Britain, Azerbaijan

On 24th July 1990, an early day motion titled self-determination for Nagorno Karabagh was signed by 9 MP’s. Of these MP’s signing in favour of the “right of nations to determine their own destinies against bureaucratic oppression” was a certain Alex Salmond who is now famed for leading the Scottish independence movement. In the 24 years since that early day motion, the possibility of self-determination for the Scottish people has been realised and as a result a referendum will take place. But in those 24 years, has the self-determination of Nagorno Karabagh been realised? On 11th February 2014 Stephen Pound, MP for Ealing North and a notable friend of Armenia brought up an adjournment debate in Parliament. This article will not describe the occurrences of that night since both a transcript and video are available online.

Britain has held a significant role in the shaping of the South Caucuses region as highlighted by Mr Pound. Due to this Britain holds a “duty” to act: “because there was UK-British involvement in the early days of the creation of the boundaries of these republics, we have a duty to do what we can to nudge the matter forward.” This duty is however not being recognised, and this duty encompasses a larger role than “nudging”. Britain has long been the peacemaker and the voice promoting stability in Europe, this historic role has led to some of the greatest triumphs of good over the forces of tyranny, whether it is the defeat of Hitler in 1945 or the halting of Napoleon in 1815. Britain has long been the force pushing Europe towards a stable, democratic and peaceful future. For this reason the UK has a strong duty to do more than “nudge” the matter forward, in this specific situation or situations of a similar nature.

During the sitting Mr Pound did a tremendous job of highlighting and criticising the word games which are being played in regards to the issue. For example, here Mr Pound clearly confronts the attempts to downplay the events of the early 90’s into local skirmishes: “In that war—and it was a war; it was not a regional conflict, a local conflagration or skirmish”. In the modern era with so many legal technicalities all sorts of terminology arise which ultimately shroud issues in mystery and make it harder to establish dialogue. It is the wording of history that defines what happened, if we change the wording we are changing history and the future in one, as different means to solving the issue ascend.

Mr Pound additionally points this out when he criticises Mr Hancock for calling the genocide “so-called”. It is word games like these that confuse all and lengthen out an already long peace process. Real humans died and are still dying on both sides of the border as a result of historical realities, and no one is in any position to play games on words which still greatly influence thousands of lives in ways we cannot imagine. This is sometimes forgotten as MP Mark Simmonds does in response to Mr Pound: “This is not just an issue for Members of this House, but for many of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, as well as those people living in the south Caucasus region”. Mr Simmonds by using this order of words suggests that the issue is primarily one for MP’s, than constituents than those living in the South Caucuses. But is this issue not of paramount importance firstly for those living in the South Caucasus region whose lives are catastrophically changed by it, “as well as” being an issue for MP’s and us constituents who live our comfortable British lives?

In the sitting, British-Azeri relations were also discussed and it was stated that Britain is among the largest trade partners of Azerbaijan and that they hold significant influence in the economy of the nation via British Petroleum (BP). Yet it is stated that Britain cannot “demand action” it can only show “its concern”. It is extremely disappointing to see my nation acknowledging immoral policy whether it is in regards to the Karabagh issue, the Safarov issue or the human rights concerns raised by the foreign secretary to the Azeri president. Britain as stated by the Prime Ministers trade envoy to Azerbaijan is “by far the largest investor in Azerbaijan”, and taking this into account is it still possible to say that Britain cannot “demand action” on the human rights violations in Azerbaijan? If anyone has the power to demand action or change Azerbaijan, it is the United Kingdom.

This is not to say that Armenia is a perfect nation, but it is Azerbaijan who takes a more stubborn stance against the right to self-determination and it is Azerbaijan who refuses to accept the Karabagh region as historically an Armenian one, a clear historical fact stated in Parliament and one which the Azeri government consistently denies on many levels; whether it is official government statements, or booklets given out to university students which describe the history of monuments in Karabagh without mentioning the word “Armenian”.

The United Kingdom is in denial of the power it holds in the situation. The United Kingdom is in denial of the falseness of its status as “friend of both countries”, a term pointed out by Mr Simmonds. A friend of both countries yet one who’s foreign aid to Azerbaijan is £453,000 larger than its foreign aid to Armenia. The United Kingdom is also in denial that the policy towards Azerbaijan is one of weakness, not strength and this is highlighted by the words of Mr Hendry, MP and Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Azerbaijan, who said: “The country [Azerbaijan] is increasingly important to the British economy, and I hope he [Mr Pound] will reflect that in his comments.” This highlights a fear, a weakness, suggesting that Britain should be careful of its comments as it may detriment the British economy by violating and offending Azerbaijan.

This fear is real and just on a level, Britain’s current policy toward Azerbaijan is a pragmatic one and guarantees the greatest results for the UK economy. But since when did forgetting morality in favour of practical policy become the norm for our great nation? Had Britain not side-lined its political and economic comfort in favour of acting morally in 1939, would our world be the place it is today?

This is not to say that Britain is at a policy cross road as it was in the 1930’s, but as stated by Mr Pound, Britain has a duty and an obligation to act in any situation of this nature; yet especially in this one where the historical roots of Armenia, Azerbaijan and the United Kingdom are so intertwined. The British government has the power and the influence to push one if not both sides down the road to peace, a role it has not yet realised.

Early Day Motion 24th July 1990:
“The right of the people of Nagorno Karabagh and of any republic or region of the USSR to self-determination; understands that this aim cannot be achieved as long as capitalists who stood by whilst Turkey committed genocide… remain in power”

— Vahe Boghosian

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