It has become the subject of ridicule as well as fury in Armenia. Background info from Baku: what did the President mean?
Photo: Gevorg Ghazaryan, JAMnews
The Azerbaijani President made a bombshell of a statement saying Armenia’s capital was a historical land of Azerbaijan. Expectedly, Ilham Aliyev’s statement made headlines in Armenia. Almost all media outlets cited the President’s remarks made at the 4th congress of the Yeni Azerbaijan (New Azerbaijan) party:
“Yerevan is our historical land, and we, Azerbaijanis, should return to those lands. This is our political and strategic goal, and we should gradually reach it.”
This statement caused an unequivocally negative reaction in Armenia. Part of the public, politicians and experts were resentful, some regarded it as yet another bit of propaganda, while others took it as laughable nonsense. Also, some said the incident should be analyzed profoundly, not ignored, for a better understanding of the Azerbaijani president’s ‘strategic goals’ especially, they said, because he intends to keep his post for a long time to come and he may very well succeed in that.
Below are some views that were voiced in the Armenian mass media:
Trend 1: It is aggressive campaign rhetoric mostly aimed at the local public
Mihran Hakobyan, MP from the ruling Republican Party:
“There is nothing else the leader of this country can tell his people. Given how much oil he’s sold during the past [couple of] years, he could easily have built a serious country with a competitive economy, but it didn’t happen. Now it’s clear to everyone that it will never be the case. Against such a background, the only thing Aliyev can do is to make such statements and finally aggravate the situation.”
Naira Hayrumyan, a political columnist at Lragir online media outlet:
“Aliyev is preparing for the election in an aggressive manner. An Armenian soldier was killed in Karabakh on the day of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs’ visit, and then the next day Aliyev lays claims to Yerevan and Zangezur.”
Trend 2: Too funny for words
It’s not the first time Aliyev has voiced the idea of ‘returning to Yerevan’. Earlier, he said: “The fact of handing Yerevan over to Armenia in 1918 is still an unhealed wound for Azerbaijan.” In turn, the PanArmenian.net electronic media outlet recalled the Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian’s statement in response to Aliyev’s previous remarks:
“I think it wouldn’t do wrong to invite the President of Azerbaijan to join the celebration of the 2 800th anniversary of Yerevan so that he could get acquainted with the history of Yerevan on the ground.”
Eduard Sharmazanov, Vice-Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly:
“President Aliyev’s statement is ignorant, foolish, senseless and ridiculous. It could be compared to that of the Nazi Germany leader, Adolf Hitler. It’s funny to see the leader of a country which is hardly 100 years old talking about its historical lands. I would like to call on the leaders of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries and the entire world community to pay attention to Aliyev’s statement and draw relevant conclusions.”
Trend 3: Ordinary propaganda
Vardan Oskanyan, ex-Foreign Minister:
“Aliyev’s calls for ‘returning to Yerevan’ or turning Yerevan into an Azerbaijani city obviously aims to convince the population in Azerbaijan’s provinces that the country’s leader may take serious steps to settle the problem with Armenia by force. Yerevan has a certain history and it’s known to the whole world. Through such statements, Aliyev is gaining scores from the ignorant part of Azerbaijan’s public. I doubt that the serious public in Azerbaijan itself believe such statements and they would regard them as ridiculous.”
Levon Zurabyan, coordinator, Armenian National Congress:
“I don’t think he is so foolish. It’s just a propaganda trick. He may say something stupid, but that doesn’t mean he is a fool.”
Trend 4: It’s not a coincidence but rather a purposeful policy
Manvel Sarkisian, a political analyst, director of the Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS):
“Azerbaijan has a programmatic approach to the Karabakh problem, that is to use the negotiation process in order to apply the internationally recognised principle of territorial integrity to Karabakh, demanding that this territory shall either be returned to it peacefully, or it shall use a ‘legitimate’ force for restoration of its territorial integrity. Aliyev, who is running for the fourth term of presidency, has made it clear that this is their long-term strategy that applies not only to Karabakh, but also to the Republic of Armenia.”
Stepan Danielyan, chairman, Cooperation for Democracy NGO:
“We are dealing with a purposeful policy … This viewpoint is being cultivated [ in Azerbaijanis] through school textbooks, films and literature on which the generations are brought up. This policy will keep existing even after Aliyev’s withdrawal from power.”
Trend 5: Negotiating with Aliyev makes no sense
Hakob Badalyan, a political columnist at Lragir online media outlet:
“Aliyev’s statement has actually thwarted the Co-chairs’ visit and pulled a plug on this theme. It only remains for Yerevan and Stepanakert to ask the Co-chairs: ‘You’ve heard that, don’t you? What do you expect us to do?’ And the Co-chairs will have nothing to do but to take advantage of Armenian hospitality.
“Aliyev’s statement is ‘material’ proof that the Armenian armed forces are there to guard not only the borders of Karabakh and Armenia, but also the international security and civilisation, because only a person with a barbaric way of thinking may voice an intention to occupy the capital of a neighbouring state.
“Aliyev’s statement is noteworthy, especially against the background of President Serzh Sargsyan’s address at the PACE session on 24 January. The Azerbaijani leader has actually proved the correctness of Serzh Sargsyan’s words, who, when answering aggressive questions asked by Azerbaijani MPs, stated that Azerbaijan wanted Artsakh without the Armenians and that it was never going to happen.
“The Azerbaijani President has actually confirmed that this is true. And in this sense, Aliyev’s statements concerning Yerevan and Zangezur can become a major boon for the Armenian diplomacy. It only remains for the Armenian diplomacy to have enough will and skills to use them.”
Background info from Baku
It’s not the first time President Aliyev has made a statement about present-day Armenia being formed on the historical lands of Azerbaijan. Speaking at a meeting with a group of military servicemen on 30 March 2017, he said:
“Regrettably, in 1918 the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic so to say granted Yerevan to Armenia. All the documents are available on this. One of the first resolutions of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was about handing over Yerevan to Armenia to serve as its capital. Although ethnic Azerbaijanis constituted a majority in Yerevan at that time, it was still a big mistake.”
Aliyev referred to Protocol #3 of the Muslim National Council’s session held on 29 May 1918, in Tiflis [Tbilisi]. At the session, Fatali Khan Khoyski, the government chairman, proposed to ‘cede Yerevan’ to Armenia, which was approved by 16 out of 20 votes.
“They need a political centre to form the Armenian federation, and the city of Yerevan is the only option, especially after the transfer of Alexandropol (Gyumri) to Turkey. Therefore, ceding Yerevan to Armenia is inevitable.”
However, as is evident from the text cited above, the matter doesn’t concern either ‘transfer’ or ‘granting as a gift’, but rather ‘ceding’ the territory, i.e. renunciation of claims to that territory.
After the collapse of the Trans-Caucasus Federation in late May 1918, its three parts, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, declared their independence. Each of them had territorial claims to its neighbours. In particular, some Azerbaijani politicians considered it fair to integrate the Erivan Uyezd (administrative subdivision) into Azerbaijan. They cited statistical data from tsarist Russia of the early 20th century, according to which the overwhelming majority of the population there were ethnic Azerbaijanis. (art. Erivan, Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary). However, the National Council decided to recognise Yerevan as the capital of Armenia.