To: Foreign Minister Ann Linde 29 September 2020
Regarding Azerbaijan’s attack on Artsakh and Armenia
Honorable Foreign Minister,
Azerbaijan has initiated a broad offensive against entire Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and has also attacked civilian targets inside Stepanakert. Azerbaijan has during the day expanded its attacks by shelling civilian targets inside Armenia while Turkish F-16 fighters have shot down an Armenian jet in Armenian air space. This is nothing less than an outright declaration of war. At the time of writing, hundreds of casualties are reported, of which several are civilians. This is the second time in 2020 that Azerbaijan takes up arms to retake Artsakh by force. In mid-July, Azerbaijan fired artillery at nearby villages inside Armenia’s northeastern region, Tavush, i.e. outside the conflict zone.
Meanwhile, Sweden and the international community speak the language of neutrality and urge “both sides to restraint and calm”. This “neutrality” has long been a sacred concept towards Armenia and Azerbaijan in order not to offend any side, especially in view of the ongoing attempts at mediation in the Karabakh conflict. However, this is now an obsolete, if not downright harmful, position that is proven to send the wrong signals, even emboldening Baku to more wrongdoings.
Since its independence in 1991, the authoritarian regime in Azerbaijan has gradually deteriorated to such an extent that since a few years now, more precisely since 2013, the EU, the US Foreign Ministry and others have openly been using the terms “dictatorship” and “authoritarian” when referring to the Aliyev regime. Armenia’s path towards full democracy has by no means been flawless, but in 2018 the people showed that they demand nothing less than full democratic values. There is still a lot to do, but the “Velvet Revolution” in April 2018 has definitely illustrated how markedly Armenia and Azerbaijan differ in terms of democracy and humanitarian and international laws.
Yet Sweden and the international community speaks in equal terms when they urge “both sides to restraint and calm.” On the one hand, we have Armenia, which in a popular revolution has chosen its way forward and is trying to fully reform the whole country, politically and economically, and has long demanded that the people of Artsakh, according to international law and the Helsinki Act, be given the opportunity to decide their destiny. It all began with a peaceful resolution on 20 February 1988 by the Karabakh Autonomous Assembly, which by the votes 110-17 requested reunification with Armenia (we omit here the history and background of Stalin’s “divide and rule” policy leading to the problem). What has been sought is a peaceful process, based on the expression of their democratic rights; no invasion, no annexation, no military actions.
On the other hand, we have Azerbaijan, which stroke down this democratic resolution with arms, a bloody response that became the start of a protracted conflict which has cost more than 30,000 lives (and continues to do so today), has displaced close to a million people as refugees and has seriously hampered the development of the region. Since Ilham Aliyev more or less inherited the presidency from his father, Heydar Aliyev, the democracy in the country has not only been severely dismantled, but he has also entrenched the power by both extending the term of office and removing the term limits for presidency. The Aliyev clan now rules Azerbaijan as a family business. From there the demise goes even faster: the regime has bought free an ax-killer who served a life sentence abroad and promoted him to national hero (Ramil Safarov, 2012), has been recurring name in major international money-laundering schemes in the billion class (Panama documents and Danske Bank), has closed the OSCE office in Baku (2015) and refuses to withdraw snipers and to accept extended surveillance mechanisms at the front line. Baku openly boasted that it had initiated a blitzkrieg in early April 2016 with territorial gains and the same was trumpeted out in July 2020 and now in September. Past summer, Aliyev fired his longtime foreign minister, Elmar Mammedyarov, for having “wasted time on diplomatic negotiations.” Mammedyarov is said to have opposed planned acts of war which came true in July and now in September. Reports are now pouring in that there are also up to four thousand jihadists from Syria that Turkey has passed through to the Caucasus to fight against the Armenians. All this while the Armenians are constantly portrayed by Ilham Aliyev and his regime as the “enemy” to be “crushed.” You cannot build peace and coexistence on this rhetoric.
With all this in mind, it was hardly surprising when Turkish and Azeri representatives stood in Sergels torg, in the capital of Sweden, and shouted “Death to the Armenian dogs!” while the audience applauded in unison. The behavior and messages of political leaders matter, both positive and negative, and they transcend national borders. That is why it is extremely important that one chooses the words correctly and call things by their true names. One should criticize where it is needed and praise where it is deserved. The language that Sweden has utilized and continues to use vis-à-vis Armenia and Azerbaijan in the name of “neutrality” has not only been diluted but has undoubtedly also emboldened Aliyev. In the absence of a clear marking and criticism, the Aliyev regime has gradually dismantled democracy at home, which has also had far-reaching consequences for Armenia and the people of Artsakh.
Sweden and the international community should play a clear role in the conflict. To “complain” and express their “concern” for outbreaks of fatal clashes is now of little importance. One must act for preventive purposes and condemn where necessary and work for a speedy and diplomatic solution to the conflict. That will save lives, not regrets in hindsight. As a member of the OSCE Minsk Group, via the EU and the UN, Sweden can contribute constructively by speaking explicitly and in clear terms. It will benefit not only the people of Artsakh and Armenia but also the people of Azerbaijan, who deserve better democratic rules and values.
Chairwoman of the Union of Armenian Associations in Sweden