Photo: Tehran Times

By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS

Azerbaijani Ambassador to Mexico Mammad Talibov wants the world to know one simple fact: Nagorno-Karabakh — the region at the center of the current and escalating war between Armenia and Azerbaijan — is not a disputed territory.

“Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized by the United Nations and most of the world as a legitimate part of Azerbaijani national territory,” Talibov said in a zoom press conference on Monday, Oct. 2.

“It is an occupied territory, taken by force by the Armenian military more than three decades ago.”

Talibov went on to note that following that invasion, the United Nations Security Council adopted four separated resolutions in 1993 condemning the slaughter and expulsion of the Azerbaijanis from their legal homeland and demanding the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of its occupying forces from the region, resolutions that Armenia has steadfastly refused to comply with.

“But the Armenians are trying to manipulate the international media and community by using the term ‘disputed territory’,” Talibov said.

“Karabakh and the surrounding regions of Azerbaijan that are held by Armenia are recognized by the United Nations and international law as Azerbaijani territory,” he said.

“There is nothing to dispute regarding that matter. The land is ours.”

As a consequence of the occupation, the ambassador said, about 20 percent of his country is under Armenian rule and more than 1 million Azerbaijani citizens have been displacing, creating the largest internally displaced population on Earth.

Despite countless attempts to broker a solution through outside mediation — most notably through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) 11-member Minsk Group — Talibov said that there has never been a workable resolution to the conflict, mainly because Armenia refuses to budge.

“Armenia has consistently taken a nonconstructive stance,” he said.

“They want to maintain the status quo, that is, the occupation of our land.”

Consequently, despite constant efforts by Baku to coax the Armenians out of its territory, the situation has remained in a decades-long impasse, with occasional flair-ups of fighting sparked by both sides.

But all that changed two years ago, Talibov said, when Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan came to power and decided to adopt a more aggressive approach to Armenia’s relationship with Azerbaijan.

“Pashinyan simply started calling  Karabakh and the surrounding Azerbaijani territories as Armenian territories, thus destroying the negotiation process” Talibov said.

Worse yet, Talibov said, “Pashinyan decided to expand Armenian aggression into Azerbaijan, hoping to grab even more of our homeland.”

While previous skirmishes between the two Caucasian countries had almost always focused on the conflict zone of Karabakh, Talibov pointed out that after the September escalation this year, Armenian forces launched SCUD ballistic missile attacks into regions of Azerbaijan that were outside the conflict area, including in the country’s second-largest city, Ganja, and other heavily populated urban areas, killing numerous civilians.

“Clearly, the Armenians were targeting civilians. That was the last straw for Azerbaijan,” he said.

“We could not sit idly by and watch our fellow countrymen murdered and more of our land attacked.”

So Azerbaijan — with one of the best-outfitted militaries in the world — accepted the challenge and began responding in kind to the Armenian aggressions, quickly escalating the situation into a full-fledged war.

“Armenia again tried to twist the facts and say that we were being supported militarily by Turkey,” Talibov said.

“That is not the case, and there is not one thread of evidence to back that claim. Turkey, along with many other countries, has offered us moral support, but no military support.”

Moreover, Talibov said, there is strong documented evidence that Armenia is importing mercenary fighters from terror-prone regions such as Iraq and Syria.

“All of our weapons were purchased legally and we have no outside fighters,” Talibov said emphatically.

The ambassador also noted that even Russia — which has traditionally taken the side of Armenia in the ongoing conflict — has refused to get involved because at no point in the fighting has Azerbaijan launched attacks outside of its own internationally recognized territory.

“The Armenians want the world to believe that this is an ethnic conflict and that they are defending land that is theirs,” Talibov said.

“But that is not true. They are trying to hold on to land that they have occupied illegally for more than three decades, and they were trying to expand their occupation even further. We will not let them do that.”

After brokering a frail ceasefire last month (which lasted all of three hours), the international community has essentially stepped back and taken an observer stance regarding the conflict.

Talibov did not answer when asked if he expected tensions to continue to escalate, but he did make it clear that, this time, his government was not going to back down in restoring its territorial integrity.

Asked if Baku would accept international peacekeepers in the region, he said that that question could not be considered under the current circumstances.

“There is no longer any status quo because Armenia has elevated the fight with its attempt to grab more of our territory,” he said.

“They have taken the fight outside the conflict area of Karabakh, attacking civilian and energy infrastructure.”

And no matter how much Armenia may try to spin the facts or paint itself as the victim in this conflict, he said, Azerbaijan is going to defend itself from Yerevan.

“We have the army and the military might,” he said, “and we have the right to defend our territory and people.”

...Nov, 3, 2020

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