Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh are evacuated on September 26, 2023 in Kornidzor, Armenia. Over 47,000 Armenians have fled Nagorno-Karabakh in the past week after the defeat of Armenian separatist forces against Azerbaijan. (Photo by Astrig Agopian/Getty Images)


‘In a nutshell, it’s a win-win,’ Azerbaijani official says of Nagorno-Karabakh occupation


A senior Azerbaijani official claimed his nation’s capture of ethnic-Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh will ultimately be for the good of the region.

Hikmet Hajiyev, a foreign policy advisor to President Ilham Aliyev, spoke to the press at the Azerbaijani Embassy in Belgium.

His comments come as Azerbaijani forces have recently forced the capitulation of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians who resided in the unrecognised Armenia-backed Republic of Artsakh. This has unleashed a burgeoning refugee crisis in the region.

Over the past year, due to a nine-month blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh, many NGOs and the Armenian Government have warned about potential ethnic cleansing of the local Armenian population.

These warnings have continued now that the region has again come under Azerbaijani control and the self-declared Republic of Artsakh has been dissolved.

Azerbaijan maintains the breakaway republic’s existence is a violation of its sovereignty and a dangerous precedent for international law, adding that, consequently, its demise could improve relations in the South Caucasus region.

Going further, Hajiyev said he believed that relations would gradually normalise in the region. Both countries will be able to collaborate and integrate on issues such as infrastructure and economics, he claimed.

“In a nutshell, it’s a win-win,” Hajiyev maintained.

According to Hajiyev, Nagorno-Karabakh was at the root of all the tensions in the South Caucasus region.

“Everything started from Karabakh,” Hajiyev claimed. He was speaking having just returned from EU-hosted talks with Armenian counterpart Armen Grigoryan and European officials.

Hajiyev went on to say he was confident about upcoming peace talks with Armenia, now that the breakaway region is being forcibly integrated back into Azerbaijan.

According to Hajiyev, Nagorno-Karabakh was at the root of all the tensions in the South Caucasus region.

“We hope everything will end like it has in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Hajiyev added.

In Soviet days, Nagorno-Karabakh had been an “automous oblast” within the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding provinces were occupied by Armenian forces who created the Republic of Artsakh during the Armenian-Azerbaijani war that ended in 1994.

This changed in 2021 when Azerbaijan managed to re-surround the enclave during the second Armenian-Azerbaijani war.

As of writing on September 27, Reuters reported that more than 47,000 people out of the enclave’s reported 120,000 population have now fled the region into Armenia proper. Images on X show huge queues of cars and vans lining the twisting mountain roads.

Hajiyev insisted to the press that there was nothing for the local Armenian population to fear. He said Azerbaijan fully intended to ensure cultural property and heritage in the region would be protected.

He also said that the Armenian population – as Azerbaijani citizens – would be entitled to linguistic and religious rights.

“We have been subject to ethnic cleansing,” he said, adding that Azerbaijanis did not wish to take any revenge.

That has not stopped tens of thousands of Armenians from fleeing the area. “We are now like stray dogs,” one older female refugee told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Hajiyev said Azerbaijan could not stop people from choosing to leave Nagorno-Karabakh. “We can’t force any individual based on personal choices to stay or to go out.

“It’s not pleasant to hear, but in the meantime it’s the individual choice of someone who says, ‘I cannot be part of the state of Azerbaijan.’

“Sometimes we have harsh realities or inconvenient realities on the ground.”

Speaking to Brussels Signal the Azerbaijani Ambassador said that the latest military operation had been exemplary in avoiding civilian and collateral damage.

Despite that, footage is circulating of Azerbaijani troops shooting at Armenian homes, although it is not known whether there were any people inside at the time.

Footage also shows Azerbaijani troops looting Armenian homes and smashing family portraits and possessions.

Speaking at the latest European Commission’s press briefing, spokesman Peter Stano said the European Union was calling on Azerbaijan to allow international access to the Nagorno-Karabakh region both to provide aid and for independent monitoring of the ongoing situation.

Asked why the EU was not using the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe the mass exodus of Karabakh Armenians, Stano was non-committal, saying: “If the Member States of the EU will have reasons to call any kind of development with different terms than they are using now, they will do so.

“The European Union is watching very closely.”

The Azerbaijani Embassy is a spacious modern building on the green, shady Avenue de Tervueren. Its clean, bright interiors are a world away from the disturbing scenes of many thousands of Armenians fleeing out of Nagorno-Karabakh along winding roads.