Forced Displacement in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict. Return and Its Alternatives: Perspectives from Armenia




Forced displacement has always been a significant issue for Armenians throughout the history with recent tragic episodes in the beginning and the end of twentieth century. Early in the last century, hundreds of thousands of Armenians were forced to flee their homeland in Ottoman Empire and become refugees while around one and half million were massacred. At the end of the century hundreds of thousands of Armenians again had to flee their homes, but this time from Soviet Azerbaijan. Like their predecessors, some of whom moved to Soviet Armenia after the end of the Second World War, displaced people from Azerbaijan took refuge in Soviet Armenia, which soon became the independent Republic of Armenia.

This mass deportation was a result of tensions around Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) and the subsequent war with Azerbaijanis, which left around 30,000 dead, tens of thousands wounded and hundreds of thousands of refugees/internally displaced persons (IDPs) on both sides.

2. Categorization of Armenian refugees and main stages of deportationThere were several stages of refugee flows from Azerbaijan to Armenia. The first group of refugees of around 20,000 people was forced to leave after the pogroms in the Baku suburb of Sumgayit in February 1988, when over 20 local Armenian residents were murdered and hundreds injured. The second and biggest wave of refugees began in the second half of 1988 and lasted until the end of 1989, consisting of around 215,000 refugees. The third wave, of around 45,000 people, started after the violence in central Baku in 1990.
In 1991, by the last stage of Operation Ring the remaining population in those territories populated by Armenians adjacent to the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO), Shahumyan region (around 12,000 people) and Getashen sub-region including villages of Getashen and Martunashen (around 5,100) were forced to leave.
There were also around 70,000 IDPs in Armenia who were evacuated during the war in 1992-94 from the villages adjacent to the border with Azerbaijan. Border villages in the northeast of Armenia were subjected to intermittent rocket and artillery shelling by Azerbaijani forces during the war and even shortly after the ceasefire. However, most of the IDP population returned to their homes in the years after the ceasefire, and the main body of IDPs are those from Armenian territories currently occupied by Azerbaijan, such as Artsvashen village (3,000 people).
Thus 3 major groups of Armenian displaced people can be discerned:
refugees from Azerbaijan proper (making up the majority of the displaced population in Armenia, around 280,000 people);refugees from north of the former NKAO where Armenians were the overwhelming majority (Shahumyan region, Getashen sub-region) and NKAO proper (the eastern part of Martuni region and northern part of Martakert region) currently under Azerbaijani control (around 20,000 people);IDPs (around 70,000 people).
Overall, there were around 360,000 Armenian refugees and IDPs at the end of the war in 1994.
It is estimated that around 28,000 Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan exchanged their houses and apartments, while 4,000 families were housed in properties left by Azeris forced to leave Armenia. This outcome was mainly due to the fact that the Armenian community displaced from Azerbaijan was about two and a half times larger than the Azeri community displaced from Armenia.
It was, therefore, already impossible for numerical, not to mention logistical, reasons to organize a straight property swap between displaced communities. Nevertheless, one of the interesting characteristics of the population exchange in this period was both planned and spontaneous village population exchanges, facilitating the settlement of compact village communities in new surroundings. One example was the peaceful population exchange in 1989 between the inhabitants of an Azeri village in what was still Soviet Armenia, Kyzyl-Shafag, located in the Kalinin district (now Lori marz), and those of an Armenian village in Azerbaijan, Kerkendj in the Shamakhy district. There were other similar examples of such exchanges mainly in the northeast and south of Armenia.

3. Social adaptation and integration issues of displaced people
With the support of different UN agencies (UNHCR, IOM, WFP) and other development agencies, such as USAID and together with specialized structures, such as the Norwegian Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council, Catholic Relief Service, WomenAid and others, the Armenian Committee on Refugee Affairs had to tackle perhaps the most pressing humanitarian problem in independent Armenia. Refugees and internally displaced persons were placed in hotels, hostels, abandoned apartment buildings, factories, schools, sanatoriums, hospitals and other buildings. They were distributed over the whole country and housed wherever there were buildings available.
The Armenian state had to deal with the consequences of displacement in the aftermath of the devastating Spitak earthquake, killing some 25,000 people, and under conditions of the blockade imposed by Turkey. The main problems confronting refugees related to socio-economic, language, cultural and legal status issues. The state’s overall strategy was to pursue their integration into Armenian society through naturalization. However, this process did not run smoothly and “…issuing citizenship could not solve various issues refugees continued to have, such as housing, education, jobs, equality and socialization.”
Refugees from Azerbaijan were overwhelmingly urban in profile, 81% originating from large cities (Baku, Kirovabad, Sumgayit), 16% from medium or small towns (Shamkhor, Khanlar, Mingechaour, etc.), and only 3% from rural areas. Among those from Baku were many professionals holding technical or management positions in the oil industry or working in the educational system. Although precise figures are lacking, a large share of these Bakuvians (Bakintsi in Russian, specifically denoting urban Russian-speakers) refugees ended up living in rural Armenia, for example the southern province of Syunik, in vastly different conditions to their previous lives in urban Azerbaijan.
Three patterns of refugee settlement can be discerned in Armenia: displaced persons who remained at their point of entry; those who moved to other areas within Armenia but were not able to adapt to their new social milieu;those who left for third countries in the near abroad (predominantly Russia) and the West (mainly the United States).
In the initial stage of displacement refugees tried to adapt themselves to their new environment and satisfy basic needs, without further evaluation of their own preferences. At later stages refugees had to decide whether to continue living in their new environment, or change it by either finding another, more appropriate social milieu or leaving the country. In Armenia this stage lasted until the late 1990s, when the refugee flow out of the country stopped.
According to some estimates based on expert interviews in Armenia around one-third of refugees displaced to Armenia left for other countries after initial resettlement. If in the case of the resettlement processes within Armenia the main motivations were geographical and psychological, in the case of resettlement to third countries the main factors were socio-cultural and economic, with low knowledge of the Armenian language playing a crucial role.
Starting from early 1992 the second stage of adaptation started. While some decided to remain in their initial places of settlement and were able to find accommodation (mainly empty or abandoned buildings), others moved in search of a better environment. These were refugees from industrial cities or towns back in Azerbaijan and were settled in rural areas in Armenia after deportation. Eventually larger groups of refugees resettled in urban areas in Yerevan, Abovyan and Ararat valley.
Avagyan discerns several other institutional obstacles to the integration of refugees, such as the absence of law on refugees for more than seven years after the final refugee flows (due mainly to the absence of a Law on Citizenship), lack of sufficient expertise and experience among the relevant institutions and practitioners in dealing with the social adaptation of refugees, high unemployment rates stemming from the harsh economic situation and lack of basic necessities such as drinking water, electricity and heating until after winter of 1995.
There were, however, also certain factors facilitating the integration of refugees, such as a common ethno-cultural background and shared history, perceptions of sovereign Armenia as a national homeland, the existence of shelter, particularly for those refugees who were able to sell their property in Azerbaijan or exchange their property for one in Armenia.
In the final stage of social adaptation resettlement among refugees came to an end. The final cornerstone for this was the adoption of the Law on Citizenship in 1995 and the Law on Refugees in 1999, which facilitated the integration process by finally defining the hitherto unclear legal personality of refugees.
The process of (voluntary) naturalization started in late 1995, with some 65,000 refugees from Azerbaijan having naturalized by 2004. However, the naturalization process is not yet complete. There were several hitches in this process: “…UNHCR supported the process with financial and material assistance to regional government offices to help with administration and paperwork. At first, relatively low numbers of refugees came forward, mainly due to a lack of awareness of the right to naturalize and of the necessary procedures. In 1999, UNHCR began an information campaign in conjunction with the government to better inform refugees of this option. In part thanks to this campaign, the numbers rapidly went upward. Another incentive for naturalization came after July 2000, as former Soviet passports could no longer be used for travel outside of Armenia.”
A number of reasons account for refugees’ reluctance to become naturalized, such as fear of losing out on humanitarian assistance or being eligible for army conscription, after naturalization, or the belief that the right to claim compensation for property in Azerbaijan will be lost.
While some of these concerns related to humanitarian assistance or the army draft were correct, others were groundless and were even refuted by additional laws such as the Law of the Republic of Armenia on legal and socio-economic guarantees for persons forcibly displaced from the Republic of Azerbaijan in 1988-92 and who have acquired the citizenship of the Republic of Armenia adopted on Dec 6, 2000. For instance, Article 5 states that: “Forcibly displaced persons who have acquired citizenship of the Republic of Armenia and have been residing in temporary dwellings (hotels, dormitories, rest houses, sanatoriums, etc) shall be exempted from the established payment for housing, except for electricity and public utilities.” Article 6 states that: “Should the issue of compensation for the property left by forcibly displaced persons in the Republic of Azerbaijan be solved, forcibly displaced persons who have acquired the citizenship of the Republic of Armenia shall also be compensated the cost for the property left.”
According to Ghazaryan, “…although refugees often feel humiliated or offended, they still accept the value of their refugee status. The ‘blue’ passport, the passport of Armenian citizens is, on the other hand, nothing but the right to vote – a privilege about which they do not care. The reason why these people still see their refugee status as invaluable is the hope for the receipt of aid, the protection of their interests and a certain confidence that they will not be thrown out from the dormitory. In other words, this piece of paper [the certificate of refugee status issued by the Government of Armenia] provides them with substantial benefits.” The most valuable aspect of refugee status for many was its usefulness in acquiring travel documents to be able to travel abroad.
Refugees still face many other socio-economic and cultural problems in becoming fully integrated, despite the naturalization process and other necessary measures (provision of temporary shelters, humanitarian assistance, social security policy, etc.) undertaken by the Government of Armenia and international agencies.
According to the Director of the Sakharov Armenian Human Rights Centre, Levon Nersisyan, who has been working with refugees for many years: “…the problems that impede successful integration of Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan can be easily divided into two groups: socio-economic and cultural … the socio-economic problems mainly revolve around the provision of permanent housing for refugees, employment, and access to social welfare and health care.”
According to different estimates there are still 980 to 1,100 refugee and naturalized refugee families in Yerevan and 686 to 1,000 families in the regions of Armenia (amounting to a little under 5,000 people) who still live in temporary shelters and are in need of permanent shelter. Another 5,000 families live with relatives or extended family, or rent houses.
Several thousand Armenian IDPs also still face problems with shelter. They have received relatively little attention because of their relatively small proportion among the displaced population. IDPs are mainly located in rural areas in northeast Armenia at some distance from major cities and towns. Recently residents of Drakhtik, a village in the northeast, who were forced to leave the village of Artshvashen (currently occupied by Azerbaijan), held a demonstration in Yerevan for the implementation of the previously adopted state program on improving living conditions of IDPs. Demonstrators claimed IDPs had been neglected by the government and international organizations compared to refugees and other vulnerable groups.
There are also certain cultural issues. Refugees from Azerbaijan were mostly Russian-speaking, without good command of Armenian, which limited their employment opportunities in the Armenian market. Another factor that is still slowing the integration process is that the majority of refugees are older persons reliant on low social security payments, and who have long depended on the assistance of UNHCR and other international organizations to survive.
“Some [refugees] even confess that they do not have a homeland now. They explain that, after being displaced, they did not care about their lost property, fostered by the hope that Armenia would welcome them ‘with open arms’. However, after eleven years living as something between refugees and citizens, they regretted for their initial ‘patriotic’ feelings and ‘high’ expectations. They are deeply offended, especially by the fact that the locals, ‘with [their local] nationalistic ideology’ treated them as ‘Turkified’ Armenians.”
But there are also other sentiments among the refugees: “You cannot become a full member of society or integrate properly if you do nothing and wait for somebody else to do the job for you”, says Anna Ghukasyan, a former refugee and now leader of Agrarians, a NGO that assists refugees in rural areas. She adds: “[refugees] should understand that the Soviet era has passed and there is no way back. That in order to integrate you should make an effort, you should have a willingness to do so.” Or, “…we should not allow the status of ‘refugee’ to become our lifestyle and be passed on as a heritage to our future generations”, says 37-year-old Artur Gevorkov, “I do not want my children to be called ‘refugees’ and feel different from or inferior to their peers. Yes, we were once refugees, but now we are citizens and Armenia is our new homeland.”
While many refugees are still living in poor economic and social conditions, particularly in urban areas, nevertheless many of them, particularly the second generation refugee families, have managed to start new lives in their homeland by learning Armenian in schools, marrying with locals and adopting to the new environment. Many local non-government organizations, such as the “Refugee Foundation”, “Sakharov Fund”, “Refugees and International Law”, “Mission Armenia” and the “Union of Refugees” also support refugees in different ways.

4. Return and Other Possible Scenarios
While for many politicians and commentators conflicts and peace processes are matters of political discourse, for displaced persons the consequences of violence go far beyond political narratives to basic human needs. For them it is an existential matter. Yet if the right to return is inviolable, it is subject to serious limitations even when there is a formal peace agreement and consent by the ‘other side’ to accept return. This is to say nothing of conflicts where agreements are elusive and alternatives to return seem a more feasible resolution of the problem of displacement.
There are three ways to approach the displacement issue, two of which – integration and resettlement – have already been discussed in the Armenian context. The third way – voluntary return to places of former residence – is the most controversial and challenging issue among many others in the Karabakh conflict, which implying the return of Azeris to NK and the surrounding territories, and the return of Armenians and Azeris to Azerbaijan and Armenia respectively.
The return of Azeris to NK is still the most impractical alternative for a number of reasons. First of all, despite the cease-fire signed in 1994 between Armenians and Azerbaijanis (though regular violations of the agreement have significantly increased in recent years), the peace talks mediated by the Minsk Group of the OSCE have not led to any peace agreement, which could lay foundations potentially able to address the issue of displacement. Second, return in an atmosphere of utter lack of trust and confidence is simply unviable.
In Armenia, the return of Armenians to Azerbaijan has rarely been considered as a way to address the refugee issue even in long term. Return of Armenians is widely perceived as impossible until a comprehensive peace agreement over NK is reached. The same attitude applies to the possible return of Azeri refugees to NK, which is invariably tied to the determination of future status of NK as a precondition for possible return scenarios. Armenians see status as the only guarantor of the security of the Armenian population in Karabakh, since security threats along with the identity issues are perceived as the main causes of the conflict in NK demanding resolution before the return of Azeri IDPs. The question of the return of Azeris to Armenia has never even been a matter of discussion in Armenia.
Security is still the primary issue for Armenians in the peace process. At the beginning of the conflict territory was regarded as the main satisfier of the security needs of the Armenian population in NK, which led to the creation of what was referred to as a security ‘buffer zone’ in the form of control of seven territories around NK. This perception remained unchanged until recently, when heightened militant rhetoric began to be more often voiced in Azerbaijan. This has served to radicalize the Armenian positions through increasing reference to the territories around NK as liberated. As Greene puts it: “…Ambivalence toward a political settlement in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh has grown with the realization that peace will mean giving up a large swathe of Azerbaijani territory. Armenia is faced with dilemma of land for peace with its appetite for holding on to conquests increasing with each passing year.” In turn, “liberated territories” are increasingly considered less as a security zone and more as a constituent part of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). This is particularly true for a large segment of population and among several nationalistic political parties in Armenia. The more hard-line approach, denying the possibility of returning all territories adjacent to NK to Azerbaijan or of Azeris ever returning to these territories is drawing wider support among Armenians, owing mainly to the numbers of incidents on the line of contact and threats of the resort to war by Azerbaijan to change the status quo.
Security can also ultimately only be guaranteed through status. As an International Crisis Group report observed in 2009: “The most contentious issue, however, is the region’s final status. There has been some movement towards defining an “interim status” for NK, but Azerbaijan still insists that it must always remain legally part of its territory, while Armenia (and the de facto NK authorities) insist that residents of the region have the right to determine their own status, be it as part of Armenia or as an independent state.” In general, the last statement is acceptable among moderate political elites in Armenia. The future status and security of NK is perceived as being deliverable as a package together with control over two regions between Armenia and NK – Lachin and Kelbajar. In Armenia there is no common understanding regarding the return of territories around NK; however, there is a consensus that there are regions that cannot be returned (Lachin) or it will be very difficult to return (Kelbajar) in any conflict resolution scenario, meaning that remaining five regions – Aghdam, Fizuli, Jebrail, Qubatly and Zangelan – are less contested territories in terms of their return to Azerbaijani jurisdiction.
The best security guarantee for Armenians is status understood as international recognition of the NKR as an independent state. “If independence [recognition] is not an immediate prospect, other guarantees could include allowing Stepanakert to maintain an army; full demilitarization of the surrounding territory; international security assurances; and codification of Armenia’s role as a security guarantor.” This is a widely acceptable approach among many moderates in Armenian political elite.
The prospect of Azeris’ returning to NK is seen by Armenians as largely undesirable and unjust, and as an issue that needs to be considered after clarifications are made in the future status of NK. In Armenian thinking there is a clear distinction between the causes and consequences of conflict, with the understanding that if consequences (such as displacement) are addressed before the causes (such as security and identity), then the same cycle of conflict could be repeated. One of the main impediments for this is daily deteriorating mistrust between the conflict parties that endangers even the fragile truce we have today. According to Toal: “…Since trust is already in short supply in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, one cannot hold out great expectations from a return process. The situation in the Caucasus is distinctive from the Balkans in another important way that inhibits the development of trust… No equivalent mechanism of accountability and justice exist today in the Caucasus. The cost of this absence has already been great and remains a burden on the possibility of reconciliation.”
For an Armenian perspective, the Madrid Principles – the negotiations package offered by the mediators since 2004 – clearly identify certain issues in relation to the consequences of war, including clauses such as ‘return of the territories surrounding NK to Azerbaijani control’, or ‘the right of all internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees to return to their former places of residence’, while leaving issues touching on the future status of NK in rather vague language, such as: ‘an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh providing guarantees for security and self-governance’; ‘a corridor linking Armenia to NK’; ‘eventual determination of the final legal status of NK through a legally binding expression of will’. Without detailed implementation mechanisms and procedures it will be difficult for Armenians to feel the need for security is being addressed in either interim or final status discussions. The ‘technology’ of settlement is a much bigger issue than the principles themselves.
The Madrid Principles have been strongly criticized from the outset by both Armenians and Azerbaijanis, if apparently for different reasons. Several issues have been fiercely contested in Armenia and NK, especially the width of Lachin corridor and the return of Azeri IDPs and refugees to NK before the determination of final status. Armenians still believe that the concessions made by this agreement are detrimental to the national interests of Armenia and NK. The most contentious point is probably the slight but significant change introduced into the text from “a referendum or population vote to determine the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh” to the “final status of Nagorno-Karabakh to be determined in the future by a legally-binding expression of will.” A referendum is perceived as a key element in the future discussions over the need for security.
In a recent poll conducted in Armenia and NK about domestic and foreign issues, attitudes towards the potential return of Azeri IDPs is the most negative, after the prospect of returning the territories adjacent to NK, among other components of overall peace deal. Ceasefire violations, on the other hand, were mentioned as the single most influential factor increasing mistrust.
In terms of the framework for imagining return in the NK conflict outlined by Gerard Toal in this publication, minority return by Azeri IDPs to NK or their majority return to Lachin and Kelbajar is not considered feasible in Armenia without clear mechanisms of the status and international guarantees outlined in the possible framework agreement. Even if the agreement envisages a referendum for determining the NKR’s status in the current belligerent situation it is hard to imagine conditions under which Armenians would agree to Azeri return. There is not much talk about this in Armenian discourse on peace process. According to Toal “…any contested space returns process in Nagorno-Karabakh is unlikely to be anything more than symbolic. Even in Bosnia, where the international community had genuine capacity and power, returns often became little more than symbolic in many places.” Whereas one of the major prerequisites for possible return to the remaining five regions adjacent to NK, in Armenian discourse, is the recognition of the NKR authorities as an equal party to negotiations with legitimacy to discuss matters related to border and return issues.
The return of Azeris is further complicated also by the fact that many Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan resettled in regions such as Lachin or Shushi, compactly populated by Azeris before the conflict. The needs and rights of these people, in and around the territories of the NKR, should also be considered in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention, according to which refugees and displaced persons are also given the right not to return but to resettle in a place of their choice.
In Azerbaijan the living conditions and integration of IDPs are still dire in many cases. Despite political manipulations of the displacement issue, alternatives to return are also discussed in Azerbaijan: “…the government policies and regulations in place equate integration and improvement of IDP living conditions with giving up on their ancestral homes. Many believe that the only way to improve their lives is to return home. They live with the false hope that once they return, everything will magically go back to normal. However… improving the lives of IDPs is very likely to encourage and aid their return home, if and when the opportunity presents itself. IDPs will go back to ruined communities that they will have to help rebuild.”
Armenian refugees themselves generally do not express interest in return to Azerbaijan. They would not go back to Azerbaijan even if the general framework peace agreement envisaged such a possibility. The trauma of past extremely negative experience and memories of tragic events of Sumgayit, Baku, Kirovabad (Ganja) and other places is still strongly stamped in their memories amounting in huge mistrust spanning years, overcoming which will be very difficult in the near future. However, some refugees are optimistic about their return to Shahumyan and Getashen, considering these regions as ethno-territorial units of the NKR and also to those parts of Martakert and Martuni currently under Azerbaijani control. They emphasize though that this will be possible only given these territories are considered as falling within the jurisdiction of the NKR.
Only one group, the Assembly of Azerbaijani-Armenians, currently calls for the return of Armenian refugees to Azerbaijan; nevertheless this position is mainly voiced for political reasons to counter corresponding voices on the Azerbaijani side. Symmetry is often invoked as a necessary condition for return, i.e. no return of Armenians, no return of Azeris. They are similarly against a return of NK to Azerbaijan’s control because they do not believe that its government is willing or able to defend their rights as Azerbaijani citizens. An IDP asked of International Crisis Group: “how can I trust the Azeri police again? Last time they just stood by and watched as my home was torched. I need to be able to sleep in security with my own police.”
The prospect of return is further threatened given that new generations of Armenians and Azeris are being raised without direct knowledge or experience of the people with whom they are supposed to co-exist in the event of return. This mutual alienation is becoming ever more entrenched, despite the fact that not long ago Armenians and Azeris not only lived together but also interacted across a broad range of social, cultural and professional fields. The re-establishment of trust and strategies for conciliation should come before any peace agreement envisaging return.
It seems that the first step towards changing this context is to introduce changes into the ethno-nationalistic discourse through the reconsideration of history. De Waal, for instance suggests that the challenge in the NK conflict is not about reconciling ordinary people but about reconciling political narratives: “…It comes down to both security and symbolism… There is nothing ethnically incompatible about Armenians and Azeris. They had decent rates of intermarriage in Soviet times, and today trade and interact freely on the territory of Georgia and Russia. It shows that they have nothing to do with ‘ethnic incompatibility’ or ‘ancient hatreds’, but rather arise – and can fade – according to changes of interest or calculation; and it usefully refocuses our attention on the Soviet period and the two decades immediately preceding it.’
Until then, refugees in Armenia talk instead about restitution without any consideration of the context or legal mechanisms needed for it. Some did exchange properties at the time of their displacement with Azeris being displaced from Armenia, but this covered only a small segment of refugees. Apart from demands for restitution of the property left in Azerbaijan, refugee organizations also encourage individual families to file law-suits with the European Court of Human Rights for restitution. Edik Balayan, chairman of an organization uniting former residents of Shahumyan region, announced that: “…his organization has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights by presenting a law-suit by four families that were deported from the Shahumyan-Getashen region, …the court has decided to hear the case and has sent the necessary documentation to the Azeri government.” It is noteworthy, however, that the strong perception that the current status quo is satisfactory and preferable to any other situation, is seen by many in Armenia as fair restitution in itself.
In light of the absence of a mutually acceptable understanding of security between Armenians and Azeris, and unlikely capacity of war to resolve the situation, preserving the status quo remains the only option at the current stage. The NK conflict will increasingly resemble other protracted conflicts such as Cyprus or Taiwan, unless certain transformations towards realization of the need for security are reached among all sides. For this to happen, confidence building measures and initiatives bolstering trust will be crucial, instead of continuous negative historical and political propaganda. Pragmatism should prevail once again over ethno-nationalistic narratives: “…A deep history of pragmatism in the South Caucasus… is there, just below the surface, if you care to look for it.” This situation, in turn, means that talking about return within the borders of the NKR is not feasible until its status (interim and/or final) provides the necessary level of security for Armenians widely perceived through eventual recognition of its independence.
Working towards building more democratic societies is another crucial step towards long-term peace not only for Armenians in Armenia and NK but also for Azerbaijanis. This idea has been expressed by Zamira Abbasova: “…collective change [in achieving democracy] through civil society initiative: anti-war campaigns, educating youth to resist to military service and military classes in secondary schools, development of human rights, democratization, students exchange programs… only in that case the existence of public media, TV and radio programs would be beneficial to take people out the regression state and move them towards peace.”

5. ConclusionThere are several specificities of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as compared with other conflicts and post-war situations since the end of Cold War. These differences are characterized by the post-war mutual exclusiveness of ethnic groups involved, strengthened historic animosity and hatred, state-supported negative propaganda and new generations completely out of touch with each other. Post-war interethnic animosity and mutual exclusivity is still too salient in the Nagorno-Karabakh case. Ethno-nationalistic feelings still widely dominate both conflict and peace process discourses, leaving no space for separate discussions on issues of return or reconciliation separate from the need for security, entrenched overall in the status issue. No one considers return a practical option, with the nearly daily incidents along the line of contact or the levels of government-sponsored hate-speech galvanizing ethno-nationalistic feelings even deeper. Among younger generations of displaced people, there is absorption of hate narratives where the other side is blamed for the loss of family and home. At this stage of ‘no-war, no-peace’, very few people in Armenia will seriously consider return of Azeris to contested space territories without a discussion of the issue of status first. These are not separable issues. Rather than return to the 1988 status quo ante, any peace agreement should clearly disclose, identify and stress relocation and local integration of refugees and IDPs as viable choices and alternatives to return. In the longer term, peace could become the guarantor of security, strengthened by deep institutionalization and reinforced by sustainable trust: all features crucial for any harmonious relationship between neighbours.


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