Letter: Responsibility for the fighting in Azerbaijan

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The Independent Online
Sir: Having just returned from my thirteenth visit taking humanitarian aid to the blockaded, besieged and bombarded enclave of Nagorny Karabakh, I read the articles from your correspondent in Baku. As you have not reported from Karabakh itself, I hope I may put an alternative version of events.

The escalation of fighting was not 'Armenian aggression' but a defensive counter-attack to Azeri military offensives. In Kelbadzhar this was necessitated by a massive build-up of Azeri forces, threatening the humanitarian corridor that is essential for Karabakh's survival, given Azerbaijan's cruel, four-year blockade. The hills surrounding Fezuli were attacked to prevent constant shelling of civilians in Karabakh.

There is suffering on both sides. But Azerbaijan has been the primary aggressor. It was Azerbaijan that brutally deported entire Armenian villages in 1991. Azerbaijan blockaded Armenia and Karabakh, violating human rights and causing massive suffering. Azerbaijan first used Grad multiple-missile rocket launchers against civilians. And Azerbaijan has unilaterally used aerial bombardment against civilians, with cluster bombs and ground-to-air missiles. I have witnessed all these acts of aggression.

I also witnessed the suffering of Armenians when the Azeris overran their land last June, forcing 80,000 to flee in conditions even worse than the current plight of the Azeris. Although the Armenians left an escape corridor for the fleeing Azeris,

the Azeris did not, but continued shelling civilians as they fled.

The press has given prolific coverage of the suffering of the Azeris, but virtually ignored the agony of Karabakh. The overriding priority must surely be a ceasefire and an end to bloodshed. This will not be made easier by one-sided reporting.

I and my colleagues from the Andrei Sakharov Foundation and Christian Solidarity International became involved in this tragedy with no prejudice. We have taken aid to Azeri victims. But, following Sakharov's precept, we try to be 'on the side of the victim'. From repeated visits, we are convinced that the 150,000 Armenians of Karabakh are the primary victims. So far, they have withstood the might of seven- million strong Azerbaijan, at great cost. They are fighting for the survival of their homes, families, and the homeland they have inhabited for centuries. They have not 'taken' 10 per cent of Azerbaijan, as widely reported. Rather, nearly all this land was part of Armenia, cruelly relocated by Stalin in the new state of Azerbaijan.

Karabakh and Armenia have requested a ceasefire. But Azerbaijan has been committed to a 'military solution'. If the Azeris now wish for peace, this is welcome. But the Armenians of Karabakh will need massive confidence-building measures if they are to feel secure after having been persecuted and massacred for so long.

Yours faithfully,


House of Lords

London, SW1

9 April