Helsinki Citizens' Assembly-Vanadzor

In Relation to Press Briefing of State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller

June 2, 2023

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We, the undersigned civil society organizations from Armenia express our grave concerns over the statement of the US State Department on May 30, 2023 in relation to the remarks delivered by President of Azerbaijan Aliyev on May 28, 2023.

Whereas we support the efforts aimed at achieving a lasting and sustainable settlement of Nagorno Karabakh conflict based on the effective observance and respect for human rights, however we strongly believe that the recent United States statement will serve as an endorsement for Azerbaijani president to proceed with further use of force and ethnic cleansing policy of Armenians. Lack of adequate reaction serves as a normalization of the practice of the use of force in settlement of disputes which is against the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. The essence of the international legal order post-World War II is to ensure that there is no place for the use of force in settling disputes. With the current state of affairs in our broader region and serious challenges undermining the current order, including the human rights system, it is of paramount importance and its utmost responsibility to prevent autocratic regimes from benefitting from the ongoing crisis and achieving their aims through gross violations of human rights and the use of force.

Silence but more so welcoming statements not interpreted in the context of the rest of the speech of President Aliyev and his previous racist record, validate “the new normal” – the use of force instead of internationally mediated negotiations. Instead of encouraging genuine negotiations for resolution of the conflict, such statements embolden Azerbaijan to continue resorting to the use of force to achieve its goals and allow Azerbaijani president to brag about the support and approval of his conduct by international partners.

This is the context of the offer for ‘amnesty’ in the speech of President Aliyev:

“We are simply being patient. However, everyone knows perfectly well that we have all the opportunities to carry out any operation in that region today. Therefore, the “parliament” should be dissolved, the element calling himself “president” should surrender, all “ministers”, “deputies” and others should give up their positions. Only in that case can a concession be made to them. Only in that case can we talk of an amnesty”. “Either they will bend their necks and come themselves or things will develop differently now. Therefore, they can count on an amnesty only if they voluntarily put aside all their false duties and apply for Azerbaijani citizenship. We will look at that. My word is final, and everyone knows that both in Azerbaijan and the rest of the world, including Armenia. We do what we say. Not a single word of ours, as they say, has been left in the air and never will be in the future either... They have missed many opportunities, a number of opportunities, and each time, as they say, we had to knock them over to bring them to their senses.”

He also referred to Armenia: “They [Armenians] must accept our terms. If they don't want delimitation, there will be no delimitation. The border will be where we say it should be. No one will help them, not the retired French policemen, not anyone else. They must not forget that Armenian villages are visible from here.”

President Aliyev explained his approach still on December 24, 2022: “Nobody can influence us. There may be calls, there may be some statements, but we do not need to pay attention to them. We are answering these calls simply out of political courtesy. But this will not change our position in the slightest.”

President Aliyev’s recent remarks on consideration of ‘amnesty’ welcomed by the State Department are nothing else as another clear threat of the use of force and further violations of human rights not only against the elected leadership of Nagorno Karabakh but the entire population. Moreover, threats of use of force in coming weeks were echoed in social media channels affiliated with Azerbaijani government.

With all the appreciation of the U.S. involvement in conflict resolution, it is obvious that the efforts so far have not discouraged Azerbaijan from its aggressive moves aimed at erasing any Armenian presence in Nagorno-Karabakh. The everyday threat of ethnic cleansing decreases the chances of having a genuine and durable peace in the South Caucasus. The ongoing negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan will be futile if Nagorno-Karabakh is depopulated of its indigenous Armenians.

Notwithstanding the ongoing peace negotiations, Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev’s rhetoric is getting more and more belligerent and seriously undermines the trust into the peace process and results in regular military escalations with casualties. At least 40 people on both sides have been killed and wounded since March 2023 making this spring the deadliest since the 2020 war. Peace deal for the sake of a peace deal alone shall not be an end goal itself. Peace would only be lasting and durable if it is based on effective guarantees of non-use of force, genuine respect for human rights and ensuring justice.

Guarantees prescribed under the trilateral ceasefire statement of November 9, 2020, brokered by Russia are currently failing․ The agreement to return the Armenian prisoners of war, resolve humanitarian issues, adhere to the cease-fire and open transport communications have not been observed by Azerbaijan. Instead, we have witnessed a growing asymmetry of powers, increasing hate and combative rhetoric by Azerbaijan, deprivation of Nagorno-Karabakh people of their basic rights and fundamental freedoms. It is in this context that ‘amnesty considerations’ are made.

In a situation when basic human rights of the entire population of Nagorno Karabakh are violated by Azerbaijan, when they are taken hostage, amnesties are not the issue to be discussed.

With the extremely poor human rights record in Azerbaijan and extensive record of inciting hatred towards Armenians documented by the relevant UN and regional human rights organizations, we remain seriously concerned about its capacity and genuine will to respect human rights, especially of Armenians. Emboldening a war-mongering autocracy – Azerbaijan – will result in further bloodshed and will definitely not lead to a dignified and durable peace in the region.

The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh must have a diplomatic and political solution with robust guarantees for the security of the indigenous Armenian population, with effective mechanisms in place to ensure that they live peacefully in their homes and enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms.

In this respect, we call the Government of the United States:

- To refrain from statements that can embolden the Azerbaijani leadership to further resort to the use of force or the threat to use of force,

- To intensify the efforts aimed at solving humanitarian issues, including immediate and unconditional repatriation of all Armenian POWS and civilians detained by Azerbaijan,

- To put pressure on Azerbaijan to restore the unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles and cargo through the Lachin Corridor in both directions, as stated in the decision of ICJ;

- To support the presence of an international peacekeeping mission inside Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the Lachin corridor to guarantee impartial monitoring of the situation on the ground, regular and public reporting to the international community, and serve as an essential assurance of security for the local people;

- To support the establishment of a rights based international mechanism between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh;

- To support the delimitation and demarcation process in line with human rights principles

- To take measures in line with the US legislation to hold the Azerbaijani political and military leadership accountable for gross violations of human rights and war crimes, including through application of sanctions.

Protection of Rights without Borders NGO

Transparency International Anticorruption Center

Democracy Development Foundation

Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor

For Equal Rights NGO

Law Development and Protection Foundation

Peace Dialogue NGO

Journalists’ Club ‘Asparez’

Public Journalism Club

Union of Informed Citizens

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