International Court of Justice: Armenians must be able to return to Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenians must be able to return N-K

By Thibault van den Bossche1700838044253

The International Court of Justice ordered Azerbaijan on Friday 17 November 2023, to allow Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh to return there "in a safe, unimpeded and expeditious manner." Baku had caused the ethnic cleansing of this autonomous territory in September 2023, following a blitzkrieg. The European Centre for Law and Justice welcomes the decision of the Court, while remaining vigilant about its actual implementation.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Azerbaijan on 17 November 2023, to allow Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh the possibility to return, leave, or stay there "in a safe, unimpeded and expeditious manner." Additionally, Azerbaijan must “protect and preserve registration, identity and private property documents and records” that concern the same Armenians.

Prior to these two provisional measures against Azerbaijan (out of the ten requested by Armenia on 28 September 2023), Azerbaijan had committed during public hearings on 12 October 2023, “to protect, and not to damage or destroy, cultural monuments, artifacts and sites in Garabagh.

The principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN) recalls in its order that “unilateral declarations can give rise to legal obligations” and that “once a State has made such a commitment concerning its conduct, its good faith in complying with that commitment is to be presumed.”

The ICJ facing Azerbaijan's unfulfilled promises

This case relating to the Application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Armenia v. Azerbaijan) began on 16 September 2021. On 28 December 2022, Yerevan notably asked the ICJ to order Azerbaijan to restore free access to the Lachin corridor, which the ICJ had indeed decided in its order of 22 February 2023.

However, not only did Azerbaijan continue its blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh, but it also simply seized it on 20 September 2023. It is difficult to trust Azerbaijan, like the 120,000 Armenians who were forced into exile out of fear of reprisals and in painful memory of the 1915 genocide. Already in November 2020, out of the 75% of the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh retaken by Azerbaijan, all Armenians had fled, and their entire heritage had been destroyed.

The destruction of Armenian heritage was also unequivocal in Nakhichevan, the Azerbaijani exclave between the borders of Turkey and Armenia, and even the historic cemetery of Julfa was not spared, despite protests from UNESCO. Azerbaijan's commitment to protecting Armenian heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh appears to be very unreliable.

The necessary recognition of the ethnic cleansing of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh

In their resolution of 5 October 2023, members of the European Parliament clearly stated that there was “a pressing need to stop and reverse the ongoing forced exodus of the local Armenian population, which amounts to ethnic cleansing, and to ensure the conditions for their safe return to Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe also expressed this view in their resolution of 12 October 2023: “The factual situation today, with the massive exodus of the almost entire Armenian population from this region, has led to allegations and reasonable suspicion that this can amount to ethnic cleansing.”

As for the UN, following just a one-day mission to Nagorno-Karabakh on Sunday 2 October 2023, after a 30-year absence, the dispatched team stated that they were “struck by the sudden manner in which the local population left their homes and the suffering the experience must have caused.” However, “the team added that they did not hear – from either locals interviewed or others – of incidences of violence against civilians following the latest ceasefire.”

Armenians must be able to return to Nagorno-Karabakh safely

A second UN mission will surely provide further explanations. The Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-repetition, Mr. Fabian Salvioli, is undertaking an official visit to Armenia from 16 to 24 November 2023.

If the conditions of security are met, the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) encourages the return of Armenians to their ancestral homeland of Nagorno-Karabakh, noting previously that "the best protectors of Armenian heritage are the Armenians themselves." The ECLJ will not fail to insist with the international community to support the actual implementation of the ICJ's decision.

Azerbaijan should be excluded from the Council of Europe
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