“The resettlement of Syrian Armenians in Azerbaijan’s occupied territories will not only obstruct the negotiation process, which is at an impasse, but also will surely have negative effects in the future after the post-conflict period, when Azeri refugees and internally displaced persons [IDPs] will go back to their homelands,” Rashad Aliyev, a young activist from Azerbaijan, said to Sunday’s Zaman, adding that the resettlement of Armenian refugees from Syria in territories that are already a source of conflict is illegal.
The spillover effect from the Syrian crisis has had an impact not only on countries bordering Syria but also on the countries that border Syria’s immediate neighbors. Azerbaijan, located to the east of Turkey, which is hosting more than 160,000 Syrian refugees in 15 camps, has become another host to Syrian refugees, this time ethnic Armenians, who have been crossing into Armenia through Turkey, fleeing from dangers and heavy clashes in Syria since the eruption of mass anti-regime protests in that country.
Yerevan is reported to be accommodating nearly 30 Syrian Armenian refugee families, approximately 80-120 people in total, (a few Armenian news sources put the number at 18-19 Armenian families) in Nagorno-Karabakh, rather than in Armenia itself.
Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan’s borders, and seven other adjacent Azerbaijani territories were occupied in a bloody war in the early 1990s, since when Azerbaijan has been trying to reclaim lost territories. One million ethnic Azeris were forced from their homes and more than 30,000 were killed.
Calling on the international community to put pressure on the Armenian government to prevent the violation of the territorial integrity of the Azerbaijan Republic and another war in the region, Aliyev said Syrian Armenians should be alarmed about the possible risks, “as they are leaving one war for another.”
Echoing Aliyev, Maria Karapetyan, a young Armenian activist from Yerevan, says that fleeing the 22-month Syrian crisis and moving to Nagorno-Karabakh is like going out of the frying pan and into the fire.
“People who are fleeing Syria, which is being torn apart with the devastation of war, would hardly want to settle in a country over which the ghosts of war float all the time,” Karapetyan said to Sunday’s Zaman.
Aliyev also expressed concerns about the security of Syrian Armenians as, he says, the Armenian government is not concerned about this issue and thinks only about changing its demographic situation, which is in a serious state due to migration and a low birthrate in the country.
Azerbaijan on Monday officially expressed concerns and harsh criticism over the resettlement of Syrian Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, saying Armenia has ulterior motives with the Karabakh resettlement as the Armenian government may want to accommodate the Syrian Armenians in an Armenia made largely empty by mass migration.
Another Azerbaijani, Fuad Shahbazov, says that sending Syrian Armenian families to Nagorno-Karabakh “will surely badly affect the peace negotiations under the OSCE Minsk Group” and urges the Armenian government to stop sending Syrian Armenians to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and obey UN Security Council resolutions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
A bloody war in Nagorno-Karabakh ended with a cease-fire in 1994 when both sides agreed to engage in internationally mediated negotiations under the OSCE Minsk Group, which have now reached a dead end.
Noting that there are no peace talks between the sides, Karapetyan says: “It’s all one big sham. Instead of peace talks or even negotiations, there is an exchange of accusations based on mutually exclusive positions,” accusing the Azerbaijani government of statements intended to provoke a war. Karapetyan says that it would only result in more people having to leave their homes to seek refuge elsewhere.
Commenting on a post-conflict period, Sasun Khachatryan, a young Armenian journalist, has strong doubts that the resettlement of Syrian Armenians will cause serious problems.
“First, because the number of those people is pretty small, second, it is not a trend and third, several Syrian Armenians that I happened to talk to do not intend to stay in Armenia and hope that things will become safe in Syria and they will eventually return to their homes,” Khachatryan said.
Arsen Sahakyan, a young Armenian who is an intern for the UN World Food Programme, says the migration of Syrian Armenian refugees is voluntary and should not affect peace talks, as “there is no policy of sending anyone anywhere.”
“Some of the refugees have made their own choice of relocating to Nagorno-Karabakh, while others have stayed in Armenia or asked for asylum elsewhere,” Sahakyan said talking to Sunday’s Zaman, adding that it will not affect the status quo.
Since the cease-fire in 1994, members of the Armenians disaspora have reportedly settled in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to immigration authorities in Yerevan, nearly 6,000 out of 100,000 Syrian Armenians believed to be living in Syria have applied for Armenian citizenship since early 2012.