Comment by the AIR Center on the Statements of Freedom House Report about Azerbaijan’s Occupied Territories

The Freedom in the World 2020 report of Freedom House, published in March 2020, has touched upon numerous national and international political developments that happened across the globe over the last year. Leaving aside all other estimations its authors have shared, the comments made in the report regarding the occupied territories of Azerbaijan fall short of due respect to the international law and human rights.

The report, paying no proper attention to the recent worrying developments in the Armenian politics, characterizes the policies pursued by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan as a “positive sign”. However, this disregard is of even lesser significance compared to the one its authors demonstrated with respect to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and the fundamental rights of Azerbaijani citizens, who were forced to flee their homeland three-decades ago in the course of Armenia’s war against Azerbaijan.

The report presents the premiership of Pashinyan as having a “positive effect” on the Nagorno-Karabakh over the last year, the region that is illegally occupied and fully controlled by Armenia in a flagrant violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and the resolutions of numerous other international bodies, including the European Court of Human Rights.

Prime Minister Pashinyan, whose policies have been analyzed as “positive” for his country and Azerbaijan’s occupied territories, has so far taken not a single positive step towards the resolution of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding regions since he took office around two years ago. Quite the contrary, his increasingly xenophobic and aggressive rhetoric, along with his unconstructive stance in the negotiations, have even further aggravated the situation in the region and made the solution of the conflict more problematic. According to many international experts in the field, Pashinyan’s remarks “Nagorno-Karabakh is Armenia, period” and his reference to the “Great Armenia” of the time of King Tigran are replete with jingoistic populist sentiments and full of irredentist territorial claims.

The report, disregarding this reality on the ground, praises the conduct of the local elections (September, 2019) in Nagorno-Karabakh, part of Azerbaijan’s occupied territories, and even awaits “further changes” in the elections for the executive and legislative bodies of a “republic” which is a puppet regime of Yerevan to maintain its control over the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

This approach constitutes disrespect not only to the territorial integrity of Republic of Azerbaijan and the international documents re-affirming its sovereignty and territorial integrity, but also to thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) whose right to live in their homelands in the Nagorno-Karabakh region is continuously denied. Those Azerbaijanis, whose number currently accounts for 80,000, have been forced out from these territories by Armenian military forces through violent ethnic cleansing. The well-documented mass murder of 613 Azerbaijanis in Khojaly, which is recognized as genocide by growing number of other states, is only one tragic episode of this process. 

The assessment by Freedom House about the situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan resembles the dark pages of human history when human rights meant to privilege only one group of population based on race or ethnicity. The fundamental flaw in the methodology of the report is related to the very principle of human rights which prohibits any discrimination based on race, gender or ethnicity. There cannot be any “democracy rating” in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan unless the rights of indigenous Azerbaijani population are restored. 

Hence, the authors of Freedom House report, along with all other international observers, should take into account that a puppet political regime, that is built on the occupied territories in order to legitimize the occupation, cannot be treated as a legitimate entity and analyzed as such in a report about democracy and human rights. This is a must not only due to the fact that the opposite contradicts the international law and norms, but also because in the 21st century no state should be allowed to pursue its expansionist ambitions at the expense of the blood and tragedy of thousands of innocent people.