Photo Credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev in Davos, Switzerland, January 24, 2018.

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev recently met with a group of intellectuals from Iran’s Western Azerbaijan and condemned the transfer of Yerevan back to Armenia in 1918.

“If someone thought that by giving Yerevan to Armenia, in 1918, we protected ourselves from even bigger disasters, then giving Zangazur to Armenia once again proves that it was a very wrong and false step, and as I have already said, it was a betrayal. You should never retreat even to those who are stronger. One should always defend his rights, especially in the native land,” Aliyev said.


The Zangezur corridor is a planned transport corridor that, if implemented, would give Azerbaijan unimpeded access to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic without Armenian checkpoints, and a geopolitical corridor that would connect Turkey to the rest of the Turkic world. The idea is being promoted by Azerbaijan and Turkey, while Armenia has objected to it.

According to a book titled “The Azerbaijani Turks” by Audrey Altstadt, 77,491 Azerbaijanis were living in Yerevan in 1897, and only 58,148 Armenians.

South Azerbaijani journalist Ahmed Obali, who runs Gunaz TV, proclaimed: “Yerevan used to be part of the Yerevan Khanate. Armenia used to be majority Azerbaijani. These people need to return to their homeland.”

“After the Russian takeover of the Aras River in 1828, there was an agreement between the Qajars and Russia that the Armenians from Iran could migrate to Russia easily and the Muslim community north of Aras could migrate to the south,” he noted. “This was supposed to be voluntary, not forced.

Russia used this to bring many Armenians to Yerevan and Karabakh. They tried to change the ethnic composition of this area. In 1893, a majority of Yerevan was Azerbaijani. It was 57 percent Azerbaijanis and there were others besides the Armenians.”

According to him, “The Azerbaijanis were then forcibly deported or killed so that there would be no more Azerbaijanis in Armenia. The campaign began in the late 1890s and it included Yerevan, Karabakh, Zangezur, etc. Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan used to be connected. The Soviets took that away and gave it to Armenia. Karabakh was part of Azerbaijan and stayed in Azerbaijan. Karabakh and Zangezur were mostly Azerbaijanis. After 1925, they changed the ethnic composition of those areas.”

“In the 1980s, right before the Soviet Union collapsed, the Armenians forced all of the Azerbaijanis from Armenia,” Obali explained. “Up to 280,000 people were deported from Armenia. They all moved to Baku and other places. In 1989, the war started and Karabakh and the seven districts were occupied, which were liberated in 2020. Close to a million Azerbaijanis were forced from their homes and cities. Some were killed. Some fled with light belongings.”

According to him, “When the president met with Western Azerbaijanis, he was meeting with the community members of Western Azerbaijan, which is today Armenia. He is asking them to be able to return to their homes. It was 30 years ago. They should be able to move back to their homes in Zangezur and adjacent towns to the Azerbaijani border. Armenians do not want it, even though Armenians in Karabakh stay put. The Azerbaijani President is asking for equal rights for people to stay in their homes. It is a strong community. They would like to go back to their homes if it were possible, but the world is indifferent about Azerbaijani rights compared to Armenian rights.”

Tarlan Ahmadov, the founder of the Azerbaijani Society of Maine, added the following about President Aliyev’s meeting with intellectuals from Western Azerbaijan: “It was a very important meeting recognizing the rights of this population which have been forgotten for decades during the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict. The deportation and ethnic cleansing happened in modern-day Armenia. They got rid of all Muslims from modern Armenia. It was a much-needed meeting where the president gave people hope to return to their homeland. It gave hope that Armenia will no longer be a mono-ethnic country.”

According to him, “It will take time, but the Azerbaijanis will come back for their historic and cultural presence was always there. They were pushed out of their own territory on their own land. Their whole push was systematic and it was organized by the government. Hundreds of thousands of people have been cleansed. This has never been spoken about openly about the recognition of hundreds of thousands of people who were ethnically cleansed. I was happy to see how they were able to rebuild their lives again in Azerbaijan. I hope that we will be able to restore their basic human rights. We American Azerbaijanis are happy about the prospect of building this community back in Azerbaijan. We will do everything to raise awareness and educate politicians and regular people about the plight of Western Azerbaijanis.”


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Rachel Avraham is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and an Israel-based journalist. She is the author of "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media."