Glimpses into Azerbaijan, Lodged Between Russia and Iran, Recent History

What was, what will be in Azerbaijan – a political perspective from an independent voice, an interview with MP Rovshan Rzayev, a member of the Parliament of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the former Deputy Chairman of the Committee for Legal Policy and State Building.

MP Rovshan Rzayev is an attorney, an independent Parliament member with no party affiliation. His goal is to fight for and defend Azerbaijan’s freedom and independence.

Mr. Rzayev is a true patriot. My conversation with him left me believing that there are members of government who care deeply about their country. He knows his history and he seeks justice.

“In 1993 Azerbaijan was a failing state” the MP started to touch on the issues that concern him the most. “Heydar Aliyev was called to save the country that stood in front of the dilemma, to be or not to be.”

Mr. Aliyev was the third President of Azerbaijan who served from October 1993 to October 2003. As national president, he held constitutional powers, but his influence on Azerbaijani politics had begun years earlier. As a young man he had joined the Azerbaijan SSR People’s Commissariat for State Security (NKGB) and quickly rose to the rank of Major-General.

From 1969 to 1982 Heydar Aliyev led the Soviet Azerbaijan. In 1982, Mr. Aliyev was appointed the First Deputy Prime Minister of the USSR, becoming the highest ranking Muslim and Azerbaijani in the entire Soviet Union. In 1987, over his disagreements with Secretary General Gorbachev, he resigned from his position in the Soviet government, and later returned to Azerbaijan and settled in the country’s Nakhchivan region. In 1993, after a huge political turmoil, the then President of Azerbaijan invited Heydar Aliyev to Baku. That year Mr. Aliyev was elected the new President of Azerbaijan. “President Heydar Aliyev’s balanced policy brought stability to the struggling Azerbaijan; he put the country on the right path,” MP Rzayev says.

MP Rzayev thinks that President Heydar Aliyev served Azerbaijan well, saved the country from not being, and gave it a lifeline, fought military unrest, and put Azerbaijan on the road to strong independence and stability in which the country basks today.

My interview with MP Rzayev took place after Ilham Aliyev was reelected the president of Azerbaijan for another 7-year-term, on April 11, 2018. The MP suggests that under President Aliyev’s continued leadership, important positive developments can be expected with regard to the territorial problem Azerbaijan has with Armenia. He would like to see Azerbaijan’s rightful territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and other 7 districts that were invaded by Armenia, all returned back to his country.

The writer with Minister Rovshan Azayev in Baku, Azerbaijan
The writer with Minister Rovshan Azayev in Baku, Azerbaijan

Note: The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts of Azerbaijan, which were invaded by Armenia, in the early 1990s’ but are internationally recognized as de-jure, part of Azerbaijan.

How the Conflict Came About

MP Rzayev goes back to recall some close era history.

“The conflict began in 1988 when Armenia, encouraged by Heydar Aliyev’s departure from Soviet Politburo, started demanding the annexation of Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region to join Armenia. These demands laid the foundation for ethnic strife followed by a hugely destructive war between the two countries. The war claimed 30,000 dead. From 1988 to 1991 Armenia deported around 250,000 Azerbaijanis who had lived, for many centuries, in Armenia. During the Nagorno-Karabakh War of 1988-1994, Armenia invaded around 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory, expelling over 800,000 Azerbaijanis from the region that turned occupied. For the sake of comparison, the size of the areas occupied by Armenia is larger than the entire US State of Connecticut. In 1994, a ceasefire agreement was reached between the parties, which is still largely in force today, this despite the occasional skirmishes in the vicinity of the contact line. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) condemned this occupation and expulsions with four UNSC resolutions, but to no avail. The Armenian army is still in control of the occupied areas, and the Azerbaijani population, displaced from their lands in Nagorno-Karabakh and the 7 surrounding districts, are still waiting for the day they will be able to return to their homes.”

“In 1918, Armenia was given 9,000 square kilometers stretch for its state’s territory. Today, Armenia’s state territory stretches over 29,000 square kilometers, not including the 16,000 square kilometers of the Nagorno-Karabakh and seven other districts’ territory, occupied by Armenia. That means that during communism Armenia grabbed hold of Azerbaijan’s rightful land with Soviets’ overlooking.”

Origin Of MP Rovshan Rzayev’s Passion

MP Rovshan Rzayev was born in Shusha, the Azerbaijani-populated town in Nagorno-Karabakh. Shusha was invaded by Armenia in 1992 and its entire Azerbaijani population were either killed or expelled. In 2009, during his peace-making visit to the occupied Shusha, Mr. Rzayev saw 18th-century Azerbaijani mausoleums that had been completely destroyed.

During the 1990s war, the MP worked as a lawyer in Baku but he said his father, who served as prosecutor of the Nagorno-Karabakh district and in 1991 was imprisoned by the Armenians for 24 days, had seen Armenia’s malevolent actions with his own eyes.

“Now we see changes. Our military is strong. In 2016, during clashes with Armenia, Azerbaijan liberated huge occupied territory and gained the higher ground advantage. However, we are not satisfied. All invaded regions of Azerbaijan must be liberated from occupation,” the MP says.

“I am President Ilham Aliyev’s supporter. I support him building a strong army and at the same time continuing negotiating with Armenia to arrive at a peaceful outcome, which is Azerbaijan’s goal.” the MP explains. “Azerbaijan has a strong leadership and we should continue to be strong.”

MP Rzayev thinks that Azerbaijan faces double standards when it comes to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, even if International law is completely on its side.

The Russia-Armenia Angle

The current Foreign Minister of Russia is Sergey Lavrov. He has been in office since 2004 and is a close confidant of Vladimir Putin. Lavrov was born to an Armenian father and a Russian mother from Georgia. Since the very beginning of the conflict Russia has showed strong support for Armenia. Today, Armenia ‘hosts’ 5000 Russian troops – considered one of the largest Russian military bases in the world. Armenia is also an active member of the Russian-led anti-NATO military block called CSTO.

For me, that means, Russia’s favoritism is with Armenia.

“If Azerbaijan faces internal problems, Armenia, which has significant lobbies in Russia, US and France, will use it, and our independence could be in jeopardy. That is why we must stay strong and remain in the fight,” MP Rzayev explains his worries.

I fully understand his position here.

Like many in Azerbaijan, the MP is rather dismayed with the endless talks and no concrete action to follow.

“Azerbaijan must have strong leadership and rely on being strong. For instant the case of the Minsk Group – headed by a co-chairmanship consisting of France, Russia and the United States. The Minsk Group spearheads the OSCE’s (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) and has made efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But no progress has been made, as if two decades of negotiations stood still.”

MP Rzayev puts some onus on the United States. He thinks that the “United States, without the Minsk Group, must state that the ongoing status quo is no longer acceptable. The US must call to change the passive diplomacy to an active one and call to apply the 4 UNSC resolutions that are calling for the end of the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijan’s lawful land and for the withdrawal of its troops from the Nagorno-Karabakh region.”

A Country With a Bright Future

“Despite the conflict, Azerbaijan has moved forward and become the strongest country and largest economy in the South Caucasus region. We are on the rise as a free nation,” the MP states the obvious.

A few days after this interview took place in Baku, on April 21, 2018, President Ilham Aliyev appointed the 56-year-old MP Rovshan Rzayev the new chairman of Azerbaijani State Committee for Refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDPs).

President Aliyev has been doing a great job to improve the living conditions of refugees and IDPs in his country. Since the conflict, from 1992-till-2008, hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani IDPs (displaced from the occupied regions) have been living in tent camps, scattered around the country, just as my parents lived in the land of Israel in 1948.

The writer, one year old, in front of her "tent home" in 1948, Israel
The writer, one year old, in front of her “tent home” in 1948, Israel

When Azerbaijan began seeing revenue from its oil industry, the country’s leadership started building and settling the IDPs in self-sufficient, top architecture, ‘temporary settlements.’ One tent city after another was dismantled and its dwellers were given a brighter future. The last tent camp was closed in 2008. Azerbaijan has already spent over $6 billion to build around 100 such towns and has resettled close to 300,000 IDPs, tremendously improving their living conditions.

Having met, now Minister Rzayev, I am certain that he will adequately accomplish the tasks at hand and the refugees and IDPs of Azerbaijan will gain a better life and many more opportunities.

I wish Minister Rzayev the best of luck in his new post and the work it entails, to bring the river flow back to its original water flowing course.

Nurit Greenger
During the 2006 second Lebanon War, Nurit Greenger, referenced then as the "Accidental Reporter" felt compelled to become an activist. Being an 'out-of-the-box thinker, Nurit is a passionately committed advocate for Jews, Israel, the United States, and the Free World in general. From Southern California, Nurit serves as a "one-woman Hasbarah army" for Israel who believes that if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.

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