May 28, 2024

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Azerbaijan systematically ‘erasing’ all traces of ethnic Armenians in the disputed region, Yerevan says.

Azerbaijan has “completed” the ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia claimed to the UN’s top court.

In a case brought by Yerevan against its Caucus neighbour and rival over alleged discrimination and ethnic cleansing, lawyers for Armenia on Tuesday told the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Baku is “erasing all traces of ethnic Armenians’ presence” in the contested territory.

“After threatening to do so for years, Azerbaijan has completed the ethnic cleansing of the region,” Armenia’s representative Yeghishe Kirakosyan claimed.

The two Caucasian countries have been contesting the Nagorno-Karabakh territory during the three decades since the Soviet Union collapsed. Yerevan has sought to bring international attention to the mountainous enclave since Baku took control in a military operation in September.

The ICJ case, filed by Armenia in 2021, accuses Azerbaijan of glorifying racism against and allowing hate speech against Armenians and destroying Armenian cultural sites.

Armenia said that put Azerbaijan in violation of a UN anti-discrimination treaty. Baku has denied all the accusations against it.

The case stems from a 2020 war over Nagorno-Karabakh that left more than 6,600 people dead, one of three full-scale conflicts that the pair have fought over the issue.

Azerbaijan’s armed forces recaptured the mountainous region in September after years of ethnic Armenian control, prompting most ethnic Armenians to flee to Armenia.

Kirakosyan said Baku was “now consolidating [its control of Nagorno-Karabakh] by systematically erasing all traces of ethnic Armenians’ presence, including Armenian cultural and religious heritage”.

He told the judges that Baku “has increasingly been characterising Armenia’s human rights claims … as some sort of challenge to Azerbaijan’s sovereignty or territorial integrity.”

“Azerbaijan is profoundly mistaken. Armenia has no claims to Azerbaijan’s territory and is also committed to establishing conditions for genuine and enduring peace,” the lawyer asserted.

Bad faith

On Monday, the first day of the hearings, Azerbaijan told the court that most of Armenia’s complaints did not fall within the scope of the UN treaty.

Baku’s lawyers also accused Armenia of failing to genuinely engage in negotiations, a pre-requisite under the treaty for bringing the case to the ICJ.

Kirakosyan rejected the claims. “Armenia negotiated with Azerbaijan in good faith and pursued discussions far beyond the point of utility,” he stated.

An ethnic Armenian woman sits in a car
An ethnic Armenian woman from Nagorno-Karabakh sits inside an old Soviet-style car as she arrives in Goris, in Syunik region, Armenia, on September 27 [File: Vasily Krestyaninov/AP Photo]

In November, the court issued emergency measures in the case, ordering Azerbaijan to allow ethnic Armenians who fled Nagorno-Karabakh to return.

Azerbaijan says it has pledged to ensure all residents’ safety and security, regardless of national or ethnic origin, and that it has not forced ethnic Armenians to leave Karabakh.

The hearings will cover only the legal objections to the jurisdiction of the ICJ and will not go into the merits of the discrimination claims. A final ruling in both cases could be years away and the ICJ has no way to enforce its rulings.

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