Those were very sad years. Presumably, the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh was against remaining within Azerbaijan and trying to “liberate” their enclave as a second Armenian state, if not achieving union with Armenia in one go. Bloodshed was everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis were abandoning their households, seeking refuge in tent cities. The advancing Russian-backed Armenian militia was staging incredible genocidal criminality on unarmed civilian populations.
I walked through most parts of the now-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh. I have been to many of the battle fronts up until a cease-fire agreement lulled guns in 1994. At the time the Soviets had just collapsed and most of the citizens of new nations, including Azerbaijan, were unaware yet the importance of nationhood, nationality, national lands. Sacrificing the self for the sake of the nation was something so rare.
Was Armenia so strong that it easily captured Nagorno-Karabakh? Yes, whatever Yerevan might say, it was not the “rebelling” Nagorno-Karabakh militia that was fighting the poorly armed, very badly trained and indeed unprepared for war Azerbaijani military. In most parts of the war front it was the forces of Armenia as well as some elements “rented” from Russia – at what cost became clear years later – that defeated the Azerbaijanis and evicted from their homes over 1.5 million Azerbaijani Turks.
At Beylagan, visiting the “train city” – a camp composed of old train wagons for the displaced people – the situation was terrible. All along the highway from Nagorno-Karabakh to Baku there were people fleeing their fatherlands with trivial belongings they managed to snatch as they were compelled to abandon their homes.
Those were the years of immense pain, poverty and isolation that Azerbaijan was compelled to endure.
One great asset that Azerbaijan had, after 1993, was the return of Heydar Aliyev from his isolation at Nakhchivan, first as the speaker of parliament and later as the president of the country.
Oil helped a lot of course but it was under the leadership of Aliyev that Azerbaijan achieved great progress not only in developing itself into a modern and highly capable country but also in instilling a very strong sense of patriotism and self-confidence in its people.
Since 1994 Azerbaijan has been repeatedly demanding the immediate return of the occupied regions around Nagorno-Karabakh and declaring its readiness to grant the enclave an advanced degree of self-rule, just little short of statehood. All efforts of the Minsk group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have failed to bring about a settlement. Why? Armenia has remained all these years as adamant as the first day of the conflict, and tried to capitulate on the legitimate and inseparable lands of Azerbaijan.
For the past few weeks there has been some tension along the cease-fire line. In some areas there were reports that Azerbaijani forces achieved some headway. There were even unconfirmed reports of Azerbaijanis and Armenians engaging in some border skirmishes, with casualties on both sides.
What should one expect if the problem remains unresolved over the past 22 years? I know our Greek friends will try to draw parallels between Nagorno-Karabakh and the Cyprus problems and even go to the extent of demanding Turkey do in Cyprus whatever it advises Armenia to do in Nagorno-Karabakh. Of course there are similarities but apples and quinces are separate cannot be placed in one basket.
In Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan was not an oppressive, regressive, barbaric regime on the Armenian part of the population. Armenia was not a guarantor state for the enclave. Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians never ever had their separate statehood or partnership in the sovereignty of the land. However, Azerbaijan generously offered advanced autonomy, just little short of state-hood. Furthermore, several models were discussed to give Armenia land access to the enclave in exchange of a similar corridor or safe passage through Armenia to Nakhchivan.
All efforts failed. There is no hope for a negotiated deal unless Armenia stops hiding behind the Nagorno-Karabakh puppet regime and demanding Baku engage directly with the self-declared government there. Now Armenia is warning that border skirmishing might turn into a full-fledged war. Could it? Hopefully not. But it is obvious that as long as Armenia remains as the spoiled child of the West and the adopted child of Moscow there is little hope for a negotiated deal.