential for cooperation and coexistence if this hate speech is stopped in the media and educational institutions of both countries. According to Huseyin, there are many common points between Azerbaijanis and Armenians, and these can help us in the process of peace-building and integration.
Lack of legal basis for integration in Azerbaijan
Currently, a joint document is being prepared by several institutions on the reintegration of Karabakh Armenians in Azerbaijan. However, there is currently no concrete statement about what the document will consist of. Until then, let’s pay attention to what is in the current legislation of Azerbaijan regarding ethnic minorities.
In the first years of the restoration of independence – on September 16, 1992, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Abulfaz Elchibey, signed the decree “Protection of the rights and freedoms of national minorities, minority peoples and ethnic groups in the Republic of Azerbaijan and state assistance for the development of their languages and cultures” aims to improve relations between ethnic minorities and increase the level of their involvement in the creation of a legal state. It should be noted that this Decree was signed 3 months before the “Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities ” adopted by the UN on December 18, 1992. there is no specific provision regarding Armenians. Although Slavs, Jews, Lezgi, Talysh, Avars, and Udins are mentioned in Article 12 of the Decree, Armenians are referred to as “other minority peoples” and “ethnic groups”. In general, the Decree signed in 1992 It is debatable whether it meets today’s realities.
Thus, according to Article 25 of the Constitution, the State, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, language, gender, origin, property status, service position, belief, affiliation to political parties, trade unions and other public associations, has the right and guarantees equality of freedom. Limiting human and civil rights and freedoms based on race, ethnicity, religion, language, gender, origin, belief, political and social affiliation is prohibited. According to Article 44, everyone has the right to preserve their nationality, no one can be forced to change their nationality. Article 45 of the Constitution is related to the mother tongue. So, according to Article 45, everyone has the right to use their mother tongue. Everyone has the right to be brought up and educated in any language, to engage in creativity, no one can be deprived of the right to use their mother tongue. According to Article 47, agitation and propaganda that arouse enmity and enmity based on racial, national, religious, social and any other criterion is not allowed.
In addition to these, the UN General Assembly’s “Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities” and the Council of Europe “Framework Convention On the Protection for National Minorities” were ratified in the Parliament of Azerbaijan.
On February 4, 2019, the Consultative Committee of the Council of Europe on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities published its opinion on Azerbaijan. In this opinion, the lack of legislation for the protection of the rights of ethnic minorities was pointed out as the main criticism.
The Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, which has a deeper history, but has been active for more than 30 years, started the path of peace-building after the Second Karabakh War. The start of preliminary negotiations between the two countries creates serious opportunities for future cooperation and peace.
Reducing hatred between peoples, promoting coexistence, and effective cooperation should not only be the activity of government officials, but also the media, academic circles, and civil society. The wounds of people on both sides are severe and joint and comprehensive action is needed to heal them. No matter how close a peace treaty between nations seems today, peace between people seems unfortunately far away.
Author: Punhani Asgarli
The blog is produced within the Economic Policy Research Center’s (EPRC) project ACTION -Activating Civil Society Organizations through Training and Inclusive Operational Network. The project is implemented with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
The views expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of EPRC and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
 “The Concept “Integration” in Sociological Theory” by Burkart Holzner