In the interview with the BBC, Hikmet Hajiyev, Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, stated that the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh was offered the same rights as other citizens of Azerbaijan – “linguistic, cultural, religious, including municipal rights.”
After the second Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020, official Baku and Azerbaijani officials have been regularly repeating that the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh will not receive any special status and they will live “as Azerbaijani citizens.”
At the beginning of the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh, the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev announced that the Lachin Corridor is open for those who do not want to live as “citizens of Azerbaijan”.
“The Armenians living in Karabakh will not have any status, independence or advantages. They will live like all citizens of Azerbaijan. Their rights will be protected the way the rights of Azerbaijani citizens and peoples living [in Azerbaijan] are protected,” Ilham Aliyev stated in August of this year.
Azerbaijan’s promises to give the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh rights equal to those of other citizens of Azerbaijan do not in any way allow to assume that Armenians will have equal rights with the Azerbaijani population in Azerbaijan in view of the actual situation of the rights of national minorities living in Azerbaijan.
Ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan
One of the pillars of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy is presenting the country as “culturally and ethnically diverse”, which Azerbaijan does to show that they promote tolerant and inclusive values.
According to official data, national minorities living in Azerbaijan make up about 9 percent of the country’s population. The largest minorities are Lezgins and Russians. Talysh, Tatars, Avars, Georgians and Jews also live in the country.
The ethnic composition of Azerbaijan changed significantly during the Nagorno-Karabakh Movement and the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, when the country’s large Armenian population was deported. In the same period, a large number of Russians also left Azerbaijan.
Oppression and violence against national and religious minorities are characteristic of Azerbaijan’s policy under the guise of tolerance.
Violations of the rights of national minorities
Although the Constitution and laws of Azerbaijan establish equal rights for all citizens of the country, and Azerbaijan has ratified a number of conventions prohibiting discrimination, many international organizations regularly report on the violations and oppression of the rights of national minorities in the country.
According to the Freedom House international organization, Azerbaijan is a consolidated authoritarian regime, having a poor standing in terms of political, social and media freedoms.
According to a 2018 report by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, Azerbaijan began a policy of assimilation of national minorities in the post-independence period, in some cases artificially reducing the number of Lezgins and Talysh in official statistics, presenting them as Azerbaijanis. The Talysh community of Azerbaijan occasionally tries to protest against the discriminatory policies of the Azerbaijani authorities.
According to a number of reports, Azerbaijan is pursuing a policy of continuous assimilation towards the country’s ethnic minorities, violating the rights of ethnic minorities to receive education in their native language, establish newspapers, and communicate with local governments in their native language. Representatives of Azerbaijan’s national minorities are subjected to “threats, arrests, and in some cases also detention.”
The rights of religious minorities are also violated in Azerbaijan. Although Azerbaijan is a secular country, the majority of the population are Shia Muslims, while Sunni Muslims are subject to discrimination and censorship by the state, which is trying to stop the spread of this religious branch in Azerbaijan.
The once large Christian community in Azerbaijan, consisting of Armenians and Udis, has almost disappeared. Currently, according to various sources, up to 4,000 Udi followers of the Armenian Apostolic Church live in Azerbaijan. Udis are often used by the Azerbaijani government as a propaganda tool to present the country as diverse and tolerant.
The Armenian population of Azerbaijan
According to statistics, in 1926-1979, the number of Armenian population in Azerbaijan increased from 280 thousand to 475 thousand, making up 7-10 percent of the country’s population in different years. The number of Armenian population in the territory of post-Soviet Azerbaijan almost equaled to zero, although Azerbaijan claims that more than one hundred and twenty thousand Armenians live in the territory of the country, including the population of Nagorno-Karabakh, and only twenty thousand Armenians live in Baku.
Nakhichevan is also a vivid example of the ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population in Azerbaijan. In 1917, about 57 thousand Armenians lived in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic belonging to Azerbaijan, making up about 40 percent of the total population. In the following years, until the beginning of the 2000s, the Armenian population of Nakhichevan was reduced to almost zero as a result of Azerbaijan’s policies.
Azerbaijan’s policy of eradicating the Armenian cultural and historical traces of Nakhichevan has been described as “the worst cultural genocide of the 21st century“. Over the years, several thousand historical Armenian monuments were razed to the ground under the auspices of the Azerbaijani authorities.
Thus, according to statistical data and census results, the Azerbaijani population of Azerbaijan has increased significantly over the last hundred years, while the number of national minorities has decreased. In 1926, Azerbaijanis made up 62 percent of the total population in the country, and about 58 percent according to the 1939 census. According to 2019 data, Azerbaijanis make up around 94 percent of the country’s population.