During the recent meeting between President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Brussels, the issue was reduced to guarantees of security and rights for the Karabakh Armenians. This triggered hysterical reactions in Yerevan and Khankendi, with unceasing calls to continue the struggle for “miatsum”. The opposition there attacks members of Pashinyan’s team with demands to publicly declare that the Karabakh Armenians cannot be part of Azerbaijan. The latter wisely avoid doing so for fear of disrupting the negotiation process.
“The rights and security of the Karabakh Armenians should determine its status,” Armenia’s Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan said recently. However, before we determine the rights and guarantees, it does not hurt to determine who the Karabakh Armenians are. We will leave it to historians and ethnographers to argue whether they are Armenianized Albanians or Armenian settlers from Persia and Ottoman Turkey in the times of the Russian Empire. As for rights, these are determined by the legal status of individuals and population groups.
We would do well to remember that apart from internal identification papers which are not recognized anywhere in the world, the majority of the Karabakh Armenians have Armenian passports. Tens of thousands of them work and permanently reside in Russia, and have passports of that country as well.
The authorities of Azerbaijan, in accordance with their international commitments, as well as the Constitution and existing legislation, are to treat each of these groups of the Karabakh Armenians differently. Those who legalize their Azerbaijani citizenship will have the same political, economic and social rights as all other citizens of Azerbaijan. Those who remain Armenian citizens but reside in the territory of Azerbaijan will fall out of the political processes and will not be able to claim their electoral rights. Their economic and social rights can also be realized to the extent prescribed for foreign citizens. Similar restrictions apply to those who have not decided on their citizenship. As for personal security, it must be guaranteed for all, regardless of their civil status, ethnicity, or religious affiliation.
Clearly, the existing problems will not be solved by restoring citizenship alone. Probably, some kind of transitional schemes will be needed.
For example, it is hard to imagine today that Karabakh Armenians of conscription age will serve in the Azerbaijani army. No doubt, special procedures and time will be required to re-register the property transactions made in the past, as well as to bring the registration acts in conformity with Azerbaijani legislation. These are the concrete issues we need to discuss, instead of getting stuck in a dead end of fruitless bickering about self-determination, status, etc.