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Sara Petrosyan

International Law Expert: Courts Will Find Azerbaijan Guilty of Ethnic Cleansing

Hetq sits down with international law expert Ara Ghazaryan to talk about what rights those forcibly displaced from Artsakh have under international law and the significance of the terminology used to describe their status.

Azerbaijani border troops are asking Armenians from Artsakh now crossing into Armenia via the Lachin Corridor if they are leaving voluntarily, of their own free will. Can Azerbaijan use such confessions, extracted under the threat of physical destruction and capture, in international courts to offset a correct legal assessment of what’s happened?

It cannot be offset, because in legal proceedings all parties are heard, and the victims are heard first.

Azerbaijan is already known for its hatred of Armenians on all international platforms.

Azerbaijan uses its hatred of Armenians as a tool of war, as a public policy. In all political, semi-political and semi-legal platforms, direct reference is made to the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the International Court of Justice, in which anything defined is considered an implicitly established fact.

One of the facts is that anti-Armenian hatred is the public policy in Azerbaijan, so these interviews will be viewed in that context in every legal process. Faced with such evidence, these actions will be considered a constituent part of propaganda. People displaced during the legal process, already in Armenia, will present a completely different story about the threats they received, manifestations of discrimination with pictures of children spread on the Internet, hate speech, for which criminal prosecution was not carried out by Azerbaijan.

Targeting of the civilian population, military operations against non-military objects, etc. have been confirmed by the judgment of international courts. Every court will look at these in the overall context and conclude that these people were forced to leave their homeland because they were afraid. That is enough for the courts to say that ethnic cleansing took place. After all, so many political assessments have been made, by the United States of America, the EU, and others, and the courts will simply conclude from all this that ethnic cleansing has taken place. The whole world, international opinion makers like CNN, BBC, etc., have started talking about the ethnic cleansing taking place in Nagorno Karabakh.

The facts are telling, although the term "targeted military operation" is used regarding the attack on Artsakh on September 19, it was an aggressive war against a vulnerable minority community in that country. This is very important, the problem should have been solved in a peaceful way, but Azerbaijan used armed force, giving as an excuse some terrorist act near Shushi. Look at the difference in scale: four people were killed, for which a war was started against 120,000 inhabitants.

 During the 2020 Artsakh-Azerbaijani war, the population displaced from Artsakh, particularly from Hadrut and Shushi and moved to Armenia, was not given refugee status, they were called "displaced persons". What status can the Armenians of Artsakh who have been subjected to mass deportation claim today, and what will refugee status give them?

As long as the safety of these people is ensured and the state (Armenia) implements various social programs for them, the most important thing is that the state accepts them. It is secondary what status they will give. Especially since most or all of them are citizens of the Republic of Armenia.

But aren’t they citizens of the Artsakh Republic?

If they think so, it means that people have fled from their country of origin, which is Artsakh, and they are afraid to return there.

(Hetq – During Azerbaijan’s nine-month closure of the Lachin Corridor, Hetq contacted Armenia’s foreign ministry regarding the fate of Republic of Armenia citizens now in Nagorno Karabakh and unable to return to Armenia. The ministry responded that all 120,000 residents of Artsakh carry Republic of Armenia passports. This, in turn, signifies that all 120,000 are officially regarded as Republic of Armenia citizens.)

In that case, according to the U.N. Law on the Status of Refugees, they are refugees. But, since they have Republic of Armenia citizenship, it would be more correct to use the term "forcefully displaced". In all cases, they have access to all the rights normally granted to asylum seekers. They cannot return because they are afraid to return to their country of origin because of their ethnicity, and some people because of their political views.

(Hetq - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines 'forced displacement' as follows: displaced "as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence or human rights violations". Governments, NGOs, other international organizations have defined forced displacement in a variety of ways. They have generally agreed that it is the forced removal or relocation of a person from their environment and associated connections. It can involve different types of movements, such as flight (from fleeing), evacuation, and population transfer.)

For example, Azerbaijan can carry out criminal prosecutions against the Artsakh leaders who constantly talked about independence, or just because they used weapons. In this sense, they completely coincide with the refugee status. But the Armenian government, perhaps, fearing criticism, also because these persons have Armenian citizenship, does not want to grant refugee status.

It means that it would be more correct to use the term "forcibly displaced" because they were displaced from the Republic of Artsakh, their country of origin. Or, if we use the international language, from the Nagorno Karabakh territory of Azerbaijan. Anyway, Armenia has accepted and assist them, in this regard it is not important whether you call them refugees or displaced persons.

Isn't the choice of terminology the reason that international organizations do not provide humanitarian aid in the same amount as in the case of mass displacement?

It’s the Armenian government that assumes the first obligation to meet the humanitarian needs of its people. Second, the Armenian government did not ask for help from international organizations, as Turkey did when accepting Syrians. USAID has said it is ready to provide aid and the E.U. has announced five million euros of assistance. A portion of affected populations also seek refuge abroad following armed conflicts.

After armed conflicts, usually some part of the population also seeks refuge abroad.

The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention (LIPG), the International Institute for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights (Zoryan Institute, Toronto), Armenia’s Museum-Institute of the Armenian Genocide, have approved statements characterizing what is happening in Artsakh as genocide. At the same time, they condemned the superpowers and international structures that did not prevent the genocide. Can we say such cannot compete with political interests?

 International law is created, develops and operates with the consent of states.

Therefore, international law provides grounds for both action and avoidance for states. No matter how strong and complete the structure of international law we have, until at least two states agree, no norm or structure of international law will work.

International law is not a construction beyond the will of the states. Interstate organizations, for example, the OSCE, have defined many norms of international law for the more than seventy countries that are part of it, regarding freedom of expression, humanitarian law, etc. However, until these states come to an agreement, these norms will not be applied.

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