Azeris Panic Long Before a Single
Iraqi Armenian Sets Foot in Karabagh
By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Up until a couple of weeks ago when I reported in this column that a small
group in Armenia had suggested that Armenian refugees from Iraq be settled
in Karabagh, the government of Azerbaijan was contentedly awaiting the
outcome of the U.S. war on Iraq, hoping to get political "goodies" from the
Americans in return for its expression of support.
All those rosy expectations quickly soured, however, the minute the Azeris
heard that Iraqi Armenians might be coming to Karabagh. From that moment on,
the Azeris went into total panic, even though not a single Armenian had left
Iraq since the outbreak of hostilities, and there were no plans to move any
of them to Karabagh.
Without a shred of evidence, the chairman of the so-called Karabagh
Liberation Organization, Akif Nagi, confidently told an Azeri news agency:
"Iraqi Armenians are being settled in Karabagh in violation of international
legal norms." He claimed that Armenia was trying to change the demographics
of Karabagh by increasing its Armenian population. Nagi appealed to
international organizations to respond to "this infringement" by halting the
re-population of Karabagh. He threatened to organize demonstrations in front
of foreign embassies in Baku.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry responded to Nagi's allegations by calling
them "groundless." The ministry's spokeswoman said that no Armenians had
arrived from Iraq since the beginning of the war. She qualified the "news"
of their resettlement in Karabagh as "not serious."
But the Azeris kept up this tempest in a teapot. Isa Qambar, the leader of
the Musavat Party and the chairman of the Democratic Congress, said during a
press conference that the resettlement of Iraqi Armenian refugees in
Karabagh "is unacceptable and should be seen as another hostile step by
Armenia against Azerbaijan."
Taking this make believe story to a new dimension, the Azeris alarmed
themselves even more by claiming that Kurdish terrorists from Iraq were
moving to Karabagh. Journalist Rahib Kazimli of the Yeni Musavat newspaper
quoted an Azeri "military expert" by the name of Xaqni Huseynli as saying
that "it is possible that terrorists, especially the PKK, will flee" to
Not to be outdone by journalists and military experts, the Foreign Minister
of Azerbaijan, Vilayat Guliev, said last week: "Baku resolutely protests
against the settlement in Nagorno Karabagh of Iraqi Armenians who are
fleeing from the war. This is inadmissible. If ethnic Armenians wish to
re-settle in Karabagh, they should know that one day they would have to
leave Karabagh too." He said that he had appealed to the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe in this regard. This issue will be
discussed with the co-chairmen of the OSCE's Minsk Group during their visit
to Baku later this month, Guliev said.
Apparently, the Azeris made so much noise that, according to the Azeri Lider
TV station, Walter Schwimmer, the Secretary General of the Council of
Europe, was sucked into this non-existent problem. During a press
conference, he allegedly expressed "his discontent with the resettlement of
Iraqi Armenians in Karabagh." He supposedly added, "this could have a
negative impact on the settlement of the Karabagh conflict."
The Azeri media claimed that the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers
disseminated a document last week calling on Armenia to prevent the movement
of foreigners to "occupied lands." Baku Today reported that "special
programs are realized to attract Armenians from other regions in order to
increase the number of the Armenian population in Karabagh. For the past few
months, information is spread that Armenia intends to place Armenian
refugees from Iraq in Karabagh."
Even more amazing was the reaction of Ghalib abd Hussein al Tamimi, the
Ambassador of Iraq to Azerbaijan, who surely must have more important things
to worry about than Karabagh! He said that the government of Iraq would take
all appropriate measures to prevent Iraqi citizens from maintaining contacts
with non-recognized bodies, meaning Karabagh. He said that since Iraq does
not recognize Karabagh as a state, the citizens of Iraq could not have any
contacts with that unrecognized territory.
Finally, Karabagh officials got into the act. Serzh Amirkhanian, Karabagh's
chief of the department of migration and refugees, said that although no
requests had been received from Iraqi Armenians, should such requests be
made, the government of Karabagh would accept all refugees from Iraq
irrespective of their ethnic or religious background.
Finally, Ashot Gulyan, the Foreign Minister of Karabagh, issued a statement
declaring that "Azerbaijan has no right to tell Karabagh how to act in this
or that situation." Gulyan said that since Karabagh had accepted the Geneva
Convention, it "would be prepared to admit on humanitarian grounds all Iraqi
refugees, should they appeal to the government of Karabagh."
The statements of Karabagh officials probably startled the Azeris even more,
triggering a new round of panicky reactions. If the Azeris are so concerned
before a single Iraqi Armenian sets foot in Karabagh, imagine how much more
alarmed would they be when the first few Armenian families from Iraq begin
arriving in Karabagh.
Given the amount of time and effort the Azeris wasted in reacting to this
non-existent story, it may be worthwhile for Karabagh officials to consider
inviting a few Armenians from Iraq to settle in their territory just to keep
the Azeris pre-occupied with this issue for a few more months!