Towards Peace: Armenia Returns Four Villages Belonging to Azerbaijan


A historic step was taken yesterday between the two neighboring countries of the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan and Armenia. On April 19, the Azerbaijani and Armenian border demarcation commission, which met for the eighth time on the Gazakh-Ijvan border, the state border of both countries, agreed on the return of four villages of the Gazakh province belonging to Azerbaijan and occupied by Armenia in 1990-1992.

Thus, at the first stage of the border demarcation process, the parties agreed that their borders in this direction will pass between the settlements of Baganis (Armenia)-Baganis Ayrim (Azerbaijan), Voskepar (Armenia)-Ashagi Eskipara (Azerbaijan), Kirants (Armenia)-Heyrimli (Azerbaijan), Berkaber (Armenia)-Kizilhajili (Azerbaijan).

Baku and Yerevan also agreed that the border demarcation process should be based on the Alma Ata Declaration signed after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. According to the decision, both sides will deploy state border service officers simultaneously and in parallel on the agreed sections of the border. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s office told the media that the latest Soviet map will be used for the demarcation of the borders in the specified direction.


Which villages will be returned?

During the First Karabakh War, Armenian armed forces occupied not only the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region and seven surrounding regions, but also seven villages of Gazakh province and one village in Nakhchivan.

The villages of Gazakh province, which borders Armenia and Georgia, that were not annexed and will be returned are Baganis Ayrim, Heyrimli, Kyzylhadjili, Lower Eskipara.

In addition, the villages of Upper Eskipara, Sofulu, Berhudarli in Gazakh and the village of Kerki in Nakhchivan have been under Armenian control since the first war, while the Armenian enclave Artsvashen (the capital in Azerbaijani) has been under Azerbaijani control since 1992.
However, there is no question of returning the enclaves/exclaves now and it is expected that the parties will resolve this issue in the border demarcation process.

Among the villages to be returned, Baganis Ayrim is known as the first village occupied and burned by Armenia in 1990. With 110 households and 600 inhabitants, the village of Baganis Ayrim was of strategic importance during the Soviet era as it was located near the Yerevan-Ijevan-Noyemberyan road. The first attack of the Armenian armed forces on the village took place on March 4, 1990. As a result of this attack 2 people were killed and 2 people were wounded. On the night of March 23rd, 1990, well-armed Armenian soldiers with tanks and armored vehicles entered the village again, looted houses and set fire to the village. As a result of the attack, 5 members of the Aliyevler family and a resident of the village were burned alive, and the militia guarding the village, Majid Akhmadov, was killed. Kamran Amrahov and his brother Bakhtiyar Amrahov, residents of the Chayli village of Gazakh, who were visiting the village, were also killed after being taken prisoner.

The oldest of the burned villagers was 75-year-old Dadash Aliyev, and the youngest was his grandson, 47-day-old baby Hafiz. During this tragedy, 17 houses were burned with gasoline and 11 houses were looted.

Residents fled for their lives to neighboring villages and forests. As a result of the occupation of seven villages, more than 7000 thousand people who lost their homes and property settled in different parts of Gaza. Although the first version of the November 2020 declaration signed by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, which ended the Second Karabakh War, included the clause that the seven villages of Gazakh would be returned by November 20, 2020, hours later the Kremlin removed the sentence referring to the return of these villages from the document. In fact, the day after the ceasefire declaration was signed, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a meeting with his party members that the 7 villages of Ghazakh would be returned on the specified date.

Yesterday’s agreement on the return of the promised villages was welcomed as a positive development by political circles and the public in Azerbaijan. In Armenia, the return of four villages was generally met with negative reactions, but Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan emphasized that the agreement is an important step towards a diplomatic settlement of issues between the two countries:

“For the first time Armenia and Azerbaijan have resolved the issue at the negotiating table. I don’t want you to exaggerate what has happened, but I don’t want you to underestimate it either.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also applauded the agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

“This is an important step towards the signing of a lasting and honorable peace agreement.” – Blinken said in a statement on his social media account.

These statements play an important role in debunking the widely voiced opinions in Armenia about the return of these villages, as some Armenian analysts have said that the return of these villages belonging to Azerbaijan is a violation of international law, calling it a ‘land grab’ and suggesting that Armenia should appeal to countries such as the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the EU, Russia, Iran, the US, EU member states and India to put pressure on Azerbaijan.
Objections in Armenia:

From the day Azerbaijan demanded the return of the villages occupied by Armenia in 1990-1992, Armenia’s media and political circles began to discuss this issue. Generally, the pro-government media and political commentators close to the government took a more realistic approach. But there were not many of them.

Armenian analysts pointed out that these villages belonged to the Tavush region of Armenia and that if they were to be returned, the highway linking Armenia with neighboring Georgia would be under Azerbaijani control, thus isolating the country.

In fact, only one of the three highways linking Armenia to Georgia passes through the village of Lower Eskipara, parts of which will be returned, and as some political commentators rightly point out, the main road passes through the Armenian regions of Alaverdi, Vanadzor and Dilijan, far from the Azerbaijan-Armenia border.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan addressed this issue at a press conference in March, emphasizing that a new road could be built to replace the one that passes through Azerbaijani territory and that communication routes should pass through Armenian territory.

According to a statement released by the Armenian prime minister’s office on April 19, alternatives to the roads passing through these Azerbaijani villages will be completed in the coming months. Another concern for Armenians is the risk that if the four villages are returned, the Gasprom gas pipeline, which carries Russian natural gas to Armenia, could fall under Azerbaijani control.

After Pashinyan’s statement, Garnik Danielyan from the Hayastan opposition party visited Tavush province and said that if Armenia were to return these four villages, the gas pipeline would fall under Azerbaijan’s control. In fact, the gas pipeline does not pass through the four villages to be returned to Azerbaijan, but through the anklav village of Upper Eskipara, the return of which will be negotiated during the border demarcation process.

The return of the four villages of Ghazakh has brought a new and different perspective to the more than 30-year history of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. For the first time, the parties have demonstrated that they can resolve their differences through diplomatic negotiations as a result of bilateral talks. These two neighboring countries of the South Caucasus, which gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, will have a defined border for the first time in their history. The agreement will be an important cornerstone for a future peace treaty as a mechanism to build trust between the parties.

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