Armenia is conducting a policy of illegal settlement across Azerbaijan’s occupied territories and recently launched a policy of resettlement of Armenians from Lebanon there. A few days ago news of a family from Lebanon resettled in the city of Shusha – a destination of utmost historical and moral significance for Azerbaijan has been posted on social media.

An associate professor at the University of Rome Sapienza Daniel Pommier Vinchelli shared his views on this issue with AZERTAC.

“The news that the Armenian government is favoring the settlement of Lebanese ethnic-Armenians in the occupied lands of Karabakh and the other Azerbaijani regions, could endanger the peace process and the stability of the Caucasian region.

That would be a very bad news following the circumstances as much bad as the newly armed escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, occurred in July 2020,” Daniel Pommier Vinchelli said.

“According to Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan Hikmat Hajiyev, at least one ethnic-Armenian family from Lebanon would have been relocated to the city of Shusha. Once a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural city Shusha is an historical landmark of the Azerbaijani identity and presence in Nagorno Karabakh. Until the war of 1992-1994 the two communities coexisted peacefully in the city with an overwhelming majority of ethnic Azerbaijanians.

The city was destroyed during the war and the Azerbaijani population fully expelled. It is not a surprise that the relocation from abroad of ethnic Armenians, even regarding the negligible amount of a single family, is an offense to the feelings to the Azerbaijanis. By dealing with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict it should be always remembered that in 1993-1994 about one million of Azerbaijanis fled Nagorno Karabakh and seven Azerbaijani surrounding regions occupied by Armenian forces. They never went back and their right to return has been violated by Armenia.”

“Azerbaijan thus became the country in the world with the largest percent of Internally Displaced People as related to the number of inhabitants. Back then in the early 90’s internal displacement was still an unknown and limited social phenomenon. Now, following the numerous internal conflicts occurring worldwide, the number of IDPs has doubled overcomes by roughly 40% the number of refugees. When we talk about a refugee crisis we should figure that numerous states are suffering an IDP crisis such as Syria, Colombia, Pakistan. It is easy to understand how the Azerbaijani institutions and society (of course including the IDPs) suffered through this ordeal. So understandably any relocation is very sensitive to the original (and I would say legitimate) inhabitants of the region.

Demography has always been a privileged tool of politics in modern era since XIX century, when the technical evolution and the politicization of masses made the demographic manipulation an option of political agendas. Examples are countless throughout history: the population exchange between Turks and Greeks after WWI, the removal of ethnic-German population from Eastern Europe in 1945, the expulsion of ethnic-Italians from Istria and Dalmatia by the authorities of Communist Yugoslavia in the same period. Southern Caucasus itself witnessed a demographic manipulation after the Russian conquest of the region in early XIX century as well documented in the outstanding historical work of dr. Farid Shafiyev, published by McGill University Press. The Russian domination led to a surge of Armenian presence, due to political reasons, being the Armenians considered more reliable and trustworthy to the Russian colonizers.”

“Nowadays the nexus between military occupation and settlement of settlers kin to the occupying power is still evident. There are very few studies, in social and legal sciences, dealing with this complicated issue. Amongst them I would refer to a comprehensive legal study by professor Eugene Kontorovich, published two years ago in the Journal of Legal Analysis, a scientific review based on the Harvard School of Law. According to Kontorovich, who proposes a legal comparative approach to occupation regimes in the world, “Armenia has encouraged migration to the occupied territories, particularly those under clearly de jure Azeri sovereignty, such as the remote Lachin corridor (…) Moreover, various political parties and public associations helped recruit settlers. While many of the settlers had fled from other areas of Azerbaijan, they were issued Armenian passports when they settled in Armenia-occupied territory. In some places, settlers apparently received financial support from the government, such as grants, tax benefits, free utilities, and so forth”.

“Another interesting study was conducted by two well-known scholars of Southern Caucasus such as Svante Cornell and Brenda Shaffer. According to the two authors also relying on comparative approach: “Officials in Armenia, local authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, and diaspora organizations have since [the ed of the war] touted their efforts to bring settlers to the occupied territories. A local official stated that settlers are recruited from both Armenia and foreign countries. Independent observers, such as fact-finding missions from the OSCE, have documented evidence of the Armenian settlements. According to the OSCE, 3,000 Armenian settlers live in the town of Lachin, mostly in former homes of Azerbaijanis who fled during the war. New settlers, according to the report, received “incentives offered by the local authorities, including free housing, access to property, social infrastructure, inexpensive or sometimes free electricity, running water, and low taxes or limited tax exemptions”, the professor said.

“According to two studies quoted above the relation between military occupation and illegal settlement under the auspices of the occupying power is an ubiquitous feature of this kind of crisis. What differs is the reaction of the International community. While vivid in the case of Israeli settlers in Palestinian occupied lands, is silent as far as other cases are concerned including Nagorno Karabakh. This is an unbearable example of double standard. I think that awareness should be raised internationally on this matter. While is easy to understand the suffering of Lebanese people, including the ethnic-Armenians, following recent events in Lebanon on the other hand this suffering can’t be healed at someone else expense. In a time of global pandemic, global migration problems and political instability could only endanger the path towards peace,” he concluded.