Author: Ilgar VELIZADE
As a result of the 44-day war in Garabagh, Azerbaijan liberated its territories occupied by Armenia. Now it is possible to proceed with the restoration of the Azerbaijani-Armenian border previously controlled by Armenia. It is about 360 km of border line crossing rugged terrain. In the Soviet period, it was the official border between the two Soviet republics, which the UN has also recognised as a border line separating the two countries after the collapse of the USSR. After the occupation, it has been under the illegal control of Armenia.
The youngest and most problematic
In general, the Azerbaijani-Armenian border is the most problematic and dangerous section of the Azerbaijani border. This is the longest section of the state border with the most complex relief. Even during the Soviet period, it was unstable. Armenia has repeatedly raised the issue before the Soviet and Azerbaijani leadership regarding the transfer of a number of agricultural lands to Armenia located on the border territory of the Azerbaijan SSR. Thanks to lobbying of Armenians and pro-Armenian groups in the Soviet leadership in the early 20th century and in the 1980s, numerous sections of the border were changed in favour of the Armenian SSR. As a result of complex agreements, the villages of Yukhary Askipara, Barkhudarly, Sofulu, Karki, Bashkend (Artsvashen in Armenian) appeared as enclaves on the map. Four of these enclaves were Azerbaijani and only one was Armenian.
After the Garabagh conflict and the explicit territorial claims of Yerevan to Baku, the Armenian political leadership has revised the Armenian-Azerbaijani border along its entire length. During the intensification of hostilities in Garabagh in the first half of the 1990s, the Armenian military grossly violated the sovereignty of the Republic of Azerbaijan, established control over 360 km of the Azerbaijani-Armenian border and 132 km of the Azerbaijani-Iranian border. Thus, about 500 km of the state border of the Republic of Azerbaijan, in violation of the fundamental norms of international law, came under the control of the Armenian armed forces.
In addition, Armenians have managed to advance in a number of sections of the Azerbaijani-Armenian border in the Gazakh district and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic.
After the April 2016 battles, Baku has gradually regained control over the lost positions, including along the entire length of the Azerbaijani-Armenian state border.
In May 2018, by the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, the Azerbaijani army restored control over the village of Gunnut (Sharur), as well as the strategic heights of Khunut (2,065 m), Gizilgaya (1,683 m) and Mehridagh (1,869 m). This was followed by improving the infrastructure on the border with Armenia in Nakhchivan. In December 2018, part of the units of the Azerbaijani army on the border with Armenia in the districts of Gazakh and Aghstafa were replaced with border troops. It was therefore possible to strengthen the combat readiness of the Azerbaijani military units and create new reserve units. Over the past period, the defense potential of Azerbaijan in Gazakh and Aghstafa has been significantly improved thanks to modern defense infrastructure, the construction of new service buildings, barracks, military checkpoints, etc.
Strengthening the infrastructure and increasing the combat potential of the border troops have toned down the enthusiasm of Armenians to revise the Azerbaijani-Armenian section of the state border. At the same time, it has also ensured the safety of Azerbaijani civilians living along the border line.
The successful counteroffensive of the Azerbaijani army in September-November 2020 and the actual surrender of Armenia allowed Azerbaijan to regain control along the entire border of the country, in particular along the region of Zangezur.
Meanwhile, the demarcation works have revealed many problems with the border status of these locations. Armenians had to take a different look at issues that had not seemed of fundamental nature during the Soviet period and the occupation of Azerbaijani lands after the collapse of the union. It turned out that, regardless of the actual ownership of the border territories in the Soviet period, Armenian authorities permitted the construction of residential buildings within the Azerbaijani border.
According to the residents of the Vorotan village, which has partially become an Azerbaijani territory after the demarcation, local Armenian authorities issued permits for the construction of houses back in 1958. This shows that even in the Soviet times, Armenian authorities have followed a policy of ‘creeping settlement’ of the Azerbaijani border territories. Roughly the same situation was observed in the village of Shurnukh.
In addition, Armenians had used for many decades the pastures located on the Azerbaijani territory due to the shortage of suitable pasture zones in Armenia, in contrast with the situation in the districts of Gubadly and Zangilan of Azerbaijan. For many years, Armenians had used the Azerbaijani lands unbeknownst of the time that would make them return these lands to their rightful owner.
Historical sources indicate that the villages of Vorotan and Shurnukh have always been populated with Azerbaijanis, although they officially belonged to Armenia. The former names of Vorotan and Shurnukh are Shahverdilar and Shurnukhu, respectively.
In the middle of the 20th century, Armenian authorities renamed the Bazarchay River and Shahverdilar, located on the river bank, to Vorotan. At the same time, Vorotan (Shahverdilar) borders with Gubadly, while the village of Shurnukh (Shurnukhu) borders with Zangilan – both the districts of Azerbaijan. For many years, the indigenous population of these villages has been driven out of these places. By the end of the 1980s, there were no Azerbaijanis left in these villages at all.
After the occupation of Zangilan and Gubadli, both villages had been controlled by Armenia.
The same applies to the Gafan-Gorus highway, which was constructed in the Soviet period without taking into account the Armenian-Azerbaijani border passing in this section of the highway. When the border was ‘transparent’, there were no problems. Now, the further operation of the highway is questionable, since it crosses the Azerbaijani border several times.
GPS and the Azerbaijani truth
This situation contributed to the spread of speculation by Armenians regarding the ownership of various sections of the border territory. At the same time, the delimitation of the state border using the GPS system largely negates such claims, since it also confirms that Azerbaijan is right.
Nothing and no one can stop the process of Azerbaijan's return to its ancestral lands. This is an important political issue, since Azerbaijan also restores the entire length of its borders with Armenia. With regaining control over all sections of the state border, Azerbaijan can now prevent the actions of destructive forces still trying to create tension along the border line and territories controlled by the peacekeeping mission.
In this sense, Azerbaijan must also establish control over its state border in the district of Lachin. According to the November 10 trilateral statement, "Azerbaijan guarantees the safety of traffic, citizens, vehicles and goods in both directions along the Lachin corridor." This means that Azerbaijan has every reason to control not only the Lachin corridor, but also the border section within this corridor. Thus, any attempts to illegally cross the border, and even more aggressive actions, must and will be suppressed.
States should "refrain from the promotion, encouragement or support, direct or indirect, of rebellious or secessionist activities within other States, under any pretext whatsoever, or any action which seeks to disrupt the unity or to undermine or subvert the political order of other States". This clause is part of the Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States adopted on December 9, 1981 by the UN General Assembly. Therefore, any support from Armenia to separatists still operating in Azerbaijan will get a tough response from Azerbaijan. The return of significant portions of the Azerbaijani-Armenian state border under the control of Baku gives all the grounds for such a statement.