Friday, November 13, 2020

Baku Faces Enormous Task in Re-Integrating Formerly Armenian-Occupied Regions

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 11 -- The Azerbaijani army has now recovered several hundred villages that had been occupied by Armenian forces for as much as 30 years. It now faces the enormous task of reintegrating these places into Azerbaijan’s social and political space, a task that will not only be enormously expensive but will likely trigger a variety of kinds of instability.

            Azerbaijani officials are only beginning to focus on what this means, but among the most obvious tasks are the following which are certain to be the subject of intense activity and discussion as at least some and perhaps many of the Armenians who moved in earlier leave and at least some of the Azerbaijanis who were earlier forced out seek to return.

            Below is a checklist of what are likely to be the most difficult challenges, some because of their high cost – President Ilham Aliyev has already talked about seeking reparations from Armenia – and others because they will unsettle not only the recovered areas but also places further afield to which Azerbaijanis fled earlier.

            Coping with these challenges is likely to be especially difficult because Russian peacekeepers and along with them international visitors both media and diplomatic can be counted on to call the attention of other countries to any actions that appear in any way discriminatory to ethnic Armenians.

            Indeed, the handling of this task by Azerbaijan and Armenian acceptance of what is likely to take place will determine whether there will be a new upsurge of fighting in the region or whether the armistice declaration Baku, Yerevan and Moscow agreed to will grow into something more than an extended ceasefire.

            Among the most obvious of these difficult tasks are the following;


·         Organizing the departure of Armenians who moved into Azerbaijani areas and often occupied Azerbaijani housing and used facilities constructed by Azerbaijan and the return of Azerbaijani refugees who will replace them.


·         Rebuilding the political structures in these areas, drawing on both Baku officials and Azerbaijani IDPs.


·         Rebuilding the buildings, transportation and communication networks and institutions that have been destroyed, damaged or interrupted by the occupation.


·         Restoring the economy so that those who do return will have work and the school system so that their children will have a place to go.


·         Ensuring that the departure of IDPs from one part of Azerbaijan doesn’t disorder the economy or provoke instability in the places in which they had been living.


·         Attracting foreign assistance for this process, most likely from Turkey and the West, so that it can happen relatively quickly without disrupting the Azerbaijani social and political system.


·         And ensuring that those Azerbaijanis who do return feel that their interests are being defended lest they become angry and potentially emerge as a new opposition political force.


Achieving these ends will be especially hard because in the new environment, Baku will find it more difficult to invoke the Armenian “enemy” as justification for any delays.  Many IDPs accepted their situation because of past Armenian aggression. It is certain that now they will be less willing to do that – and Baku will thus be under new pressure to move quickly. 

At the same time, Yerevan will face enormous challenges in re-integrating Armenians who had moved into the occupied territories, and because of its economic difficulties, it will find it perhaps even more difficult to cope with them than Azerbaijan will with its. 

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