The Return of Refugees and Internally Displaced People to Their Homeland: a View from Azerbaijan




Negotiations to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict around Nagorny Karabakh (NK) have been going on for over 16 years. Despite the efforts of the two countries’ political leaderships, the Minsk Group of the OSCE, and various international organisations, the problem is still at an impasse.

At the same time there are some signs of positive changes linked primarily to the agreement on several aspects of the substantive issues at stake, reflected in various declarations[1] and joint statements by leaders of the countries involved in the negotiation process.[2]

The negotiations process is closely observed by all strata of Azerbaijani society, without exception[3], and by refugees and IDPs in particular. Everyone is waiting with great anticipation for the conflict parties to finally arrive at a consensus on substantive issues and to sign a peace treaty which would set in motion the process of return for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).


True to the “do no harm” principle, the author of this article has chosen not to digress into the history of the NK conflict. Instead, the author has set out to analyze the view of the Azerbaijani public regarding the return of refugees/IDPs to places of their former residence after a potential future peaceful settlement of the NK conflict, and to study social and psychological aspects of this scenario.



1. Present policies on refugee/IDP return


1.1. The general situation with refugees/IDPs in Azerbaijan


It is no secret that refugees and IDPs are the most vulnerable segment of the population in Azerbaijan. Thus in Baku, Sumgait, Ganja and other large cities IDPs have been rehoused in government buildings, schools, kindergartens, student halls of residence. According to the data supplied by the Asian Development Bank, refugees and IDPs remain one of the poorest groups in Azerbaijan and as such have been identified as a priority group in need of special attention in the poverty reduction plan. At present refugees/IDPs still suffer from absence of proper water and sewerage facilities as well as inadequate healthcare and education provisions. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Human Rights Walter Kelin drew attention to the scale of existing problems in these areas during his visit to Baku in May 2010. According to Kelin, “tens of thousands of Azerbaijani IDPs still live in derelict, excessively cramped and highly unhygienic collective settlements.”[4]


Malnutrition is widespread, infant mortality stands at 26% compared with the national average of 10%, and unemployment among IDPs is a very serious problem.


To improve this situation and IDPs’ living conditions the government is taking steps to provide regular aid and build new settlements for IDPs. The government programme on improving the social and economic conditions of refugees and IDPs has begun to yield fruit in recent years. Thus, in the past four years the poverty level among IDPs fell from 75% to 25%.


1.2. Statistical data on refugees and IDPs

There are huge discrepancies between different international documents and reports compiled for public consumption regarding the actual number of refugees/IDPs. This leads to doubts and well-founded accusations of falsifications of facts.[5] Given the importance of this research we looked at and used data from official sources.[6]


According to official information, in January 2010 there were 248,000 refugees from Armenia (accounting for 29.7% of the total number of refugees/IDPs) and 586,000 IDPs (accounting for 70.3%, respectively). Of the latter, 242,000 IDPs (41.3%) lived in Baku and Sumgait, while 344,000 IDPs lived in other parts of the country (58.7%).[7] While 138,000 refugees (55.6%) lived in urban areas, 110 000 refugees (44.4%) lived in rural areas.


It must be noted that the overall figures on refugees and IDPs in Azerbaijan do not include statistical data on residents of twenty one Azerbaijani villages on the border with Armenia. Villages outside the boundaries of the former NKAO and seven districts around it were occupied by the Armenian troops during the war.[8] According to the Administration of the President of Republic of Azerbaijan there were 128,000 people living there at the time.[9] After the occupation residents of those villages did not leave the territory of their districts but settled in neighbouring villages and towns. If we add their number to the total number of IDPs, we could say that this segment of the population accounts for a 700,000-strong population.



1.3. Government assistance for refugees/IDPs

Since 2001, with the significant increase in Azerbaijan’s oil revenues, the republic has significant opportunities to build new townships for IDPs and to finance their relocation. From 2001 until October 2010 the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ) allocated AZM 692,900,000 manats (approximately USD $866,100,100) to the construction of new townships. This money was used to build townships in different parts of the country, complete with energy, water, gas and other social and technological infrastructure. In total, 57 new townships have been built with government money and with the active involvement of the State Committee for Refugees and IDPs, the IDPs’ Social Development Fund and Azerbaijan’s Agency for Rebuilding and Reconstruction of Territories. The total number of new houses built and handed over to IDPs stands at 16,677, with additional 287 multi-purpose administrative buildings.[10] According to the official data, around 100,000 refugees/IDPs have already been resettled in these new townships, including 11,000 refugees and 89,000 IDPs. The process of resettlement for refugees/IDPs who are living in hostels and halls of residence will commence in 2011.[11]


We must stress that the new village houses offered to new settlers are not owned by them; they received them in accordance with the contracts between refugees/IDPs and the State Committee for Refugees and IDPs. When the occupied territories pass from Armenia’s control to that of Azerbaijan and IDPs go back to their homes, they will have no further need in these houses which will be used for other purposes. There is no conscious strategy of integration in Azerbaijan.


1.4. Impact of “no war, no peace” status quo on the refugees/IDPs’ attitude to their return


The existing “no war, no peace” situation is heavily charged with the threat of a new escalation. Belligerent rhetoric in the media on both sides of the conflict divide, stalled negotiations and regular deaths along the “line of contact”, have lead to the torpedoing of peace initiatives, on the one hand,  and to the increase of warmongering, on the other. A military solution to the conflict would, however, lead to massive human casualties on both sides of the conflict divide and turn into a national tragedy for both nations. This is the reason why the Republic of Azerbaijan is trying to liberate occupied territories and to resolve the NK conflict by purely peaceful means.


Whatever the scenario (military operations or peace negotiations), a peace treaty will be signed by the parties and this will lead to the de-occupation of the occupied territories both in NK and around it, resulting in the return of IDPs to their former homes. This is not an easy process and it would require considerable resources aimed, on the one hand, at rebuilding the infrastructure of the liberated territories[12], and on the other, at organising the whole process of IDPs’ return. De-mining of the territories, rebuilding infrastructure destroyed in the war and the socio-economic development of NK, in general, require not just enormous financial investments but also enormous efforts. Similar efforts would be required to organise a voluntary return of the IDPs who are ready to embark on this process. Social, political and economic factors which could strengthen the process of return, together with socio-psychological factors, will be important components of this process. In order to analyze the situation through this prism and to identify elements of the return process which are of particular interest to refugees/IDPs meetings and open discussions on the most burning issues were conducted during the preparation of this article in November-December 2010.



2. The degree of refugee/IDP integration and how it affects the return process


The extent to which refugees/IDPs are integrated is directly linked to their attitude to voluntary return. In order to build a full picture of the potential scenario of the entire IDP population’s (and even, perhaps, refugee population’s) return it is necessary to identify clearly differences in degrees of their integration.


2.1. Differentiation of refugee groups from Armenia


Four basic categories of refugee groups from Armenia can be identified: assimilated, integrated, isolated and marginalized refugees.


Assimilated refugees include those who partially abandoned their former identity (that of Khallavar, Lyambyaliets, Nyuvyadinets, etc[13]) and who have tried to merge with the local communities in their current places of residence in different regions of Azerbaijan.  Using family or other ties, they have integrated into the local communities and tried to redefine their identity, linking it to their new place of residence where they have acquired flats. They link their future plans to putting down deeper roots in their present place of residence rather than returning to Armenia. It is hard to estimate the exact number of these assimilated refugees but in the surveys they indicated that even in the event of an organized process of return to Armenia, 90% of them would not go back there. This reflects the prevailing opinion among refugees.


Integrated refugees, which were able to retain their cultural identity, are close to the assimilated ones. When discussed, the issue of refugee integration is often understood as a simple merging of this group with Azerbaijani society. In fact, when considered from the point of view of cultural identity this is not integration, but assimilation. The integrated refugees, on the other hand, combine their former identity linked to the Azeri culture which once existed in Armenia, with their new acquired identity of residents of Baku, Ganja etc. Neither the assimilated, nor the integrated refugees have any plans to go back to Armenia and there are no discussions among this population segment of such a return.


Isolated refugees are those living in compact settlement centres for refugees. They stick together, usually make up a single community and still define themselves as natives of Armenia. Far from rejecting their old identity, they strengthen and deepen it. They occupy a particular niche in the employment market with their collective involvement in small businesses and trade. These refugees keep a certain socio-psychological distance from the rest of the local population and enter into marriages only with members of their own refugee community. They try not to get assimilated into the local communities.


Marginalised refugees are also not assimilated, but have lost the sense of a link with their former identity. They experience the syndrome of total alienation, both from the locals and from those native to Armenia. Officially, they are still registered as refugees but psychologically they do not identify themselves with other refugees.


If assimilated refugees consider the local community as their reference group, for isolated refugees the refugee community itself constitutes such their reference group, while marginalised refugees lack support in both the local community and the refugee community. Such alienation and self-alienation are exacerbated by their low social status and low incomes. Isolated and marginalised refugees constitute the smallest proportion of all refugees and are the most passive part of this population segment, totally reliant on external help: from the government, society and relatives.


2.2. Differentiation of IDP groups


In contrast to refugees, IDPs from NK and the seven districts around it have settled mostly in other regions of Azerbaijan, according to the principle of assignment which corresponds to the governmental infrastructure of the region where they are registered (for example if an IDP from Shusha region live in Baku now his still remains as a resident of Shusha region and is registered with the executive branch of the local government-in-exile of Shusha). Like  refugees, IDPs have also formed new social and cultural types, which can be divided into several similar categories: integrated and assimilated, isolated and returnees.


Integrated IDPs are those who have managed to find a place to settle down, mostly in Baku and other large cities of Azerbaijan (Sumqayit, Ganja and Mingechaur) and are more or less well integrated into their local communities; they constitute the plurality of all IDPs. According to official data, 278,000 IDPs (who represent 47.4%) have managed to settle down in the above-mentioned cities. This urban segment of the IDP community actively participates in the social and political life of the country. These are mostly natives of Zangilan, Qubatly, Fizuli, Jebrayil and Agdam districts.


Assimilated IDPs are those who resettled quite spontaneously in different parts of the country, some distance away from the areas bordering the line of contact (LOC). Local district infrastructure, close contacts with the local population, marriage with local people strengthened assimilatory trends, especially where they settled in smaller numbers, and finally led to the disappearance of noticeable differences between the local populations and IDPs. According to rough estimates the number of assimilated IDPs stands at around 115,000, which constitutes 19.6% of the total number of IDPs.


Isolated IDPs constitute a relatively small maverick group. During the conflict the majority of IDPs rushed to leave the military theatre and settled in those areas closest to NK.  Refugee tent camps, Finnish huts and shelters were hastily erected along principal highways leading to NK, which subsequently became compact IDP settlements, relatively isolated from the surrounding world. Due to this isolation they have managed to preserve customs, traditions, way of life and their skills. A review of recent statistical data on IDP’s settlement distribution brings us to the conclusion that their number has halved over recent years to around 74,000 people, or 12.7% of the total number of IDPs.


Finally, the last group in our notional differentiation are those IDPs living in new townships built in the Terter, Fizuli and Agdam districts. These so-called “returnees” have not integrated due to their relative isolation until their recent resettlement in new townships. The process of repatriation in new townships, being a pilot model of repatriation in future, has to start now in order to prepare for a smooth process of repatriation after the future release of the occupied territories. At present their number stands at 118,000 people, i.e. 20.3% of the total number of IDPs.


2.3. What these degrees of IDPs and refugees’ integration have in common and prospects for organizing their return


Refugees/IDPs who we have defined as assimilated and integrated, residing in Baku and other large cities, are not hopeful regarding the potential return of lost territories. Indefinite stalling of the peace process only intensifies integrational processes in society and contributes to the rapid loss of a sense of belonging to Karabakh soil.  Already there are some integrated and assimilated refugees/IDPs who do not want to go back to Karabakh under any circumstances. Although the majority of IDPs we met when researching this article always stressed their readiness to return to Karabakh, whatever desolation and destruction they might find there, some did not. One focus group participant made the following statement: “I do not want to experience all the suffering and torments of an IDP ever again!” A female refugee from Armenia expressed a similar sentiment when she said that her “great grandfather was deported from Armenia in 1918-1920, her father was deported in 1948-49 and returned in 1950, and then it was her turn in 1988 when she was finally deported with her whole family”. She has no desire to go back because she “fears that her children would have to suffer deportation and exile”. At the same time this refugee’s brother, also present at the focus group discussion, proudly declared his readiness to go back to Armenia and start a new life there.


Isolated refugees and IDPs experience their total isolation from everyday life keenly and do not have an idea of what the future holds for them. This category of refugees/IDPs is characterized by disorganization, indecision, suspiciousness, inner tension and aggression, hopelessness and despair. These syndromes must be considered in the light of any plans to implement their return in the future. It is crucial to commence cross-cutting work with these people to “squeeze” them out of this category by creating favourable conditions for their integration, including accelerated resettlement in new townships and temporary accommodation being built in different districts, and by encouraging initiatives to revive their former social and cultural identity. A number of five-storey buildings are ready in Gabala, Goranboy and Yevlakh regions to accommodate them.[14]


3. Potential scenarios for IDP return to liberated territories

In order to piece together potential return scenarios we must ascertain the volume of suggested rehabilitation work, including demining, in the liberated territories.


3.1. The volume of reconstruction/rehabilitation work

In order for return to the de-occupied territories to become reality, according to the calculations of the State Committee for the Assessment of Damage from the Karabakh Conflict these territories necessitate infrastructure for 900 new towns and villages, 131,000 new accommodation units, new roads, electricity supply networks and telephone lines. Considering that building a township for 500 families takes four months, building 131,000 accommodation units would require over five years.


It has been estimated that damage from the conflict stands at USD $60 billion.[15] In a subsequent briefing on the issue of IDPs’ repatriation Chairman of the State Committee for Refugees and IDPs stated that implementation of the Reconstruction and Repatriation Programme (“The Great Return”) would require USD $62 billion, although this figure is subject to revision. But it is already clear that the sum is going to exceed USD $70 billion.


An important component of the rehabilitation programme is the de-mining of the territories and the removal of unexploded ordnance. In 1988 the National Mine Clearance Agency of Azerbaijan (ANAMA) was created. In almost 20 years of its existence this agency (with a staff of 547 in December 2010), helped by professional sappers, bomb technicians, rapid reaction forces, specialist equipment and 32 search dogs has managed to disable and remove 621,964 mines and unexploded shells from an area of 138 million square meters of Azerbaijan side of the line of contact and territory in Fizuli, Agdam, Goranboy and other neighbouring regions with NK.[16] The total area identified by ANAMA as needing clearance is 280 million square metres; the agency is expected to clear 22-27 million square meters a year which is not a bad number, even by international standards.


According to ANAMA as a rule only those parts of the occupied territories where fighting took place got mined. After the release of all occupied districts the area needing mine clearance is expected to range from 350-830 million square meters, containing 50-100,000 mines.[17] This accounts for  4% of the entire occupied area. According to the Agency’s calculations a thorough demining of these territories would require 8-14 years.[18] What is not known is the total amount of money needed to finance this process. According to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), in the more than 90 countries across the world where demining takes place humanitarian non-government and commercial organisations carry out 95-98% of all the work in de-mining.[19] The funding needed to do this work comes from the  relevant states and in the form of loans by the World Bank.


3.2.Hypothetic scenarios of potential return

During meetings to study refugees/IDPs’ opinions on various aspects of return, repatriation and restitution, as well as to collect and analyze their suggestions on these issues, we came across surprising and varied results. IDPs are divided on the issue of whether to return or not. Between polar opinions there is a whole spectrum of positions and approaches, with some IDPs willing to return unconditionally, others under certain conditions, while others are unwilling to return under any circumstances. This last category includes integrated and assimilated IDPs who have managed to create fairly good living conditions in their new places of residence and who fear for the future of their children.


Given the fact that 16 years have passed since they were expelled from their native land and that several decades will be required to rehabilitate and restore their homes, the return of integrated IDPs poses difficult problems. The most likely to return first would be those IDPs temporarily housed in new townships, and those isolated IDPs living in Finnish cabins and hostels. On the whole, the relevant executive agencies would be able to relocate people living in special IDP townships as they already have positive experience of doing so. Yet it would take many years to relocate those who have settled down in large cities – in municipal buildings, with relatives, in private accommodation, and so on. Most likely, the government will have to resort to both stimuli and coercion, including strict registration practices, for example. Thus large cities could be closed for registration but you would need registration documents to get a job; such compulsory measures would be used in tandem with the abolition of benefits for IDPs. Nonetheless, the return process is going to take five years or more.


In any case, it is important to determine what these potential scenarios of the NK settlement are and try to match them with the hypothetical programmes for organising IDPs’ return. In order to make predictions of potential scenarios of IDPs’ return we may usefully use the examples of scenarios for the political settlement of the NK conflict identified by the Azerbaijani political analyst Shahin Abbasov.[20] According to Abbasov, there are three potential scenarios: “optimistic”, “pro-Russian” and that of a “broad political consensus.”[21]


Under the optimistic scenario conciliation would focus around the Madrid Principles (return of five districts, special conditions for the return of Lachin and Kelbajar and deferred referendum on the status of NK). Under this scenario the first stage will see the resettlement/relocation of the non-integrated IDPs, in particular, the “isolated IDPs”, which would gradually move to the Agdam, Fizuli, Zangilan, Jebrayil and Qubatly districts. In the next stage IDPs from Lachin and Kelbajar who currently live in municipal buildings, spas/sanatoria in Baku and other large cities, could move into the freed accommodation in the new townships.  With a favourable turn of events this process could be accomplished within seven or eight years.  In this case outstanding issues would be the return of IDPs to Shusha and other settlements in NK, which could be resolved after the referendum to determine the status. In either case under the optimistic scenario IDPs from NK would also be moved to Karabakh, and presumably, to Shusha and other neighbouring Azerbaijani villages, followed by the process of building a peaceful future.


In the pro-Russian scenario considered by Shahin Abbasov, we see a similar unfolding of events but with a much stronger vector towards increased Russian influence over Azerbaijan as well as Armenia and over the NK peace process. Abbasov sees this as effectively freezing the conflict over the foreseeable future since resolution in favour of one or other party would result in one’s party long-term exit from Russia’s influence. In this scenario, we can see the repeat of the first scenario of IDP return, when IDPs move initially to the five liberated districts, with the prospect of Azerbaijani IDPs moving to the Lachin and Kelbajar districts only in the distant future with no fixed timeframe. Return of Azerbaijani IDPs to NK itself remains an open and undetermined issue. In fact, this scenario is not acceptable to Azerbaijani IDPs.


The broad geopolitical consensus scenario, which envisages the de-occupation of six districts (apart from Lachin), withdrawal of Armenian troops back to the border of the former NKAO, introduction of police and border guards by Azerbaijan, deployment of peacekeeping forces on the agreed section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, Shusha and Lachin handed over to Azerbaijan after the settlement of the status issue, also contains all elements of the return process applicable to a best case scenario of political settlement. But under this scenario the entire process of return would take 10-12 years, because it involves the development of a conceptual framework for the active engagement of the population of NK – both its Armenian and Azeri communities – in the social and political life of the country.


Relations between Azerbaijani returnees and the Armenian population of NK are given serious consideration by another Azerbaijani analyst, Tabib Hüseynov.[22] Hüseynov considers Armenian settlement in the Lachin and Kelbajar districts “the most likely source of tensions” which would “hamper the peace process, especially in its initial stage.”[23] Another crucial factor which could hinder the process of return are the artificial barriers potentially created by the local government of NK.[24] Demographic issues remain central. The Armenian community of NK is concerned by the yearly growth in the number of Karabakh Azeris and impacts on any future referendum on Karabakh’s status. Meanwhile the Azerbaijani community is concerned by Armenian settlement in NK and the surrounding districts, which is undoubtedly aimed at achieving numerical superiority over the Azerbaijani side. Each community tries to use demographic factors to consolidate a numerical advantage. If an effective mechanism to reduce the impact of the demographic factor on the whole process of return could be developed, this could yield positive results both in the area of interethnic relations and in the political area as well, which would be the key to future stability.



3.3. Key factors to be considered when organising return

In addition to political and demographic factors, any process of IDP return needs to consider other factors such as the sentiments, expectations and agendas of IDPs themselves. Analysis and consideration of these factors would allow to model with some approximation possible reactions of potential returnees to different scenarios of return to the de-occupied districts. One could distinguish four categories of social issues for IDPs: day-to-day problems; adaptational tasks and associated stresses; the stress of uncertainty and the need to plan one’s life; post-traumatic stress and the task of overcoming its consequences.


IDPs have had certain problems in common. Difficult living conditions, economic and social crises, rising prices, unemployment and the daily struggle to survive below the poverty line characterize the existence of most Azerbaijani IDPs irrespective of their place of residence. Yet for integrated or assimilated refugees and IDPs link all their hopes and future plans with their present environment, while isolated IDPs pin all their hopes and plans on the earliest possible return to NK. Many of them think that whatever the difficulties they have to face on their return, they would manage to deal with them in NK faster and more effectively. An important element that requires a lot of hard work in this context is the special preparation work with potential returnees among Azerbaijani IDPs, including the promotion of such values as tolerance, endurance and a constructive approach.


The process of adaptation to the new conditions of life in exile, to the new status and role prescriptions, linked to the fact that these individuals are refugees or IDPs, will require a certain change of identity. Many of them led a wonderful life in NK, were quite well off, and now, having lived through many sacrifices and total destruction, they have become exiles from their native land, have been left without a roof over their head, have been taken in by others, and have sunk to the lowest level of economic (in-)security. Such a drastic change in their social and economic status was also connected to the fact that the very label of  a “refugee” or “IDP” has become a stigma for them. They believe that NK is only that place where they would feel “at home”, where they would not feel alien. In addition, refugees/IDPs are also characterised by the syndrome of uncertainty. Uncertainty and difficulties of planning their life would only disappear after their return to NK.


This analysis brings us to the conclusion that to make the implementation of the programme or a smooth realisation of any of the scenarios of return to NK more effective, it is important to resolve these vital tasks within a socio-psychological  and security framework. This would require complex government measures for working with refugees/IDPs in order to overcome consequences of a deep traumatic experience at the social level. Small groups of ‘spoilers’ could do a great deal of damage in re-awakening past traumas.



4. Prospects for peaceful co-existence after the signing of a peace agreement


4.1. Differences in attitudes vis-à-vis peaceful co-existence

The prospect of peaceful co-existence after the signing of a peace agreement is a hotly debated topic in Armenian and Azerbaijani societies. Results of surveys and studies which are periodically conducted in both societies indicate that there are two views on this issue.


The first of them – the official Armenian position – consists in the total rejection of the potential co-existence of Armenians and Azeris, backed up by political statements from the Armenian political elite, including former Armenian president Robert Kocharian and Chairman of the Permanent Parliamentary Committee for External Relations A. Rustamian about the genetic incompatibility of Azerbaijanis and Armenians.[25] Some ordinary Armenians also disagree with R.Kocharian, A. Rustamian and other political figures.[26] Articles in the Azerbaijani media have referred to ordinary Armenians who wish to return to Azerbaijan, in whose sincerity there is no reason to doubt.[27]


The official Azerbaijani position is linked to the fact that the Azerbaijani public sees the future of NK as one of the most dynamic districts of Azerbaijan with both communities living side by side. “Armenians who currently live in Nagorny Karabakh and Azeris who would go back there, would live under the status of the highest possible autonomy”, remarked Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in one of his recent statements.[28] We can also refer to the famous statement of Azerbaijan’s Ambassador in Russia Polad Bulbuloglu during his visit to Karabakh[29]: “How can it be that Armenians and Azeris can live and do business together in Moscow but not here, on this patch of land…Neither Armenians, nor Azeris will ever disappear into outer space. .. I am certain that in future years everything will sort itself out, everything will be fine and we shall live together, side by side” – such was his optimistic prediction during his meeting with the Armenian community of NK. But the official view is that this can only happen after Armenian withdrawal and the return of displaced Azeris.[30]


Opinions of the majority of ordinary Azeris also coincide with the official line.   “If Armenians stop hating us without any reason, and give back everything they took from us, then we might be able to live together in peace” – reasoned one of Baku’s female residents who took part in the regular survey conducted by the SalamNews news agency on the streets of the capital. It must be noted, on the whole, that the vast majority of those surveyed spoke positively about the prospects for Azeris and Armenians living side by side after signing the peace agreement between conflicting sides.  They did note, however, that it is up to the Armenians to make the first step.[31]


4.2. Possibilities of peaceful co-existence and positive experience: for and against.

The possibility of peaceful co-existence between Armenians and Azeris are the focus of attention not only of political circles and NGOs in both countries but of international participants in the negotiation process. The OSCE Minsk Group’s co-chairs’ statement in Canada, and specifically the item on the right of all IDPs and refugees to return to their former places of residence, sparked off some activity, especially among the Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan. According to the Head of the State Migration Service of Armenia G. Yeganian, “many refugees approach different departments, including the Migration Service, in order to find out details and deadlines for the implementation of this decision.”[32] It is also worth noting that “Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan see this issue as realistic and attainable.”[33] Without a doubt such statements have behind them, a political rationale.


The return of Azerbaijani IDPs to NK, and possibly, of Azerbaijani refugees to Armenia is still an undecided issue in the Armenian position. It is known, however, that Karabakh Armenians have repeatedly stressed their opposition to the prospect of becoming a minority in Azerbaijan, citing the hierarchical nature of relations between Azerbaijan’s leadership and the Armenian administration of NK.[34]


Without going into details of these statements by the Armenian side, we would like to concentrate on the sentiments in Azerbaijani society. We can distinguish two themes here: peaceful co-existence in NK and a possibility of Armenians’ return to Azerbaijan.


As far as peaceful co-existence of the two communities in NK is concerned, here the position of Azerbaijan is quite simple: Armenians resident in NK have been and remain citizens of Azerbaijan. The government would always be willing to listen  to its citizens from both communities which would live in NK in the future.  They would enjoy the same rights and freedoms as Azeris, within the framework of Azerbaijan’s constitution. It goes without saying that Karabakh Azeris do not want to see a settlement of the NK conflict which could turn them into a “new minority” within NK under the political leadership of Armenians.  In this context it is important that both communities discuss the issue of their future co-existence at a certain stage in the negotiations. Today one can conclude that many Karabakh Azeris, who number 75,000, according to the Chairman of the Azeri community of NK B.Safarov[35], are ready to go back to NK if they are provided with security guarantees and a degree of autonomy equal to that of Karabakh Armenians.


There is an active promotion of the opinion – on both sides of the conflict divide – that after all that has happened Azeris would not be able to live in peace with Armenians. Safarov is confident that this approach is fundamentally flawed and that “Azeris do not have and would not have any problems with peaceful Armenians who respect the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. We can peacefully co-exist with Armenians. To make this possible, the Armenian leadership should first withdraw its troops, we should be able to go back to our homeland and start rebuilding that land together.”[36]


It is worth pointing out that such statements by the official representatives of the Azeri community of NK regarding the co-existence of Azeris and Armenians are deeply rooted in reality. It is a well known fact that there is a large number of ethnic Armenians who lead a peaceful life and are actively involved in different sectors of our economy in Baku. According to statements by the Chairman of the State Statistics Committee A.Veliyev[37] and Head of Presidential Administration R.Mehtiev[38], there were 20,000 ethnic Armenians living in Azerbijan a few years ago. According to the revised figures received from the Head of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Press Office E.Polukhov there are 30,000 Armenians currently resident in Azerbaijan.[39] These figures do not include Armenians currently resident in NK. According to the 1999 census there were 120,700 Armenians living in Azerbaijan at the time.[40]


Armenians who live in Azerbaijan, for example, in Baku, enjoy full rights under Azerbaijan’s constitution as citizens of Azerbaijan.


Ethnic Armenians, natives of Baku, live predominantly in those boroughs of the city where there used to be a closely-knit Armenian community in the past: Armenikend and Papanin (Nasimin district), Khutor (Binagadin district), Montina and Zavokzalnaya (Nariman district).


The majority of ethnic Armenians are wives of ethnic Azeris and children from mixed marriages who are fully engaged in different sectors of the economy without any problems. According to the information provided by the Director of Azerbaijan’s Migration Centre A.Aliyev, ethnic Armenians, in the age group 30 and older, some of whom have Azeri surnames, even occupy prominent positions and are directors of large companies. So far there have been no serious incidents of interethnic tensions in these sectors.[41] It is these positive aspects of relations with Armenian residents of Baku that have a good impact on the results of various surveys on the topic of Azeris and Armenians co-existing side by side. Despite the fact that 52.57% of those surveyed answered negatively, one third of the respondents, i.e. 37.36% gave a positive answer while another 9.89% did not know what to answer (had not made up their mind).[42] This points to the fact that if those who are still undecided choose to answer positively on the question of co-existence of Azeris and Armenians it would make the number of those who view this issue in a positive light to be almost half of the respondents (47.25%).


Notwithstanding, the general public’s attitude to the Armenians who want to return to Azerbaijan is extremely negative. 73.44% gave a negative answer to the question of  “whether Armenians should be allowed back into Azerbaijan”, while 88.28% of the respondents thought that Azeri society was not ready for such a scenario. Besides, 75% do not believe that such a return would help resolve the NK conflict.[43]



5. Conclusions


A variety of potential scenarios of the developments around the NK conflict could only have successful, constructive outcomes if there were dedicated, well-researched work on promoting ethnic tolerance and mobilisation of these communities, involving different groups of refugees/IDPs. This would allow to set in motion the process of return to former places of residence in a more organised fashion, to develop a clear mechanism for selecting potential returnees, to overcome the consequences of past trauma and the syndrome of victimization.


Preparing the process of return and IDPs’ return to the de-occupied territories itself are bound to be difficult, and the main difficulty will be linked to the psychological aspects of return.[44] Absence of hope, confidence and certainty are the main problems hindering the process of IDPs’ return. Today Azerbaijani IDPs are ready for a voluntary return to their homes. These sentiments would only grow if their rights and freedoms were ensured and their security guaranteed. To achieve this they should be provided with detailed information on the material provisions, legal remedies, education, healthcare and other important areas of public life on the ground, in places where they will be returning to. This requires the creation of more attractive and stable economic, social and legal conditions.


An important condition of IDPs’ return to their homes is the process of restitution of the land plots they had abandoned, of their property, their former estates, in short, an effective implementation of restitution policies. Unfortunately, the issue of restitution is not discussed in the republic, although some aspects of this policy, including the size of financial damage from the conflict as well as a rough estimate of rebuilding and rehabilitation costs are currently being studied. There is no discussion of Azeri refugees’ return to Armenia or Armenian refugees’ return to Azerbaijan, although occasional surveys carried out in order to gauge the public’s position on this issue mainly show an extremely negative reaction of the public to this issue.

[1] See, for example, the Meindorf Declaration on Karabakh signed on 2 November 2008.

[2] See, for example, political statements made on 27 October 2010 in Astrakhan, on 10 July 2009 at l’Aquila, on 26 June 2010 in Muskoka and on 1 December 2010 in Astana.

[3] Results of numerous sociological surveys carried out by a variety of public associations (for example, the Baku Press-Club) and news agencies (e.g., show that NK is seen as problem number one, ahead of other issues such as democratic reforms, human rights, corruption etc.

[4] The UN pledges further aid to Azerbaijan’s IDPs (in Azeri); see

[5] See A.Yunusov, Migration processes in Azerbaijan (Baku, 2009), pp. 28-31; International Organization for Migration, Population migration in the CIS countries: 1997-1998 (Geneva, 1999), pp.24-25

[6] The study of the total number of refugees/IDPs was based on the statistical data which appeared in the letter by the State Committee for Refugees and IDPs addressed to the UNHCR Baku Office of 22 January 2010.

[7] Ibid.

[8] During the war around NK one village in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, 30 villages in the Tert District and seven villages iin the Kazakh District were occupied. Source: Azerbaijan’s State Committee for Refugees and IDPs  see:

[9] The Armenian-Azerbaijani, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (in Azeri), p.15

[10] Source: State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan, source.:

[11] The process of IDPs’ resettlement in the new townships will continue in Azerbaijan.

[12] The term “liberated territories” was introduced into usage in Azerbaijan in the mid-1990s and implies the liberation of NK and the seven districts surrounding it.

[13] Khallavar are Azeri refugees from the former Azerbaijani district of Khallav in the Gugar region in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic (AmSSR); Lyambyaletsy are from the Azerbaijani village of Lyambyali in the Allaverdi district of the AmSSR; Nyuvyadevtsy from the village of Nyuvadi in the Meghri district of the AmSSR.

[14] “В Азербайджане будет продолжено переселение беженцев в новые поселки” –  see

[15] The Armenian-Azerbaijani, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (in Azeri), p.15, see

[16] “My dream is to see the entire 600 mln square meters of the mined surface area completely free of mines. ” Ekho newspaper, 25 September 2010 –

[18] “My dream is to see the entire 600 mln square meters”, 2010.

[19] “Ukraine’s de-mining activities. Organisational problems”; see

[20] See Shain Abbasov, “Karabakh 2014: No war but a difficult journey to peace”, in  Karabakh 2014

Six analysts on the future of the Nagorny Karabakh peace process (London: Conciliation Resources, 2009, pp.13-20)

[21] We have not considered the last scenario of ‘no change’, suggested by Abbasov, in our speculation on different scenarios of IDP return because there are no prospect of return in this last scenario.

[22] Tabib Huseynov, “Karabakh 2014: The day after tomorrow – an agreement reached on the Basic Principles, what next?” In Karabakh 2014, 2009, pp.28-34.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Head of the Armenian Parliamentary committee for external relations: “Armenians and Azeris are genetically incompatible” See

[26] In recent years the author has taken part in many conferences on peaceful resoltution of the NK conflict. He has come across examples of Armenian delegates who reacted with understanding to the statements about co-existence of Armenians and Azeris, and even discussed the idea of pilot villages where representatives of both communities would live side-by-side.

[27] “Бакинские армяне хотят вернуться в Баку ” see

[28] “Territorial integrity of Azerbaijan never was and never will be subject to discussion “, see

[29] “Why can Armenians and Azeris live side-by-side in Moscow but not on this tiny patch “, see

[30] “Армяне хотят вернуться? “, see

[31]“Do Azeris want to live in peace with Armenians after the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? “, see

[32] “Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan want to go back to their homes”, see

[34] Tabib Huseynov, “A Karabakh Azeri perspective”, Accord: Elites and Societies in the Nagorny Karabakh Peace Process (London: Conciliation Resources, 2005); see

[36] “We could peacefully co-exist with Armenians “; see

[37] “There are around 20,000 Armenians resident inAzerbaijan “; see

[39] “There are 30,000 Armenians resident in Azerbaijan ” (in Azeri); see

[44] This fact is the focus of PACE’s attention at the moment –



Comments are closed.