Author: Namig MAYILOV, Baku-Jojug Marjanly-Baku
Horadiz. Liberated in 1994 from the Armenian occupation, this settlement in Fuzuli region has become a modern and developed town with the necessary infrastructure. The city of Fuzuli is still under occupation. Fuzuli is one of the regions adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh, and its return is currently a subject of negotiations.
At the entrance to Horadiz, you can a memorial to the soldiers fallen during the bloody battle in April 2016. After honoring their memory, we follow the road to Jabrayil region. Now it is a safe place, thanks to the heroism of the fallen soldiers.
From Jojug Marjanli to Shusha
We had mixed feelings all along the way. Thoughts gather in a big tangle trying not to contradict each other and not leave room for pessimism. As if after nine kilometers, the road will not end and will take us to the regions of Zangilan, Gubadli, and Lachin. Shusha is at stone's throw from our location... As in the old good times.
On our left side, up the Araz River, we can see the villages of Fuzuli region bordering with Iran, which are relatively untouched by the war. Herds grazing in pastures replace tractors and harvesting equipment in the fields. Only the oncoming military vehicles remind us that this region is still suffering from war. There comes an understanding that soon there will be barriers and military posts on our way.
Here it is, the last liberated settlement on this path, Jojug Marjanly. Our journey ends here. But it is a start of another one - a symbol of the Great Return. Tit is now safe to live in Jojug Marjanly after the April fights, when the Azerbaijani army won the strategically important height of Lele-Tepe. Armed Forces of Armenia had kept the adjacent territory under constant fire for 24 years from this height.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev provided more than ₼20 million for the restoration of Jojug Marjanli. The territory of the village was cleared; fifty houses, a school, substation, mosque, and new road were constructed. Some of the residents have already moved to live in their native village, the rest is preparing to move. The construction of another hundred houses, a kindergarten, medical center, irrigation system and other infrastructure objects is continuing.
We arrived to Jojug Marjanly by the noon, when the lessons at the village school were in full swing. Press Council of Azerbaijan and the International Eurasian Press Foundation organized a visit of a group of Azerbaijani media and teachers of the Faculty of Journalism of Baku State University to Jojug Marjanli. However, this day we were not the only guests of the village. Teachers and pupils from a number of Baku schools who came to support the inhabitants of the front-line village met us at school also. Director of the school Zamin Gaziyev noted that people did not leave them alone. In addition to state sponsorship, people from different regions come to Jojug Marjanli to support the villagers both morally and financially almost daily.
Our delegation brought new books of teachers of the Baku State University that were added to the rural library. According to Aflatun Amashov, chairman of the Press Council and member of parliament, the Press Council of Azerbaijan and the International Eurasian Press Foundation intend to open a Media Center in Jojug Marjanly: "We want the guests of the village to receive all the information they need in this center, equipped with the latest technology. This will help spread the truth about the Armenian occupation and its consequences in the world," said A. Amashov.
President of the International Eurasian Press Foundation, Deputy Chairman of the Press Council Umud Mirzayev stressed the symbolic character of the restoration of Jujug Marjanli in the context of further land de-occupation. He expressed hopes that the next restoration project will be implemented in his native village of Ashagy Abdurrahmanly of the neighboring Fuzuli region. This village is also controlled by Azerbaijani troops, and his visit was the next point in our program. But before that, we had to meet and lunch with the personnel of one of the front-line military units.
Frankly, about 20 years ago, during the years of my military service, I did not even dream about such quantity and quality of food for military. Not to mention the menu, which includes meals such as borscht, dolma, pilaf, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, sour cabbage, fruit juices and desserts. Not every army can boast of such a diet. The high level of material and technical supply and the increased fighting spirit among the military personnel brings hope to the population of the adjoining Azerbaijani villages. The locals are ready to stand up for the struggle. According to the military, during the April battles for Lele-Tepe, they hardly were able to stop the civilian population from helping the soldiers. "However, unlike the Armenian side, which immediately began to mobilize its former fighters, our army is self-sufficient. Its equipment, fighting spirit and the level of preparedness make it possible to cope with the tasks of any complexity. The Armenians know this very well," says one of the officers.
Indeed, they know this, and therefore peruse provocations to divert the attention of international mediators from the essence of the settlement process to maintaining the ceasefire.
They are shooting... Apparently, Armenians noticed our cars on our way to Ashagy Abdurrahmanly from the trenches. They do not seem to be embarrassed that we were in civil vehicles. Fortunately, dangerous sections along the road are fenced with high earthen rampart. For security reasons, the military instructs the accompanying journalists and drivers to go strictly behind them. In a few minutes, we will see the ruins of houses, a ruined rural cemetery and other traces of vandalism... This is all that remains from the village of Ashagi Abdurrahmanly after the Armenian occupation. "This is the grave of my teacher. Her children wanted to restore the tombstone, but I asked them to wait. We will restore it when we return here to live. In the meantime, let the world see the true face of Armenian vandalism," said Umud Mirzayev pointing to the destroyed tombstones and photos uprooted from the plates.
There is another grave nearby. Completely new, untouched by war. This is the resting place of Mirzayev’s father, who was buried last year in the cemetery of his native village. "Our people are very attached to their land. Our ancestors are buried here, our children will live here," said Mirzayev.
From derivatives to principal issues
Azerbaijan is confident that soon or later the conflict will find its fair solution and people will be able to return to their homes. Despite all attempts of Armenians to maintain the status quo, the current state of affairs around the conflict shows that there is no alternative to withdrawing Armenian troops from the occupied territories. Judging by the statements of both the parties to the conflict and the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, they negotiate the same proposals for the release at the initial stage of five or maybe all seven adjacent regions to Nagorno-Karabakh.
The results of the recent visit of the co-chairs to the region are also encouraging. As noted by the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, the meeting with the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs proved to be productive. International mediators made a similar assessment. At least, the parties reached an agreement to resume meetings of the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia. "Both presidents are ready to hold talks on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict," says the joint statement of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs on the results of regional tour.
What are the expectations? The President of Azerbaijan gave the most comprehensive answer to this question. "Today, the negotiation process is being restored without accepting any conditions. Once again, Armenia disgraced itself before the world community, and the resumption of negotiations is not a favor to us. Their hysterical statements, full of fear of turning to other countries, are in fact an open recognition that they will not be able to withstand us in battle. The April events is an evidence of this fact," said President Aliyev at a government meeting on October 9.
It is clear that there is no need to expect any revolutionary agreements following the meeting of the presidents. But there is no doubt that the ongoing process will result in the start of substantive negotiations, which Azerbaijan insists on.
The official representative of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, Hikmet Hajiyev, also expressed that the settlement process was entering a rather intriguing, and perhaps even decisive phase. He said that Minister Elmar Mammadyarov supported several "interesting proposals" of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to continue "substantive negotiations" on the conflict settlement. Hajiyev did not disclose the content of "interesting proposals" though. But since these proposals are interesting for Baku, it means that they are not about the derivatives of the conflict, which Yerevan is constantly trying to divert the attention of the mediators. After all, the topic of substantive negotiations is not a secret: liberation of the areas adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh at the initial stage with a view to further progress in the process of peaceful settlement of the conflict.
Even the Armenian Foreign Minister, Edvard Nalbandian, had to admit this saying that Yerevan was discussing with Baku the return of part of the occupied Azerbaijani territories, meaning the territories "which will not threaten either Karabakh or the settlement in terms of security."
True, certain people in Yerevan booed their minister. The head of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces Movses Hakobian mentioned even new territorial claims to Azerbaijan. Not only does Hakobian disagree to return lands to Azerbaijan, but he also needs additional territories "to strengthen the defense of Artsakh." Even after such frantic statements, the Armenian leadership continues to assure the world that the Karabakh issue is not about occupation, but self-determination of some "Artsakh people"!?
Meanwhile, the head of the Armenian General Staff seems unhappy with the situation in the Armenian army. According to the report of Peace Dialogue, Armenians had 45 deaths in military personnel, 19 of which occurred in Armenia, 26 in Karabakh during the first nine months of 2017. Twenty Armenian soldiers died "due to ceasefire violation", the remaining 25 cases are the result of hazing, suicides, accidents, negligence, health problems, violation of safety rules and other "unidentified" reasons.
Armenian social networks criticize the facts of deaths and injuries in non-combat conditions, which are often hidden from the public. After the April battles, Armenians expressed their discontent with the fact that the draftees from Armenia perish on foreign lands for no obvious reasons.
Why do they sacrifice their lives, if there are almost no peaceful Armenians in Karabakh? While we hear brave statements from the head of the Armenian General Staff, the senior adviser to the Minister of Defense of Armenia Babken Vardanian alarms over the demographic situation in the occupied territories and, following the old Armenian traditions, calls for settling the seized lands.
Firstly, they should prevent the outflow of population from Armenia. As the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan admits, demographic trends in the country are very troubling. Or, as the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, Aram I, put it, "Armenia is devastated, and the Diaspora is being depleted."
Thus, there are a number of factors which force Yerevan not only to return to the negotiating table, but also to become more compliant. The soonest return to Azerbaijan of the regions adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh at the first stage is in the interests of Armenia itself. Hence, the Sargsyan's regime can simultaneously avoid a destructive military clash with Baku, reduce tensions in the Armenian society, gain time to correct the demographic situation, and, most importantly, get certain guarantees to secure the regional isolation that Armenia has driven itself into.
Incidentally, on October 30, the official opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars regional railway line will take place in Baku with the participation pf the presidents of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia. Yerevan is obviously late to follow this and previous trains, but if it hurries up, it can get into the next one.