The ambassador wants to put something right. Dutch media reports unfairly and biasedly about Nagorno-Karabakh, believes Rahman Mustafayev, ambassador of Azerbaijan in the Netherlands. The one-sided focus on the Armenian perspective reinforces the image of Armenia as a victim and Azerbaijan as a perpetrator, Mustafayev wrote in an invitation to hear his views on the conflict in the South Caucasus.

Only a few journalists accepted the invitation and joined the spacious embassy in The Hague. In the hall is a bust of Heydar Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan from 1993 to 2003 and father of Ilham Aliyev, president since 2003. In the West he is regarded as an authoritarian leader and violator of human rights. Unjustified, says the ambassador. “There may be less freedom in Azerbaijan than in the Netherlands or Switzerland, but we have opposition parties and a free press. We are tolerant, and therefore not a dictatorship.”

Azerbaijani Ambassador Rahman Mustafayev
ANP Photo / Alamy Limited

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The image of Azerbaijan as the perpetrator is not surprising. After a nine-month blockade, Aliyev launched a military strike on September 19 against the Armenian-inhabited enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh – the autonomous republic of Artsakh for its inhabitants. Within 24 hours the goal was achieved: the government of the enclave capitulated without resistance. Aliyev said on TV that Baku had restored its sovereignty in the area, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, with an “iron fist.” Both countries speak of two hundred fatalities on their own side, soldiers and civilians. In the following days, more than a hundred thousand Karabakh Armenians left the enclave and were sheltered in Armenia. The Republic of Artsakh will be dissolved on January 1, 2024.

Military presence

According to Ambassador Mustafayev, Azerbaijan had to intervene. It was an anti-terrorist operation. He shows many photos of weapons allegedly found in the enclave: machine guns, grenades, anti-tank missiles and even a tank. Ten thousand Armenian soldiers are also said to have been stationed in the enclave. Armenia’s military presence on Azerbaijani territory violated UN Security Council resolutions and the agreement that Armenia, Azerbaijan and mediator Russia signed at the end of 2020, after the second war over the enclave.

Refugees sitting in the back of a truck near Kornidzor on September 28. More than a hundred thousand ethnic Armenians left the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in September.
Photo Alain Jocard / AFP

During that short and fierce war – more than seven thousand deaths in six weeks – Azerbaijan already recaptured much territory around the enclave that the country had lost to Armenia in the early 1990s. Some analysts see last month’s Azerbaijani attack as the completion of ‘revenge’ for the traumatic defeat by poorer and smaller Armenia in 1993. Macholand Azerbaijan had to repair that humiliation, according to this view.

We are tolerant, and therefore not a dictatorship

Mustafayev does not venture such an interpretation. He prefers to deny that there is an ‘ethnic cleansing’, because the Karabakh Armenians have been forcibly expelled from their living area. Mustafayev: “We have offered safe conduct to the citizens of Nagorno-Karabakh. We have provided food and fuel, set up camps for refugees, provided access to the Red Cross. What do you mean purification?”

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Moreover, Azerbaijan makes it easy for its residents to return, he says. “We have a website in four languages ​​where people can apply for an Azerbaijani passport. It is a very easy procedure. They do not have to give up their Armenian nationality, dual nationality is very common in our region.” There is probably little interest in returning, now that Azerbaijan is bringing the area under its own administration. The capital Stepanakert (Khankendi for the Azeris) is a ghost town.

Mustafayev hopes for a lasting peace. At the end of October, Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan will meet in Brussels. Charles Michel, President of the European Council, is a good and impartial mediator, he believes. The UN and Russia can also contribute to the peace process. Mustafayev finds it disappointing that the Netherlands does not want to play a role, for example in clearing the enclave.

Also read
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Corridor to Nakhchivan

Peace is also in Armenia’s interest, the ambassador says. Particularly in economic terms. On the map he shows the importance of a corridor in the far south of Armenia, from the Azerbaijani region of Nakhchivan to Azerbaijan. “A good rail connection connects Turkey with the Caspian Sea and Central Asia.” Many fear another intervention to realize that corridor. “The corridor to Nakhichevan is a diplomatic issue, not a military one. If Armenia does not agree to a connection through their area, we will go to plan B, a connection through Iran. But that is less efficient.”

Mustafayev is optimistic. “The region is ripe for recovery. The three countries of the South Caucasus, also – Georgia, must work together as a link between East and West, for transport of goods and energy. We invest in Georgia because of its connection with the Black Sea. We can also invest in Armenia. But we have lost thirty years.”


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