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Conflict Mythology and Azerbaijan

Armenian News Network / Groong
September 17, 1997

By Emil Sanamyan

Almost every day now media outlets report on the continuous
multinational effort to forge out a final peace settlement in the nine
year-old conflict between the government of Azerbaijan and the people
of the de- facto independent Nagorno Karabakh Republic-Artsakh.  Their
reports generally contain a brief on a recent round of talks, where
parties would once again reiterate their incompatible positions, with
mediators privately promising a diplomatic breakthrough soon.

Over the years such reports have become enveloped in the usual
repetition of grim statistics: tallies numbering the dead and
refugees, and areas occupied. These numbers are derived from the
parties to the conflict, journalists, and aid workers who cross-quote
each other without direct research.

While it would take a very serious effort to count up the exact number
of refugees and displaced persons (1), calculating the area under
Artsakh's control involves only simple addition.

In one of the very first reports seeking to establish the percentage
of Azerbaijani area occupied in the conflict, Thomas Goltz, wrote
among other things,

        "With Armenian nationalists controlling nearly all 
        of Nagorno-Karabakh and some 15% of Azerbaijan [Ed. 
        i.e. N. K. plus some 15%], the shock waves from the 
        conflict are spilling into Azerbaijan itself." 
        (Business Week, July 5, 1993)

From there it went soaring:

        "By now Armenian armed formations have occupied up to 
        20% of Azerbaijan's territory." (Vitaliy Strugovets, 
        Russian daily "Krasnaia Zvezda", August 12, 1993)

        "Azerbaijan has lost 40% of its territory" (Steve LeVine,
        Washington Post, November 8, 1993)

        "Armenian forces [are] already controlling 25 percent of 
        Azeri territory" (Jon Auerbach, Boston Globe, April 21, 

These are just a few samples of literally hundreds of reports,
repeating these "statistics".

It is difficult to single out the first person or organization to
misrepresent the actual figures, or to ascertain whether this act was
some journalist's bold initiative or rather a deliberate propaganda
ploy set into motion by Baku. After some fluctuations, most
Azerbaijani state officials, sympathetic columnists, and foreign
reporters alike settled on the 20% figure by the beginning of 1997 --
three years after the cease-fire took effect:

        "But Armenians are killing us, they've occupied 20 
        percent of our territory, they've displaced 1 million of our
        people -- one-seventh of our population -- and everybody 
        is saying, 'Poor Armenians, there could be genocide 
        against them from the Azerbaijani side!'" (Azerbaijani 
        President's Foreign Policy Advisor Vafa Guluzade in 
        Azerbaijan International, Spring 1997)

        "As a result of a series of Armenian offensives, 20 
        percent of Azerbaijan (including Nagorno Karabakh) are 
        currently occupied by Armenian forces." (Azerbaijan's 
        Ambassador in US Hafiz Pashayev, Boston Globe, April 24,

        "At the same time, Russia has given critical military aid 
        to neighboring Armenia, allowing it to occupy 20 percent 
        of Azerbaijan." (Former Defense Secretary Caspar W. 
        Weinberger and Hoover Institution research fellow Peter 
        Schweizer, New York Times, May 9, 1997)

        "Armenian-backed military forces seized over 20% of 
        Azeri territory during the war" (Glen Howard, an analyst at 
        the Strategic Assessment Center of Science Applications 
        International in McLean, VA , Wall Street Journal, May 14, 

        "Well-armed Armenian forces [are] occupying some 20 
        percent of Azerbaijan's territory." (Washington Times
        editorial, July 30, 1997)

And the cycle is completed with,

        "On the ground, however, Armenia still is occupying 20 
        percent of Azerbaijan." (Thomas Goltz in an interview to 
        NPR's All Things Considered, August 1, 1997)

In order to discern how much territory is really under the control of
the Artsakh National Army, one need simply to consult a map of the
area at the time just prior to the 1994 cease-fire, and refer to an
Azerbaijani government publication showing Azerbaijan's territorial
subdivisions, e.g.  "Azerbaijanskaya SSR:
Administrativno-territorial'noye delenie" [Azerbaijani SSR:
Administrative-territorial division], 1981, Azerneshr, Baku.

From the Azerbaijani perspective, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous
Oblast [Region] (NKAO), an entity that was assigned to the Azerbaijani
SSR by Stalin, belongs to the independent Republic of Azerbaijan --
even though the latter never administered it.

For indigenous Armenians who have populated the area for many
centuries, Artsakh is a sovereign republic established by an
overwhelming vote for independence at the 1991 referendum. Artsakh
comprises the area of the former NKAO (4,388 square kilometers, or
less than 5.1% of the total territory of the former Azerbaijani SSR)
plus the Shaumian region (528 square kilometers), decreasing
Azerbaijan's share of territory from 86,417 (of the former Az. SSR) to
81,501 square kilometers.

Meanwhile, the fact that Artsakh Armenians have continuously lived in
Artsakh makes any use of the term "military occupation of Artsakh
proper" by Armenians totally untenable.

By the time of the cease-fire in 1994, Artsakh armed forces also had
the following regions of Azerbaijan under their control: Lachin,
Kelbajar, Kubatly, Zangelan, Djebrail regions in full, and over
three-fourths of Agdam, and less than a half of Fizuli regions (2).

Together with the area of NKAO (3), Artsakh controls roughly 12,136
square kilometers, in other words, just over 14% of the territory of
the former Azerbaijani SSR.  Considering that 7,898 square kilometers
are controlled by Artsakh National Army in Azerbaijan proper, under
9.7% of Azerbaijan is actually occupied. At the same time, all of the
Shaumian region and some areas in Mardakert and Martuni regions of
Artsakh remain under Azeri military occupation, meaning that close to
14% of the territory of the Artsakh Republic is occupied.

Accurate reporting requires clear knowledge of the actual situation on
the ground. Artsakh forces seized only the noted territories while
they clearly had the opportunity to seize much more as their opponents
sank deeper in turmoil of 1993. Artsakh Armenians deliberately
neutralized only as much territory as was required to safeguard their
settlements from constant long-range artillery shelling (approximately
30 kilometers) and to create a shorter defensible front-line. This
reasoning explains why it would be suicidal for Artsakh to offer the
areas under their control to be part of negotiations before sufficient
international security guarantees are in place and a comprehensive
agreement on mutual non-aggression is signed with Azerbaijan.

The 20% exercise is illustrative of the manner in which imprecision
and inaccuracies -- and this is only one of many -- in the reporting
of this conflict are perpetuated through a combination of patently
false state propaganda statements, bad journalism, weak analysis, and
careless editing.

(1) Note that the total number of displaced people on both sides is
indeed over one million. Based on figures from the Baku branch of
UNICEF, the US State Department in its 1995 "Human Rights Report on
Azerbaijan" found 650,000 Azerbaijanis had fled the Nagorno-Karabakh
Armenian offensives in the course of the war, excluding a further
50,000 in the spring of 1994. The FPA Group will address this topic in
an upcoming study [Ed.]

(2) Areas in Azerbaijan presently under Artsakh's control:

	Lachin          1,835
	Kelbajar        1,936
	Kubatly           802
	Jebrail         1,050
	Zangelan          707
	Agdam             875 (80% of 1,094)
	Fizuli            693 (50% of 1,386)

	Total           7,898 km2

(3) Not all of the area of the former NKAO is in the hands of the
Artsakh National Army. Over 150 square kilometers of land in Mardakert
and Martuni regions is under Azeri occupation.

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